I have no idea why it took me so long to see this; you all know how much I love a daku-drama! Dacoits are so romantic when you’re not the one they are raping and pillaging, especially when they are Dharmendra. And I loved this one too: it combines a Message with a family saga so spectacularly effed up that it’s worthy of Jerry Springer. At one point I was reduced to scribbling helplessly on my notepad: “Things could not possibly Go More Wrong than this.”
And then they did!
Lakhan Singh (Dharmendra) and his gang (including but not limited to Madan Puri as Jaggu and Bhushan Tiwari as Kundan) are greatly feared in their locality. One evening they raid a village that is celebrating a child’s birth. The boy’s cousin-aunt is the feisty Champa (Asha Parekh) and her fantastic song “Bangle Ke Peechhe” (the choreography and Asha’s dancing are superb) is interrupted by the arrival of Lakhan and his men. Lakhan takes one look at Champa and is smitten. Who can blame him, really?
As his men gather up the other ladies’ jewelry etc., Lakhan throws her onto his horse and rides away with her. Back in their cave, Jaggu and Kundan are displeased when Lakhan refuses to “share” his ill-gotten girl with them, and he fares even worse with an angry Champa.
When she shoots Lakhan in the arm with his own rifle, his respect for her overtakes his lust and he decides to escort her home safe and sound. But when they reach her house, they overhear her aunt and uncle talking about how glad they are to be rid of Champa—now all her property will belong to them and their newborn son.
This saddens Champa immeasurably and she decides to cast her lot in with Lakhan, who is now completely in love with her. They get married in a temple and Lakhan gives up his gang to settle with her in a nearby town as “Laxman.” They find a place to live (their landlady is Leela Mishra, bless her) and Laxman buys a handcart with the proceeds of Champa’s jewelry, which she forces him to accept. His dacoits meanwhile speculate that he has been arrested or killed and continue under Jaggu’s leadership as Laxman and Champa build a happy life and sing some pretty songs together.
But we all know, this being a Hindi film and all, that Laxman/Lakhan’s former bad deeds cannot go unpunished no matter how hard he tries to reform. When his and Champa’s little son Jaswant is about three years old, Champa becomes ill with cancer. Doctors tell Laxman that her treatment will be expensive, very expensive for him. Laxman approaches a local moneylender named Lalaji (Randhir), who is painfully callous.
Not worth Rs. 5000?! I am as indignant as Laxman at this. How can anyone dismiss a woman who gives such excellent Nahin Face and carries off a bulky button-down men’s shirt under an equally voluminous Gujju saree drape? How??
On his way home from Lalaji’s, a desperate Laxman sees a little boy (Master Raju, I want to pinch his cheeks!) in the courtyard of a big mansion astride a rocking horse singing “Chal Mere Ghoda Tik Tik Tik.” He scribbles a note and gives it to the ayah to take inside to her employer, telling her that he’ll watch the boy, whose name is Ajay.
Inside, Ajay’s father Manoharlal (Abhi Bhattacharya) is horrified to read a ransom note from Dacoit Lakhan Singh instructing him to bring 5000 rupees to the Bhairavnath temple that evening in exchange for his son.
He does so, but tragedy (to put it mildly) strikes when Lakhan—in a hurry to return to Champa with the money—rushes down the rocky slope beneath the temple to meet him with little Ajay in his arms. He loses his footing and drops the boy, who rolls down the hill and falls from an overhanging rock to his death.
Meanwhile, Manoharlal has reached the temple at the top from the other side, and is calling desperately for Lakhan to return his son. Feeling terrible (as he should) Lakhan cradles the dead little toddler and hides until Manoharlal gives up and goes, and then buries him under the rocks.
Oh. The. Humanity.
This is where I write “Things could not possibly Go More Wrong than this” (underlined) on my notepad, but of course I am wrong. When Lakhan returns home he finds his own Jaswant in tears and Champa dead.
I don’t think the kid is “acting” either. If he is, he deserved the Filmfare Award that year.
Lakhan, having now kind of burned all his bridges in this town (the police soon come looking for him), takes Jaswant and goes back to his life as a dacoit. He is greeted warmly by his former gang and they quickly become fond of Jaswant as well although Lakhan frowns on them teaching him things like how to fire a rifle. Eight years of looting pass until the police finally catch up with them. Lakhan escapes with Jaswant and lands up at the Bhairavnath temple where he had buried little Ajay all those years ago, something which has haunted him since. He watches as a frail and sad-looking man comes down and gets into his big car, and asks the pandit about him.
It was Manoharlal of course, and Lakhan discovers that Mrs. Manoharlal had died from the shock of the kidnapping; he still comes to the temple every day in hopes of locating his lost son. Struck anew with guilt, and with his men scattered, arrested or killed, Lakhan makes a decision that will profoundly affect the rest of his and Jaswant’s lives.
Yup. He gives his son Jaswant to Manoharlal, convincing him that the boy is actually Ajay and that on the day the ransom was to be paid he had been forced to flee with Ajay from the police before he could hand him over. He says that he has brought Ajay up for the past eight years as his own son. Jaswant is naturally traumatized, having never heard about any of this before (since it isn’t true), though his feelings are glossed over.
Lakhan Singh surrenders to the police when they arrive after being called by Manoharlal’s brother Makhanlal (Sunder, who is married to Tun Tun and forms the blessedly unobtrusive CSP with her). He is sent to prison for 17 years (and reunited with Jaggu and Kundan there) while Jaswant grows up as Ajay to look exactly like his father Lakhan, although nobody ever seems to notice this.
Oh, the magic beards and mustaches of Hindi cinema. They can disguise anyone or anything!
Well, maybe not.
What will happen when Lakhan gets out of prison? Will Ajay/Jaswant accept his return with open arms (no)? Will society forgive him his past now that he has served his sentence (again, NO)? Will Manoharlal ever learn that his real son is dead and Jaswant the son of the dacoit who killed him (not telling!)?
I really did love this film, although it’s chock full of that “you cannot redeem yourself except through death and suffering” philosophy that depresses me. But none of the characters were caricatures; they were all real, and I cared about them. The performances are wonderful, and although I was v.v. sad to see Asha P. go, she is replaced with Jaya B. as Ajay/Jaswant’s love interest, and that is not a bad trade-off.
Plus, Tun Tun! Good Lord above, I love the faces she makes.
RD Burman’s songs are really lovely and nicely integrated into the story. The poignant lyrics to “Yeh Khel Hai Taqdeer Ke” by Majrooh Sultanpuri tell the film’s message and are luckily very nicely subtitled (thanks, Samrat!). Apart from the “Bangle Ke Peechhe” song, my favorite is the lovely “Jab Tak Rahe.”
And for dessert:
Gratuitous scene with Dharam in his chaddies!!! *Snoopy Dance*
PS: Do tell me how you like the new picture format—is it too much? or do you like having two for the price of one?