I absolutely love this movie and I can’t believe it isn’t talked about more. There’s like 5 classic Madhuri dance numbers, Naseeruddin Shah plays a double role, and Aruna Irani is a witch. How is this not the most popular Madhuri movie ever????
Back back when films began, there were always two kinds of Hindi films that dominated the market. The social/religious type films coming out of Phalke studios, and the “stunt” films, the fairy tales, the Arabian night type films that Wadia perfected at the highest level. Indian film history, and Indian society, likes to ignore the second type. The people flocked to it, but it wasn’t “really” Indian, it was playing to the lowest common denominator, just trying to please the masses, embarrassing and worthless and so on and so on.
And yet these films continued! All the way into the classic era, Aan was Dilip Kumar’s biggest hit second only to Mughal-E-Azam (which has it’s own “stunt” kind of credentials). Even Amitabh’s last film before quasi-retirement, Khuda Gawah, had elements of that kind of fantasy. No magic, but plenty of horse back riding and noble princesses and all of that. The Hindi market didn’t respond to Bahubali just because it was something new to them, but also because it was something they were vaguely familiar with.
These “stunt” films or “Arabian Night” films have become less and less popular as time goes on, but they are still around. Thoda Pyar Thoda Magic, for instance, or Chandra Mukhi. It’s hard to resist, film makes it so easy to create “magic” moments, you just naturally want to take advantage of that and put real magic onscreen.
And this brings us to Rajkumar. In 1996, Pankaj Parashar was 7 years away from his last film, the big hit Chaalbaaz. He had an idea for a movie with Anil Kapoor and Madhuri, a hit pairing. He filled out the rest of the cast with great actors, notably Naseeruddin Shah who he had cast in his first major mainstream part, in Jalwa. And then every other talented and recognizable actor in the industry, from Danny Denzongpa to Aruni Irani.
And then he went about fulfilling his vision. An action scene from Mad Max, a sexy bathtub song straight out of classic art deco film, and a “noble rebel kidnaps princess” plot from Aan. Madhuri was at the top of her game, Anil was fine, Naseerji was eating so much scenery it must have given him a stomach ache, all good things! And yet, the film flopped.
I don’t know what went wrong with people in 1996, because I love this movie! I mean, how could you not? If only for the songs, it is well worth it. Don’t go in expecting something deep and dark, but go in expecting something childish and happy and fun, and you will love it too.
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Let me give you the biggest best selling point right now. Madhuri’s evil uncle Naseerji keeps trying to make her fall in love with him by sneaking “love potions” made by witch Aruna Irani into or onto things that she will touch. For instance, her bath water. Which leads to many many songs of princess Madhuri being overcome with sexiness.
These are just the most amazing songs! Plus, having Madhuri play a princess somehow satisfies a deeply held want, doesn’t it? She SHOULD be a princess!!! Why isn’t she always a princess?
Okay, rewinding rapidly, let me see if I can remember the actual fairy tale plot. As I recall, there were two warring kingdoms, Anil’s and Madhuri’s. Their parents made a pact for peace and a promise that their children would marry. But then evil Naseerji killed both fathers and blamed the other one for it, so the war started up again. Anil’s widowed mother ended up living with the rebels, while Madhuri was raised in luxury, and ignorance of what was being done in her name by her evil uncle.
Years later, Anil escapes from jail somewhere far away where he has been traveling with the assistance of Danny Denzongpa who becomes his best friend. They return to his kingdom to discover it is in terrible shape, the people are being abused, and so on and so on. Anil sneaks into the palace intending to kill Madhuri, but then sees her being all sexy and beautiful and kind and hesitates.
Oh, did I forget to mention that Naseerji has a twin? He does!!! Evil Naseerji wears big black capes with huge stand up lapels. Gay Naseerji wears brilliantly colored capes (pink, yellow, green) with huge stand up lapels.
Anyway, Evil Naseerji is working with the witch Aruni Irani (that’s literally her listing in the credits, “witch” to make) Madhuri fall in love with him so he can steal her kingdom and also sleep with her because, you know, it’s Madhuri. He puts the love potion in her bath, but it just makes her do a sexy dance and kiss a goose. So he tries again with enchanted anklets. But, conveniently, Anil has snuck into the palace again and interferes with this plot by playing his drums while she dances.
After a big fight scene (in the course of which, Anil’s shirt is torn all over the place and yet his skin is never injured), Anil has taken Madhuri away and she has learned how horrible her uncle is, and come around to Anil. Which she shows by purposefully putting on those same enchanted anklets while they are hiding out at night alone on an abandoned pirate ship (I don’t know, it’s a cool set, don’t think about it too much).
They keep falling in love, eventually reaching the stage of a fantasy song. Which is just Madhuri dancing some more, because what could be a better fantasy than that?
After many adventures while on the run, Madhuri is captured and will be forced to marry Naseerji. Meanwhile, Anil is down in the dungeons, forced to fight “Mungo”. They fight in a cage while jumping around on giant bungee swings. Yes, it is even more awesome than that description sounds.
Anil wins, of course, and meanwhile Madhuri has been singing for him in another highly choreographed number, as you do.
(Maybe the kingdom wouldn’t be in so much trouble if the background dancer budget wasn’t so high)
Somewhere in there, Madhuri also does a dance number planning to seduce/kill her evil uncle Naseerji. It would be a great dance number, except her eye make-up is out of control. And she has that odd shiny lipstick I hate.
Anyway, then Happy Ending!!!!
The best thing about this movie, for me, is how unsophisticated it is. It doesn’t want to bother explaining why Naseerji has a twin, or how Anil and Madhuri fell in love, or any of that. It just wants to be a big happy film that makes you smile and feel good. And which gives super fun roles to all your favorite actors. And sexy dances and happiness.