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18 October 2011

Amar Akbar Anthony (1977)

Directed by: Manmohan Desai
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Starring: Pran, Nirupa Roy, Jeevan, Rishi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan,
Vinod Khanna, Parveen Babi, Shabana, Neetu Singh, Azmi, Mukri

Like Sholay, this is another of the movies from the 70s that has not only weathered well, but has became so famous that I’m sure everyone knows some of the dialogues, if not the story (now that can be confusing!). 

Amar Akbar Anthony was inspired madness. This was entertainment at its silliest best. Three brothers, three girlfriends, three religions; two villains (well, one not-so-villainish), a blind mother, a suicide letter; multiple blood donations and Easter eggs. Throw in a cobra, a miracle, a locket, and more than enough plot twists to fuel an entire year of masala films. Add cart loads of fun. Forget the plot – there wasn’t any. Or perhaps, there was too much of it. It had a little bit of everything for everyone, and Manmohan Desai pinned it all to the anchor of Amitabh’s Anthony Gonsalvez (if you will forgive the mixed metaphor). 

Kishenlal (Pran) is released from jail and goes home to find his children hungry and his wife Bharati (Nirupa Roy) suffering from tuberculosis. He had taken the rap for his boss, Robert (Jeevan at his stylised best), with the latter promising to take care of his family. When he goes to Robert for restitution, he is humiliated and rebuffed. Infuriated by the callousness, Kishenlal tries to kill Robert but is forced to run for his life. When he comes home, he finds that Bharati, unwilling to be a burden on him, has left their three children behind and gone away to commit suicide. (She does leave him a note, though.)

Kishenlal has no time to mourn her; he picks up his children and using one of Robert’s cars as a getaway vehicle leaves home. Leaving his children in a park (under Gandhiji’s statue, on August 15 – nice touch!) in his eldest son’s care, he tries to lead his pursuers away from his children. In the ensuing chase, the car crashes, and Kishenlal is presumed dead.

In the meantime, the children have separated – the eldest, Amar, knocked down by a car, is adopted by a police inspector (Kamal Kapoor); the middle one, Anthony, running through the rain to seek help, finally faints outside a church, and is taken in by the large-hearted Catholic priest (Nasir Hussain); the baby left under the statue in the park, is picked up by a kind Muslim tailor (Shivraj), who also rescues Bharati, who had been struck by a tree in the storm and is now blind.  When Kishenlal, who has escaped the crash, comes back to look for his sons, the park is empty. The disintegration of the family is complete. 

Cue to twenty two years later (Idle comment no.1: No one seems to be sure just how many years have passed. Kishenlal says 20, Anthony (and the priest) say 22, and Jenny says 25 - I suppose it is not important!): Bharati, now a flower seller, has fainted outside the church and is taken by Anthony (Amitabh Bachchan), the bootlegging Robin Hood of the neighbourhood, to hospital, where Akbar (Rishi Kapoor) is busy romancing Dr Salma Ali (Neetu Singh). Inspector Amar (Vinod Khanna) comes to the hospital to check on the accident case, and we see all three giving blood (at the same time!) to the woman who is their mother… only none of them know her, or each other.
And all this happens pre-credits! (Probably the longest pre-credit sequence in the history of cinema.)

If you have been confused by the story so far, just wait, and you will be confused a lot more.

Akbar and Anthony are friends, and Anthony is invited to the former’s quawwali programme. He comes along bringing Bharati with him. And we are treated to the energetic Purdah hai purdah. Salma is there with her father and his harem. Akbar takes the opportunity to proudly and publicly declare his love for her, much to her father’s annoyance.
Meanwhile, Inspector Amar, tracking a highway robbery case, comes across Lakshmi (Shabana Azmi) who is being forced by her stepmother (Nadira in a guest appearance) and stepbrother Ranjeet (Ranjeet) to act as decoy.
The wheel of fortune has turned for both Kishenlal and Robert; the former gets his start in life with the smuggled gold that was in Robert’s car; the latter, his daughter having been kidnapped by Kishenlal has now come down in the world. But it doesn’t take long for fickle fate to change sides; the police arrive on the scene and in the ensuing chaos, Robert escapes with a crateful of Kishenlal’s gold. (Idle comment no.2: Why are people so casually careless with their property? Everyone seems to be misplacing a crate or two of gold all the time. And why is it that the gold is so awfully light that they can just tuck a crate under their arms and run?) 

While escaping, he runs into Anthony, who insists that he has only seen men run in this fashion for two reasons. 
Inspector Amar is on the lookout for the man who shot his foster father; word comes in that Robert was seen with Anthony. And so Amar goes to visit Anthony. 
Alas, that doesn’t end well for Anthony.
On the way to court, Anthony is kidnapped; he meets a man who asks him about Robert. A handful of chilli powder, a whirring fan, a quick fight later, Anthony is back in jail. But he is puzzled. 
Learning that Robert had shot the Superintendent of police (Amar's foster father) Anthony is quick to take Amar to his hideout under the Church. Only, Robert has flown the coop, and the Father is very angry with Anthony. He advises Anthony to find a good girl and settle down. Even as Anthony is telling the priest what sort of a girl he would like to marry, Robert’s daughter Jenny, who has been brought up by Kishenlal, is arriving in Bombay. 

And Anthony, meeting her in church, falls head over heels in love with her.
He even woos her with a song; only she is guarded by Zebisco, a man who takes ‘body' guard a bit too literally. Leading to what is possibly the best comedy scene of all time…
Soon the brothers are singing and romancing their respective lady loves – in a boat, in a horse chariot, on a train, on the beach, in the garden…
But Taiyab Ali has Akbar beaten up by thugs; Zebisco is intent on marrying Jenny, and is willing to broker a deal with Robert toward that end; and Ranjeet is still at large; in fact, he has joined Robert’s gang. Meanwhile, Bharati is under the impression that her husband and sons are dead; Kishenlal presumes Bharati is dead, and his sons missing. Jenny, Robert’s daughter, considers Robert her father’s murderer, but learns that the man she is marrying is one of Kishenlal's missing sons. The brothers are merrily crossing paths with each other, and with their parents without knowing who they really are.

Anthony gets to become a scarecrow and a fake priest, while Akbar gets to pretend to be his own uncle. And Amar stands in for an entire wedding band. Confused much? (Idle comment No.3: It says much for Manmohan Desai's firm grip over the direction and Prayag Raj's writing ability that the many disparate strands eventually became a cohesive whole.)  
Will Kishenlal reunite with Bharati and his sons? Will Jenny go back to her real father and hate Kishenlal for abducting her? Will Taiyeb Ali allow Akbar to marry Salma? Will son punish his father for his foster-father's death? And will someone tell me who thought up the plot line (such as it is)?  

This was a film that demanded that you not only suspend disbelief, but also forget what ‘logic’ meant. With a frontline cast of Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan (the heroines, Parveen Babi, Neetu Singh and Shabana Azmi were mere eye candy), Manmohan Desai took the audience on a rollicking rollercoaster ride of implausibility. But it was so quick-paced, and the editing (Kamlakar) so controlled, that you had no time to say ‘Huh, what?!’ before all hell breaks loose in a madcap finale, to the musical accompaniment by Akbar – talk about Nero fiddling while Rome burnt.

Vinod Khanna had the most sedate role as Amar, but it was important because his sobriety balanced Amitabh’s over-the-top Anthony. However, he gets to exhibit his fun side in the climax when he proceeds to show up as a one-man band, playing in accompaniment to the brothers' song. 

Rishi-Neetu’s Akbar-Salma pairing was probably the cutest love story in the mix. Akbar, as the entertainer, also had the pick of the film’s songs – from the foot-tapping quawwali Purdah hai purdah to the (real) eunuch-accompanied Taiyeb Ali pyar ka dushman  to the mellifluous Sai Bhajan Shirdi waale Sai Baba. (Idle comment no.4: Please watch the twin flames emanate from Saibaba’s eyes and proceed toward Bharati’s without falling over laughing.)

Akbar wore colourful lungis and floral shirts and prayer caps with such insouciance that he made it fashionable. A thread-like mouche and chewing paan had never looked so cool before.

But the film truly belonged to Amitabh Bachchan. He legitimised, nay, celebrated the use of Bambaiyya Hindi, and his characterisation gave Hindi films one of its most enduring (and endearing) characters – Anthony Gonsalvez. Whether it was his jack-in-the-box impersonation out of an Easter Egg (dressed in a caricature of formal tails and white gloves) or his Father Anthony, complete with grey beard, cassock and rosary, his loud wooing of his Jenny (a beautiful Parveen Babi) or his sympathetic bandaging of his reflection in the mirror – Amitabh was beyond awesome! No one ever scaled those heights of slapstick quite so seriously before. And he fought well (and only lost to his older brother), and danced, and romanced, and cried a little bit too.

The film crowned Amitabh Bachchan as an ‘One Man Variety Show’ as Ramesh Sippy called him. He was no longer the ‘Angry Young Man’ alone. His flair for comedy had been exploited before, most notably by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, but it was Manmohan Desai who gave him a vehicle that revealed his flair for absurdity. Amar Akbar Anthony was a comedy of errors – on high speed. 

Add Pran, Nirupa Roy, Jeevan, and Helen in a cameo, a plethora of hummable songs, including the completely absurd My name is Anthony Gonsalvez interspersed with even more absurd English dialogues, and you had a ‘to-tul taime pass’ film on your hands. 

Call it improbable, implausible, impossible even, but the absolutely escapist fare left the audience gasping breathlessly in the aisles – if this was mindless entertainment, then ladle out some more!

Trivia: Rishi Kapoor shopped for his famous see-through shirts and netted vests at Bombay’s Fashion Street, and for chappals from Linking Road, Bandra, to become the young Muslim quawwal Akbar Illahabadi. 

Parveen Babi was in splits when a journalist, accompanied by a photographer from Filmfare went to interview her during the shooting. A combination of his first name and the photographer’s last name was the name of Mukri’s character in the film – Taiyeb Ali.

Amitabh’s comic monologues in the middle of My name is Anthony Gonsalvez were his own creation, and his idea. The original character was named Anthony Fernandez, and based on a man whom director Manmohan Desai knew in his youth. Somehow the name didn’t catch anyone’s fancy, and when Laxmikant-Pyarelal were scoring the music, it was their suggestion that the last name be changed to Gonsalvez – thus paying tribute to Pyarelal’s old violin teacher, and an important, but unknown film musician, the real Anthony Gonsalvez.

ps: I’m sorry to inform bollyviewer that Nirupa Roy was at the heights of carelessness in this film; she misplaced not one, not two, but three children!

pps: Some shots of the eyecandy; sorry, heroines. 
And some of the glorious yesteryear men’s fashions. (Did I mention they were ‘cool’?) 


  1. No matter how crazy, illogical and totally whacky this film was, I love it to bits - whackiness and all! So much good fun. :-) Now I want to watch it all over again...

    By the way, I remember hearing a long-ago interview (I think with Rishi Kapoor, but I'm not sure) about how Rishi Kapoor was signed on to play Akbar. Manmohan Desai wanted the role to be played by Rishi, and phoned him up - Rishi was shooting somewhere in Rajasthan at the time, I think - definitely pretty far from Bombay. The phone connection was bad, Rishi couldn't hear half of what Desai was saying, but figured out that the name of the movie was going to be 'Amar Akbar Anthony'. He said yes straight without even being told what the story was, but later wondered how Desai was going to meld together the stories of Amar Singh Rathore, Akbar, and Mark Antony!

  2. No matter how crazy, illogical and totally whacky this film was, I love it to bits - whackiness and all! So much good fun. :-)

    Wasn't it? This is one of my all-time favourite movies. I even got my teenage son to watch it with me once - and even though (not having been brought up on a steady diet of Hindi films) he kept going 'Huh, what just happened?' he enjoyed it thoroughly too. And he absolutely loved Amitabh - that makes me want to forgive him for the rest. LOL

    The story about Rishi Kapoor is interesting; I can just visualise that happening, especially in those days of bad phone connections! And Marc Antony? With Akbar and Amar Singh Rathore? The mind boggles! :)

    Amitabh had once said in an interview that when he got the script, he wondered just what Manmohan Desai was thinking of!

  3. Lovely, lovely Anu, could you please not post such scrumpilicious reviews that I see them in the morning? It always makes me want to sit and read them and drool over your screen caps, and that will make me late for work. :(

    Loved this movie to bits! Only, our DVD stuck a little after the interval so I have never seen the 'madcap finale'. Or even the song where the three brothers are romancing their GFs. I keep telling Rishi to replace it when he goes to India, but he always forgets :(

  4. God, you bring back such memories, Anu! I had seen this film in a ramshackle 'tent' theatre in UP when it first released. And I think I managed to catch every re-run it had - this, apart from Sholay, is the film I have seen the maximum number of times. It was such a blast!

  5. Ekdum Jhakaas Review, Seedha Apne Khopdi Mein Chalaa Gaya. Aaj Kal Aisa Piasa Vasool Film Kidhar Bhi Dikhtaich Nahi, Saala sub Kandam Maal Ho Gayela hai.
    Apun Thoda Peekay Ye Baad Mein Bhi Padhne Waala Hai, Jara Accha Maal, woh Anthony Ka Country Maal Nahin, Aur Dekhneka Hai Kitna Kick Baithta Hai.

  6. "Idle comment no.1: No one seems to be sure just how many years have passed. Kishenlal says 20, Anthony (and the priest) say 22, and Jenny says 25 - I suppose it is not important!"

    I think one has to overlook such things in a Hindi film. Maybe those years are the felt-years. ;-)
    The film was great! I saw it when I was in school and loved it, but I don't dare watch it again and spoil the memory of it!

    All looked so gorgeous in the film, particularly Parveen Babi!

  7. Harvey, I actually liked the disconnect. It was as if the director and the script writer were both having a joke at the audience's expense - because you know how the bees saal pehle / bees saal baad trope is so overused in Hindi films - I think they felt that it really didn't matter how many years. After all, that film defied logic anyway, so how did it matter if it was 20 or 22 or 25 years!

    I think you should watch it again - it truly has weathered well. It's not one of those films which you watch from sheer nostalgia and wonder what the heck you saw in it!

  8. Hey Anthony ke country maal ke baare mein kuch mat bolo! Ek dum achcha maal hai !:) I think the closest that any film came to in recent days, to such entertainment was the Munnabhai series.

  9. Wasn't it! I watched the film recently (for the screen caps) and ended up seeing it all over again - it was such fun. And it looked like the entire cast was enjoying themselves up there too, especially Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan!

  10. LOL, Tina. I'll make sure I post them earlier. :) Woman, the film is available on the web. GO see it. NOW!

  11. Even if he had two very puzzled lead actors at the start of the project, Desai managed to pull off quite a feat! ;-)

    I remember one of my cousins once saying, "All of us in the Liddle family should learn some one song - self-composed and self-written by the family, of course - so that in case we ever get separated from each other, we'll know what to sing!" I think he was thinking more along the lines of Yaadon ki Baaraat, but it reminded me of Amar Akbar Anthony to some extent, too. Where would Hindi films be without people getting lost - and then found?

  12. Even if he had two very puzzled lead actors at the start of the project, Desai managed to pull off quite a feat! ;-)

    He did, didn't he?

    Your cousin is right, you know! Yaadon ki Baaraat and many other films from those times - but where would *we* be if these clich├ęs weren't there? Or you should all have the same name / phrase tattooed on your arms; or a Devi Ma ka locket with photos inside. :)

  13. Actually, my cousin even had a tattoo figured out - a wine glass with a crossed spoon and fork under it, and the motto 'Sharaabi-Kabaabi'! He said that, as a family, we were so fond of eating and drinking, that would make the perfect coat of arms for us!

    Hey Bhagwaan...

  14. 'Sharaabi-Kabbai'! Me like! Me likee very much! :) Your cousin sounds like fun. I like him already...

    Is it too much to ask if you actually went and got it done? How cool would that be!
    ps: You *should* use that in a story. Please, please, oh please...

  15. I understand that! My family (incl. extended one) has that penchant for food as well. I think in our case one could leave the knife and fork! ;-)

  16. Hehe :-D

    No, we didn't get it done! But I think my cousin was inspired because my mum had bought this huge set of salad servers, lovely polished wood, which used to hang - crossed - on our dining room wall. One of what used to be known as 'curios', never actually meant to be used.

  17. I know those! We had a pair hanging on our dining room wall! You know, that could be the plot for a Manmohan Desai film - one of a pair of wooden salad servers in your house, one in mine - that's how we will recognise each other twenty (22 / 25) years later. :)

  18. Harvey, too, too true. :) Madhu, what should *our* song be?

  19. Ah, Anu... now that's a toughie. Something like Janam-janam ka saath hai? But that's too well-known a song, hai na?

    Maybe we should request your husband to write something original for us! :-)

  20. LOL. I'll tell him! He's in India at the moment, enjoying walking downtown in Bombay. I hate him!


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