Reviews of Classic Bollywood Filums

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Film: Colour, 168 minutes, Hindi
Date: September 27, 1973;Production: R.K. Films; Director: Raj Kapoor

Story: K.A. Abbas; Screenplay: K.A. Abbas, V.P. Sathe; Dialogue: Jainendra Jain; Camera: Radhu Karmakar; Music: Laxmikant Pyarelal; Lyricists: Anand Bakshi, Indrajit Singh Tulsi & Vithalbhai Patel; Playback: Lata Mangeshkar, Manna Dey, Shailendra Singh & Chanchal; Art Direction: Rangraj; Sound: Allauddin; Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Pran, Premnath, Sonia Sahni, Durga Khote, Farida Jalal, Aruna Irani, Prem Chopra, Pinchoo Kapoor, Piloo Wadia, Jagdish Raj, Shashi Kiran

Review Coming Soon.


Amar Akbar Anthony

(Hindi, 1977, 174 minutes)
Produced and Directed by Manmohan Desai

Released by M. K. D. Films
Story idea: Pushp Raj Sharma; Story: Mrs. J. M. Desai; Screenplay: Prayag Raj; Scenario: K. K. Shukla; Dialogue: Kader Khan; Art Director: A. Rangraj; Editing: Kamalakar; Director of Photography: Peter Pereira; Lyrics: Anand Bakshi; Music: Laxmikant, Pyarelal

In 1977 the Hindi 'Bollywood' movie "Amar Akbar Anthony" was released. This Manmohan Desai film went on to become a blockbuster super hit and is one of Indian cinema's best loved popular entertainers of the 1970s. "Amar Akbar Anthony" or 'AAA' as it came to be called (The use of title initials are affectionate abbreviations with Bollywood fans.) brought together three heavyweight heroes of the 70s who were at the top of their fame; Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, and Vinod Khanna. They played the roles of three brothers separated at a young age from their parents and each other. The boys are orphaned and raised separately; Amitabh by a Christian priest, Rishi by a Muslim Taylor, and Vinod by a Hindu police inspector.

Destiny in the course of 'the film brings the brothers into proximity with each other and their real parents, without realizing their actual identities. By the end of the film everyone realizes who they really are and the whole family is reunited. "Amar Akbar Anthony" is a classic example of the 'Lost and Found' story. The lost and found story was a trademark of many Manmohan Desai films and his name is invariably associated with this theme.

This all takes a little over two and a half hours, with lots of comedy, drama, action, and seven or eight gratuitous song and dance numbers. The film is classified as a comedy. Indian film journalist and Bollywood historian Dinesh Raheja has said of 'AAA', [It has] "moments of inspired lunacy.." and was a "multi-starrer spectacle" . In the end 'AAA' is one of the most satisfying and entertaining Bollywood films ever made.

'AAA" also portrays classic examples of the different types of heroes that populate the Bollywood universe of the 1970s.

Amar (played by Vinod Khanna) is the son who grows up to be a Hindu police inspector. The handsome young police inspector is a classic Bollywood hero. He symbolizes the enforcement of societies moral codes and laws. He is the soldier on the side of 'right' and 'good'. The police inspectors nemesis is corruption in the form of blackmarketeers and gangsters. It is interesting how the hero as police inspector spends half of his time literally fighting the bad guys and then as counterpoint is also seen working behind an office desk doing paperwork. He is the hero of the 'system' and the 'state'.

Akbar (played by Rishi Kapoor) is the son who grows up to be a Muslim singer. Akbar is the 'Singing and Dancing' hero or the 'Teen Heartthrob'. Rishi Kapoor's nickname in the 70s was the 'Lover Boy' and there could be no better description for the boy chasing girl hero that is a mainstay of Bollywood cinema. It was Rishi's Uncle, Shammi Kapoor who created the modern singing and dancing lover boy hero for Bollywood. This hero symbolizes youthful love and lighthearted romance.

Anthony (played by Amitabh Bachchan) is the son who grows up to be a good hearted swaggering bad boy, the rogue hero. Anthony is the ne'erdowell with a heart of gold hero. This hero has often been downtrodden by society, is a social misfit, and an avid individualist who does things their own way, which is sometimes on the wrong side of the law. Society (this hero often expounds) has never given them anything and they don't owe society anything in return. The rogue hero though always learns by the end of the film that it is society that he is most tied to and owe everything to. He symbolizes all that is good in the 'common man'.

There are three love stories in 'AAA' but they are not central to the movie. 'AAA' is a 'hero' film, the heroines are secondary and in fact the romance in the film is basically there to showcase how loyal, protective, funny, and entertaining Amar, Akbar, and Anthony really are. What is really remarkable is how director Manmohan Desai manages to weave the elements of every type of 1970s Hindi film and its three major types of heroes into what is for the most part an absurd slapstick comedy / adventure and comes away from the proceedings with an almost perfect Bollywood entertainer. Desai even attempts to insert a 'parallel cinema' (Indian term for 'art film') track in 'AAA' with the casting of Shabana Azmi the great parallel cinema actress. It is the films comedy though that elevates 'AAA' to classic heights.

There is great acting in 'AAA' by the top stars of 70s Bollywood. Amitabh Bachchan reveals his incredible comic sense and his 'Anthony Gonsalves' song where he jumps out of a giant Easter egg is one of the all time high points of Bollywood film. Rishi Kapoor acts with masterful comic timing and his numbers with Neetu Singh show why he earned and deserved the name, 'Lover Boy'. Vinod Khanna plays straight man in 'AAA' except when he busts out as the ragtag 'one man band' for the films final number which is just an incredible joy.

I think that one needs to place themselves within the context of Bollywood 1977 to fully appreciate "Amar Akbar Anthony". At the time the angry young man films were the rage and that genre's major actors Amitabh and Vinod were the two 'godlike' heroes of Indian popular culture. Amitabh played a 'comic role' as opposed to his intensely rage filled angry young men and excelled at it. Rishi was the reigning teen heartthrob (when he married Neetu Singh in 1979 a few woman committed suicide from grief). The fact that all three were acting together in the same film, with three of the hottest actress of the period meant a multi-star summit of epic proportions. The generated excitement and expectation for the film must have been incredible and the fact the film delivers on all its promises must have been overwhelming.

Seeing 'AAA' in a Bombay theater in 1977 must have been just the peak of entertainment. I would give just about anything to be able to go back in time and watch Amitabh Bachchan jump out of that giant Easter egg and exclaim his famous lines, "You see the coefficient of the linear is just a position by the hemoglobin of the atmospheric pressure in the country" . I would be rolling with laughter in the isles with all the other front benchers.

Reviewer: Byron Aihara

Monday, February 14, 2005


(“Prelude,” Hindi, 1977)

Directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Produced by N. C. Sippy
Story idea: Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, Hrishikesh Mukherjee; Screenplay: Bimal Dutta; Dialogue and lyrics: Dr. Rahi Masoom Reza (“Koi gata” by Harbansraj Bachchan); Music: Jaidev; Cinematography: Jawant R. Pathare; Art direction: Ajit Banerjee; Playback: Lata Mangeshkar, Yesudas, Kum Faiyyaz, Asrani, Madhurani, Bhupendra, Dilraj Kaur, Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan

Dedicated to the memory of the great singers K. L. Saigal and Mukesh, this charming and unpretentious film offers a palate-cleansing change from the spicy “masala” epics that dominated its era, and features their superstar Amitabh Bachchan in a decidedly offbeat role. Though its central themes of protracted father-son conflict and of a suffering artist in a callous world are routine enough, its comparatively realistic depiction of life at various social levels in a provincial town, witty yet understated dialogues and beautiful songs that are deftly integrated into the storyline, and masterful but low-key performances all serve to lift it above the ordinary.

As the film opens, Alok (Amitabh Bachchan) completes a degree in classical music and returns to his hometown where he promptly reconnects with a childhood friend, the spirited horsecart driver Ganeshi (comedian Asrani, who played the Hitler-esque jailer in SHOLAY), who entertains him enroute home with a comic folk-style song to his mare (Binti sun le, “Hear my plea…”). Back at the prosperous family home, Alok is reunited with his adored sister-in-law (Lily Chakraborty) and elder brother Ashok, but soon runs afoul of their dictatorial father Triloki Prasad (Om Prakash). Alok calls his old man “Herr Hitler,” and with good reason, for he exemplifies the petty tyrant-in-his-own-domain mentality of certain upper-class men, who tyrannize their families and express their “feelings” only through tersely barked commands. Papa peremptorily informs Alok that he must now abandon the silliness of music and join his brother in the family law office. After a humorous nighttime song in which Alok assumes a barrister’s role and pleads the moon’s case to his sister-in-law, he accompanies his brother to town, but plays hooky from the family firm to visit Ganeshi’s modest home. In an adjacent building, he finds a singing lesson in progress, taught by a retired courtesan of Banaras, Sarjubai (Chhaya Devi); the pupil is Ganeshi’s sister Radhika Prasad, nicknamed Radhiya (Rekha). Sarjubai’s devoted male companion, known simply as “Maharaj” (Manmohan Krishna), plays percussion.

After a prickly initial exchange with the grand old lady, Alok wins her heart and is accepted as a pupil, much to his own and Ganeshi’s delight; Radhiya too is secretly pleased. He also learns of Sarjubai’s relationship, long ago, with a heartbroken Raja (Sanjeev Kumar), which leads to the song Ayi ritu saavan ki (“the season of rains has come”).

Alas, Triloki Prasad soon comes to know that his son is consorting with “useless riff-raff”—people who drive tongas and smoke beedies—and flies into a rage, both because of Alok’s disobedience of his order and because he himself is running for the Chairmanship of the Municipal Corporation (the equivalent of Mayor) and he will not have the family honor besmirched (there is a nice vignette here of him plotting caste-bloc politics with a couple of cronies—a true slice-of-life). He soon takes up the court case of a scheming merchant who is seeking to have old Sarjubai and her neighbors evicted, and he also tries to arrange Alok’s marriage with the merchant’s spirited daughter Sulakshana (Farida Jalal), but luckily she already has a lover, one Kishen. Triloki Prasad triumphs in court and Sarjubai loses the home she had purchased with a lifetime of savings; Alok is furious and uses the money his triumphant father has given him for buying a car to instead purchase a horsecart with which to earn an honest living: thus he will daily shame his stiff-necked father and live in sympathy with the humble people he has come to love and whom his father seeks to destroy.

Given that both baap and beta (father and son) display similar rigidity of character, Alok’s life goes steadily downhill from here on, despite his eventual marriage (requested by Sarjubai) to the devoted Radhiya and, in time, the birth of a son to the couple. Several attempts by his wife, sister-in-law, and brother to patch things up with the perpetually fuming Triloki Prasad come to nought, and it takes Alok’s own fading health (like many a rickshaw driver, he contracts tuberculosis), and a visit from the now aged Raja, to make the scales fall from the old man’s eyes. Too late, though: Alok’s melancholy final song Koi gata, main so jata (“Someone sings, as I fall asleep,” penned by Bachchan’s real-life father, poet Harbansraj Bachchan) sounds like an elegy for both him and Sarjubai.

Although Rekha gives a fine and understated performance as Alok’s adoring and long-suffering wife, romance of the usual sort is downplayed here, and the strongest female character is in fact the aging courtesan-singer Sarjubai, wonderfully portrayed by Chhaya Devi. Though she gradually assumes the role of Alok’s lost mother, she never lapses into the pious maternal stereotypes common to so many Bombay films, but instead offers a complex and rare portrait of an earthy, mature, and experienced woman who has both loved and suffered deeply. She thus adds a further dimension to the history of portrayal of courtesans and professional women in mainstream cinema (cf. BHUMIKA, PAKEEZAH, UMRAO JAN), and even though few specific details of her life are provided, we sense the extent of her experience and of her independence of spirit, and we feel that we know her deeply by the film’s end. It is she, with her surrogate but deeply devoted family, who is the real antithesis of the selfish and self-righteous Triloki Prasad, who gradually cuts himself off from all his near and dear kin.

[The DEI DVD of this charming film features a superior quality print, though it is marred by a tendency for the image to move up and down during the first few scenes— as if the frames were slipping out of alignment (didn’t anybody check on this?). Though a bit irritating, this undesirable feature does not persist and is not enough to spoil viewing. Subtitles, though not provided for the many songs, are generally good, however they mistakenly call Ganeshi’s sister “Raziya” (a Muslim name!).]

Reviewer: Philip Lutgendorf


(“Pride”), Hindi, 1952, 162 minutes
Produced and directed by Mehboob Khan
Story: R. S. Chaudhary; Dialogs: S. Ali Raza; Lyrics: Shakil Badayuni; Music: Naushad; Cinematography: Faredoon S. Irani; Art Director: M. R. Acharekar; Sets: D. R. Jadhav; Costumes: Fazal Din, Chagan Jivvan, Alla Ditta

AAN is said to have been India’s first technicolor feature, and director Khan went wild with the possibilities, crafting a highly surreal swashbuckler about a princely kingdom that lies, visually speaking, somewhere between Rajasthan and mad King Ludwig’s Bavaria. Though there are echoes here and there of the real excesses and hybrid architectural fantasies of India’s pre-independence maharajas, as well as themes glorifying peasant resistance and social egalitarianism, mostly this is an over-the-top operatic fairytale that looks, at times, like Disney animation come to life—though Disney would not have dared the out-front eroticism and fashion and footwear fetishism that permeates Mehboob’s mise-en-scene. There is clear influence of Hollywood fantasy adventures such as THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (both the 1924 silent version with Douglas Fairbanks and the 1940 sound version with Sabu were well received in India), as well as of imperial Roman spectacles. Indeed, there are few stops that Khan does not eventually pull out, throwing in a camel stampede, a Dungeons-and-Dragons prison complete with rampaging lions, a Joan of Arc-like burning at the stake, and a floridly orientalist dream sequence that looks like something ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev might have hallucinated on LSD.

Nevertheless, those familiar with the director’s most famous film, MOTHER INDIA (1957), will also recognize his fondness for sunsets, vast Deccani landscapes (juxtaposed unconcernedly with obvious soundstage simulacra), a Soviet-influenced populism (exemplified by busty women silhouetted against bullock-carts), florid poetic dialog full of Urdu conceits (lover as moth, beloved as flame, etc.), and music, music, music. This is from the famous Badayuni and Naushad team, is all pervasive (twelve songs) and generally excellent.

So is the casting, with Dilip Kumar at the height of his romantic charm as the roguish peasant leader Jai Tilak, and the Bombay Jewish actress Nadira (better known for roles as modernized vixens—e.g., Maya in 1955’s SHRI 420) as a terminally proud princess, who favors a semi-dominatrix wardrobe and keeps one eyebrow severely arched throughout most of the movie. Naturally, the farm boy falls for the ice queen big time and much of the film revolves around his taming of this shrew (hint: when she begins to appear in saris, you know it’s working), against a backdrop of palace intrigue and rustic exuberance.

An opening narration, against a shot of Jai (Kumar) plowing his field, sketches an idealized Nation in which sturdy yeomen till the land in peacetime but trade their agricultural tools for swords when war threatens—here the community is known as the Haras (historically, this suggests semi-martial landowning castes like the Marathas and Gujars, who have sometimes consolidated their own kingdoms and even empires—though Indian history is hardly the point). The benign Maharaja to whom Jai owes allegiance (Murad), has a cruel younger brother, Prince Shamsher Singh (Premnath), as well as a spirited junior sister (Nadira) given to breaking horses and would-be suitors. Shamsher Singh’s ambitions are as flamboyant as his wardrobe, and he conspires to assassinate the raja—who his subjects believe has gone abroad for medical treatment—and to launch an increasingly despotic regime, signaled by his ranging the countryside in a Cadillac convertible and casting lustful eyes on village belles, especially the headstrong Mangala (Nimmi), who loves Jai.

This in itself would be enough to set the two men at odds, but for good measure, Jai (who evidently likes challenges) falls in love with Shamsher’s icy sister, after taming her wild stallion in a tournament. Though she truly appears to hate him (generally a sign, in Hindi cinema, that love is just around the corner), he woos her by dropping in and out of her Sleeping Beauty-art deco castle, stealing her scarf, squirting her with Holi colors, and dispensing double entendres rich in imagery of romantic martyrdom.

Will this approach eventually work? Will Shamsher Singh, after kidnapping Mangala and trying to rape her, finally get his comeuppance? Will the kindly old Maharaja turn out to not actually be dead but just disguised behind a really ridiculous false beard, and actually intent on abolishing the monarchy and instituting Democracy? Use your imagination, or rather, let Mehboob Khan beguile you with his own more frenzied one, as well as his everything - including - the - kitchen - sink approach to visual spectacle. Dilip Kumar, who had by this time earned a reputation as Bombay’s “king of tragedy” and was allegedly beginning to identify too much with his morose characters, is said to have accepted the role of Jai after a psychiatrist advised him to do “lighter” films. Indeed, the good doctor should have been well pleased by AAN, and you should be too.

[For those who don’t know Hindi, the one drawback to the otherwise good quality Eros Entertainment DVD of AAN is that the songs—which here comprise nearly fifty per cent of the running time—are unsubtitled.]

Reviewer: Philip Lutgendorf
Images: Philip Lutgendorf