So proclaims Bhanu Singh (Vinod Khanna) in English at about two hours into this epic, leading me to reflect that if I’ve learned nothing else from Hindi movies, I do know that an unhinged mind and a Rajput heritage are not as mutually exclusive as he thinks. Still, this is possibly my favorite line ever spoken in the history of movies, with the bonus of an unnecessary but hilarious subtitle: “I am not insane, I am a Rajput!”
Actually, the subtitles are one of my favorite things about this movie, and there are a lot of favorite things.
(Side note: halfway through screen capping for this post, my original dvd with the crazy subtitles died, and I had to replace it with the more sedate Shameroo version. All good things must end.)
Unsurprisingly, everyone in this film is named Singh and they are all very angry and vengeful people. There is a lot of posturing and threatening, with popping neck veins and bristling luxurious (fake) moustaches on order, and of course coming from me this is not a criticism.
It actually makes sense, given the violence inherent in even the most benign and happy of circumstances (for the general non-Rajput population anyway)—here, childhood friendship and a wedding day.
What makes this film stand apart for me is how much love and care there is between people despite their many problems. It isn’t all testosterone-fuelled fighting like other movies of its ilk; it is really a film about relationships. Brothers, fathers, sons, daughters, lovers, neighbors: all are linked together in a myriad of ways and in general (with one exception) people try to do the right thing by each other.
Even the requisite feuding fathers (Om Shivpuri and Rehman, respectively) of brothers Bhanu and Manu (Dharmendra) and Janaki (Hema Malini) operate with a basic level of respect for one another, although sadly it does lovers Manu and Janaki no good at all.
The mayhem perpetrated by the villainous Maharajah Jaipaul Singh (Ranjit), who refuses to acknowledge that his kingdom now belongs to Mother India, pretty much ruins everybody’s lives. He commands a gang of dacoits led by Kallu Singh (Mohan Sherry) who rape, pillage, murder and ravage the countryside. Bhanu loses the girl he loves (the very beautiful Ranjeeta Kaur) to the Maharajah after he rapes her and sets her up as his concubine (she bears Jaipaul a son whom she names Bhanu, sweetly enough).
Manu loves Janaki, but as I said, their fathers hate each other, and her father’s best friend (Iftekhar) has an eligible son by the name of Dhirendra (Rajesh Khanna) who also falls for her. She is duly married off to Dhirendra, but only after she and Manu have spent a night together with the result that she too becomes pregnant.
Jaipaul Singh sees Janaki in passing one day, and sends a proposal of marriage to her father who angrily—and quite rightly—rejects it as unsuitable, the king being too old and she already promised to Dhirendra. Furious, the rejected Maharajah orders his nephew (Tej Sapru) to kidnap her from the wedding procession taking her to her new house. He grabs her, but Manu (following the procession himself hoping to get Janaki back) manages to kill the nephew after Janaki falls from his horse. Dhirendra arrives on the scene thinking that she has been raped by the nephew, who has fallen on top of Janaki’s injured body.
This drama takes place accompanied by a mournfully beautiful song that I love (“Doli Ho Doli Jab”), and it is spectactularly shot—as is the whole film, really. The cinematography throughout is gorgeous.
Manu for some unfathomable reason is sent off to life in prison for murder (I suppose because it’s the king’s nephew, although the killing seems perfectly justified to me and Dhirendra—who is a policeman—knows he saved Janaki’s life).
Khair, it’s a piddly detail and gets Manu out of the way. Dhirendra leaves Janaki at his parents’ house to recover from her trauma. When she goes to his house a few weeks later and confesses to Dhirendra that she is already pregnant, he assumes that it’s a result of the wedding day “rape” by her assailant (she does not enlighten him). He tells her that it doesn’t change his wanting her for a wife, and that he will accept the child—which he does, when it is born.
In revenge for his nephew’s death, the king sends his dacoits to burn down Manu’s home: his father is killed, but Bhanu manages to escape. Fed up and with nothing left to lose, he takes a group of village volunteers to form his own gang under the guise of Bhavani (for the goddess Bhavani); they will devote their efforts to fighting the king and his dacoits.
Years pass. Janaki grows to love the kind compassionate man she married (and Manu selflessly helps her recognize what great qualities his rival has), and they dote upon “their” son Virendra. Dhirendra moves up the ranks of the police to become Superintendent, and gradually realizes that the dacoits who continue to terrorize the area are connected to the king. Bhavani and his gang make life for the king as miserable as they can, looting his wealth and redistributing it to his victims, and the king’s daughter Jaya (Tina Munim) returns home after years in a boarding school abroad.
One day Dhirendra recognizes a prisoner on a chain gang he passes as Manu, the man who saved his wife on that long-ago wedding day, and he pulls strings to get him released from prison. Manu discovers that his home is gone and his brother has disappeared, and he is told that Kallu Singh was responsible for killing his father. Pretty soon Manu is yet another thorn in Jaipaul Singh’s side as he begins killing the king’s dacoits (and reaping the rewards for them from the police); and Dhirendra invites Manu to stay in a room adjacent to his own home with Janaki and (unbeknownst still to Dhirendra) Manu’s son.
Janaki wants Manu to know his son, but she is disconcerted when Manu begins showering gifts and attention on the boy. And the king, now being hunted by Bhavani, Manu AND Dhirendra and the police decides to rid himself of his enemies, which you know can only end in bloodshed and tears.
Will Dhirendra discover that Manu is Janaki’s long-lost love and the father of her baby, the child he loves as his own? Will Bhavani find love at last? Will Jaipaul Singh finally get what’s coming to him? Will his daughter discover his perfidy?
In case you can’t tell, I love this movie. Vijay Anand never disappoints me! The music, the cast and performances, it’s all good. The story moves along at a cracking pace, and most of all the characters are people you really care about. They want to be happy, the men and the women, and so they manage with the hands they are dealt. No weeping and wailing here! The women have power over their own lives to a degree not often seen in these films. They deal with tragedy and move on, and find contentment where they can. These Rajputs are people who stand by their principles (principles that for the most part I can agree with) and who stand up for each other—actually, now that I think about it, none of them are unhinged at all! You were right, Bhanu Singh. Despite the sad things that happen it’s a life-affirming kind of film.
Plus, there are lots of those sweet beautiful Marwari horses I love so much. LOTS. And…