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16 March 2018

Suhaag (1979)

Directed by: Manmohan Desai
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Starring: Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, 
Rekha, Parveen Babi, 
Amjad Khan, Nirupa Roy, 
Jeevan, Kader Khan, 
Ranjeet, Jagdish Raj
Sometime ago, Shalini – my partner in crime when it comes to watching Hindi movies – and I were talking about the ‘Manmohan Desai Universe’. His movies were larger than life, his characters were over the top, and the melodrama was dialled up to the highest pitch. Yet, wholly illogical as his movies were, Desai’s characters were logical and realistic within the universe they inhabited. And, Desai had a fine grip on the combination of masala that he served forth. So, after watching Naseeb together, Shalini and I made a future date to watch Suhaag, which is considered one of his ‘lesser’ movies, even if it was the top box-office grosser of that year.

Think of a Desai film with two heroes, two heroines, and two villains – also, brothers separated at birth, blindness, some moral conflict, cops and robbers, exciting chases, love, filial duty, revenge, divine intervention… the full range of a masala universe packed into three hours of non-stop entertainment. No one can accuse Desai of stinting on emotion.
So, Shalini and I relaxed, needing some Shashi-Amitabh love for us to tide us over. Onward then…
[Be warned: Lots of asides, declamation, quips, photographs, and swooning included.]

Durga (Nirupa Roy) is in the throes of labour, and gives birth to twin sons.  The father, a drunken lout named Vikram Singh (Amjad Khan) very obviously denies paternity (or where would we be?) and poor Durga is left to fend for herself. She vows, though, that her sons will avenge their mother’s honour. [Shalini and I are thrilled she's not a doormat.]
But bereft of a male support (her father has a heart attack when his son-in-law repudiates wife and sons), Durga is soon forced into the streets. There, she runs into Jaggi (Kader Khan) who, on the pretext of helping his munh-boli bahen, sells her at a brothel.
Shalini: We know how these 'bhaiyyas' are.
Me: Who on earth would want to buy a waterspout? 

Well, apparently the Madam does, and soon – by the expedience of holding Durga’s babies hostage – a reluctant Durga is pushed into a room with a client. 
Who, fortunately for her, turns out to be an undercover police officer (Jagdish Raj – who else?) [Though Shalini forgot her masala lessons and was surprised Jagdish Raj wasn't a cop!]

Unfortunately for Durga, though, Jaggi holds one of the babies hostage, and escapes through the window, leaving a still-weeping Durga who has now lost one of her sons as well! 
Me: Well, Nirupa Roy can't be blamed here.
Shalini: Sure, she can... so gullible! 

Soon, the boys grow up. Jaggi has sold the baby he abducted to Pascal (Jeevan), who runs a begging ring. [Shades of Oliver Twist, here.] Amit is forced to drink by Pascal who offers him bootleg liquor instead of water.
Kishan, forced to drink by Jaggi when he begs for money, is carried home by Amit, to be met by a furious ma.
Me: Slap! And Kishan will return to the straight and narrow.
Shalini: Yes, no one slapped Amit, so he became a drunk. Got it!

Amit grows up (Amitabh), with a fondness for alcohol, neck scarves, getting into fights and his size 9 Kolhapuri chappals – not necessarily in that order. 
Durga, with the aid of the compassionate Inspector Khan has educated her son, and Kishan (Shashi Kapoor) is a police inspector, with a fondness for leather.
Me: [with stars in my eyes] So so goodlooking. (Amit, that is.) Love him!
Shalini is too busy ogling both of them to do anything more than post love emojis. 

The brothers meet – unfortunately, it's a case of mistaken identity. Misunderstandings soon clear up, and the brothers are soon beating up a common adversary.
Shalini:  Looks like the start of a beautiful friendship!
Me: I love that Amit is saluting Shashi. [When he realises that Kishan is a cop.]
Shalini: Yeah, he knows who to brown-nose. 

Amit is in love with Basanti (Rekha) the local nautch girl. Each time he meets her (and he spends a lot of time getting drunk and creating a ruckus in her kotha), he’s trying to persuade her to give up the business and marry him – for, after all, how long is her career going to last?
Amit: 'Tu mere saath shaadi karegi.'  And when she refuses, 'Par kyun?' 

Me: Atta girl! As if he's such a catch.  
Shalini: I like that he wants to marry her, but she's happy being a tawaif. 
Me: I like how she looks really disgruntled at his wooing but also amused at his persistence. This is not stalking-as-wooing, by the way. As Shalini says, 'Clearly, it's a mutual long-standing ritual between them.'
Meanwhile, Inspector Khan has been murdered and and Kishen is swearing revenge. [We mourn his untimely demise appropriately.] The killers seek refuge in Basanti’s Kotha and while Amit manages to give them a good fight, he’s in trouble until Kishan raids the kotha. Kishan looks exasperated. Amit is still salaam-ing: 'Hamara record kharab ho jayega.' 
 
The next day, Amit lands up at Kishan's house, to thank him for the rescue, where he meets Durga. Amit remembers Durga from his childhood. Shalini and I melt into puddles. 'Awww.' Amit reminds her that it was her encouragement that led to him studying. Why, he's even 'Matric pass'. 

Me: Who walks around with his matriculation certificate in their pockets?

Shalini is too busy 'aaw'-ing at Amit's 'Zindagi ki kheench ne lamba kar diya.' [We both decide that Amit of the 70s could do no wrong in our book. Even corny dialogues sound believable. We are even 'aaw'-ing at 'Kaash meri bhi koi maa hoti.' We agree that Amit did angst very well.]

Kishan, though initially taken aback at seeing this goonda in his house, on very good terms with his mother, melts when ma tells him that Amit was the good samaritan who brought him home years ago. Much brotherly bonding ensues.
Later, Kishan, who’s chasing a lead on drug smugglers, goes undercover as a hippie to a club run by Gopal (Ranjeet! –  Shalini and I are happy to see a whole phalanx of masala villains. It made our day). 
There, he runs into Annu (Parveen Babi), who is unintentionally intoxicated, and mistakes Kishan’s car for her own. We both grin at 'Hotel nahin toh pikchur le chalo...' Plus, we like that Annu proposes to him. And that Kishan is embarrassed.
Cool mom that Durga is, she's more than happy to notice there's a 'lipstickwali sandalwali' in her son's life.  She also fixes her son's marriage up; we notice that neither Annu nor Kishan are asked their opinion, though Annu coyly agrees.
[Shalini is surprised when Annu turns out to Basanti's sister. I'm surprised Shalini is surprised. I mean, how many Manmohan Desai movies have we watched!]

Durga, of course, does what she does best – threatens Kishan and emotionally blackmails Amit into helping her get Kishan married off. We are both in splits when Amit, after being told 'tang tod doongi' by Durga (if he doesn't persuade Kishan to agree to marriage), responds to Kishan’s 'Tang tod doonga' with 'Kaunsi tang?' Amit's expressions were hilarious. 
 
A series of incidents –  aided and abetted by Amit who’s trying to make Durga happy by persuading Kishan to marry, and Kishan happy by agreeing with everything he says – end in Kishan falling in love with the besotted Annu. [We’re thrilled to note that Kishan sees right through Amit's disguise. Shashi is smart!]

[We're even more thrilled to hear Amit tells Basanti,"Mera ghar tu basaati nahin...'. Their interaction is really cute.]

Meanwhile, Vikram (you haven’t forgotten him yet, have you?) has moved on from a small-time crook to become the king of crime. Jaggi has other ideas – only, blackmailers can also be blackmailed, as Jaggi realises to his consternation.  And of course, Gopal is Jaggi's son. 
Shalini: Everyone knows everyone else in MD's universe. Even when they don't 'know' who that someone is.
Me: Yup. MD's world is always inter-connected.

Meanwhile, irritated by Kishan nosing around, Vikram hires Amit to kill him. [Having first persuaded him to get down from the top of the temple, where Amit had taken refuge after realising he didn't have enough money to build the temple.]
We are impressed that Pascal really seems to care about his foster son. And we are awestruck by how much the dialogues foretell the masala to come: 'Baap hota to kisi ko bhej dete' quips Amit sadly, just as Vikram's men arrive to take him to their boss. 

[We both agree drunken Amit is even better than Dharmendra's iconic 'soocaide' scene in Sholay. Better voice control, decides Shalini. Also, he looks cuter, when sad.]

Amit, who’s shocked to realise that the supari he’s taken up is Kishan, connives with the latter to trap Vikram. 
 
[Shalini and I grin over Amit's laconic 'Khoon karoonga tera' response to Shashi's 'Ab kya?' We also bicker over whether the Rekha-Amit jodi was better (me) than the Zeenie-Amit jodi (Shalini), but agree that Jaya-Amit were really lovely together. And so were Hema-Amit.]

Then, Rekha faints, and I'm surprised. Surely she can't be pregnant? Nope. All is well in the masala heroine's universe. But... Kishan loses his sight in the mêlée
[The doc doesn’t seem sure whether it's cortical blindness or corneal blindness. Shalini raps me on the knuckles – ours not to question 'Why?' Of course, it's filmy blindness!] Now, it’s Kishan’s turn to demand that Amit avenge him. How? By turning into a police officer himself. Ma adds some emotional blackmail to the mix.
Shalini: [back to putting in lovestruck emojis] Wow, he cleans up well! 
Me: [Too busy ogling to listen] I must confess I like him scruffy. 
We both like that he asks Basanti for help, and she, practical woman that she is, smells his breath first to figure out whether he's already drunk.
Shalini draws a deep breath: 'We really have to find one of these kothas one day!'
Me: Unfortunately, kothas seem to have gone the way of the Dodo.
Shalini: [miffed] Stupid modern film makers! 

We both decide that people who say songs weren't necessary in Hindi films are annoying. They totally were! 

We do wonder how easy it is to join the police force, but Desai does take the trouble to show us that the cops question it too, and – by turning calendar leaves – that Amit goes to training college. Anyway, back he comes as a full-fledged inspector. (Do not ask questions. As Man used to say, 'This is a Manmohan Desai film.')
We also decide that Amit looks good in uniform. [Our views are purely academic, mind you.] 

Upon his return, Amit decides that despite Kishan’s blindness, Kishan should still work at his job. So now it’s Amit’s turn to train Kishan. [We liked that Man showed this because it would come in handy later on, and some critic wouldn't up and ask how a blind man could do all these things.] Also, it's great brotherly bonding.

Everyone is in town – and the masala bomb is set to explode. How is Basanti connected to Gopal, for instance? And what will Annu say when she realises her beloved sister is a nautch girl? [Shalini wanted to smack Amit for being a sanctimonious prick. I agreed.] 
When will Amit and Kishan realise they are brothers? And what will happen when they find out that Vikram is their father? 

There are as many coincidences as there are characters, but each character gets their own narrative which criss-crosses with that of the others with whom they are connected. Yet, for all that, there’s an internal logic to his characters, and they stay in character throughout the madness.

Manmohan Desai squeezed in every masala trope he could find, and the actors looked like they were having so much fun – Parveen as the ditzy kook was the only disappointment because that was probably her character arc – play the ditzy kook. But what a lovely ditz!
Rekha as Basanti was a great masala heroine – strong, feminine, beautiful and she had great chemistry with the Bachchan. The sparks just flew when they appeared on screen.

Amitabh and Shashi also had great chemistry together. Their scenes ­together – whether they are fighting, having some bromance, the comic sequences where Amit (dressed as a Sardarji) is trying to persuade Kishan to marry Annu, the many chappal sequences which are absolutely hilarious, how many ever times they are repeated –  are a delight to watch. For a change, the songs are great as well, and we get to hear Mohammed Rafi sing for Amitabh – which is always fun.
Shalini and I, of course, swooned over Amit's ability to whistle before he attacks; loved that even the villains got to have emotional dialogues; laughed that Jeevan had lost the wig stakes in the movie but loved that he broke into English from time to time in that decidedly-Jeevan way; had our masala quota when we realised the film was chocabloc with villains...
...we laughed that when Amit said 'Uske dimaag aur meri taaqat' he was actually confessing to lacking in the brains department;  swooned some more over Amit's coolness quotient; were shocked that Kishan doesn't get his eyesight back as the result of a medical miracle; loved that Kishan is not very filial and that baap remains a manipulative bastard till the end; imprinted QWERTY on our foreheads when Man suddenly remembered that the title of the film was Suhaag... 
...we decided the brothers would be better off without their parents; wanted to smack ma for being so bloody stupid all of a sudden; sighed over the fact that the heroine, while rather fiesty in a masala set up still has to be virginal, but admired that she tells her truth without shame, and bonded over how Suhaag is a near perfect example of how masala can be insanely entertaining, and how Manmohan Desai never got his due.  

A thoroughly entertaining time was had. We just need to ensure samosas and tea are on hand, next time.

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