Reviews of Classic Bollywood Filums

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

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


  • Come on. Shabani Azmi became a "Parallel Cinema actress" years after the release of this movie.

    By Blogger Palehorse, at 2:18 PM  

  • Hi Byron,

    Stumbled across your review of AAA which you wrote in 2005.. it was a pleasure to read! I just wanted to let you know that I work for Radio Nasha, Mumbai and we are a retro station playing Bollywood songs from the 70s, 80s and 90's. We are having a special screening of AAA in Mumbai on November 5th. My email id is Let me know if you are in town and want to come for the screening :) TC!

    By Blogger Prachi, at 5:52 AM  

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