On a summer afternoon in 1991, a friend from school (Krishanu) and I ventured out to Priya Cinema (next to Deshapriya Park in South Calcutta) to see Jumma Chumma in London. For non-believers, this film was unique in the sense that it was an edited version of Amitabh’s stage show at the Wembley.
Krishanu’s uncle was a neighbour of Priya Cinema and managed to get tickets to packed shows quite effortlessly. Thanks to him, we saw innumerable first day first shows without spending a minute in queues. However, this time, not only was the show a sell-out, Krishanu’s uncle had also thoughtlessly vanished.
So, Krishanu and I faced the daunting prospect of returning home and trying our hand at differential calculus. Instead, we decided to run across to Menaka Cinema (about a 10 minute jog for 17-year olds) and check out the film there.
It turned out to be Benaam Badshah – which was also on its first day. Tickets were available. In fact, the counter guys were beckoning us from inside the ticket windows. We should have taken a hint from this but we chose to take the ticket instead.
The film starred Anil Kapoor – and this clash of his release with Amitabh’s led to speculation that they were stepping up their rivalry. Now, this happens when Amitabh’s releases clash with Shahrukh’s. AB has been unfortunate enough to have releases clashing with Rajesh Khanna, Anil Kapoor and Shah Rukh!
We were a little delayed and the opening scene of Anil Kapoor’s release from jail had gotten over.
Also over was the landmark scene in which the director establishes what a scoundrel Anil was. As a house burnt and everybody lamented, Anil sauntered up and lit his beedi from the blaze. Antonioni and Fellini can only aspire for such economy of expression to establish character!
Since it is almost 16 years now, the details are slightly hazy but I do recall the following plot devices:
* Anil Kapoor’s character was an abandoned child, who grew up to be a bitter bastard. He stayed in a ‘house’ with no roof and had Gandhi’s picture on the wall. Poignant Dialogue: Mera to koi pita nahin hain. Is liye rashtra pita hi sahi!
* As described above, he had nobody to name him. Ergo, he did not have a name. Ergo, the name of the film.
* Anil had strangely hennaed hair, which was explained when he was shown wiping blood on his hair.
* Amrish Puri was a corrupt politician, (is there any other kind?) whom Anil called Negu, abbreviation for Neta and Gunda!
* Rohini Hattangadi ran a NGO for destitute women, which was a front for trafficking women, with Amrish’s blessings.
* Juhi Chawla – the heroine – was raped by Anil Kapoor on her wedding night as her father’s enemies paid Anil to dishonour her. Her groom (a Perfect Samaritan) was prepared to ‘accept’ her but she refused and landed up in Anil’s locality, gradually ensnaring him to marry her.
This is because of some algorithm that for the ‘Hindustani aurat’, the first pati is the last and he should last you seven births (more than the Energizer Bunny). And, pati is obviously equated to the person who is responsible for taking one’s virginity.
* Shilpa Shirodkar played a prostitute in love with Anil. But as the fallen woman, she does not have a chance before the ‘chaste’ Juhi.
* Manjunath (famous as Swami of Malgudi) played Anil’s sidekick. Ashok Saraf (famous as the father of Hum Paanch) played Amrish’s sidekick. Neither of them had anything significant to do.
* Eventually, Anil reformed himself and married Juhi. After that, Juhi’s saheli called him ‘bhai-saab’, which drove him to tears because that was the first time in his life he got respect!
* Because Anil gave up Amrish’s henchman-giri, Negu sent him a tiffin-bomb, which killed Juhi by some cinematic machinations. Anil chased Amrish up the scaffolding of a construction site, threw him down, hammered him with (well) a sledgehammer and finally upturned a huge pot of boiling oil on him.
Deep Message: He did not kill him because he declared that he did not want to go to jail and make his son one more ‘Benaam Badshah’.
I liked this movie for having every single potboiler cliché and then trying to garb each one of them into a preachy reason! It was completely unaware of all the political incorrectness it had and innocently justified all of them. It aimed at the ‘masses’ with a vengeance and its failure at the box-office was not because of lack of effort.
In an avalanche of mediocre films, it turned out to be really bad and hence, memorable.
After coming out of the theatre, Krishanu made me swear that I would never confess to ANYBODY whatsoever that we watched this film.
I broke that promise today. Sixteen years is a long enough time – and hopefully, Dr Krishanu Das, MD will forgive me.
Actually, this is part of a Ping-Pong I am playing with Nilendu, called Random Movies I Liked. He started with Ajooba. This is my return. He will now write on Gentleman.
Updated to add Nilendu's comment, which had got deleted:
I too liked "Benaam Badshah", I too watched it in "Menoka" - though, frankly, do not remember with whom.
About Bachchan rivalry, remember his release clashes with Mithun's? The most prominent was probably with Ajooba itself, Mithun's Shikari (also an Indo-Soviet venture on circus stuff) released on the same weekend. Sometime before that both of them did "Ganga Jamuna Saraswati" together, and fans of both sects clashed near Menoka.
The scene where Anal Kapoor lits his biDi from a burning house is one of the most poignant scenes in the history of Bollywood. Kapoor -- his head as big as an August watermelon put on top of a couple of ear-bud legs, with practically nothing in between -- was desperately trying to break his "seedha sadha" image into toughened tapori one (Ram Lakhan, Tezaab etc etc). As duly noted, Anal henna-ed his hair - only the part that sits on the head. It would probably bring the world onto a critical "Henna Draught" lest someone decided to henna every hair strand Kapoor has on his surprisingly un-muscular, even by 80s "Chocolate Hero" standard, physique.
One thing that you should also mention is how Juhi, after raped, did not lose 'faith' and practically adopted a tactic to have Anal marry her. The tactic would later be famous as "Gandhigiri". She rented another "kholi" near Anal's and did not let him loose.
When the "tiffin bomb" killed Juhi, everyone in the hall probably laughed loud. This was not because the scene was constructed bad or something, but because Juhi - by then - had made it a habit of dying 11 minutes before the movie ended. QSQT, Pratibandh, Chandni etc. If Juhi had indeed lived through the point where dimly lit "Exits" would wide open, the movie would surely end up a big flop. Anyone today remember "Tum Mere Ho"?
Rohini Hattangadi's character was named a cryptic "Kaameshwari" - as Amrish, Jaikal - the evil politician, would shout at her to send new girls from her social service center to his bed.
Shilpa Shirodkar indeed played a prostitute, that - by bollywood definition of the word - restricted her to just an "item number" for the entire chawl.
Now that "Gentleman" is covered too, how about "Raam Shastra"?