This was a fun movie! Classic Salim-Javed kind of plot, but with mature elegant calm Dilip Kumar as the lead, gave it a whole different feel. Also, Pran and Ashok Kumar and Rishi Kapoor and Amrita Singh are there.
Dilip Sahib is really something special, but the funny thing is he looks most special when surrounded by people that aren’t him. That is, back in the days of his classic films, he didn’t really stand out. Everything was elegant and classical and fancy, not just him. I watched his Devdas and thought he was fine, but not unique. And then I watch Duniya and go “oh wow, okay, now I see what he is doing”. Everyone around him was Acting, and Dilip was just a real person who had wandered into the film and was playing out his life. It was so good, it was invisible.
This is a surprisingly good film all around. I say “Surprising” because it’s another one of the lessor films of the Dharma catalog that has recently arrived on Netflix. I’ve watched a few of them now, they tend to be kind of confused, a little over the top, and a little rushed. Too many ideas, not enough time, casting based more on who was cheap and available than who was right for the role. But not this film! Salim-Javed did the script and it is up to their high standards, and for once Dharma was able to attract the right cast for the film. Or more likely, the script was able to attract the right cast. Or maybe the script attracted Dilip Sahib (since it was obviously written with him in mind), and then he attracted everyone else. I think that is probably it. This is a way better cast than Dharma can usually scrap up. Dilip Sahib, Pran, Prem Chopra, Rishi Kapoor, and Amrita Singh! Young Amrita, so she wasn’t as big of a “get”, but those other names are impressive.
It’s not a great film, the themes of vengeance and forgiveness and generational differences aren’t exactly original. But it’s good, it’s definitely a good movie. If you are in the mood for a classic Salim-Javed script that is a little less known, it is a good option.
Plus, Saira Banu cameos as Dilip’s wife, and you can enjoy thinking “wow, that actress is completely miss-cast, way too young, no way she is believable as his wife” and then remembering “oh wait, they were married in real life”.
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Dilip is released from jail, an Old Man, and given the things he came into jail with, including a deck of cards which he says are not his, but he will return them to the man they belong to. He goes to his old home and enters into Flashback. He was happy, with his wife Saira Banu and tiny son. And his best friend, a wealthy widower whose tiny daughter considered their home a second home. The wealthy widower has just fired his drunken brother-in-law as his general manager and asks Dilip to come in and clean up the company. Dilip antagonizes Pran, who spends all day playing cards at his desk. Prem Chopra appears to be a good employee, but is maybe not trustworthy. Amrish Puri is the man on the ground at the factory, doing bad things. Dilip discovers supplies are being stolen from the warehouse with the help of honest secretary Om Puri and identifies Prem and Pran as the ringleaders. Who confronts them, and they respond by killing Dilip’s friend and framing Dilip, Dilip goes to fight them and they call the police, Dilip is arrested with Pran’s cards on him.. Dilip is convincted, Saira Banu is so upset outside of court that she runs into traffic and DIES. Rishi is taken to an orphanage where, years later, Dilip is told he died.
Dilip goes to a friend from jail, Ashok Kumar, jailed during The Emergency (Salim-Javed are still bitter about that, apparently, even though we are now in the 80s). Ashok is a respectable honorable business man and promptly gives Dilip a leading role in his company and a house. Settled in life, Dilip tracks down his friend’s daughter, who was raised by her drunken uncle and is now a beautiful young woman, Amrita Singh. Dilip pays off her uncle to sign over guardianship. Pran and Prem and Amrish, meanwhile, have linked up with a young conman Rishi Kapoor. They give Rishi the job of befriending Amrita Singh to get close to Dilip. We, the audience, are aware that Rishi is Dilip’s son because we recognize his “mother” as Dilip’s Goan maidservant. But Rishi and Dilip don’t know. Dilip at first likes Rishi, then learns he is working with Pran and Prem Chopra and throws him out the house and separates him from Amrita. Rishi has just realized he is truly in love with Amrita and was coming to confess to her. Dilip starts going after Pran and Prem hard for revenge, Killing them, Rishi volunteers to lead Dilip to his death, Rishi’s foster mother recognizes Dilip on the street and finds his address and explains to Rishi that Dilip is his father, Amrita is taken away by her drunken uncle after he convinces her that Dilip killed her father, and finally there is a big final confrontation and Dilip defeats Pran and triumphantly throws the cards in his face that he had given him. Happy ending, Amrita marries Rishi.
I think that’s everything that happens, I may have forgotten some stuff, there is A LOT. As in every Salim-Javed script. But also, as in every Salim-Javed script, the little stuff doesn’t matter because all you need is the big thrust of the story. The big part of this story is revenge down right. Salim-Javed are big on the problems of violence and vengeance, you lose track of your moral center, you put those you love in danger, blah blah blah. But in this film, it all actually works out! And I think that is because Dilip, their calm middle-aged hero, puts revenge last.
He gets out of jail, and the first thing he does is look for his son. Then find Ashok and get a job and a house, then find Amrita and make sure she is happy, and only then start sloooooooooooowly plotting out his vengeance. Very different from the usual fast moving angry young Salim-Javed heroes. Rishi is more the standard hero, raised on the streets, morally ambiguous, and so on and so forth. And just like the usual hero, he comes close to losing everything. He starts romancing the woman he loves under false pretenses, he almost accidentally kills his own father, and so on. If Rishi were out for revenge, he would do terrible things and cross everyone in his path to make it happen. Not so Dilip.
In a strange way, this film is suggesting that prison works. The title “Duniya” means “the world”, and we open with Dilip being locked away from the world, for 20 years. When he comes back out, he sees it as a separate place with rules and meanings and so on. He can see it from a distance, as it were. Ashok is the same. His time in prison was much shorter, but he also seems to have gained perspective, he is quick to offer to help Dilip however he needs and has a similar set of values. Ashok and Dilip make an adorable pair of fathers for Amrita, giving her similar advice and helping her to build her own set of values.
Dilip as Amrita’s father is reason enough to watch this movie. First that he seeks her out, while in other films the daughter of your old friend might be forgotten as you pursue vengeance, in this film she has value. And second the way their relationship starts out, Amrita blindly loving and trusting Dilip because he introduces himself as a friend of her half-remembered father. And Dilip giving her freedom and money and anything she wants, lavishing her with the affection he was denied during his time in jail. Finally, the conclusion, Amrita is seduced away from trusting him because she learns he was convicted of killing her father. The important part, to me, is that Amrita is able to make up her own mind not to trust him, and he respects that choice from her. Another movie would have Amrita loving him no matter what, the kind of blind female loyalty that is supposed to be a virtue. Or have Dilip angrily forbid her from leaving, instead of being just a little bit sad about it. In a very twisted strange way, this film is modeling healthy parent-child behavior. Amrita goes from loving him for no real reason, to questioning him and breaking apart, and Dilip goes from lavishing affection on her to letting her make her own way and make up her own mind. It’s FASCINATING!
The Rishi-Amrita romance isn’t nearly as interesting. Fun to see the wild 70s, when Amrita (a shy proper sheltered young woman) casually starts a relationship with a boy who picks her up at a nightclub, and knows her father will approve. But the chemistry doesn’t quite work, I never really feel the struggle in Rishi between falling for this girl and the evil plot his boss’s have for her. The most interesting part is seeing Rishi playing against the older actors, Pran and Dilip and Prem.
I should just say “the most interesting part is the older actors”. Pran and Dilip and Prem were in their prime in this film, plus Ashok as the icing on the cake. All of them were brought into film at a time that diction and dialogue delivery was paramount, and if you layer on two decades of experience, you have a bunch of people who say dialogue like it isn’t dialogue, but just a thing they are saying. The contrast with the Salim-Javed punchy angry script and their very gentlemanly casual delivery is fascinating. Not like watching Amitabh in the same kind of movie, where the power of his performance is impossible to ignore, but more just where you find yourself sitting up and enjoying when they show up onscreen, there is something that keeps your eyes focused and your mind engaged.
That’s why you should watch this movie. It’s a good Salim-Javed script, that is always worth watching. Young Amrita is gorgeous and her costumes are delectable, also good. But mostly because it is a chance to see elder statesman have one last turn at the center of the stage.