Maa (1976)

I don’t know if this film was made for children or not, given the number of cute baby animals etc. in it, but it is chock full of dumb messages like “Go ahead and pick up a wild baby lion cub even if its protective mother is lurking nearby!” and “If you are chased by a tiger, climb a tree because it can’t get you then!” all of which are followed by “…oh wait…ohhhhh.” Attention to detail is such that leopards are misidentified as cheetahs and the mama lioness has a mane. It is painfully stupid, over-long, harrowing to watch if you’re an animal sympathizer, and Nirupa Roy (as Dharam’s Maa) is the only sensible character in the movie!

So how and why did I make it through? Well, because I knew from the dvd cover blurb that eventually Dharmendra’s character was going to GET HIS from a mother elephant, and within the first five minutes of the film that became something I really wanted to see.

Vijay (Dharmendra) is a wealthy and macho landowner whose forest is teeming with an endless supply of wild animals, despite the fact that he spends a good part of every day traumatizing and trapping dozens of them for sale to circus owners (1976 India is teeming with circuses, apparently).

His mother (Nirupa Roy) disapproves of his hobby, especially when he separates helpless baby animals from their mothers, making her for once someone with whom I fully agree; but Vijay doesn’t believe that animals have the same feelings as humans—although there is plenty of evidence to the contrary if he would just pay attention. I detest Vijay intensely from the get-go, and not even the charm and good looks of Dharmendra can redeem him. There is only so much running-in-abject-fear that I can watch these poor animals do (and I am pretty sure they aren’t acting), so the FF button is quickly my best friend.

My dislike of Vijay is only furthered when I discover that he insists that his mother feed him by hand. Eye roll. Grow up!

He sells the animals he traps to middleman Gopaldas (Om Prakash). I am not sure what the point of a middleman is when it seems it would be just as easy for circus owners to contact Vijay directly, but never mind. Balraj (a relatively subdued and sartorially underwhelming Ranjeet) and his pretty girlfriend-slash-partner Padma Khanna are trying to cut into Gopaldas’ business, and we get an all too brief side plot whereby Balraj and Padma conspire to steal Vijay’s animals, with no success. They are quickly caught and jailed and we don’t even get a proper song and dance out of it.

The music in this is singularly uninspired too, although I like the title music with trumpets simulating elephant trumpeting. But the songs are dull, and in the case of Hema’s, made truly painful by Lata’s screeching. Even though Hema doesn’t look that dewy and fresh in this, she looks way younger than Lata sounds. Between the patently obvious distress of the animals and Lata’s “singing”, the FF button gets even more use.

Speaking of Hema, she arrives in the form of Nimmi. Daughter of Gopaldas, Nimmi has lived abroad in the US for several years and now has a hankering to make wildlife films. Nimmi proves as unlikable as Vijay, albeit for different reasons. She doesn’t have the common sense of a houseplant and mostly serves as a squealing (in admiration) backdrop to the excesses Vijay visits upon the poor denizens of the forest. When she insists on walking right up to dangerous animals to take pictures, I change her name to Nummi, as in Numbskull.

She and Vijay fall in love when he rescues her from one of her dumb moves, and Vijay’s Maa and Gopaldas quickly approve the match. Maa asks Nummi to please try to talk some compassion into Vijay, but Nummi is smitten with his bravery and manliness. I just will never understand how shooting at animals with guns, trapping them terrified in pits, and crushing their legs in bloody claw traps constitutes bravery. Egging them on to attack him, as he also takes joy in doing, is idiocy combined with sadism. No, I do not like Vijay.

More proof, in case we needed it, of Vijay’s awesome masculinity is the way he drives his jeep in through the front door of his house through the living room and up the ramps which have replaced the staircases to the second floor. Subtle!

Even their matching patchwork shirts don’t give Nummi and Vijay any chemistry, or me any pleasure in their romance.

Nummi changes her mind about his bravery when Vijay is attacked by the lioness with the mane after he snatches two of her baby cubs (still not weaned, even).

He recovers from the mauling quickly and announces his intention to get back to work. Nummi tells him that if he doesn’t stop his dangerous way of life she’ll leave him.

It probably should be a red flag to you Nummi if the man you are going to marry tells you straight out that his priorities are: 1) the thing you don’t want him to do; 2) Maa; 3) God; and 4) maybe you.

He gives a manly speech about how hunting makes him feel alive! (another cliche that makes no sense to me—if you feel alive only by killing and wounding, then you really are a sad sack Vijay) and stomps off to catch a baby elephant for another circus owner. Nummi decides to go home with her Daddy so she can think about her options and I sigh.

There are distressing scenes ahead indeed. A sweet little baby elephant comes along with its mother and falls into a giant pit which Vijay’s men have dug and then covered with leaves. Anguished, the mother calls to her baby as he desperately tries to climb up and out, falling back again and again. Their cries attract the rest of the herd, which gathers around but is equally helpless; and when Vijay and his men show up with their guns, they run. I will say that the filmmakers do an excellent job at conveying the female elephant’s palpable distress at losing her baby and by this point I am easily completely and utterly on her side.

After an inspiring but vain attempt to rescue her howling baby from the truck it is chained in, she turns on Vijay and trees him just as Maa happens to drive past. Maa runs towards them, and the female elephant switches her sights. Vijay is caught in two of his own bear traps (YAY!) and watches helplessly as the elephant makes short work of his mother.

With her dying breath, Maa begs him to give up his sinful animal trapping, and makes him promise to reunite this mother elephant with her baby.

Nummi returns and forgives him, and Vijay now sets off for the city, where he finds the calf and gets permission to take him home. But this little guy is not nearly as addled as Nummi: he wants nothing to do with the man who has separated him from his mother, and he escapes into the dangerous streets of Bombay.

Will Vijay catch him before something terrible happens? At home, the mother elephant is now on a rampage through the neighboring villages and farms. Vijay has asked Nummi to protect the mother until he can reunite her with her calf, but the local villagers want to kill her before she destroys their homes and kills someone.

Will everything work out for our Maa-Beta? Will Vijay and Nummi find happiness? I wish I could say that I care, but I was long past that by the end. The scenes of Vijay trying to catch little Ganesh (as the calf has come to be known) are cute for about five minutes but go on for way, way, way longer. It takes some sort of skill to make a cute baby elephant boring!

Plus I am never convinced that Vijay is truly repentant or has learned any lessons; he is mostly concerned with keeping his promise to his Maa, but there’s no real sense of remorse at what he has done to all the other animals whose lives he has systematically destroyed or any glimmer of understanding that they have feelings too. He is still a jackass at the end, and Nummi is still a moron, and I am just confused as to what the filmmakers were trying to say.

The mixed message: “torturing animals is manly and fun!”-“although, wait…you shouldn’t do it”-“but it is manly and FUN!” with Maa being the only, and very weak at that, voice of reason; the inattention to detail and complete lack of common sense; endless footage of anxious and unhappy animals; and those worst of crimes, poor pacing, a dull plot and indifferent actors, make this a bad movie for me.

I will say this: it was fun to watch the Mama Elephant twirl Nirupa around with her trunk before throwing her to the ground and stomping on her (even if Nirupa in this case did not wholly deserve it). And it was funny to watch Baby Elephant push Dharmendra around a bit (he did deserve it, and more). And *SPOILER* the elephant reunion is very happy and sweet! *END SPOILER*

So there’s that. But that’s about it.

38 Comments to “Maa (1976)”

  1. Your reactions are exactly what mine would have been if I ever saw this, which I won’t. I find the occasional tiger wrestling scene can be distressing enough, let alone a whole film of animal harassment. The only thing that makes me happy about this is your excellent review. Oh – and the vengeful elephant.

    • I was SO ROOTING for the vengeful elephant. And her intelligent little vengeful baby too, although by that point he was only getting in his own way. I think the intentions were good but the means just failed miserably to justify the ends.

  2. Nirupa Roy — sensible? Woah!

    [cit]It probably should be a red flag to you Nummi if the man you are going to marry tells you straight out that his priorities are: 1) the thing you don’t want him to do; 2) Maa; 3) God; and 4) maybe you.[/i]


  3. Agree with Temple, agree with Upendra, grateful for your spoiler because I was quite concerned, disappointed Ranjeet is sartorially underwhelming, and glad you watched this so I don’t have to.

    (Ordinarily I’d use sentences but this film hardly seems to deserve them.)

  4. In old days (pre 1970s), killing animals was still legal in India. It was in 1970s or so that activities like killing animals, felling trees et were made illegal. By the time this movie was made, animal hunting was already illegal in India. The makers of this movie were obviously living in the past.

    Animals not having feelings ? I am sure the makers of this movie were not blessed to have sensitivity and feelings for others. My wife and daughter have three pets (two pups and a kitten) and they are as sensitive as human babies, if not more. The way they are happy to see us a joy to watch, and the way they protest if they are separated from us or from each other is quite amusing as well as moving.

    • Dharmendra’s character doesn’t kill animals…Vijay makes a point of saying to his Maa that he “only traps” them for circuses. So yeah…law is minded, but appropriate mindset is still not there at all. The animals he traps are clearly under a LOT OF STRESS, and it’s only the beginning for them, poor things! That was a message that really never came out either, which annoyed me.

      Anyone who lives with or near animals and takes the time to observe them thoughtfully can see that they have a whole lot going on, much of which we don’t understand but at least a lot of which we can if we try. What would the earth be without them? A lot worse off than if we got rid of most of the humans instead, I think.

  5. Hmm. Thank you for warning me off this one – I wouldn’t see it, not even for Dharmendra.

  6. I have not seen this movie, but based on this review, I gather that the movie is trying to highlight the cruelty and exploitation of Animals, and the typical mindset that goes with it. From the review, it looks like the movie succeeds in turning off viewers against animal cruelty and exposing the mindset. ‘Message’ movies often tend to be low in entertainment quotient and mass appeal. More people need to hear the message. Unfortunately, Bolliwood is not good at message movies, notwithstanding the stellar cast this movie has.

    • I think the movie was trying to say that exploiting animals is bad, BUT—it spent so much more of the film’s runtime in gleefully highlighting the “bravery” and machismo of Vijay’s character that THAT became more the message than anything. Giant FAIL even if intentions were good.

  7. I think you just killed Dharmendra for me… LOL.

  8. Ohhh memsaab, this is a definite trip down memory lane as this redonkulous film was the first review I ever did over at my blog! The hunting scenes were horrid and they really didn’t spare any the animals and how they depicted it on screen too! But there are so many cracktastic moments in this film that are fabulous like the bhanged up elephant scene and the heavy handed song when he loses his maa, and lets all the animals go to their own maa’s including a pair of hedgehogs! Gawsh I shamefully love it for that!

    • The comedy failed pretty miserably for me too—again, making fun of animals which have been victimized (even unwittingly) by the humans in their environments just doesn’t make me laugh :( There were a lot of cute animals though, and it was nice when VIjay finally did empty his cages. But not enough was made of that, and far too much of the chasing and fighting and tormenting. Ugh.

  9. Thanks for an excellent review, Greta. As has been said before, your reviews go up a notch when the movies you review go down several notches on the bearability scale.

    I remember seeing “Maa” sometime in the 70s. Other than the fact that it had Dharam, Hema and a lot of animals, I did not remember anything else. Reading your review, I must say I’m happy to have blanked this out of my mind at that time.

    Checking on imdb, this looks like a Devar Productions film. MA Chinnappa Devar was a well-known producer in South India and very well-known for animal-based movies. He used to supply animals regularly for Hindi movies too, even those which were not his own productions. He would often have a small role in his movies too (I see his name in the credits here as well).

    Anyway, Devar acquired some fame in Hindi with Haathi Mere Saathi (*ing Rajesh), which he then followed up with Jaanwar Aur Insaan (*ing Shashi). Maybe Maa was part of a trilogy of sorts. As happens so often in such cases (Godfather is an example), there is progressive degradation and the later films only dilute the brand value of the original.

    Anyway, back to Maa, if the message was that “young cubs should not be separated from their mothers”, I think this is one hell of a cruel way of presenting that message.

    It looks like there is prolonged agony and anxiety for the animals, Dharam is presented as this macho man who actually has FUN trapping animals…very disturbing!!!! I would be FF-ing most of the movie, I just cannot stand such scenes.

    I read somewhere long back that Devar was supposed to be a big animal lover. If I read about the torture scenes, it hardly looks like an animal lover’s movie. Maybe this was Devar’s way of trying to get people to love animals, to make them realise that animals too have feelings. Well, if this was what he was trying to do, it looks like Maa failed miserably. Especially if you show “manliness” in trapping and torturing animals.

    Haathi Mere Saathi showed love towards animals and a degree of human-animal conflict but the overriding message was love. Looks like here the overriding message was torture. The message about “animals also have feelings” seems to have been weakly portrayed. Like you say, you are left confused as to what the film-makers are trying to say.

    Anyway, the review itself is wonderful to read, Greta. The fact that Dharam plays such an obnoxious role and Hema such a dumb one is just one of those things, I guess.

    Btw, circuses in those days were not that uncommon in India. From what I can remember now, the names of Gemini, Apollo and Vahini Circus come to mind.

    • I thought often of Haathi Mere Saath during this, but that was a MUCH MUCH better film. Another aspect of this which I didn’t care for was the boastful training angle…making animals do ridiculous things for people’s enjoyment is another irritant for me. I am not so sure that people like Siegfried and Roy really love animals the way they say they do; it seems to me that they are so busy turning animals into humans that they don’t have any idea what the animal might want for itself.

  10. My day is made:
    It probably should be a red flag to you Nummi if the man you are going to marry tells you straight out that his priorities are: 1) the thing you don’t want him to do; 2) Maa; 3) God; and 4) maybe you.

    Except #4 doesn’t even figure.

  11. Dharmendra played a lot of negative roles in his career. Don’t know why only his ‘Aayi Milan Ki Bela’ (1964) is hyped up. In addition to Maa, he also played a bad guy in ‘Mera Qasoor Kya Hai’ (1964), Yakeen’ (1969), ‘Krodhi’ (1981), ‘Karishma Kudrat Kaa’ (1985) and ‘Begaana’ (1986, not the 1963 one).

    Shows to prove the guy did have the versatility considering he did comedy, romantic and action roles equally convincingly.

    • I’m not sure this one was supposed to be negative, per se. But I certainly couldn’t stand him.

      Anyway, you know that I adore Dharmendra for the most part, and I do have to give it to him that he didn’t seem very enthusiastic about this film either. I have a feeling he did it more as an excuse to spend some time with Hema in the south (she was probably filming something else there, since she disappears for a large part of the film).

  12. Despite all its flaws I have to confess I have a soft spot for this movie because it was one of the first hindi films I ever saw, around 1982 on a public access tv show that showed Indian films on Saturday afternoons. It was so different from anything else on at the time! It was one of the few I recall the title of, and though I haven’t seen it since then, I’ve always remembered the driving the jeep up the ramps and the chase after the baby elephant. Incidentally, it’s supposed to be based on a John Wayne film Hatari! (1962) as I haven’t seen that, I don’t know how similar. Thanks much as always!

    • Hatari!!!! I saw that as a kid, many moons ago. Did not put it together with this, but that’s not surprising. I did think several times of DAKtari, a television show I used to watch about a wild animal vet (these guys could have probably used one) but forgot all about Hatari :)

      • Hatari! The tree full of monkeys! The cross-eyed lion (I think he crossed over to Daktari?). The house full of rampaging baby elephants (or maybe just one very active elephant?). I used to love that!! My mother was always very vigilant about animal cruelty in films so I think these passed muster with her. Unlike , say, Saturday morning Epic Theatre gladiator films in which horses might have been injured in chariot races etc. We were allowed to watch actors being killed in gory detailed ways though as that was all pretend.

  13. Maybe, after the events of Shikari the burgeoning Indian circus industry decided to outsource its wildlife gathering activities.

    I have to admit that I giggled at the site of Nirupa Roy being hurled and stomped on by an elephant.

  14. I have seen this movie long back on Doordarshan and your review has refreshened my memories. I still miss the opening scene which was on a female elephant. Chinappa Devar always made movies with animals. Any type of cruelty towards animals (including killing them for the sake of their flesh for food) is condemnable and prohibitable. Just because the human-beings are having a developed mind compared to that of the animals and thereby possessing the skill to master them, it doesn’t give them a license to be cruel to them for the sake of their vested interests. Their lives are as precious as those of the human-beings.

    Good review. The movie is watchable for the visuals pertaining to the jungle and the animals. Rest is bollywood formulae only.

    Jitendra Mathur

    • Yes, the credits roll over a mother and baby elephant wandering the forest together. Very sweet. And I am not so sure humans have more developed minds than animals—different, certainly, but I am not sure about more developed. We are just clueless about what goes on in their heads and hearts. I wish there was more footage of animals enjoyed themselves in the forest, but mostly scenes with animals here involves them trying to escape from and being cornered by Dharmendra, and they look miserable and scared. Not fun.

      • Talking of elephants and animals enjoying themselves and rewatches, maybe a rewatch of “my” Safed Haathi too? I remember that fantasy song being a lot of fun. :-)

  15. My biggest problem I do not remember, was it Maa or was it some other film? Wondering what am I talking about, well long ago I remember reading that the tiger was not treated well at all, in fact he was treated quite cruelly, those days you see animal rights activists were not so active, nowadays no production house dares to ill-treat animals. I had seen the film when it had released found it too melodramatic.

    • I shudder when I see animals in films before the last decade, even Hollywood ones although I believe there was some sort of protection agency for them in place sooner there than probably in India. It’s really obvious in this film in the scenes in circuses that the animals were treated very poorly indeed :(

  16. HI

    I think all of you should watch this movie for an absolutely interesting & hilarious scene in the climax fight where the elephant successfully wields a lathi against the goons!!
    Boy! The way it is done hats off!!!

  17. Yes, this one is lame,I remember not liking it very much as a kid. Although i thought the car ramp into the big house was fun! Not compare to Janwar aur Insan with Rakhee and Shashi and the best of all Haati meri Saaati which has made me a life long Rajesh Khanna fan. By the way ,can anyone tell me where I can get a dvd of Janwar aur Insaan.

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