Even with subtitles, I probably would have fast-forwarded through vast stretches of this film; without them I spent much of my time bewildered by the plot and bored by its meandering. I might not have bothered to write it up either except for there’s an absolute dearth of material about it out there, and it does have some very redeeming qualities. It seems to have had a decent budget: there are a lot of well-known character and comic actors; the costumes and sets are lush and colorful; Helen and Laxmi Chhaya each have dances. I suspect though I can’t confirm that none of the money lavished on it went to a script writer, however. Mohammed Hussain is a director whose name I am always happy to see in the credits, but he might have been rather worn out or bored himself by the time this was made. It lacks his trademark lunacy, and that craziness is sorely missed.
Khair. Enough quibbling, let’s talk about the good stuff.
DARAAAAAAA!!!!!! Even with bad 1970s hair and a bit of a paunch, he is awesome. His best friend is Kareem (Rajendranath). We are introduced to Kareem as he busily hacks away at the branch he is perched on from the wrong side. He lives with I think his father and sister Jamila (Jayshree T), but I am never really sure of all the relationships and mostly he is there for comic relief which is neither. Minutes after he is stopped from hurting himself, Alibaba fells a huge tree which falls on Kareem’s father. Nobody seems too upset about it, and it’s really just an excuse for Dara to flex his considerable muscles which is fine by me.
Alibaba’s weepy mother is played by the equally awesome Lalita Pawar, whom we meet in a scene where she is clutching a child’s clothing and wailing over the fate of her lost first-born son Kasam. Despite the fact that the younger Alibaba is at least 45 years old at this point, he has never heard the story of this great loss (I would bet all my money that she carries on about it at least once a week). She tells him that when the boys were toddlers, she lost his brother during a sandstorm in the desert because of course two kids were one too many for her to keep track of.
Conveniently enough, the boys have matching birthmarks, so we know way before Alibaba and his Ma do that the Wazir-e-Alam (Dev Kumar), evil minister to the benign local Sultan (Nazir Hussain), is Alibaba’s older brother.
The Sultan is clueless about his advisor’s maleficent activities (maybe a tree fell on him at some point too) and spends most of his time worrying about his beautiful daughter, the Shehzadi Farzana (the lovely Radha Saluja), who is in love with young Nazir (Satish Kaul).
Thus the Wazir’s bullying soldiers led by Habib (Habib) are free to wreak havoc and plunder the local townspeople. This does not endear him to Alibaba or Kareem, who are at the local coffee house one afternoon to watch dancer Laxmi Chhaya. I am enthralled, and have to rewind several times before I can move on.
The Wazir is there too and an argument ensues, followed by a “comic” fight a la 1960s Batman, and then a thrilling (but not comic) horseback chase through a rocky landscape, where Alibaba and Kareem manage to hide from the Wazir’s soldiers.
From their hiding place they watch in amazement as a group of fierce tribesmen (I think…or maybe they are soldiers, I never do figure them out) open a hidden cave with a magic command.
They wait, and after the tribesmen depart, Alibaba opens the cave again with the same command. He and Kareem are overjoyed to find a vast treasure of jewels and gold, and rather unfortunately for them, a feast laid out. They fall upon it and gorge themselves into a stupor.
Meanwhile, back in town, a pretty girl named Marjina (Komilla Wirk) chased by her lecherous old employer (Hiralal) is “rescued” by the tribe leader. She goes rather unwillingly with him to the cave. Here we discover that under the treasure—and the by now sound asleep Alibaba and Kareem—is a lower dungeon where unfortunate
comedians captives led by Bhagwan and Birbal are turning a large grindstone and complaining.
Alibaba and Kareem are escorted down to join them while Marjina is subjected to the head tribesman’s advances. She spurns him and he calls on Helen to dance and throw knives at Marjina, which she does with her usual aplomb. While the tribesmen are thus distracted, Alibaba and Kareem turn the tables on their guards down below.
Alibaba rather easily (given that his only assistants are thirsty and tired Comic Side Plot types) prevails over the tribesmen and sends them down to take over duties at the grindstone. He returns home to use his newfound wealth for the betterment of the townspeople and fall in love with Marjina.
All of this naturally earns him the further enmity of the Wazir, who frames him for the kidnapping of the Sultan’s lovely daughter Farzana. Even Farzana thinks that she is being held by him, since the Wazir keeps his face covered and all his men call him “Alibaba”. Farzana’s young suitor Nazir tries to rescue her from the wrong people and is almost beheaded for his effort by a squeamish Rajendranath (they are both saved at the last minute by Alibaba and a pineapple). Farzana manages to burn the Wazir’s hand with a burning ember (I do so love how women kick ass in these B-movies).
Thus the scene is set for a denouement between brothers with the idiot Sultan in between. Up until now it’s all been well and good, and I have run the gamut from enthralled (Laxmi and Dara) to mildly entertained (weeping Lalita and Dara). Alas, it’s really all downhill from here as the plot splinters and comedic sidetracking takes over.
Warning: Spoilers below, because honestly sitting through the rest of this is not worth the tedium. But if you’re going to try, don’t read the next paragraph.
Will the Wazir and Alibaba discover their relationship? (Duh, of course, but the Wazir puts Alibaba’s eyes out with a fiery poker anyway. And tries again to kill Alibaba later. He is THAT EVIL.) Will the Shehzadi be rescued by her wet-behind-the-ears suitor? (Yes, with Alibaba and the comedy brigade’s painful help.) Will the Sultan ever believe that Alibaba is innocent and discover his Wazir’s perfidy? (Only after he’s dethroned and imprisoned by the Wazir. He is THAT STUPID.) Will Alibaba ever see again despite being blinded by his brother? (Where there is love and devotion, there is hope.)
End Spoilers, mostly.
There are just a few more things worth mentioning, which got me through the next two hours (it’s so very long, this film) by showing up at intervals whenever I was about ready to give up:
A nice qawwali performed by Alibaba and Marjina for the Sultan, at the end of which the Wazir recognizes Alibaba. Alibaba removes his fake moustache with a grand flourish, revealing the real one below which is basically EXACTLY THE SAME. I swear, I laughed for ten minutes.
The absolute anguish and revulsion on the Wazir’s face when he finds out his true parentage. Most people are happy to find they have mothers and brothers, but not him! OH NO. (I also just have to love the guy covered in black shoe polish whose job is to heat the eye-poker-outers in the dungeon.)
A lively and fun dance from Jayshree T with Bhagwan and Friends accompanying her in drag. It’s also nice to see Jayshree T in a small role as Rajendranath’s sister (I think).
I liked this movie enough to extract and upload the two songs I’ve linked (Laxmi’s particularly is really sublime, and I can never resist a qawwali; Helen’s dance is already on YouTube if you search for it) and take all these screenshots (which essentially necessitates another viewing for me albeit at a faster speed). But it is about an hour and a half too long, with way too many excursions away from the main story and a lot of tedious “comedy” and endless fisticuffs. The acting is as terrible as you’d expect (Satish Kaul and Komilla Wirk are particularly and sometimes hilariously wooden) but I don’t think anyone watches these films for the nuanced performances. I know I don’t, anyway.
In any case, I watched it so you don’t have to!