Lalkar (1972)

lalkar

The film’s title is actually Lalkar (The Challenge) but I never did figure out what the Challenge was, other than getting through the Comic Side Plot interruptions and tepid romantic interludes which kept intruding on the otherwise fun espionage plot. Rajendra Kumar and Mala Sinha get top billing, so I was hoping to collect some Nahiiin Face additions for the Gallery but they were fairly restrained. They are supported by a stellar cast of character actors led by the inestimable Shyam Kumar as the eye-patch wearing Japanese villain, Dharmendra at his peak, saucy Kum Kum, some really special special effects, and a host of small details that made it eminently watchable.

Our setting is WWII (but with fashion-forward Seventies style!) Assam, on the border with Burma, where Japanese forces are menacing. Rajan (Rajendra Kumar) and Ram (Dharmendra) are brothers in the Air Force and Army respectively. Rajan is a sober Wing Commander who commands great respect. He loves and is loved by Usha (Mala Sinha), a doctor and the daughter of Base Commander Choudhury (Nasir Hussain).

lalkar_romance

He is too shy to declare his feelings for Usha, and is teased about his “mystery” woman by younger brother Ram, who is a dashing Major with an eye for all the ladies but a cynical attitude towards love. To be honest, he’s a bit of a cad.

Ram is adored by Toshi (Kum Kum), the daughter of the local tribal chief. His army buddies convince him to take advantage of her feelings in order to persuade her to dance for them at their Christmas party. I think this is reprehensible, but Ram convinces her that he loves her.

lalkar_rajkumari

Unbeknownst to the military population and to her father is the fact that many of her people are spying on them for Japan with the logic that the military represents British rule and “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Of course these people are also Assamese and their physical resemblance to the Japanese is exaggerated in every way possible (high cheekbones, slanting eyes, black hair with the fringe cut straight across).

lalkar_betrayal

Of course the Japanese General himself isn’t Japanese, but I don’t care because it’s Shyam Kumar, the most bombastic character actor ever! How I love him. His men are building an airstrip on the border between Assam and Burma so they can bomb Calcutta, and he has a plan to keep the Raj forces from finding it.

lalkar_japanese

The smartest pilot naturally is Wing Commander Rajan Kapoor, and off he goes, straight into the trap orchestrated by the Japanese and their tribal traitors (all code-named things like Cheetah No. 4 and equipped with radios that work perfectly as long as the user shouts into the receiver from deep inside the jungle, in caves, between high mountain cliffs, and so on). When Rajan realizes their peril, he commands his three wing men to turn back and takes the enemy fire. I am delighted by the teeny airplanes that appear and disappear randomly.

lalkar_minimission

He makes it back to base in his flaming aircraft, much to everyone’s relief, and since Usha is the doctor treating his injuries there is a long interlude where they sidestep around confessing their romantic feelings. Finally–to my great relief–Usha decides to take the initiative by stealing his diary and reading it. Normally I would disapprove of this kind of invasion of privacy, but Rajan is such a coward when he’s not in his tiny plane!

lalkar_initiative

She has meanwhile gone to Shillong with her father for the Christmas show starring poor misled Toshi, where she meets Ram who–unaware that she is his brother’s “mystery” woman–flirts with her and then falls in love with her. This strikes me as a) unnecessary to the plot and b) completely unbelievable and c) taking way longer than it should, although it also provides these moments:

lalkar_hunger

Oh, Garam Dharam. And poor Toshi!

Usha returns home to her Rajan, unaware of the turmoil she has created in Ram’s bare chest. Rajan has called his father and asked him to come and arrange their marriage. Have I mentioned the fantastic Seventies clothing and accessories dotting this WWII-era story?

lalkar_marryme

On the afternoon of his father’s arrival, Rajan is sent by his Commander on another dangerous reconnaissance of the Japanese airfield with new intelligence on its actual location. Undaunted by his previous near miss, Rajan takes off as his brother Ram arrives to see Usha and tell her of his love. She doesn’t take him seriously, but he stumbles across Cheetah No. 4 giving the Japanese the information that Rajan is on his way. He races back to camp, but it’s too late. They radio Rajan who cannot turn back, although he manages to give them the coordinates for the airstrip. Ram and the Commander listen as he is shot down in his little bomber by the gleeful General and his second-in-command (Shetty, of course).

lalkar_hitbadly

The entire base is plunged into grief at this terrible loss, and when ex-Colonel Kapoor arrives for what should be a happy occasion he suffers a shock so terrible that Dr. Brahm Bharadwaj (how many doctors did he play during his career?) is inspired into a diagnosis that bends my mind.

lalkar_diagnosis1

So naturally, the only thing to be done is…

lalkar_diagnosis2

Yup! The only good news that will work is if his other son gets married! Usha is forced into an engagement with Ram and voila! instant cure. Of course nobody tells Ram that Usha was all set to marry Rajan, so he’s happy even though practically nobody else is, especially Toshi.

It is all so very dysfunctional that the Japanese General–who has discovered that Rajan did not die and taken him prisoner–seems almost sane by comparison.

lalkar_torture

Commander Choudhury sends Ram at the head of a crack commando unit to destroy the airfield, but their mission is once again betrayed by the tribal spies (this time including an angry Toshi who has been convinced that once caught, Ram will be returned to her).

Will they succeed despite this betrayal? Will Rajan be rescued? Will he find out that Ram and Usha are now engaged? Will Ram discover that Usha loves Rajan, not him? Will Toshi’s love for Ram stay true?

As I said at the beginning, the military/espionage pieces of this film are a whole lot of fun, and even the romance between Usha and Rajan is sweet enough that I didn’t mind it. But the interruptions are long and often jarring, and Ram’s treatment of Toshi is pretty reprehensible. Also as you might have figured out from the description and screen caps above, people like Dara Singh, Dev Kumar and Agha are completely wasted. I’m not sure Dara even speaks a single word! It is a lovely character actor party, but they are mostly relegated to wallflower status. Kalyanji-Anandji’s music is just okay (I do like the catchy theme song “Aaj Ga Lo Muskura Lo”), but Mala Sinha singing one of her songs is a bonus.

All that said, it’s a good watch with a working Fast Forward button in your hand.

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25 Comments to “Lalkar (1972)”

  1. If memory serves me right, when the movie was released, Dharmendra’s face was plastered front and center on all the billboards and even at the movie hall. Clearly, Rajendra Kumar’s star was on the wane while Dharam’s was rapidly ascendant. I never did see the movie but remember it being billed as that rarity in Hindi movies – a war movie with some real war “action”. Planes, tanks, the works! I remember fervently hoping to be taken to see it to assuage my blood-thirsty 11 year-old self! Clearly, that doesn’t appear to have been the only focus of the plot

    • I don’t know that I would describe it as “real” ha ha, but it was certainly entertaining!!! Truly worth a watch, as long as you can get through the stuff that isn’t entertaining :)

  2. It has been so many years since I have seen this one, and those screen caps make it all look so inviting…especially Rajendra’s out of place wild and wide 70s tie…need to dig out my DVD for re-watching.

    • I can’t believe it took me so long to watch it! I’ve had it for a while, but I think because it’s Rajendra Kumar and Mala Sinha I figured it might be disappointing. Beth put it back on my radar and I’m glad she did, because even they were kind of fun. The fashions for all three (Rajendra, Mala and Dharmendra) were truly FAB.

  3. Greta, always glad to see you back, and in full form. I hope a bottle of wine had some role to play in this cracktastic review. :) As usual, I laughed my way through your film. I might watch this for a young Garam Dharam. :)

    • No wine required for this one! Even my husband–not generally an Indian movie fan (doesn’t have the attention span for 2.5 hrs plus)–sat and watched some of it with me :)

  4. one of my teeny fave patriotic movies, though I agree with you Memsaab that the love triangle part even then seemed OTT and unnecessary to me. Happy you reviewed this movie.

    • So much to love! I wish some of the romance time (including the CSP where poor Tun Tun once again had to drug Keshto and then chain him to her to get him to marry her) had been devoted to some of the wasted actors instead.

  5. It’s nice to see you back and that too in full form. Lalkar is a lacklustre movie and can be seen purely for formulaic entertainment. I don’t know whether you have seen and reviewed Aankhen (1968) which is a genuine spy movie and manifold impressive than Lalkar. Aankhen also features Dharmendra and Mala Sinha only in the lead roles.

    Jitendra Mathur

  6. I remember watching this as a teenager, a few years after I saw Aankhen. Aankhen had made me a staunch fan of the Dharmendra-Mala Sinha jodi, so I basically watched every movie of theirs that I could lay my hands on – and it took me a while to realise that Aankhen was by far the best of the lot.

    • I like how Mala really manages to engage with Dharmendra here but make it clear (to everyone except him apparently) that she thinks of him as a younger brother and not as a love interest. She had much better chemistry with Rajendra in this. I found this pretty similar to Ankhen in how it held my interest.

  7. Greta, welcome back. Missed you, girl!!!
    Very ,very entertaining, as usual!
    Dont you tire of all the accolades that come your way!!:))

  8. Dharam’s brother, Ajit, is also in this film. He is one of the Dharam’s comrades.

  9. Aww, wish I had known you were planning to watch this. I’ve have avoided “Lalkar” forever because…well, you know – Rajendra Kumar & Mala Sinha, but the right company might have made it tolerable. Though those screenshots of bare-chested Dharmendra are mighty persuasive in their own right… :-O

    • Seriously, this is pretty “racy” in places. Early on Rajendra Kumar wakes him up and is horrified that he’s not wearing ANYTHING, then the man servant walks in on him in the shower and is equally shocked :) I think it’s supposed to show us that he’s “fast” (as Rajan later describes him) :) I’d watch it again in a few months if you like. It was entertaining enough for that! I think Beth wants to watch it too.

  10. The final part is stretched out too long. I liked the early romantic bits. Love the song ‘Bol mere saathiya’. It is kind of sweet.

  11. Dharmendra’s introduction scene when Rajendra Kumar wakes him up still cracks me up !! :-)

    What was Ramanand Sagar upto? He first paired Mala Sinha with Dharmendra in Aankhein (1968) and then with Rajendra Kumar in Geet (1970). Maybe he was thinking let both the heroes vie for her attention in my next movie. Kumkum I remember was the surprise package what with she dressed in skimpy clothes and drinking alcohol at times.

    I think it was a movie that should have been made in 60s, but was a tad late when released in early 70s.

  12. Memsaab, you are trully stellar and have probably covered more obscure films than I can remember at this moment in time. I’ll have to comb your site to see if you’ve done NAYA BAKRA ( 1985 or later) which was years in the making and had all sorts of cameos in it, as well as some what appeared to be intentional in-jokes at particular actors of the time(s) . It was clearly started in the late 1970’s but released in the mid to late 80’s, by which time mehmood-ji’s hairstyle had subsided into a full blown wig. A bit jarring so if not seen, watch out for it as the continuity plus all the other shennanigans in the film will leave you in stitches. Vinod Mehra was the hero, if that helps. I think the heroine was a south star as I cannot remember seeing her in a hindi film ever again.

    The above is my gauche lead into this oddity, which was laughably memorable when i watched it on VHS TAPE over twenty years ago. Again, it was in the making for some time and was probably intended to catch the wave of ‘ we’re at war and we’ll win!’ type films of the late 60’s, but was possibly retooled to take advantage of Dharmendra’s star being on the ascent whilst Rajendra Kumar’s was on the wane, post 1970, which was the Rajesh Khanna superstardom period. It’s hamfisted fun all the way, and the editing looks like it was done over different periods of time, with different people at the helm.

    All in all, thank you for the detailed plot breakdown, and i’ll have to see if it’s up on youtube or if i can grab a dvd of it somewhere for a fuller experience.

    • I must look for Naya Bakra!

      • It’s a hoot..and a half!

        Also (unless its already here somewhere) , another mish-mashed vinod mehra multi-starrer to watch out for, is called FAISLA (1988), which was at least a decade in the making .

        It also has vinod khanna In it , whom I suspect was the original choice for the main lead, but went off to his lengthy stint in rajneesh’s ashram at some.point in 1979, so the film was retooled at some point. Ranjeet and sujit kumar excel as villains – when was Ranjeet ever lousy in a film? Probably never- and in the end everyone who was in the 1970s portions of the film except vinod mehra and the heroine (it’s Saira Banu..she looks clearly disturbed and confused in many scenes, irrespective of her character being blind, as if that was some sort of.compensatory emotive default for still having to.participate in this project ,many years after retirement ) are nowhere to.be seen!

        YAAR MERI ZINDAGI was hilariously disjointed, but this is somewhat redeemed by some decent songs (Rd. Burman delivers a few good songs with asha, rafi kishore et al..just like in YAAR meri zindagi, oddly enough), mehmood, Ranjeet’s villainy and the utter confusion generated by the aforementioned continuity. It is imperative that you watch it in ONE SITTING, in order to fully understand and (cough) appreciate the finer aspects of this conceptualisation of multiple square pegs into round holes.

        Happy hunting!

  13. I loved this movie… Bollywood old movies are entertaining too.. with happy endings… and the crbtech movie reviews helps me to keep updated about the bollywood and hollywood movies…

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