Friday Classics: Sadak, Taxi Driver Mahesh Bhatt Style

This is a bit of an odd duck for a “classics” post.  It came out only 25 years ago, and isn’t as well remembered as some other films from the same era (Saajan, Khalnayak).  I hadn’t even heard of it until it came up in an article on Sanjay.  And then I watched it and went “wow!  This is a brilliant movie!”  So I am here to sing its praises, just in case you haven’t run across it before.

Yes, this is Taxi Driver.  Very very slightly.  The original taxi driver was a raw dark anti-hero film.  Cynical about how you can do the right thing for the wrong reasons and still get credit for it.  Cynical about the darkness and hopelessness of the world.  And, also, very fresh in how it was made.  The improvisation of the actors, filming on location, the realness of the costumes and make-up and hair and so on and so on.

Now, Mahesh Bhatt took this story and Bhattified it.  Not modern Bhatt with the songs and the sexiness and all that.  No, he took the Bhatt attitude towards the world and applied it to this story.  What if the prostitute could be redeemed?  What if our hero was sensitive and soulful and felt the pain of others?  What if, ultimately, the world was redeemable too?  Only after great suffering, but it could happen.

He also Bhattified the style.  Again, not modern Bhatt with the glamour and all, but real original Bhatt.  This is the real world, still, but filmed with such love that it appeared magic.  Our heroine had an inner glow about her (we were seeing her through her father’s eyes, after all).  Our hero, even with his unassuming clothes and manner, had a kind of power that shown through.  And there were these little moments of beauty, an innocent girl in white holding a birdcage, the red lights glowing from windows, the world is both ugly and beautiful at the same time.


(Also, Birdcage!  Pakeezah reference!  Mahesh knows his classics)

The biggest similarity between the “original” Taxi Driver and this one is in how the star manages to somehow take over the film, become everything the character promised and even more.  This film is Mahesh Bhatt’s brilliance, and Pooja’s innocence and (very much) Sadashiv Amrapurkar’s villainy, but it is Sanjay that takes it all to another level.

That’s why I watched the film.  Rosie Thomas, who competes with Anupama Chopra (I know I know, but you have GOT to read her Sholay book!), Rajinder Dudrah, and Sheila Nayyar for being my favorite Indian film scholar, wrote a groundbreaking article on Nargis Dutt and Mother India and the whole onscreen/offscreen star persona relationship.  And then she expanded on it and returned to it later to look at Sanjay’s life as kind of a “sequel” to the Nargis story.  Sadak was the film she chose to focus on from that whole “damaged sensitive bad boy” era, and then Agneepath for a more modern perspective.

And, as always, Rosie nailed it.  The Sanjay in Sadak is like the Sanjay in Saajan, or Khalnayak, or Vaastav (all other films she mentions), but slightly more perfectly Sanjay than in all the others.  A little more heartfelt than in Khalnayak, a little more broken than in Saajan, a little more something-I-am-sure-I-still-haven’t-seen-it than in Vaastav.  It’s just the perfect combination of character, story, and actor.  If you’ve never really “gotten” Sanjay, this is the film that will do it for you.

This is also the film that will make you go “oh my gosh, mainstream films were so much more envelope pushing back in the day!”  This was the second most successful film of 1991, and it has a prostitute heroine, and a Hijra villain.  And not a cheesy Hijra villain, no, she is straight up terrifying.  And also not a “terrible mistaken identity!” prostitute heroine.  Okay, so Sanjay saves her before her first client, but she is straight up sold to the brothel by her relatives, it’s not some kind of “from a good family but kidnapped!” thing.


I am getting super close to SPOILERS, if not already crossing that line, and I really do want you to see this film if you haven’t already, so STOP HERE.  Go watch it, and come back.  SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS





Our hero Sanjay is a taxi driver, kind of the leader/big brother of all the other drivers.  If it were a different actor, he would be the handsomest and bravest and strongest and they would all respect and obey him and admire him.  But Sanjay is Sanjay.  And so he is just the one who gives the most, who cares the most.  And the one everyone else loves.

His best friend is Dileep Tijori, because it was the 90s and it was The Law that the hero’s friend had to be Dileep Tijori.  But this is a different Dileep.  He is also a taxi driver, and he is in love with a lovely young woman who all the fellow taxi drivers (especially Sanjay) is excited about him marrying.  Only, she’s a prostitute.  Which is a problem for them as a couple, but not something that causes everyone to react with horror and dismay.  It’s just a problem to be overcome.  Because she loves Dileep and he loves her and they want to be married, but her madam/pimp Sadashiv Amrapurkar won’t let her leave the brothel unless Dileep pays her off.  That’s the only problem, Sanjay and the other taxi drivers have no real issues with a prostitute becoming their friend’s wife.  And Dileep has no issues with her past, and she has no issues either, no guilt or angst, just a wish that she could have a better future.

You see what I mean about progressive?  And also realism.  Because, I think, this is actually something that can happen.  Obviously a prostitute can fall in love, and it’s not impossible for a nice man to fall in love back just like this, not with a huge amazing movie romance, but just because he likes her.

But there’s also the magic.  Pooja appears, a vision in white holding a birdcage, in the middle of the night in the middle of the street.  She hands the birdcage to Sanjay, asking him to take care of her birds, and then is pulled away by her uncle.  And the film follows her, away from Sanjay’s ideal vision of her and into reality, where her uncle is selling her to a brothel.  Not for any particular reason, not for vengeance in a family feud or something exciting like that, but because he doesn’t particularly care about her and the brothel would give him money.

See, that’s the thing, Sanjay’s vision of Pooja was real, she truly is this innocent kind presence in the world.  But her reality of being sold into prostitution by her only living relative is also real.  The goodness and the ugliness exist together.  The key is being able to separate them, to appreciate that the goodness is still there.

That’s the backstory we finally get for Sanjay, the backstory that makes me fall in love with his character (if I wasn’t already).  And also makes me fall in love a little with Soni Razdan.  If you ever wondered where Alia’s talent came from, this is it!  I mean, WOW.  She literally has one scene and comes close to stealing the whole movie.

Soni is Sanjay’s older sister, we don’t get much backstory, just Sanjay and his uncle coming to see her after she ran off from home with a boy she fell in love with.  They learn the boy sold her into a brothel, she was rescued, but her mind is gone.  Sanjay’s uncle wants to forget her, damaged goods, no good to them.  Sanjay can’t handle it, seeing her like this.  And then she kills herself.

What makes me love Sanjay is that this isn’t a little sister, or his mother.  This isn’t a woman he is “responsible” for, that society is telling him he has to love.  This is his older sister, who he loves because she took care of him and he liked her and she was herself.  And that’s what breaks his heart, that this woman he cares about is so injured.  It’s not wounded pride or anything like that.  It just hurts him.

And ever since then, things have hurt him.  Dileep not being able to marry his girlfriend hurts him.  General social unfairness hurts him.  And the thought of innocent Pooja trapped in a brothel really really hurts him.

He manages to delay a little, sells his taxi to pay top dollar for her “virginity”.  But then Sadashiv Amrapurkar can see by how she walks (SEE???  See how the 90s were so advanced?) that Sanjay didn’t really do it.  And so she is at risk again.  And Sanjay realizes she will be at risk every night, all the time, there is no way she can stay there.

I suppose he could have rescued her to begin with, but, again, this is the beauty in the ugly.  Sanjay isn’t some guy floating over this world, he is part of this world, and he accepts the rules, you have to pay at a brothel.  And Pooja accepts them too, someone is going to buy her someday.  Until there is no other choice, and they are pushed to the breaking point, and Sanjay has to break her out.

In the happy time when they are on the run, it’s not Sanjay and Pooja that makes it magical, it’s Sanjay and Pooja plus Dileep and Neelima (that was the name of my college roommate and it gives me a kick to use it in this context!).  Here are two women from a brothel, and two taxi drivers, and they are still capable of the beautiful happy simple love we see in movies.  Dileep and Neelima are in the flush of happy married life (having performed their own little wedding ceremony), acting as guides and chaperones and encouragers for Sanjay and Pooja, who are having their own sweet beginning romance.  They don’t even kiss!

But this is a false happiness.  You can’t just run away to a better world, you have to go back and fight to make your own world better.  And, on the other hand, there is no real better world.  They can run and run, but they are turned in by the people they think will help them, the police (dang, 1970s-80s era filmmakers really do not trust the power of the state!).

In the end, it is all on Sanjay.  Not on his love for Pooja, but on his essential goodness, strength, love, desire to stop harm from coming to anyone else in the world.  Which is why it is completely appropriate for him to have the Christ shot in the end.  Because, in the purest sense, he is reenacting that story, the sufferer who takes on all the sins of the world in order to save us all.

Image result for sadak images


Really, it’s an actual good movie.  Give it a chance.

52 thoughts on “Friday Classics: Sadak, Taxi Driver Mahesh Bhatt Style

  1. Going by details, I remember Tamil version (actually Telugu dubbed version of Tamil remake) was on TV long ago.
    The hero (Prashant, he was in Jeans. That is an odd sentence) barely had any presence. The heroine Devayani is actually a decent actress, but was mostly weepy through out. The only good (and terrifying) part was the villain played by Prakash Raj. At least they got that right.


    • that is an odd sentence! I often find myself saying “I think Aishwarya looked her most beautiful in Jeans”, which is kind of true in two ways, but I mean the movie version.

      On Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 9:21 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. Damaged sensitive bad boy Sanjay is the only Sanjay that ever feels real. Even before his troubles with the law, he was that. He is never the angry junkie. He’s never angry at the world just too overwhelmed to deal with its BS.

    Also, Sadashiv from this film is THE standard for the criminal hijra stereotype. You feel physically afraid of his menace. This film was psychologically challenging to watch. I didn’t watch this till I was in my late teens.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m amazed that it was such a huge hit, because I can’t imagine watching it any earlier than late teens either. Which means not really a good film for the family audience. Or maybe it was so deep that it just went entirely over the heads of the younger kids and all they got was the songs and stuff?

      I saw a thing about talks of a “Sadak 2”. My first thought was that if it something like Aashiqui 2, really just a remake, there is no way to do it without Sanjay. No one else has what he has. But now it looks like it might be a real sequel, possibly with he and Pooja playing their characters, and Alia as their daughter, and Bhatt saheb back as director. Which might be the first film to really capture Sanjay as he is now, the aging guy who is still sensitive and fragile, but hidden inside an older stronger body.

      On Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 10:44 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:


      Liked by 2 people

        • I don’t know if I’ve watched a straight up sad Sanju movie yet (I guess that would be Vaastav). Partly because he is already so incredibly sad, just looking at his eyes makes you tear up, I don’t know if I could handle a film where he doesn’t get a happy ending. Parineeta was bad enough, and all that happened to him there was Vidya picking someone else (stupid Vidya!).

          On Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 10:54 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



          • WP wants me to log in again to comment on that post. You know I just watched the latest Beauty and the Beast and I went in expecting exactly that only with an Indian setting. With Farida Jalal as the teapot, Javed Jaffery as the candelabra. And then Anushka would have made total sense.

            The dual Sanjay characters was wayyyyyy to Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi for me. And I didn’t like that film at all.

            Maybe the same idea that sticks to the original fairytale? A zamindaar or a nawab got cursed during the early 1800s and our film is set in current year.

            Also, this is just sad, angry sanju who makes an effort to get happy so technically not happy, happy sanju. 😐


          • Can Sanjay ever be happy happy? Even with my massive fanfic mind, I don’t know if I can imagine that. A Sanjay without daddy/mommy issues, who feels truly worthy of the woman he loves? That just wouldn’t even be Sanjay!

            He comes close in the Munna Bhai films, but even there we know he feels guilty for disappointing Sunil and losing his love.

            However, I could see a Zaminder who is cursed. Maybe he got drunk and somehow failed to support 1857, thus was cursed to live in his mansion trapped in time forever. But he has made his peace with it and just enjoys playing his piano and hanging out with his similarly cursed servants and somethings getting drunk and dancing. Until urban explorer type Anushka (oh wait, you don’t like Anushka. Was that you or someone else? Anyway, we can switch it out, urban explorer type Dips) sneaks through the gate and into the mansion somehow getting past the spell.

            Also, speaking of Sanjay always breaking our hearts, I hope this video plays in India:

            On Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 11:39 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:


            Liked by 1 person

          • You’ve seen Go Goa Gone? The three friends’ role is what I want to see Sanjay br a part of it a film. Maybe he and his two pals are lifelong drinking/smoking buddies who have gone through life hiding their get togethers from their families and kids. And they see their kids in trouble in try to help. The helping part is where the comedy is at because these three middle aged dads (who make dad jokes their kids roll their eyes at) are kids at heart and yet they must help their kids. Something like that you know. I think he’d be great with dad jokes and being a general middle aged guy who discusses flabby ab issues with his other flabby abbed friends while they drink on the terrace hiding from their wives and kids


          • Sanjay, Jackie, Rishi? Sanjay, Govinda, Anil? Sanjay, Sunny, Rishi?

            I like this idea though! And they can all have super hot aging actress wives. Juhi, Madhuri, and Sridevi, say. So the film audience will go in ready to be fascinated by the older generation, but their kids will be blind to them as anything but parents.

            Can we let the wives have fun too? What if the kids witness a meeting between a criminal and a corrupt politician, freak out, steal a suitcase of cash and drugs or something like that to use as leverage so they won’t be killed, and then the parents find it? Only, the mothers and fathers find it separately, so the mothers decide not to tell the fathers and or let the kids know they know, and instead they go undercover in dance clubs and stuff, and meanwhile the Dads have found it and decide to not tell the mothers or let on to the kids, and instead to undercover as gangsters (lots of humor about Sanjay trying to learn how to be a gangster). And meanwhile the kids are freaking out because the suitcase is gone.

            And it ends with the kids being kidnapped, only to have their mothers come in as the party time call girls brought in to entertain the bad guys, and then their fathers come in as the big scary gangsters who are there for the meeting, and no one knows what is happening with the other groups but just sort of goes with it. And in the end, the police show up, the family runs away together, and then has a big fight, and then all the adults have make-up sex while the kids meet up in their secret meeting place and talk about how maybe mom and dad aren’t that boring after all.

            On Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 12:00 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



          • I don’t think in India the conflict is about parents being boring. It’s maybe more about parents not getting the teenaged angst. Like, “it was different when you were kids” generation gap and so on. Plus sanju as gangster has been done to death. I kinda wanna see him in a Darling remake. Including the totally silly twist?!


          • I still haven’t seen Darling. I am a bad bad Prabhas fan 😦

            For Sanju Baba, how about this? He and the other Dads and Moms are always on the kids case about how they make things too difficult, get caught up in crazy schemes, and so on and so on. So when they step in to try ti fix the Big Problem (whatever it is), they start off thinking they will never be as emotional or mistake ridden or anything as the kids are. And then of course they end up getting into big stupid fights and misunderstandings and sneaking in the house after curfew and all the stuff they used to yell at the kids for doing. Including making out in the back of a car (I just want one more hit of that sweet sweet Madhuri-Sanjay chemistry)

            On Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 5:54 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



          • Haha… I’d watch this film just for the Sanju-Madhuri makeout scene but I’m afraid it might look like a sex comedy if the situational comedy is not subtle!!

            And watch Darling!!! I was lucky enough to watch a heavily chopped up version that was re-edited for hindi and it was different than another hindi version and the telugu version so keep an open mind. It’s sooo lighthearted and silly.


  3. Another favorite of mine. Baba ❤ Nothing tops Khal Nayak but this and Saajan come close. Pooja is so cute and sexy in this.

    Also Shahid (Kapoor)'s mom plays Deepak Tijori's girlfriend.


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