Today’s Holi and much of Delhi has been busy slathering everybody else with colour. Out in the street (and in the neighbours’ yard) I saw people drenched in purple, green, yellow and red.
My husband and I don’t celebrate Holi—we’re both too fastidious and have better things to do in life than wasting hours getting colour off ourselves. So here’s my way of celebrating Holi: watching a Hindi film. And that too a colour film—yes, I’ve suddenly realised that the last Hindi colour film I reviewed was Leader, way back in June 2009. A situation pleading to be amended!
Waaris is typical of the many films churned out by Southern film studios in the late 60’s (this one was a Vasu Films production). With a formidable star cast padded out with local extras invariably with terrible accents, colourful costumes, plaster-and-gilt sets, and a generally light-hearted, escapist feel to the entire film. Not what one would call great cinema, but total paisa vasool.
It begins in the kingdom of Chandipur, where Maharaja Raghunath ticks off his son, Ram Kumar (Master Sachin) for entertaining a bunch of commoners’ children in the palace. The prince gives as good as he gets, and tells Dad off for being such an undemocratic old stick-in-the-mud. The upshot of it is that there’s a fallout between the two of them, and Ram Kumar runs away.
Flash forward 20 years. The Maharaja is now on his deathbed, and is being chewed up by remorse for his long-lost son, of whom there’s been neither hide nor hair seen all these years. With his dying gasp, the Maharaja summons the executors of his will. These are the Thakurain (Manorama), Birbal (Sundar) James (Chaman Puri) and the Diwan (David). To them, the Maharaja hands over a file in which he’s written down clues to identifying the prince—a scar on his back, his fondness for the colour yellow, his habit of shrieking “Pitaji!” when hurt, the fact that he’s left-handed, and his lack of fear of snakes: point out a snake to him, and even as a child, he’d leap at it and kill it (PETA: watch out for this guy).
Find my son, says the Maharaja. Make him the next Maharaja. Hand him the keys to my treasure. Get him married to the beauteous Geeta (Hema Malini), the Diwan’s daughter. And introduce him to his little sister Baby (Baby Sonia, later to be one of my favourite 70’s actresses, Neetu Singh).
Anyway, the Maharaja cops it, and the executors—a surprisingly diligent and dedicated lot for a Hindi film—get down to work. They get a notice published in the newspapers about the Maharaja’s death and invite the rightful heir, the Yuvraj (Crown Prince) Ram Kumar, to come forward and claim his inheritance.
They aren’t disappointed. A few days later, the green lights that have been installed in each room of the palace to herald the coming of the Yuvraj, start flashing:
…and the Yuvraj (Prem Chopra) strides in.
He is greeted, and the executors get down to business, subjecting him to a sometimes surreptitious, sometimes blatant examination that consists of checking out whether he conforms to all the points the Maharaja had noted in his file.
This is where I sit up. Because the Yuvraj who is Prem Chopra (and whom I have never seen as anything other than a villain) passes with flying colours. He is Ram Kumar!
But not for long. Very soon, the green lights start flashing again, and Yuvraj #2 (Jeetendra) arrives. Geeta recognises him instantly as a roadside Romeo who’d accosted her the other day, flung her about a bit in a wild song and dance, and told her that the Yuvraj in residence was an imposter.
Geeta is inclined to have him booted out, but the executors, conscientious as ever, decide to subject him to all their tests, and guess what? He passes too! Now these people are really in a quandary. They have two Yuvrajs, and Baby is quite sure that the second one is her long-lost bhaiya.
Yuvraj #1 is, understandably, resentful, and the two men come to blows one day—just as that accursed green light starts flashing again. Another Yuvraj!
This one (Mehmood) is quite a character: everything he wears has a price tag hanging from it (strangely enough, only in this scene; what sort of character development, if any, was the writer thinking of?). What’s more, he’s brought his feisty wife (Aruna Irani) along. Geeta breathes a sigh of relief: at least she won’t be obliged to marry this cartoon.
To everybody’s surprise, this latest entrant not just passes all the tests, but seems to know the deepest secrets of everybody’s past: that the Thakurain, for instance, once had a lover whom she jilted and who subsequently committed suicide; that James used to be Jairam before he converted to Christianity; and so on. He is the Yuvraj. There’s no doubt about it.
The palace at Chandipur is now crowded with Yuvrajs, and the executors are at a dead end. Which of the three claimants is the actual waaris (heir)?
At this point, the film’s writer decides to help the viewers along, if not the executors. The scene shifts to a grubby little hovel. This is where Yuvraj #1 (I knew Prem Chopra couldn’t be up to any good!) has imprisoned the real Ram Kumar (Sudesh Kumar). It turns out Yuvraj #1’s real name is Moti, and he’s Ram Kumar’s foster brother—not a very nice foster brother, though, since he thrashes the prince and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t toe the line.
When Moti finally leaves, Ram Kumar’s sympathetic jailor asks him what that was all about, and Ram Kumar recounts his past.
He had run away to Ceylon, where he was adopted by a kindly woman called Rukmini (Kamini Kaushal), a worker in a tea estate. Rukmini has a son of her own, the dastardly Moti, so dastardly that Rukmini doesn’t love him as much as she loves Ram Kumar (of course other Hindi films like Awara may argue that he grew up dastardly because he wasn’t loved much).
The announcement of the Maharaja’s death, and the invitation for Yuvraj Ram Kumar to come to Chandipur prompted Ram Kumar to finally go back home—with Moti, who offered to accompany him to Hindustan. So, having said a tearful farewell to his girlfriend Komal (Nazima):
Ram Kumar came from Ceylon to Hindustan, only to find himself attacked and imprisoned by Moti, who’s now impersonating him.
We now discover that Moti’s wickedness goes much beyond simply trying to lay his grubby paws on Ram Kumar’s wealth and titles. Having abused Ram Kumar, he takes himself off to the den of his extremely creepy boss Samson (actor?), whose makeup’s so heavy it almost looks like a mask. He has a habit of constantly grinning, repeating words (and in very badly accented Hindi too), and killing his own henchman at the slightest hint of anything approaching insubordination.
They indulge in a little chitchat (nervous on Moti’s part, evil on Samson’s), and then Moti goes off to the palace…
…where a newly arrived letter has created a flurry. Since it’s addressed to the Yuvraj Ram Kumar—and there are three contenders for that title—the executors have decided to open it and see the contents for themselves.
The letter is from someone who signs herself ‘Rukmini’, and who says she’s been missing Ram Kumar, whom, after all, she’s brought up as her own son. Why hasn’t he written to her? Is he all right?
Ah. So there is someone in this world who can identify the correct heir for them. The Diwan suggests that they send Rukmini a telegram and summon her to Chandipur.
Rukmini arrives, but at the airport, when no-one’s looking, a shady character slips her a note. Its contents get her so agitated that when she arrives at the palace and is confronted by the three Yuvrajs and asked to identify the real one, she hesitates only briefly before singling out Moti.
Yuvraj #2 and 3 insist that they be given 2 days to prove that Moti isn’t the Yuvraj. This is granted, and that evening, Moti tells Rukmini that he had sent her the note because en route to Chandipur, Ram Kumar was abducted by someone, and in an effort to ensure that Ram Kumar’s inheritance didn’t fall into the wrong hands, Moti has been forced to pass himself off as Ram Kumar—only, of course, till Ram Kumar is found.
From the point onwards, the film starts veering off into the realm of complete lunacy. Moti goes to meet his boss Samson in a restaurant; and Yuvraj #2, who’s followed Moti there, follows Samson’s moll out into her car when Samson sends her to ‘get the men to do what they have to’ (yes, very clear!). Yuvraj #3 also arrives at Samson’s hideout and the two Yuvrajs join hands to foil the evil designs of Samson’s gang. I can’t see the point of this little expedition (it’s not as if they emerge from it with any information or material that’s any use), but yes, you do get to see Daisy Irani showing off her karate skills.
The next thing we know, it’s April 13th, the Yuvraj’s birthday. All three men are laying claim to the celebration, so everybody lets them do their own thing. A huge party’s organised, with all three Yuvrajs doing the twist. In the crowd at the party are also some of Samson’s men, who try their best to beat up Yuvraj #2 and 3. Moti joins in too, and soon blows and accusations are being exchanged, with Moti, Yuvraj #2 and Yuvraj #3 each insisting he’s the rightful heir to the throne of Chandipur.
In the midst of all this, who should arrive but Komal! She stares wide-eyed at one of the three Yuvrajs, and says:
Ah, but that would be telling, wouldn’t it? See for yourself.
What I liked about this film:
Hema Malini. She’s so very pretty.
The song Chaahe koi mujhe bhoot kaho chaahe yamdoot kaho. In a film with an otherwise lacklustre score (not one of R D Burman’s best), this one’s a funny parody of a bunch of songs, especially ones originally picturised on Shammi Kapoor. Rajinder Krishan’s lyrics are a generally amusing take on the original.
What I didn’t like:
Samson. Yes, this probably means the director, the actor, the scriptwriter, the makeup man etc did a really good job, but even then. Samson gave me the creeps, what with that matte makeup of his, those leering lips and that stilted, awful pronunciation—not to mention the very innovative electrical gloves he uses to attack his victims:
Mehmood. He’s all right in his role as Yuvraj #3, even funny at times. But he has a brief appearance in a double role too, as his own mother. Extremely irritating.
The story also has a few holes in the plot. Not, as I’d have expected in something with so complicated a plot, very major holes, but they’re there.
Waaris isn’t the best of the many frothy and generally delightful Hindi films that were made in the South (watch this blog—I’ll be reviewing a couple more soon). It doesn’t make the best of what might have been a very interesting storyline (who are these three men pretending to be the heir? Which one is the heir?)—in fact, it fluffs the whole thing by introducing Sudesh Kumar as the real Ram Kumar very early on in the film.
But still: it’s amusing, colourful, even occasionally funny. Good time pass.