I remember seeing Himmatwala years ago as a kid and with each passing year, it has made way for newer, better films in my memory space. Now all that I can recall about the film is Jeetendra and Sridevi dancing around colourful pots to the tune of “Naino mein sapna”. So when a remake comes along, it becomes necessary to revisit the original, which went on to become one of the most commercially successful films of 1983.
Like a good Z-grade film, sitting through its running length was a hilarious experience. The laughs come in thick and fast, none of which are intentional. The story is as basic as they come. An honest school teacher played by, yes, Satyen Kappu, is tricked by the villainous Thakur (Amjad Khan) and accused of attempted rape. He abandons the wife (Waheeda Rehman) and two young kids and makes off. The wife sends the son to a bigger city for better education. Daughters of course are born just to do the housework.
The son, now a strapping ‘young’ man, returns to his village to see that nothing has changed since he left. His family has been pushed into penury and the Thakur is as evil as he was. But now our hero has been appointed as the engineer of a dam proposed to be built on the village river and he will set things right by the end of the film. So begins this film which has so many things to snicker about.
Firstly, there’s Sridevi (in a dubbed voice). The Thakur’s daughter and a hellraiser in her own right. Wearing the briefest and tightest of costumes until our hero tames this wildcat, post which she immediately slips into sarees and salwar kameezes. Then the Thakur himself. Besides being the main villain, since he is also the heroine’s father, you know he won’t be bumped off in the denouement. Instead he’ll simply have a change of heart. Next there’s Kader Khan, who has also penned the dialogue. He plays a dual role of the villain’s sidekick and comic relief. A rich addition to the collection of Munimjis our Indian cinema has thrown up. Where there’s Kader Khan, there has to be Shakti Kapoor. His son and the suitor of our hero’s sister. He too will reveal shades of grey until the end when they join in for a family picture. Waheeda Rehman plays the hero’s mother by the book but she is no match for template patented by the likes of Nirupa Roy.
Minor characters consist of Swaroop Sampat, forgettable as the hero’s sister. But the one who truly makes an impact is Arun ‘Ram’ Govil as a mute simpleton. Hamming outrageously, I am certain Tusshar Kapoor must have studied his method before acting in the Golmaal series. Then there’s Asrani doing what he generally does whatever be the role thrown at him.
The film is directed by K. Raghavendra Rao who remade his own Telugu film. Besides making a number of South Indian films, he is also responsible (culpable?) for a few other similar Jeetendra films like Tohfa and Justice Chaudhury. It is not correct to say that this film has dated over the years. It was as ridiculous in 1983 as it is today. And looking at the success of Salman Khan’s recent films, neither the cinema nor the audiences have improved. This is escapist entertainment at its worst.
Through countless spoofs, Jeetendra, his PT exercise-like style of dancing and white pant and shoe combination have achieved a cult status. And indeed, it is during the two songs, “Naino mein sapna” and “Taki o taki”, that the film comes alive. Otherwise it’s not exactly begging to be remade.