Some of you I imagine will scratch your heads and say: “This is the dubious production she’s choosing to review after so long?”
Many more of you will say: “Well of course it is.”
To all of you I have only two words: Arjun Hingorani. I have seen a few films in the month since I last posted a review, but as nice as some of them were they simply didn’t inspire me enough to overcome the cloud of Callie-worry and work overload. I was positive that the letter ‘K’ loving Mr. Hingorani would have something up his sleeve to make my eyes pop out. And so he did. He always does.
A lot of this film is rather predictable if you have watched even a couple of Manmohan Desai films and the resulting copycat parade, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s poorly paced, with long stretches where the lead stars simply disappear (I assume because they had busy schedules elsewhere), replaced by CSP situations and stunts that go on a little too long. It is also chock-full of those convenient coincidences that you just can’t question or you’ll go mad. However: it is made with producer-director Hingorani’s undying enthusiasm for film-making and passion for boy-toys (sten guns, helicopters, explosions) which goes a long way towards making it entertaining. It’s punctuated by cameos from aging stars and character actors loyal to him; and the songs by Kalyanji Anandji (two qawwalis!) are fun. Plus, there are a couple of anipals who are smarter than all the humans put together, and with judicious application of the FF button the redeeming moments throughout are much closer together.
We begin with the evil machinations of a black-cat-stroking, black-clad villain named Black Cobra (Amjad Khan) who shall henceforth be called BC, because I am lazy. BC is after a solid gold chariot studded with precious stones used by wealthy Pratap Singh’s (Pradeep Kumar) family for puja, but unfortunately for BC it is equipped with its own ninja-inspired self-defense mechanism.
Thwarted, an angry BC escapes from jail pretty quickly and sets into motion a chain of events which end up with Pratap Singh dead, and his two sons Ajit and Munna separated from each other and from their Maa Radha (Nirupa Roy in fine teary fettle).
Around now, Mr. Hingorani makes his own inevitable appearance as a minstrel who sings the theme song about the virtues of being…well, virtuous; and how God will punish evildoers and comfort their victims even if He takes His sweet time about it (all this as Radha smashes her bangles and dons a white saree). It’s a very catchy tune, although not catchy enough to engage me the next fifty times he shows up singing it as the movie moves on. Khair. That’s what the fast-forward button is for. And, I must add, at least he doesn’t give himself an “acting” part in this one because he’s a terrible actor, bless him.
BC sends his henchman Michael (Shakti Kapoor) to retrieve the chariot from poor Radha and there is a lot of subsequent helicopter footage that Hingorani always gleefully spends a large proportion of his budget on (as opposed to, say, a realistic-looking communications panel or at least some bright Christmas lights to spruce it up). It all ends with a spectacular crash which ostensibly kills Michael and destroys the precious chariot.
Little Munna is rescued by a pickpocket (Mukri) who brings him up to become Rishi Kapoor and a chor in his own right. An amnesiac Ajit (who witnessed his father getting whipped to death and bumped his head afterwards, leaving him traumatized but not knowing why) is taken in by a Muslim woman named Nasreen (Ashoo) who has just lost her own infant son Badshah. She gives Ajit her dead son’s name, and he grows up to be a tired-looking Dharmendra, still tortured by paralyzing flashbacks and himself now a goonda of the first water.
We meet him as he fights two men on opposite ends of the color spectrum: a steroidal gora named John, and a guy with black or navy blue shoe polish on his face named Kaalu (surprise!). He also tries to explain his momentary lapses of concentration to his friend Laalu (?).
Soon after the two brothers meet in a gambling club, where Badshah observes Munna cheating at cards and then saves him from getting a beating at the hands of his victim (Keshav Rana)—only to rob him of his winnings afterwards. They part with grudging mutual respect and Badshah gets drunk on his “earnings”. That night he is awakened by a next door neighbor singing to musical accompaniment: she is Jamila (Zeenat Aman) and she is practicing for an upcoming qawwali competition. Badshah is instantly smitten by Jamila, although she of course will make him work for any reciprocal attention from her.
This is an excellent excuse for Dharmendra to don a disguise and for a rousing qawwali, which is never a bad thing and should never be limited.
In the meantime, Munna’s adoptive father sends him to steal a diamond necklace from a couple (Manorama and Keshto Mukherjee) staying in a nearby hotel. What he doesn’t know is that another thief by the name of Reshmi (Tina Munim) has her eye on it too, and she has a distinct advantage in the form of her adept monkey Johnny. She sends him off to steal the necklace too, and Johnny neatly outmaneuvers Munna, making off with the necklace.
Such is the genius of Hindi cinema that a monkey outsmarting Rishi Kapoor isn’t even the best thing about this scene. Keshto, having spotted Johnny, gives an excellent impression of a cross-eyed Hanuman, and I am overcome by the magical harmony of wallpaper and furnishings.
And also: Manorama and the recently departed Phyllis Diller might have been sisters.
Munna manages to follow Johnny and Reshmi to the Oberoi Hotel, where he poses as the Prince of Zupto to catch Reshmi’s attention. I can’t make this stuff up, folks. In the song that follows (which I will just call the “Yakbayak” song for obvious reasons) Munna manages to steal the necklace from around Reshmi’s neck, replacing it with a fake which he somehow happens to have on hand. And I wonder: can anyone who was there in the early 80s tell me if this was the actual nightclub in the Oberoi? Because it seems awfully tasteless for a five-star hotel. Oh no, wait. Never mind.
Reshmi discovers his perfidy when she takes the necklace to a jeweller (Jankidas), who informs her that it is made of glass not diamonds.
Badshah wins Jamila’s heart after he somewhat improbably rescues her from the lecherous clutches of a Bruce Lee doppelganger (Bruce Le), who comes complete with nunchucks, yowling sounds and super-sweet karate moves.
Now we find out that BC’s henchman Michael wasn’t killed in that long-ago helicopter crash as we’d thought, but is living an ordinary life as a gas station owner with his wife Julie. He has turned things around, as evidenced by their collection of Catholic-themed tchotchkes. He is horrified to see BC pull up in his station for petrol, and does his best to remain unrecognized.
Alas! BC’s cat Jeanie (alternatively Ginny and Gini), who by my calculations must be well north of thirty years old if Ajit/Badshah’s adult appearance is any clue, does know who he is and alerts BC.
Michael had been unable to convince Radha to give up the bejeweled chariot, and since BC had told him explicitly that he would kill him if he returned without it, Michael faked his death by planting a bomb in the helicopter and parachuting out before it went off. He begs BC for forgiveness, but BC is not a forgiving man (although he is glad to find out that the chariot is still available).
I’m so glad you asked, Michael!
Black Cobra gives us Reecha’s back story:
I have barely grasped the implications of this when Reecha himself appears. You might think that a symbol of lunatic-bear love would be cute or at least a little bit cuddly, but you’d be wrong.
I have never in my life felt sorry for Shakti Kapoor, but I almost do now as Reecha snaps one of his legs like a twig. Julie comes running and grabs an axe to defend her husband; BC shoots her dead, calls off Reecha, and drives away, leaving a weeping and crippled Michael cradling his dead wife.
Radha now reappears in our story, many years older of course. She has never stopped searching for her sons, slogging from temple to temple on bare, bloodied feet, accompanied by her faithful servant (Hiralal). Oh, Nirupa.
Because he is now searching for the diamond chariot again, BC somehow knows her next stop and is waiting for her in the guise of a sadhu. He tells her that she is destined to find her youngest son the next day at a fair (how awesome is that! she’s going to FIND her child at a fair!), and that she will know him by a gold trishul around his neck. Of course, he is sending one of his own young henchmen with the necklace to fool her, but the wheels of fate are about to go into overdrive.
Munna happens to be there too, picking pockets, and he steals the gold trident from BC’s henchman. When Radha sees it around Munna’s neck she embraces him (to be fair, she also recognizes his eyes which is kind of sweet). Munna is not the type to let an opportunity go by!
Badshah, meanwhile, is trying to come up with a large sum of money to help Jamila, who owes some guy five lakhs. His pal Laalu sees an opportunity for him, because Badshah has the requisite qualification.
He and Radha are duly reunited, and, blissfully happy, she introduces her two long-lost sons to each other. They are not as happy as they pretend to be in front of her, of course!
Black Cobra has not given up his quest for the precious chariot, either. And a vengeful Reshmi shows up pretending to be Munna’s wife, so that she can get a share of this good fortune (having lost the necklace).
Who will find it first? Will the brothers ever figure out that they are really brothers, and really Radha’s sons? Will Reecha reappear (yay)? Will Michael get his revenge on Black Cobra? And above all, is there anything Dharmendra won’t do for his friend Arjun Hingorani?
No. No I don’t think so.