One thing that has long puzzled me is Bollywood’s reluctance to do real life stories. Where Hollywood has created films on the lives of people ranging from Napoleon’s one-time fiancée to an obscure British missionary in China, we have, to show for years of fascinating history… Shahjehanand Changez Khan, both so badly warped that they bear little resemblance to fact. Dr Kotnis ki Amar Kahani is a refreshingly unusual film in being relatively accurate, as well as entertaining—but a flash in the pan.
Our generally avid enthusiasm for the freedom movement and its exponents gave me hope that Shaheed, the story of Bhagat Singh, might be worth a watch. This, after all, was the young man who inspired an entire slew of films, beginning with (or so Wikipedia would have us believe) a film in 1954, followed by a 1963 film starring Shammi Kapoor, and this one: the first of Manoj Kumar’s many patriotic films. There have been later films—2002, for instance, saw two films, one a superb one starring Ajay Devgan and the other with Bobby Deol as Bhagat Singh—but Shaheed was the first major Bhagat Singh story.
This is one of those films that have a very interesting—and unexpected—twist that can come totally as a bolt out of the blue if you’re watching it for the first time. Subsequent watchings, no matter how far apart, tend to dilute the suspense a good deal because (unless you have a really frightful memory) you know what’s coming. And somehow, unlike films like Teesri Manzil or Mera Saaya or Woh Kaun Thi?, Jewel Thief lacks other elements that could encourage repeated viewings.
After all the lightheartedness of the past few posts, time to get back to serious stuff. I had three none-too-cheery films lined up: Khamoshi, Andaz, and this one. Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam had been popping up in some recent posts (one song was part of the daaru list, and a discussion on Jawahar Kaul—one of the leads in Dekh Kabira Roya—ended up with a general wondering of what role he played in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam). So Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam it was, a rewatch of a memorable film with some fine performances and superb music.
Having spent most of my life avidly watching Hindi films—especially pre-80’s—I’m inclined to be indulgent. I don’t bat an eyelid when a heroine’s hairdo goes from stylish bob to flowing tresses from one scene to the next. I don’t wonder how an arch villain can defy the cops of an entire nation (occasionally, most of the world) and still fall before the combined efforts of the hero, his comic sidekick, and a faithful pooch. I forgive completely illogical turns and plot elements, ascribing them to artistic license. I mumble a puzzled “What the—!” or “How the—!” or even a “Why the—!” and move on. Leader is one of those (thankfully rare) films that’s a “What/Why/How the—!” moment from beginning to end.
This film has melodrama and mindless self-sacrifice, two elements that invariably put me off. And Saathi really was no different: I got thoroughly put off. Oh, it starts off all right—much happiness and flowers kissing etc—but then the lives of the protagonists fall apart so completely, it’s just not on. Nobody should be subjected to so much tragedy, not even on screen.