I’ve spent the past week slogging through the tragic misery that is Sanjay Dutt’s life. I need something fun! So, let’s talk about an old silly Rishi Kapoor movie.
Oh the 70s in Hindi Film! Movies were either deep and dark classics (Deewar), or totally ridiculous (most films with Rishi Kapoor). This film definitely lands on the “ridiculous” side. There’s Rishi! Zeenat! RD Burman soundtrack! Big frame sunglasses! Bell Bottoms! A college ki function at which True Love is revealed!!!! Childhood sweethearts! And a plot revolving around mistaken identities, cruel twists of fate, and a leather belt full of diamonds.
I’m not gonna lie, if the soundtrack were less brilliant most people would have forgotten this film even existed. But that would have been their loss! This film is great straight through, soundtrack or no soundtrack. Okay, the soundtrack is great, but so are the surprise twists and childhood marriages and kidnappings and “London” being represented by a bad sketch of Big Ben sort of wobbling in the background of the living room set. It’s a big fun stupid 70s movie, of the kind that people get nostalgic for now. But you don’t have to be nostalgic, you can just go back and watch this.
I’ll put it another way. Ranbir danced to a remix of “Bachna Ae Haseeno” in his first big hit film. Uday Chopra used a remix of “Yeh Ladki Hai Allah” in Neal ‘n Nikki. Aishwarya had the same title for her movie with Amitabh. And all of them were just pale shadows of the original, leaching goodwill from it by making us think back to the pure joy that was the 1970s, a crazy plot, an RD soundtrack, and Rishi Kapoor dancing in a white suit.
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I have to admit, it’s been a few years since I saw this movie straight through, and the plot is SO CONFUSING, so I may mix some stuff up or miss some stuff. I will definitely put some stuff in the wrong order. But as best I can remember it, this is how it goes.
Tariq Khan and Kajal Kiran were best friends when they were little. Tariq saved her life when she fell in the river (or got bitten by a snake? Something, anyway) and the parents decided to marry/engage the children to each other. Then Kajal’s family goes away and becomes rich, while Tariq’s does not.
Years later, Tariq and Kajal are (naturally) still filled with romantic angst over their lost spouse. Who they now would not be able to recognize, since they are grown up, but are still in love with because this is a movie. Kajal’s father wants her to get engaged to someone else, but she objects, feeling she should remain faithful. Tariq meanwhile has a plan. He sees Kajal’s photo in the paper and decides to track her down. He arrives at her house, and pretends to be the boy from London she is supposed to get engaged too. She overcomes her reluctance and goes off with him and they fall in love over the course of a song. But, she returns home for her father to see that Tariq is NOT the boy from London and beat him and throw him out, before Tariq can explain that he is actually Kajal’s longlost husband (very frustrating! Why can’t these people just talk to each other?). Tariq then spends the rest of the movie trying to get five seconds to tell Kajal who he really is.
(Which sometimes involves trying to win a singing competition in order to get her attention)
Meanwhile, in “London” (signified by Big Ben drawings out the “window” of the set), Rishi Kapoor is conflicted. The girl he loves has left him, agreed to marry someone else, as he tells his old uncle. So he has no choice but to go to India and marry rich Kajal in order to get the money to pay his little sister’s tuition. But what Rishi doesn’t know, is he is actually rich!!! His father sent diamonds for him from South Africa, but then was killed, and the diamond belt left in the box on Tariq’s motorcycle. Yes, while Rishi has Tariq’s wife, coincidentally Tariq has Rishi’s diamonds. Well, not so coincidentally, because it’s the 1970s in film in India and there are only about 20 people in the whole country who keep randomly bumping into each other as the plot requires it.
Hunting the diamonds, here comes Amjad Khan!!! BOOOO!!!!! EVIL!!!!! In the midst of all this confusion, he kidnaps Kajal! But, Kajal has just learned that Tariq is her husband and is so ravaged by guilt over being temporarily unfaithful to him (by flirting with Rishi and agreeing to marry him just because she hadn’t seen Tariq since they were small children), that she wants to die instead of being rescued. Rishi and Tariq, of course, come together to rescue her. Finally she is saved, Tariq forgives her, and just then Rishi’s London uncle appears with Zeenat Aman.
You see, back in London, Zeenat and Rishi were in love but her father didn’t approve. Rishi challenged her at a Qawalli, declaring he would sing his half of the duet and wait for her to come join him in front of everybody. Which, of course, she did. But then she seemed to agree to the marriage her father wanted after all. No no, Zeenie Baby explains, she ran away and went to his uncle instead of getting engaged and they have been hunting for Rishi through out India ever since. Couples united, HAPPY ENDING!
(Awesome Qawwali, the “Dushman” is especially fun to sing along with)
Well, that’s all very nice. But what makes it a great movie isn’t the plot, it’s the execution. Rishi and Tariq don’t just compete for Kajal’s affections, they have a dance off!!!! Kajal isn’t just a modern young girl, she is a modern young girl introduced while dancing in bell bottoms next to the swimming pool listening to a transistor radio. Rishi doesn’t just challenge Zeenat to join him in song, he challenges her that if she doesn’t, HE WILL KILL HIMSELF (no idea what the audience at this function thought was happening. Maybe they just figured it was part of the show?). Amjad Khan isn’t just evil, he’s evil with a band of bandits in matching shirts. Oh, and there’s a helicopter. Twice, once in a love song and once in an action scene. Because if it is the 1970s and you are renting a helicopter for your movie, you are getting your money’s worth. Also, it opens with all the actors smiling and waving at us in turn as their names appear in the opening credits, like an 80s TV show.
(I assume she is attached to a helicopter while hanging on to those balloons. Balloons don’t really fly like that all by themselves, right?)
Mostly though, Rishi Kapoor! If you wonder why he was a star, why he was considered so charming and indispensable and people still put up with him today, you just have to look at this. Tariq is supposed to be the hero, but (apologies to Aamir for the family insult) he is just so BORING. Rishi is never boring. Rishi is fun, Rishi is happy, Rishi is exciting. Rishi knows he is a hero and the camera loves him and the audience will love him too. And he’s right! I do love Rishi, in this and his other 70s movies. Amitabh you can respect, worship even. Shashi you want to marry. But Rishi, Rishi you just love, like you would a cranky puppy with a funny scowl and a cute little smile.
Oh, also Zeenat. The most interesting couple is the one on the sidelines, Kajal is boring, Tariq is boring, Zeenat is AWESOME and so is Rishi. She is cool and modern and runs away from her arranged marriage while Kajal is running towards hers. It just makes sense that she and Rishi would end up together, they are both so much stronger and more interesting than the other two.
Even our boring couple is a heck of a lot more interesting than the characters we get today. Sure, childhood marriage, blah blah. But that is treated with a bit of a wink, handled so ridiculously that clearly the filmmakers know it is a little ridiculous too. And on the other hand, we have both heroines choosing to happily run away from home and marry the man they want, with no retribution. And boring hero Tariq is a little interesting, raised in a garage and also in love with his guitar.
(And, in this one song only, also kind of hot!)
It’s a fun free happy movie, and then the songs put it over the top. I know I said it’s good even without them, but it’s an RD film, the songs will always be the best part.