Alternate title: Can I get a witness?
The next installment of the bilateral projects of the International Relations Ministry of Shashi Pradesh! PPCC joined me in watching the first of my new stash of Shashi.
Bet you can tell what this is about, right? Behaving as people of faith in pluralistic communities. Recognizing higher powers. Witnesses-for-hire Mohan (Shashi) and Ahmed (Amitabh) regularly take oaths but spout lies in the courtroom. They're not really bad as much as they are opportunistic, as evidenced by the lengths they go to to help their neighbors, including the sweet Shyamlee (Aparna Sen). The stakes rise considerably when Kabir (Sanjeev Kumar), Shyamlee's fella and all-around inter/super-denomination religious philosopher, winds up on trial, and the rest of the story follows Mohan and Ahmed (and a few friends) as they take guidance from Kabir in their attempts to get eveyrone out of the messes caused by various bad guys in suits (Mac Mohan, Prem Chopra, Amrish Puri, you get the idea). Rekha and Helen enable a little romance, but they're also much more than that, fighting the man
and asking some tough questions rather than item-shimmying.
Note the cross necklace. It's going to be really important later.
All three female characters are quite interesting, and although I'd argue they don't get as much screen time as their stories merit, they have meatier roles than some other 70s women I can think of (Neetu Singh in Deewaar, for example). They participate fully in the community and their stories add a lot to the societal context, providing windows into working conditions, parenting, and de facto families in the big, anonymous city.
[If you don't want any hints about the masala-y ending, don't read the next paragraph.]
Here's the one thing that bugged me. Immaan Dharam champions Indian religious pluralism and tolerance (among other things) - yay! - and it takes the Amar Akbar Anthony-type route, focusing on Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, also adding in a clear representative of Sikhism. But there are no Buddhists or Jains (not useful stock characters for the free-for-all dishoom at the end, perhaps?), and, more to my personal concern, no atheists. Everyone good in this movie is clearly identified in a particular theist faith. The movie might not say that the bad guys are godless - I don't think that their religious views are mentioned - but all the good people are clearly not. No one particular faith is exalted, but god- and scripture-based faiths in general are. Atheists and agnostics are not demonized, but they're not included. (If I recall correctly, the person who expresses confusion about the value of religion is killed, but he's also mourned and clearly not a villain.) The movie ends with Kabir's great big statement that the lead characters - the heroes, the people who solve the problems - compose "today's India." It gets some points for diversity; from left to right we have a Muslim, a newly-identified Christian, the all-knowing theologian, a Hindi-speaking Hindu, a Tamil-speaking Hindu, and a Sikh. But no non-believers and no doubters.
Join hands! Start a love train! As long as you believe in some higher power! Woo-woooo!
What's going on with this? Maybe at the time the movie was made no one was worrying about what atheists were up to? Maybe SalJav just didn't feel a need to comment? Maybe religion has been given the same movie treatment as many other aspects of life, namely that they're often painted broadly and there's little wiggle room (agnosticism isn't tied up with a nice bow, after all)? Maybe I'm worrying too much about a non-issue? I'm not sure why I'm so bothered by this; when you live in contemporary America, you realize that not belonging to a faith is not always a comprehensible or popular trait. But the movie seemed so adamant that people grab on to religion in order to survive and progress - it was as though not identifying with a specific faith and not finding wisdom in scriptures were not an option. No god, no life, no positive role in the country. This idea is even expressed literally a few times. Most of the examples don't play out quite as heavy-handedly as you might fear, but of course there are ridiculous filmi treatments of religion saving people as well - it is 1977, and we must keep our Recommended Masala Allowances of coincidences and symbols up to official standards!
Mohan sees the light. We get it, okay? Geeze.
Moving on. I did like that the movie has characters consider what it means to have faith, to treat people with kindness, and to behave in ways that are consistent with what they say they believe.
You know what I believe in? I believe in Shashitabh, especially when the two are tightly aligned and striving for justice! They start off bad people - although jovial, well-integrated into their community, and always loyal to each other - and end up much, much better, repentant and working in service of others.
They plan together, learn together, fight together, and succeed together. They might as well be the same person, really, though it's a lot easier to identify them with India's two biggest religions when there are two of them. Sanjeev's character serves as the wiser brother, the better son, helping both of them clean up their act. And anyway, why have only one of them when full-on Shashitabh would be even more fun, I say! (This principle did not work well in Shaan, because Shashi hardly makes any impression, and thus Shashitabh is weak and not particularly fun or interesting, so it might as well actually just be Amitabh.) The first song, "Duniya Ek Adalat Hai," has the two reveling in each other's company, I suspect as actors as well as characters. They look like they're having so much fun, and it's infectious. It's very similar in style and tone to my beloved Parvarish's "Sab Janta Ka Hai," featuring the small(er)-time crooks larking around the streets of Mumbai, joyful and chummy. It even has rolled-up pant hems! No surprise - both movies are Lakmikant-Pyarelal in 1977.
Aside: I love when movies have street scenes that include hoardings or posters for other movies. Here we had Laila Manju with Rishi Kapoor and Ranjeeta Kaur, Sangram with Shatrughan Sinha, and Ab Kya Hoga, also with Shtarughan and Neetu Singh. You can see the latter two in the bottom left photo.
This is very, very fine Shashitabh, maybe even better than in Kaalaa Patthar because there's more fun in their relationship. It's of the buddy-buddy, "I am he and we are all together" variety rather than the "we'll complement our strengths and play off each other's screen personas" kind. Fun, sweet, and very well suited to this big cast and multi-pronged story.
- Some notes on the women's makeup. Rekha wears "brown face," for lack of a better term, I assume to emphasize her character's Tamil-ness, and I think this is the first time I've seen a film couple in which the woman is darker-skinned than the man! I'd like to be wrong about that, but I can't think of any other examples. On the other hand, Helen appears in an important scene with no makeup on at all (or at least makeup that looks like she isn't wearing any, as opposed to her previous bright red lips and spider eyelashes)! The effect is really disconcerting; we're so used to seeing her all glammed up that in her natural state she looks almost alien.
- Another first in this movie for me is an attempted rape that is detected and stopped by bystanders! And the woman is comforted and cared for! And she doesn't kill herself! And people work together to catch the perpetrator! Woohoo!
- The graphics of the title credits are superbly 70s hip (see top photo too).
This reminds me of looking at a World Book Encyclopedia article (probably published the same year this movie was made) in the reference nook of my hometown public library's children's department. I love it.
- The Ultra DVD gave me no problems on my main DVD player, but when I put the disc in the computer, a little green rectangle popped up (you can see it on Helen's right hand above). V mysterious. Also, the back of the case has some of that really hilarious inaccurate and paltry descriptive marketing text that makes you wonder why it's even there, and it says "the main attraction of the film is the star cast," which really sells the story short, in my opinion. It also uses a picture of Shashi that isn't from this movie and calls Shashi and Amitabh's characters by the wrong names (Ram and Iqbal). Better the nonsensical text and mistakes there than in the subtitles, though, so I shouldn't complain.
- Look how Kabir is bound up when the baddies capture him.
Fortunately most of the movie's symbolism isn't this clunky.
- Speaking of what I believe in....
Shashi in black. High priestess.