Directed by: Ramesh Sippy
Story, screenplay, dialogue: Salim-Javed
Music: RD Burman
Starring: Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Raakhee, Smita Patil,
Amrish Puri, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Ashok Kumar, Anil Kapoor
Shakti was the first and only film that starred Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan. The film only achieved a modest success, which was surprising considering that it had very strongly etched roles for all major characters. It did however become very popular on the video-circuit.
Retired police commissioner Ashwini Kumar (Dilip Kumar) is waiting to receive his young grandson, Ravi (Anil Kapoor). Ravi has completed his graduation and his grandfather wants to know his future plans. Ravi wants to become a police officer like his grandfather. Ashwini is pleased, but warns Ravi that the life of a police officer is not a very pleasant one. He feels that his own life is a reflection of the challenges that a police official faces in the line of duty.
Many, many years earlier, Ashwini Kumar was a mere inspector with a lovely wife, Sheetal (Raakhee), and son, Vijay (Master Ravi).
As he begins to clean up the city, he comes up against JK Verma (Amrish Puri). When things come to a head, JK abducts Vijay in a bid to make Ashwini back down.
Ashwini, who is renowned for his honesty and his principles, puts his duty above all else, even though he is also moving heaven and earth to recover his son. JK calls for a final answer, though, and tells him that if he doesn’t call off the investigation, Ashwini will be responsible for Vijay’s death.
Vijay, who overhears the conversation, is emotionally scarred by his father preferring to sacrifice him for his principles. Old sins have long shadows and Ashwini Kumar is still to realise how long.
In the meantime, KD Narang (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), one of JK’s gang members, helps the little boy to escape. By the time the police surround JK’s hideout, Vijay and Narang have disappeared. Ashwini is perturbed while Sheetal is distraught. Vijay comes home, but the emotionally traumatised boy is sure that his father does not love him, and this feeling crystallises as he grows older.
Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan), now grown up, is a loner. Once, travelling by the local train at night, he sees a young woman harassed by louts. He comes to her rescue, and then walks her back home.
He is curious – won’t her family be worried? Isn’t she afraid of travelling alone? Roma (Smita Patil) has no family to worry about her; and when she travels alone, who is there to be afraid of? She can scarcely be afraid of herself! Vijay looks at her: he is only afraid of himself. Roma is intrigued by the man who, living with his family, still feels alone.
When one of the four men whom Vijay thrashed files a report against him, Ashwini Kumar insists that he be called to the police station to answer the charges. Sheetal tries to convince her husband and her son, to no avail. Ashwini is adamant that duty requires that he call his son to the police station; Vijay cynically reminds his mother that all Ashwini wants is to be lauded as someone who always puts his duty first.
But as much as Vijay hates his father, he loves his mother, and cannot see her hurt.
In the process of seeking employment, Vijay runs into Narang, who does not recognise him, but is instrumental in getting him the post he applied for. Vijay remembers Narang, though, as the man who helped him escape.
Vijay’s employment makes Roma happy; not so his father, who is aghast that Vijay would work in a hotel owned by a well-known smuggler. If Vijay doesn’t know, couldn’t he ask? Can’t he find a job in some place where there are no criminal activities? Vijay is sure that such a place doesn’t exist; because there is crime and corruption even in his father’s profession. Ashwini is furious – there is a difference between men who are sworn to protect the law, and those who are sworn to break it. He lays down the law – Vijay will not work for Narang in any capacity. When Vijay can be so loyal to a man who has given him a job, what will happen if his employer actually helps him out? Vijay would consider him far above his father! Vijay is quick to retort – Narang had actually helped save his life when his father was willing to sacrifice it on the altar of duty!
Vijay seems to stand for every thing his father dislikes; father and son are too alike to be able to understand the other, and Sheetal is the one who gets hurt by their obduracy.
It seems to Vijay that it does not matter to his father what he does – he is always blamed. Finally, their constant fights lead to an explosive blow-up and Vijay leaves home. He runs into Roma who takes him home.
Vijay begins work at Narang’s hotel; on his first day on the job, he saves Narang’s life. Behind the assassination attempt is JK, his erstwhile boss, who is not very pleased at the failure of his plot. However, he finds it amusing that it is the son of the Deputy Commissioner of Police who saved a smuggler’s life. Narang is grateful to the young man who saved his life. It’s only then that he comes to know who Vijay really is.
Meanwhile, Sheetal, who is tired of the impasse, lands up at Roma’s house. Unable to bear his mother’s tears, Vijay promises to come back home. However, he needs to say goodbye to Roma first.
That night, as he is talking to Roma, she is accosted by a drunk patron who misbehaves with her. Vijay takes a hand, and soon the bouncers are escorting the drunkard out. Only, neither Vijay nor the drunkard know they have been framed.
Vijay returns home, and his father is pleased. However, the uneasy peace lasts only moments – there is a warrant out for Vijay’s arrest – the charge is murder.
And all his protestations of innocence fall on deaf ears. The circumstantial evidence is very strong against Vijay and Ashwini Kumar has no other option but to let the law run its course. It is the final nail in the coffin of the father-son relationship.
Ashwini visits Vijay in jail. It’s a conversation that doesn’t go too well, because Ashwini is there as the DCP; he tells Vijay that while he is in jail, he needs to forget that he is the DCP’s son (the law is equal for everyone).
Vijay takes that statement literally; his answer is equally literal – he will forget that he is the DCP’s son. Meanwhile, Narang arranges to bail Vijay out, much to the DCP’s displeasure.
Slowly, but surely Vijay sets his feet on a path that he knows his father hates – he becomes a part of the underworld. Vijay’s gratitude to Narang has only increased, and he gladly accepts his hand in friendship. Vijay has two enemies – his father, who has never lifted a finger to help him; and JK, who has been responsible for all the troubles that he has faced. Vijay is set on retribution. With Narang at his back, Vijay becomes a major player in the world of crime.
JK is not slow to find out that his nemesis’ offspring is on the opposite side of the law; the tables are turned fast enough.
Narang is pleased with the result; he also understands the motivations behind Vijay’s seemingly suicidal actions. He tries to reassure Vijay that those who are not loved by their own people, do get that love elsewhere. After all, what relationship do Vijay and he have? But, to him, Vijay is like a son… Vijay does not reciprocate. To him, the word ‘son’ is an abuse, an insult.
Roma is the only person with whom Vijay can be himself. When she tells him that she is going to be a mother, he wants their relationship legalised, and they plan to marry. Sheetal is thrilled at the thought of being a grandmother.
Meanwhile, Ashwini’s superior officer asks him to relinquish the case. Much to Sheetal’s grief, Ashwini refuses. She promises her husband that their son will give himself up of his own will. However, she is doomed to disappointment, and the continual stress begins to tell on her health.
And if all this is not enough, JK, furious at the way Ashwini is chomping at his heels, sets a price on Ashwini’s head. Unfortunately, someone else becomes the victim.
Will JK, who knows that he is hunted by both father and son, leave the country before vengeance catches up with him? What will Ashwini do now that he knows Vijay is also planning to flee the country? Will Vijay succeed in putting his past behind him? Will the father’s sense of duty win over his filial love once more? And Roma? What about her?
Salim-Javed, who wrote such a strong script for both father and son in Trishul, faltered a bit when it came to Shakti. And it didn’t help that some of Amitabh’s best scenes ended on the editing table.
The strong and aggressively honest Ashwini Kumar became almost a cardboard cut-out. This is not to take away from Dilipsaab’s performance which was very good indeed. He was brilliant as the scrupulous cop who places duty and principles above everything else, and is forced to live with the consequence of his choice for very many years. In his own way, he cares deeply for his son, and Vijay’s silences (as well as his taunts) hurt him very deeply.
But this is Ashwini’s weakness – he cannot express his emotions. Even his love for his wife is only verbally expressed when she dies, and he breaks down. (A very powerful scene.) And even while you ache for the father in him, you have to wonder at his motivations (the same way I wonder at Ravi’s motivations in Deewar) – why is he the person who has to arrest Vijay? (Sheetal, in fact, even asks him this question.) Why couldn’t he have given up the case citing conflict of interest? Why does he have to shoot his son dead? (Similar questions raise their head in Deewar – why does the brother have to shoot Vijay dead? Aren’t the police taught to shoot runaways to stop them? Not kill them?)
Amitabh has played Vijay before – in Deewar, in Trishul, in Kala Patthar – and they were all characters who had a backstory that explained their bitterness, their anger against an unjust society, and who skated over the thin line that divided legal and illegal. He has also played a version of a character who is setting himself against his father – in Trishul, the year before. To do it again, and to do it in such a way that audience sympathy veers toward the underdog Vijay is a feat that could not have been bettered.
Amitabh’s Vijay smouldered on screen. The intensity he brought into his performance as the embittered son of a conscientious father was unmatched. It’s sad to see him do good (though he takes the law into his own hands) and have his father criticise him. Ashwini’s constant criticism keeps reinforcing the idea that his father has never cared for him. It’s only with Roma that he can afford to let his guard down – in a moment of bitterness, his tortured self breaks down, Mere baap ne do shaadiyan ki. Pehle shaadi ka beta main hoon; mere baap ki doosri biwi ka beta hai, kanoon. His expressive eyes reflect both his hatred and his love for his father.
In a way, he’s also a reflection of his father – he cannot bear to see injustice, and is quick to defend the underdog. Like Deewar’s Vijay, his mother is the lynchpin of his life – when she dies, he is bereft. As in Deewar, here also, his mother refuses his financial aid. If Deewar’s Sumitra Devi said quietly Abhi itna ameer nahin hua beta, ki tum apne maa ko khareed sako, Sheetal tells this Vijay: Main abhi itni kamzor nahin hoon Vijay, ki main apni pati ke imaandari ka bhoj nahin utha sakoon. Sounds similar?
Vijay is as quick to misunderstand his father’s motives as the latter is to judge him and find him wanting. Too little, too late, words that should have been said years before are said, and accepted.
Raakhee took a calculated risk when she signed this film; the same year, she was playing his heroine in Barsaat ki Ek Raat and Bemisaal. Of all his heroines, she probably did the most number of romantic films with Amitabh; and he was noticeably more tender with her (and Jaya) than he was with any other heroine.
Raakhee was simply wonderful as Sheetal, the wife and mother torn between her husband and son. Her love for both of them reflects badly on her health, but neither husband nor son show any sign of compromise. There are two scenes that stand out – when she tells her husband that she has had enough and is going to bring her son home. Ashwini Kumar expresses reservations and she retorts “When you have been willing to give up your principles for my sake, do you think my son won’t give up crime for my sake?' And the following scene, where, when Vijay insinuates that his father sent Sheetal because he didn’t have the courage to come arrest Vijay himself, and she verbally tears him apart.
Sheetal is her husband’s strength. When she falls ill, he does the unthinkable – he goes to visit his estranged son to tell him that even if the relationship between them is ended, he knows that Vijay’s mother has never given up hope of seeing him.
Javed might say that Shakti would have been a better commercial success if anybody other than Amitabh had acted in it (he was referring to Salim’s and his failure to write as strong a character for Amitabh as they did for Dilipsaab), but I cannot think of another actor at the time who could have held his own against the thespian. Javed also felt that Amitabh was so much bigger than the role they wrote for him; and the expectations rose a thousand-fold.
Despite all that, the tension that is built up between the two actors has to be seen to be believed. I would merely say that if Shakti is considered a classic today, it is because its leads rose above the script.