This is one of those films I watched early on and I will admit that it confused me hopelessly at the time. I did not understand the wigs, or Dharmendra’s facial tics and popping veins, or why Tariq was so manic. I was so ignorant and naive.
Now of course, although I still have questions, I know they can never be adequately answered.
And nor do they need to be.
In the face of all the awesomeness of Ajit at his be-goggled villainous best, Shetty with hair, Shyam Kumar, cute little 8-year-old Aamir Khan, some crazy RD Burman music, blinding seventies fashions, and three brothers separated in childhood after their parents are murdered in front of them (the humanity!), everything else is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter (much) that 1973 vintage Dharmendra—one of the handsomest men on the planet—is burdened by an ill-fitting and ugly wig that makes him look years older, or that his acting is beyond OTT, or that he is essentially a secondary hero to Vijay Arora (whose idea was that?!), or even that the plot is filled with gaping plot holes and glaring inconsistencies.
This movie is magnificent, plunging us into a bewildering world where bad wigs, thick glasses and crazed facial expressions take center stage no matter what is going on, and also where Ajit is a cowboy for a short time.
(Of course, the Memsaab and her family wore 1973 no better. I think that qualifies me to poke fun here.)
Artist Gulzar (Nasir Khan) lives happily with his wife and three sons. They even have a family theme song which Maa sings with her sons on birthdays and anniversaries, appropriately titled “Yaadon Ki Baaraat”. Such idyllic bliss cannot last long and doesn’t: on his way to deliver some paintings one night, Gulzar runs smack into a heinous criminal named Shakal (Ajit).
Knowing that Gulzar is an artist and got a good look at him, Shakal and his cohorts Ranjit (Shyam Kumar in a terrible wig) and Jack (Satyendra Kapoor in an equally bad one) track him down. As his two oldest sons (Shankar and Vijay) look on through a window, Shakal shoots first Gulzar and then his wife dead and gives chase to the boys. Jack has already protested about Shakal’s habit of murdering people senselessly, and he helps Shankar and Vijay escape by redirecting Shakal in the opposite direction.
Sadly, Shankar and Vijay are separated when Shankar jumps on a passing train and Vijay is unable to catch up. The boys’ nursemaid takes the youngest boy Ratan (Aamir Khan) and flees, and Jack is caught by the police. Shakal sends Ranjit to the jail with a message that Jack had better keep chup or they will kill his daughter, and Jack is sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Vijay is found unconscious by the side of the tracks by a kindly man named Mr. Verma (Shivraj) who adopts him, while Shankar takes to stealing in order not to starve. Years pass, and Shankar grows up to be a jewel thief, still haunted—haunted I tell you!—by the memory of his younger brothers.
Dharam gives this film his all for sure. Maybe since he disappears for a good chunk of the middle he thought he should give Mr. Hussain his money’s worth when he did show up. Or maybe his wig was too tight. I don’t know.
Vijay (Vijay Arora) is brought up by Mr. Verma, who works for a wealthy man named Seth Devi Dayal (Murad) and has made sure that Vijay is well educated. Vijay is a happy-go-lucky sort who loves to hang out with his college friends at the Heaven Hotel, where they enjoy the musical stylings of singer-guitarist “Monto” (Tariq).
We know that Monto is really Ratan because each night he includes in his show his lost family’s theme song, hoping that it will ring a bell for one of his brothers should they ever be in the audience. Tariq’s participation in this film is mostly limited to pretending that he is a rock star by fake-playing a guitar and lip-synching to RD Burman’s gravelly voice. Most of us had to settle for an audience of nobody in our own rooms, but our uncles didn’t make films.
Both of Ratan’s brothers do in fact frequent the hotel and his musical shows, but they are always in the bathroom or getting phone calls when he sings their song.
Dayal’s daughter Sunita (Zeenat Aman) is a bratty and spoiled rich girl. I am not sure how it is that she and Vijay are unacquainted until this point since he has grown up on her father’s property, but when they finally do meet they embark on one of those childish and cruel courtships where each pulls increasingly more obnoxious pranks on the other. In this case, Vijay tells her he is a millionaire with cancer after Sunita tricks him into meeting her “alone” but *gasp* brings her friends! My feeling is that Vijay has amped up the heartlessness a tad more than this warrants, but never mind.
Meanwhile, Shankar continues to brood about avenging himself on the man who murdered his parents, although his memory of the killer doesn’t give him much to work with (and his artistic ability seems likely inherited from his mother).
He periodically visits the prison where Jack is incarcerated, hoping to meet him and get more information, but Jack refuses all visitors except his daughter (Anamika).
Shankar’s best friend and companion in crime is Usman Bhai (Ravindra Kapoor), and they are now hired to steal a maharani’s diamond necklace. That same necklace has caught the attention of none other than Shakal, who no longer dresses like a cowboy and has assumed another name. He also owns the Heaven Hotel where Ratan works. His son Roopesh (Imtiaz) suggests they steal the necklace for their big firangi client Robert (Gautam Mukherjee).
That magnifying glass shot is really a favorite device of Hindi film directors, na? Shankar steals the necklace right out from under Shakal’s men, who still include Ranjit (still in the same horrible wig, now frosted gray), and also now Shetty WITH HAIR. Truly the hair and makeup (wig and makeup?) people had lots of fun with this film.
Sadly the plot is derailed for the next half hour or more by the aforementioned childish romance between Sunita and Vijay, which goes on far too long. The best thing I can say about it is that it spawns some truly astounding Zeenat outfits and the now-classic “Chura Liya Hai Tumne Jo Dil Ko.”
The major weakness of this film for me is these two characters, whom I find pretty much unredeemably unlikable. Besides Sunita’s entitled rich girl attitude and Vijay’s whopping lies, their behavior towards other people is self-centered and mean (they torment two of Hindi cinema’s biggest bellies, Ram Avtar and Moolchand—although I am always happy to see them):
and Vijay is annoying salacious. Note to men who don’t know this already: don’t run your tongue around your lips when you look at a woman. It’s gross.
Plus, “Chura Liya” is almost cancelled out by the nails-on-a-chalkboard “O Meri Soni Meri Tamanna” with its dreadful chorus of “I love yoooooouuuu.” Yikes. Sunita forgives Vijay for the cancer lie when she discovers it, but he doesn’t tell her that he is not the millionaire she also believes him to be. Instead, he takes off for Bombay without a word to her, breaking her heart into chhote chhote pieces.
He finds a job as a waiter at—yup—the Heaven Hotel and finally Shankar returns in all his emo glory. Shakal sends his henchmen to bring Shankar to him with the offer of a job: to steal a gold Natraj that Robert has his heart set on.
Shakal and Shankar agree on a price, and on his way out through the lobby Shankar and his two brothers light up together in one of those heart-stopping masala unwitting almost-reunions. Ratan is accompanied by—yay!—Neetu Singh, who then joins him for a delightfully crazy dance number “Lekar Hum Deewana Dil.”
Shakal sets a plan in motion to escape the country once Shankar has stolen the Natraj for him, and fakes his own death. Now all three brothers work for Shakal: Vijay as a waiter, Ratan as a singer, and Shankar as a thief; and Jack is released from prison vowing revenge on his former boss. But nobody knows who or where Shakal IS. All Jack knows is that he wears a different size shoe on each foot. Plus, the police think Shakal is dead (although strangely they continue to blame him for crimes committed afterwards).
Will Shakal manage to escape? Will anyone figure out who he is? Can Sunita and Vijay find their way back to each other? And will the three boys ever be reunited?
Oh yeah. Will they ever! Dharam almost has an aneurysm, for reals!
Grab your sister and several bottles of wine and just watch it, already.
PS: Shivraj says my favorite line in the film and also appears in a scene which causes me to ask: “What is that in the back window? Someone’s wig? Or did they run over Toonces The Cat Who Could Drive A Car?” Questions, so many questions.