When friends ask me why I haven’t upgraded to digital high-definition from my 20-year-old CRT television set, I put a movie like this into the dvd player as explanation. It looks bad enough on my old workhorse, I can’t even imagine how bad it would look on HD. And really, I don’t want to ever stop watching movies like this, no matter how abysmal the video and audio might be. It is a riotously colorful Arabian Nights vehicle for tall, handsome Ajit in a last gasp as hero, replete with the loony touches and sumptuous sets and costumes for which director Mohammed Hussain is beloved (at least by me). Usha Khanna’s music is plentiful and fortunately pleasant (sometimes very much so), and Sayeeda makes a lovely heroine. The lack of subtitles, choppy editing, and poor made-from-vhs-tape quality cannot diminish my pleasure in it; I am even thrilled by the (some would say poorly) hand-drawn title credits.
Happy-go-lucky Alladin [sic] (Ajit) lives with his tailor father Mustafa (David) and mother (Ratnamala). His best friend and CSP is Abdullah (Maruti), and Alladin is madly in love with local girl Salma (Sayeeda Khan), who reciprocates although her father (Jagirdar) disapproves wholeheartedly.
We are treated to the first lively tune almost immediately, as Alladin rides his pretty bay mare through the bustling town market singing the title song. Although Mukesh’s voice doesn’t really suit Ajit, it is a wonderful scene and song, with acrobats, dancers, snake charmers and fire-eaters entertaining the crowds.
Alladin is generous with the beggars, although he finishes his trip to the bazaar by selling his horse in order to further his ambitions to marry Salma. He buys some candy-colored fancy clothes and makes his way with Abdullah to the equally candy-colored restaurant that Salma’s father owns, and where she dances for the customers.
Daddy Salma is fooled into giving Alladin his hospitality, hoping that this apparently wealthy man will want to marry her. But Alladin’s masquerade is ruined with the arrival of his own father, accompanied by another prospective bride’s father. He flees into the market, knocking over vegetable vendors and a fat girl and other predictable Comic Side Plot things. That evening, Salma has a good laugh when she meets him as usual; then, in the first of what are going to be many abrupt transitions, soldiers attack the town fortress but are defeated by its inhabitants wielding cauldrons of boiling oil.
The deep-fat-fried guys belong to a Wazir (Madan Puri), who has set up a luxurious camp in the vicinity. He is also entertained by dancing girls (really, this whole movie is built around the songs which is just fine by me), although Usha Khanna can’t have credit for this tune (“Hava Nagila”). I am not clear on what this next bit is all about; his right hand man Kasam (Habib) arrives to congratulate him (on what?) and informs him of the death of his general. He ties a “bandage” around the Wazir’s head so that they can parade through the streets of the town in apparent victory as the crowd waves and cheers them on.
He lands up at the palace itself, where he is escorted in to see the devout Sultan-e-Ali (Amar) just finishing his prayers. Apparently the Wazir is now posing as an ally; he is warmly welcomed by both the Sultan and the Sultana Begum (Mumtaz Begum), and offered…you guessed it! another song and dance courtesy of the lovely Salma. Her beauty and grace catches the eye of the Wazir, and despite her obvious reluctance, her father is more than happy to leave her in the palace as a guest at the Sultan’s invitation.
Furthermore, he informs the Wazir that Salma is not really his daughter, but the long-lost daughter, Sayeeda, of the Sultan and his Begum! Somehow demons are part of the back story but my rudimentary Hindi fails me during this conversation. The Wazir tells him to keep chup about it and begins to plot.
Salma sneaks out to meet her beloved Alladin for, yup, another song, during which Ajit does his best to channel Shammi—and succeeds for the most part.
Thus far, all has gone well enough: Ajit and Sayeeda have nice chemistry together, the costumes and sets are gloriously blinding, and trying to piece the plot together has kept me busy. However. The next development causes my already dangerously high Daily Minimum Cracktastic Requirement levels to go up.
I mean, I’ve been expecting some magic carpet rides and a Genie or two to show up soon but I never dreamed that two furry “shaitano” in ape masks and wigs would turn up over a nasty bubbling red potion. They attempt to force some of it into the home’s sleeping inhabitant, but she awakens—and she is equally scary. Garlanded with small skulls, she makes short work of these demons by turning them into puffs of smoke before collapsing back on her bed (not sure why she does that; she seems to be ill or something).
THIS IS NOT EVEN THE BEST PART.
Her son enters the room; he is also a magician, and none other than my favorite barrel-chested thespian Shyam Kumar. They talk about jadoo at some length but I’ve got no idea what it’s all about although he makes a crystal ball light up like an orange lava lamp. I’m guessing he wants world domination and I’m pretty sure that she dies because we never see her again.
Sadly at this point we are abruptly switched back to the Sultan’s palace, where Salma is plucking a harp and singing a melancholy song. Or maybe it’s just meant to be soothing—the Sultan and his Begum seem to be enjoying it. They are clearly fond of Salma, and so is the Wazir (well, he is mostly fond of her heritage). His wooing of her meets with a sharp setdown, and that night when she sneaks out to see Alladin again, she is followed by the Wazir and his men. She warns Alladin about the Wazir, and after she leaves the Wazir’s men attack him. Alladin, being Ajit, manages to escape without harm.
The wily Wazir (being Madan Puri) cannot be stopped though. He arranges for one of his men to throw a knife into Salma’s arm during her next dance performance (we all knew it was coming!) and arrests Alladin for the crime, who is conveniently standing by in disguise thus looking guilty. The Sultan sentences him to death. When the Sultan’s soldiers announce this in the town square, Mustafa hears the news and dies of a heart attack. Looking on at all this is our magician friend Shyam.
Meanwhile, Salma pleads with the Sultan for Alladin’s life but to no avail. Her maidservant (and CSP love interest) (Noor Jehan?) devises a plan whereby she bakes the key to Alladin’s cell into what looks very like a pizza to me but is probably a loaf of bread. How she gets the key is a mystery to me, and I don’t much care anyway. And—not because of his striped pants, bare chest or fierce mouche—the guard at the right below soon catches my eye.
Alladin manages to unlock his cell but during his escape attempt the guard’s hair catches on fire! There is no cut-away as the camera pans to follow the torch’s path.
Alladin finds refuge from the soldiers chasing him with none other than our magician pal Shyam, who hides him and then escorts him home to Ma and his shrouded dead father. Alladin agrees to accompany Shyam on a mission to find a lamp (I am not clear why he agrees to go, except maybe from gratitude and to get out of town for a while) and anticipation of an increased dosage of my DMCR is richly rewarded. Shyam gives Alladin a wave-shaped magic sword, and sends him into a cave hidden underneath…well, here. Just have a look; I really should have done this writeup in comic book format, there is so much to screencap!
Mostly the cave is full of scary sounds and glitter, although the skeleton-turned-murderous-Nubian-slave is a nice touch. Alladin rather easily finds his way into the chamber containing the lamp for which he is searching and retrieves it. The whole ambiance is pleasingly low budget and bright, complete with Christmas tree lights.
Shyam wants Alladin to send the lamp up on the rope first, but Alladin wisely refuses. Furious, the magician closes the cave entrance and stomps away. We cut abruptly to a prolonged (but sometimes actually funny) CSP scene, where Abdullah romances Salma’s maid and reassures Salma that Alladin is okay (which of course at the moment he is not) while at the same time making a fool of the Wazir and Kasam. Soon enough though we return to the cave, where Alladin again rather easily manages to evade a few half-hearted ghostly figures and finds his way out. This is not a movie which rests on its demented laurels and milks every moment from its inexpensive sets, oh no. It just moves quickly from one crazy thing to the next, a strategy of which I wholeheartedly approve.
Alladin gets home, hands the lamp to Ma and crashes for a well-deserved nap. Abdullah arrives and takes the lamp to a local department store kind of guy, who buys it from him. He in turn gets a customer for said lamp, and dusts it off for him, with unexpected for them (but not for me) results.
LOVE. Love, love, love.
The genie (Sabir) emits a nice deep long “Bwahahahahahahaaha” and then asks for his master’s order, but the shopkeeper and company are too stunned and scared to give him one. Exasperated, the genie returns to his lamp and the spooked shopkeeper returns the lamp to Alladin, who lets Abdullah keep it. It’s not long before Abdullah lets the genie out by mistake and he faints too. Luckily Alladin is a little braver, and the genie finally gets him to understand that he’ll grant Alladin’s every wish. First up, Alladin wants food! Talk about starting small.
And can I say, if I ever get to have a genie I hope it’s as jolly (genial? sorry) as this one with his hearty belly laugh and his big gold ear hoops and his long fuzzy braid.
I WANT A GENIE.
Next up new clothes and transport to the Sultan’s palace, and Alladin and Abdullah are ready to present their spiffy selves to their lady loves. Salma is thrilled to see her beloved and it strikes me that Alladin is a very lucky man, indeed (plus, another song!).
But can it last? Belligerent Shyam the magician is still out there, and he wants the magic lamp! Will he manage to get his hands on it? The Wazir is not going to give up his plans to marry Salma and gain the Sultan’s wealth for himself either. Will the Sultan ever figure out that his adopted daughter Salma is really his real one, Sayeeda? And that the Wazir is not really his friend? Will anyone else catch fire? Will there be flying carpets (yes)?
This film closely follows the plot of Homi Wadia’s 1952 version of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, which I also really loved. It has the advantage of color (lots and lots of it), and Ajit might be a little old to be playing Alladin but he’s much manlier than poor Mahipal. In true B-movie fashion, the main characters are all people I can root for: the women in the movie are empowered and feisty, and the men are tough but kind as well. Instead of eating a baby deer that Abdullah catches when they are hungry, Alladin returns it to its watching mother. Melt.
The action can go on a bit and there are a lot of songs, lovely though many of them are, but the FF button is always your friend. Honestly, I didn’t use it much either—this was just way too much fun. If nothing else, it is definitely proof of one of my mottoes: “Ajit is Good, Mohammed Hussain is Good, Genies are Good.”