When I did my post on ‘unusual singers’—actors and actresses who are familiar to movie-watchers, but have very few songs to which they’ve lip-synced—a couple of people suggested Ajit as a possible candidate for the list. For those who associate Ajit only with the leering villain of films like Yaadon ki Baaraat, the man of classic (not to mention corny) dialogues like “Lily, don’t be silly” and “Ise liquid oxygen mein daal do. Liquid ise jeene nahin dega aur oxygen ise marne nahin dega”—all delivered, of course, in classic Ajit style—the idea of Ajit ‘singing’ was novel enough.
But the Ajit I first knew in cinema was the Ajit of the old black-and-white Hindi films: the hot-headed rival -and-friend of Dilip Kumar’s character in Naya Daur. The embittered cynic in Nastik. The quiet, handsome and very dependable Durjan Singh of Mughal-e-Azam. Meena Shorey’s friend-enemy-accomplice from the hilarious Dholak. Yes, before he slipped into middle age and the villain roles, Ajit acted the hero in plenty of films (and, more to the point when it came to the ‘unusual singers’ post, lip-synced to many songs, including some big hits).
One of Ajit’s most frequent collaborators was the director K Amarnath, with whom Ajit worked in several films including Bada Bhai, Kabli Khan, Beqasoor, and this one, Baradari, which is perhaps best known for its excellent music, though it’s a fairly enjoyable film in its own right too.
[A brief note for those who may not know. ‘baradari’ literally means ‘twelve doors’, and refers to a four-sided pavilion that has arched doorways—a total of twelve of them—on each side].
Baradari begins dramatically: Shakti (Ameerbano), the pregnant wife of an imprisoned Rajput, Thakur Ranveer Singh (Tiwari) comes to meet him in prison. Shakti pleads with her husband to agree to the Maharaja’s demands: all Ranveer Singh has to do is accept the Maharaja’s suzerainty and agree to pay a tribute, and he will remain the qiledaar (castellan) of Ajaygarh.
But Ranveer Singh refuses outright. Ajaygarh is his fiefdom. He will not bow to anyone, come what may. Shakti’s pleas fall on deaf ears and she is forced to return in despair.
Ranveer Singh repeats his obstinacy in court, before the Maharaja (Murad) as well. The Maharaja is incensed, but even more incensed than him are his courtiers, who outright accuse Ranveer Singh of being a rebel and a traitor and whatnot.
Eventually, right in front of the Maharaja’s eyes, they fall on Ranveer Singh and behead him before the Maharaja can do anything. The Maharaja, to his credit, is furious and repentant: this was not what he wanted. He wanted Ranveer Singh to bow his head, not lose it. This has been a huge loss for the kingdom, because Ranveer Singh was their bravest.
Ranveer Singh’s turban is carried ceremonially to Shakti, who has just given birth to a son. She, of course, is inconsolable. She is also furious.
Shortly after, the Maharani too bears a son. As soon as the child is born, the Mahamantri (the Chief Minister) goes to the court astrologer to have the prince’s horoscope cast and his future predicted. The astrologer decrees that the Maharani should not feed the baby, and the royal couple should not see the face of their child for the next eight years, or disaster will follow. The Mahamantri takes this disturbing news back to the Maharaja and the two men discuss it. If the queen cannot feed her baby, a wet nurse will have to be found for him. But who? A prince cannot be fed by just any ordinary woman…
The Mahamantri can suggest only one name: one woman who is worthy, capable, well-bred, and who has recently given birth, too. Shakti. The Maharaja is, understandably, sceptical: why would a woman be willing to breastfeed the son of the man she holds responsible for the death of her husband? But there is no other option, so the Maharaja and the Mahamantri, both disguised and with the Maharaja carrying the baby—its face hidden by a fold of cloth—go to Shakti. The Maharaja pretends to be a merchant with a motherless infant, but his cover is inadvertently blown. Shakti realizes who he is.
And, as the Maharaja had foreseen, she refuses to have anything to do with the baby prince. Why should she? Reasoning, pleading, cajoling—the Maharaja tries it all, and then, telling Shakti that he cannot possibly take the baby back with him [a fine bit of emotional blackmail, this], leaves it beside her. When the baby starts wailing, Shakti cannot stop herself from picking it up and feeding it.
So the little prince, Vijay, is left with Shakti to bring up along with her own son. By the time the king’s men come to take Vijay back to the palace, the eight-year old is best of friends with Shakti’s son Ajit. Not even friends; they think of each other as brothers. The parting between brothers, and between foster mother and son, is poignant. The Mahamantri has brought along an edict through which the Maharaja has expressed his gratitude to Shakti: Ajaygarh is hereby allowed to keep its wealth and not owe any tribute to the Maharaja; and Ajit, when he comes of age, will be the qiledaar of Ajaygarh.
Shakti is furious: this is an insult to her motherhood, to the sentiment she feels for Vijay. Before the Mahamantri’s horrified eyes, she tears up the edict and throws it away.
Years pass, in a jiffy. The next time we see Ajit (now—who else but Ajit himself?), it is in the company of Gauri (Geeta Bali). Gauri and Ajit have been childhood friends and are deeply in love. While they sing love songs at the baradari where they meet every day, Ajit’s friend Laatoo Singh (Gope) eavesdrops on them, trying to get some tips on how to woo his own sweetheart.
In the time he can spare from romancing Gauri, Ajit leads a band of men to loot the Maharaja’s cartloads of treasure—the ‘imperial treasure’—as it passes near Ajaygarh. This news, when brought to the notice of the Maharaja’s right hand man, Karan Singh (Pran), makes him very angry indeed. He vows to put Ajit in his place, and with this motive in mind, goes off to Ajaygarh.
In Ajaygarh, whom should Karan Singh run into but Gauri? Gauri, out singing in the fields and trying to keep the birds away from the crops, swings a catapult, and—her aim being none too good [something that may be said for her eyesight as well]—bashes Karan Singh’s head with the stone she’s thrown. He’s furious [for once, Pran doesn’t play a villain who instantly falls into lust with the heroine] and goes off to give Gauri a piece of his mind. Gauri, not to be cowed, gives back as good as she gets.
This face-off escalates when Ajit arrives and leaps to his girlfriend’s defence. Some hectic swordplay follows, and Karan Singh, bested, goes off sulking.
Back at the Maharaja’s court, he complains to the Maharaja about Ajit’s wrongdoings—that stealing from the treasury [which I’ve not been able to understand, actually: why would Ajit do that, especially as he thinks of Vijay as his brother, and doesn’t have to pay tribute to the Maharaja?].
Ajit must be taught a lesson, says Karan Singh, and taking an army with him, heads for Ajaygarh.
Back in Ajaygarh, Ajit and Gauri have been feeling very smug and excited because Gauri’s mother (Mumtaz Begum) has approached Shakti with an offer of marriage between Ajit and Gauri. The match, as just about everybody in the village has anticipated, is made and now all this pair has to do is wait for an auspicious date and time to be settled on for their wedding.
In the meantime, though, news comes that the Maharaja’s army is approaching. Shakti, fearing for Ajit’s life—he is, after all, the son of the man who was killed at court all those years ago—insists that the two of them, she and Ajit, leave Ajaygarh immediately and stay away until the army’s gone back. Ajit and Gauri barely get enough time for a hurried farewell before he’s gone.
While Ajit is away, the imperial troops arrive. At their head is none other than Vijay, the prince. Shortly after he arrives, he sees the village girls singing as they fill water at the well. Of all the girls, one immediately catches his eye. Gauri. Vijay is so completely smitten that he can’t think straight. He has no idea who she is, but he decides then and there that she is the girl he will marry.
And so we wind up with a love triangle that is made even more complicated by the ‘Rajput honour’ motif that forms the main theme of Baradari. Because Ajit is, after all, the son of a man who put his honour above his own life, and for Ajit, too, honour and his word are paramount. But will that honour win over his love for Gauri? Or his love for his foster brother?
What I liked about this film:
The music, by Nashad, who composed some great songs for this film—in fact, Baradari is perhaps best-known for its music. My favourites are Tasveer banaata hoon tasveer nahin banti and Bhula nahin dena, but there are several other songs—such as Jiya mora dole, haai piya piya bole, and Aayi bairan bahaar kiye solaah-singaar piya aaja—which are good too.
The interestingly balanced personalities of two important characters in the film, the Maharaja and Shakti. Both these people exemplify the theme of ‘Rajput honour’, but in a way that makes them human and ultimately heartwarming and likeable. Shakti, for instance, despite being deeply embittered and hostile to the Maharaja—since she blames him for the death of her husband—does not let her sense of honour come in the way of simple humanity: when she realizes that a baby’s life is at stake, she sets aside that honour, or at least modifies it, making it a matter of honour for herself that she feeds her enemy’s child. That that simple act—of feeding a hungry baby—leads her to love him as a son, only goes to make Shakti even more human.
Equally human is the Maharaja himself: his disquiet and anger at Ranveer Singh’s death in court is an indication of that, as is the expression of gratitude to Shakti (no matter how unwisely expressed) when Vijay’s eight years with her are over. Towards the end of the film, a longish speech from the Maharaja helps to reinforce his personality as a man of principles. An honourable man, yes, but not one who puts his honour above the honour of others, or who thinks his honour lies in riding rough-shod over the feelings and hopes of others.
And, lastly: Ajit and Geeta Bali, who are good together. Sadly, most of the Ajit-Gauri scenes consist of them singing, with just a couple of scenes where you see a glimpse of the teasing camaraderie, the playfulness that reminded me of the Mumtaz-Sudhir relationship in Apna Ghar Apni Kahaani. Near the end, there’s a longer, poignant scene between the two of them which made me wish there had been a deeper exploration of their love in earlier scenes: these two deserved to have more of the film devoted to their romance.
… which brings me to what I didn’t like:
The fact that the romance of Ajit and Gauri, while pivotal to the story, isn’t really shown too much. They’re already in love when we get to see them, and while the love between them, the level of comfort, comes through, one is left wanting more. I’d have been happier with a couple of songs less, and minus the somewhat tedious comic side plot between Laatoo Singh and his beloved.
Also, Pran was wasted here. Karan Singh is really nothing more than an irritating and ambitious courtier who pops up very occasionally and with seemingly no real purpose other than to feather his own nest. He has little to do with the main storyline, and seems a bit of an afterthought: a villain forced down our throats when he wasn’t really part of the story.
Still, all said and done, an enjoyable enough film, and a good one to start with if you want to see Ajit as hero.