My favorite Yashji and Amitji’s film! Not the best one, that I know, but my personal favorite.
This was Yashji and Amitabh’s 3rd collaboration, after Deewar and Kabhi Kabhi. It doesn’t have the wild heights of imagination that the first two found, but it is still an amazing example of two artists at the top of their craft finding each other. Yashji brought out something in Amitabh that few other directors were able to find. And Amitabh inspired him to a kind of anger and passion in his directing that no other star gave him.
What makes Trishul a little special is that it isn’t in the wild heights. It’s not about society and judgement and freedom like Deewar, or about Most Complicated Love Story Ever like Kabhi Kabhi. It’s just about a Man, and the people related to him. His mother, his father, his brother, his sister. We see that in Amitabh’s introduction. It’s not reading poetry (situating him in a particular profession and position, especially in relation to others). It’s not waiting for his mother and brother outside a temple (situating him within a family, and as an outsider in society). It is instead the purest most perfect Amitabh introduction in his entire career. Lighting his cigarette of a burning fuse, then casually strolling away without looking back at the explosion behind him.
Yashji must agree with me that it is the best introduction, because he used it a second time in Jab Tak Hain Jaan. Only that time, with Shahrukh, it didn’t feel quite right somehow. Shahrukh was good, but he didn’t purely evoke an explosion behind him, we couldn’t quite believe that he would walk away without looking back. That he was more powerful than any explosion. With Amitabh, we believe it.
We have to have to that faith for this plot to work. This is a movie that is all Amitabh. And he is surrounded by heavyweights challenging him for screen time. Sanjeev Kumar, Waheeda Rahman, Shashi Kapoor, Poonam Dhillon. Okay, not Poonam Dhillon. But she was cute! And the other heroines were actual heavyweights, Hema Malini and Raakhee.
But none of them matter except for how they relate to Amitabh. Amitabh is the center around which they all orbit. Which also makes sense considering his position in the family. He is the oldest son, so naturally his brother, his sister, his mother, his father, even his brother’s girlfriend and his sister’s boyfriend, they will all look up to him.
A different actor in this role, and the film would fall apart. Heck, I’ve seen this role with a different actor! That was Munna. In which Prabhas was barely able to stand up to Prakash Raj, and otherwise was surrounded by weaklings. That’s not a slam at Prabhas, he is a good actor and a good star, but it takes something remarkable to be able to dominate a plot like this in which all the other characters have similarly complex motivations, and yet you must come first always in the minds of the audience and the fellow characters.
(Not as good as Amitabh)
What makes it especially tricky is that Amitabh’s motivations are not in fact “correct”. They are only correct because they are his, he is the hero and thus we must agree with what he does. But in the abstract, it is Shashi who has the moral high ground here. Sanjeev, yes, he is flawed. But Shashi has done nothing wrong, does nothing wrong. Not just in a cop versus criminal way like in Deewar, but in terms of personal stuff. He is generous and honest and kind and straight-forward in all his dealings. Whereas Amitabh is twisted and selfish and considering on his own feelings in everything he does.
And yet, we are on Amitabh’s side. Because he is beyond “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “bad”. He is Amitabh, he is always right.
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We start with a different kind of origin story. Not that different, we have seen this in films before, beginning with how the parents met and moving forward to our hero who is born to them. But a little different. We don’t always get this much detail. And the very fact of his parents being his parents is not usually the motivation.
But that is the case here! Sanjeev and Waheeda are dating, she becomes pregnant, Sanjeev’s mother pressures him to marry the appropriate wealthy girl instead. Waheeda is left to wander as an unmarried single mother. To Amitabh.
We don’t get a lot of details of their life after that, we don’t really need a lot of details. Waheeda is a mother, so she survives somehow. And Amitabh is Amitabh, so he succeeds and achieves and grows stronger. We come in at the end, Waheeda dying, and Amitabh at full strength.
(And here is Waheeda a year earlier playing his wife. Just to freak you out)
And we also don’t need a lot of explanation for how Amitabh knows exactly how to achieve everything in the city, or take out his father, or any of the rest of it. He is Amitabh, of course he knows. He was only held back by his mother’s promise not to interfere.
It doesn’t even seem unrealistic for him to arrive in the city, immediately find the one place his father needs cleared of squatters and easily clearing it. And then similarly easily figuring out a way to use this to his advantage to help found his own company. Because he’s Amitabh, he can do that.
The film only starts to make sense once Amitabh and Sanjeev are equals. Amitabh is as wealthy as he, as connected, as knowledgeable in the city. Because that is how it should be, Sanjeev has all the power as the father, but Amitabh has all the power from his pure Amitabh-ness. And now it is a fair fight, as it should have been all along.
Where it gets to be the point of us needing Amitabh to be Amitabh in order to accept what he does, is when it gets to be him doing things to others, not just to his father. In order to attack his father, he attacks his brother, his sister, his stepmother. Or at least he tries. And he also tries to use women to attack them, which is the biggest sin.
Shashi and Hema Malini, they have a mild thing going. She is a strong confident slacks wearing woman, she likes him and he likes her. And Amitabh sees this, and tries to seduce her away. Not because he likes her, but purely because that will hurt Shashi which will hurt Sanjeev. It is cynical and cruel and just plain wrong. And Hema does not fall for it, because she is better than that. She gently indicates her lack of interest, and welcomes Shashi into their conversation, showing that she is not embarrassed by or ashamed of what she is doing, because she knows she has done nothing wrong, Amitabh is the one who has. And he does feel shame, truly.
(Hema and Shashi! Being cute!)
In the same way he feels shame when Raakhee catches him stepping out of line slightly with her. Raakhee is Sanjeev’s super secretary, wise and all-knowing and all-efficient. Shashi calls her “computer” because of how good she is. But Sanjeev doesn’t appreciate her. Leaves her open to be poached by Amitabh. Only, when Amitabh seems to slight her, to disrespect her or go to far, she stops him as well.
Raakhee is such a wonderful heroine, especially for Amitabh’s hero. Not a rich girl, but a working girl, who has gotten by on her own wits, just as he has. And she won’t let him get away with anything, will work with him as her partner so long as she approves of what he is doing, but no more.
It’s not clear exactly when Amitabh starts to see his family as his family more than Sanjeev’s. But it does feel as though it happens for them before it happens for him. Another moment of his Amitabh-ness, that he is so wonderful they wish to adopt him before he wishes to adopt them.
There is the “oh the irony!” (do I mean irony?) moment of his stepmother welcoming him to their house and treating his wounds. But there is also the way he coordinates his younger sister Poonam’s wedding. He is doing it to attack his father, and yet she is trusting him because she wants him as her older brother, she wants him to be in that position for her. And once Shashi learns the truth, he feels the same way, chooses Amitabh over Sanjeev, wants Amitabh to take over for him.
(Poonam Dhillon! Being cuter!)
Shashi is really the most remarkable character her. A big happy carefree Punjabi. He falls for Hema, but has no problem seeing her with another man, he accepts that she may not want him as much as he wants her. He is excited to work with his father in his father’s business, but he is also capable of seeing and saying that his father has done wrong.
And once he learns that Amitabh is the “true” oldest son of the household, Shashi is delighted to step aside. Apologetic in fact, sorry for having unknowingly usurped that role. And quick to line up behind his brother against their father. Which is the “right” thing to do, but what over film character is objective and open minded and open hearted enough to see that? Heck, what person in real life is that wonderful?
The film is set up as a conflict between Sanjeev and Amitabh. But in fact, it is between Amitabh and Shashi. The force of pure love and acceptance against the force and vengeance and hatred.
Or, put it another way, it is between Amitabh and Amitabh. Will he hold on to his hatred for Sanjeev, or will he give it up and instead choose love for the rest of the family?
And so the ending is not about what it is supposed to be about, Sanjeev deciding to sacrifice to save both sons. It is about Amitabh, finally, deciding to sacrifice for his family, deciding they are his family.
Obviously, this film is about Karna as well. But, a slightly twisted Karna. Gender twisted of course, the father has a secret son instead of the mother. More importantly, a Karna who knows the “truth” all along. Knows he has another family out there, knows he has lost his heritage and inheritance. And meets this other family full well aware of how they have trampled on him and taken his rights.
And a Karna who is his own Duryodhana. There is no one to “trick” him into being bad, to fighting with his family. He wants it for himself, he is jealous of them himself. And he has his hidden relationship with the rest of the family as well, the thing even they do not know.
And then of course there is Shashi, the different Arjun. The one who does not fight either his illegitimate relationship with Karna, or Karna’s true right to their inheritance. See? If all mythological figures were just as wonderful as Shashi Kapoor, everything could have been avoided!