Did you know Feroz Khan and Vinod Khanna share a death anniversary? And it’s today? That’s kind of spooky, Jefferson-Adams 4th of July level spooky*. Clearly the experience of making Qurbani together was so important that it bonded them a deep level.
Miss Braganza just mentioned in the comments about Inquilab, and how it does not have the perfect balance of punching versus plot. This film, on the other hand, has the PERFECT balance. Punching versus plot versus 80s disco versus morbidly obese Amjad Khan spouting one-liners versus Amrish Puri in an Afro versus Evil Fish Tank decor versus Friendship (with a capital “F”). And a tiny tiny sprinkling of “love triangle” on top, because we don’t want too much of that.
When people say “Entertainer”, this is the kind of movie they are thinking of. There’s only the faintest faint towards a deeper meaning, the plot barely holds together (I’ve watched it 3 times and I still can’t follow everything), but by golly is it fun to watch! It’s the potato chips of movies, you can’t have just a little of it, you have to keep going until you finish because, despite the empty calories, it’s just so tasty.
(“Qurbani Qurbani”!!!! You can’t stop after just one!)
A large part of that is the cast. These are not actors who bring great depth and gravitas with them automatically when they appear onscreen. Zeenat Aman, love her, but she is the smiley modern slacks wearing heroine, not the Meena Kumari type who shows up and you immediately start to cry. Feroz Khan, he is the “cool dude”, too cool to ever really show emotion or make us feel emotion. Vinod Khanna, he has the greatest depth of any of them, and it’s still not much. His biggest onscreen impression, for me, is “Tall”.
Amrish and Amjad, they can choose to really “bring it”, even when playing character roles. Or they can choose not to. In this case, they both choose not to. Amjad is the kind of cop who plays the drums and sings back-up to Zeenat in a disco. Amrish Puri is the kind of bad guy who has a giant fish tank and bodyguards in fancy dress. He is also very skinny with an Afro, which is an image it takes a while to make your peace with if you primarily know him from DDLJ as the dignified old-fashioned father.
But what really carries the films is the songs. “Aap Jaise Koi” is the most important one, sung by 15 year old Nazia Hassan, a Pakistani teenage pop star. It’s one of those songs that you only have to hear once and you are in love with it for a lifetime. It’s silly, it’s light, it’s happy, it’s amazing. Qurbani was a massive hit, but “Aap Jaise Koi” is bigger than the film it is within, the other songs are fun and help move the plot along, but “Aap Jaise Koi” is something else. It’s a bit unfortunate that it appears so early in the movie, because nothing else lives up to it. But, on the other hand, it does set the tone of the film, you know from then on that this will be something fun and wonderful and happy.
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Like I said, I can just barely remember the plot, despite having seen this film multiple times. Because it truly isn’t about the plot, it’s about the mood. I remember the start, because the start is so stupidly brilliantly simple. Zeenat is a sexy nightclub singer. Feroz Khan is a cool dude who sees her and likes her, and then tells her that he is a thief. Not because he has a tragic backstory or anything, and he isn’t the dirty desperate thief that Amitabh would play, he’s a cool sophisticated thief. But she still doesn’t like it, although she also agrees to wait for him when he is caught by cheerful cop Amjad Khan and taken to jail. And all of that happens in like the first 10 minutes of the movie.
Enter Vinod Khanna! Former criminal, current single father who runs a sweet shop. Zeenat falls in love with his little daughter and starts hanging out with them while she waits for Feroz to be released. It’s a very tepid sort of love triangle, Vinod likes her, but mostly just because of how nice she is to his daughter. Zeenat is enjoying life as she can, while still missing Feroz.
And then Feroz comes out, and the plot gets too confusing for my little head. There’s Shakti Kapoor and Aruna Irani, brother and sister who hate Amrish Puri and try to drag Feroz and Vinod into their feud. And Amrish Puri, who is just plain eeeeeeevil. And Amjad Khan, cheerfully popping up all over the place in “disguise”.
But what I was able to grasp, more or less, is that Feroz and Vinod become friends immediately, and only later realize they are both interested in Zeenat. And there’s no drama about it, Vinod and Zeenat both decide to downplay their closeness in front of Feroz, it’s all good. Vinod and Feroz become super super close. In fact, their friendship seems to move faster than either romance (Feroz-Zeenat or Vinod-Zeenat). Oh well, boys are weird like that sometimes.
Everything is happy and light, only Vinod is being blackmailed into doing one last thievery job by threats to his daughter. Feroz volunteers to do it for him instead, and gets arrested!!!!!! Finally, conflict! As Feroz is sure that Vinod set him up for this job in order to have Zeenat for himself. Feroz escapes (somehow) and gets to London (somehow) where Vinod and Zeenat are (for some reason). There are fisticuffs, followed by hugs and forgiveness. And Amjad Khan is there, because Amjad Khan is everywhere.
(He is EVERYWHERE!!! Like the puppet from Dil Hai Tumhaare)
But, oh no! Shakti Kapoor is there too! He set this all up (somehow)! Because he hates them (for some reason)! Not to worry, Vinod ends up sacrificing his life to save Zeenat and Feroz, leaving them to raise his daughter together. The “Qurbani” (“sacrifice”) of the title.
Should be a downer ending, but this is such a silly movie! Nothing is a downer!!!! And anyway, Amjad Khan is there, and he is always cheerful. At least, in this.
If I strip out the style and look at the substance, this is a semi-interesting variation on a Manmohan Desai/Salim-Javed type plot. Misunderstandings, heroes who are outside of society, a bleak sacrificial ending, and a heroine who is a little bit broken just like the hero. But you can’t strip out the style, not with this film. The style is what makes it. And the plot ends up adjusting to accommodate it. So, it doesn’t feel tragic or filled with misunderstandings, it feels like silly people doing silly things in a cartoon world. With a great soundtrack.
Really, this is an amazing movie. I can wholeheartedly recommend it to literally anyone in the world. It will make you smile, it will make you laugh, it will make you a little embarrassed for enjoying it this much.
Oh, and there is also one of those “immediately dated” moments at the opening, when Feroz put in a whole massive tribute to Sanjay Gandhi, including newsreel footage. It all just adds to that “snapshot in time” feel already created by the disco music.
(It is everything promised by this poster, AND MORE!)
* Thomas Jefferson and John Adams worked together on creating the Declaration of Independence, the official beginning of America, which was signed on the 4th of July 1776. In later years they turned into fierce rivals and political enemies, before finally making peace as old men, rekindling their friendship through letters. Adams died at 6:20pm on July 4th 1826, exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration to the day. His last words were “Jefferson survives”. He was unaware that, thousands of miles away, Jefferson had died a few hours earlier, also on the 4th of July exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration.