Ghai's Patriotic Saga
By MovieTalkies.com, 06 March 2009
Subhash Ghai manages a coup of sorts in his patriotic venture, Karma, when he manages to get yesteryears leading heroine, the late Nutan and the thespian Dilip Kumar together in a film. Surprisingly, both these stars had carved out an identity for themselves solely because of their histrionics. In her time, Nutan worked with most of the leading directors and actors of her time and even went on to win five Filmfare awards for acting. The ruling trinity in her time consisted of the late Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar. Nutan worked with the first two but somehow missed out on working with the latter. It took a Ghai, so many years down the line, who managed to bring the two giants together.
Like all his previous movies, Ghai builds this movie too on a grand scale. This time he tackles the themes of patriotism, duty and love and creates some scintillating drama with them. His efforts were lauded by the then president of India and he won a special award for this movie. The story of Karma (story by Ghai, screenplay by Sachin Bhowmick and dialogues by Kader Khan), is not totally original. The genesis of this film probably owes something to V Shantaram's Do Aankhen Barah Haath, where the jailor believed in treating his prisoners in a humanitarian manner. The character of Rana Vishwanath Pratap Singh seems to be inspired by Shantaram's jailor. It is ironic that in a country like ours where human rights are violated ever day, a man like Shantaram spoke about the dignity of human lives, so many years ago. There are cosmetic resemblances with Ramesh Sippy's Sholay as well, where a retired cop uses the services of two petty thieves to capture the dreaded dacoit Gabbar Singh. In Karma, Rana recruits three convicts on death row to bring the equally famous Dr Dang to book. Both, Rana and Sholay's Thakur pay a heavy price for confronting Dang and Gabbar.
But the resemblances seem to end there. Sholay has its own place in the history of Hindi cinema which really cannot be usurped by any other movie. But Ghai's Karma too makes an impact because of the context in which the maker sets his movie. By elevating Dang to the status of the head of an international gang which is out to ruin the country, he manages to elevate the conflict from a story about a personal vendetta to a patriot's struggle. Of course, Sippy's film is more of an ensemble while Karma is out and out a Dilip Kumar film. Despite the presence of the likes of Naseeruddin Shah, Jackie Shroff and Anil Kapoor, the thespian and his character Rana Vishwanath Pratap Singh stands tall, dwarfing the rest with his sheer presence. Nutan and Anupam Kher are probably the only ones who are able to hold their own against his sheer majesty.
It all begins for jailor Rana when he slaps the dreaded Dr Dang (Anupam Kher), who is in custody at his jail. Dang manages to escape but not before he extracts his pound of flesh from Rana. He massacres the jailor's entire family, consisting of his two sons (Shashi Kiran and Satish Kaul), daughter in law (Beena) and grand duaghter. The only survivors are his wife Rukmani (Nutan), whose vocal chords are left paralysed by the shock and his grandson (Jugal Hansraj) who has been crippled. Taking on the name of Dada Thakur, Rana is determined to bring Dang to justice. For this onerous task, he recruits the services of three convicts, Khairuddin Kisti (Naseer), Baiju (Jackie) and Johnny (Anil) and forms his own private army to take on Dang. But each of three convicts agree to Dada Thakur's plan motivated only by the though of gaining their freedom. But gradually, all three awaken to their sense of duty and combine forces to bring down Dang and his gang, consisting of Jagga (Shakti Kapoor) and Rexson (Tom Alter), among others. In between, both Johnny and Baiju find love with Radha (Sridevi) and Tulsi (Poonam Dhillon) as the film moves towards the final confrontation between Dada Thakur and Dang.
In Dr Dang, Ghai has created an enduring character. Just like Gabbar (Amjad Khan), and then Shaakar (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) and Mogambo (Amrish Puri) after him, Dang has also become a part of Hindi film lore where villains are concerned. Kher excels in his chilling portrayal of this ruthless villain. He delivers a scintillating performance and seems absolutely uninhibited at sharing screen space with the great Dilip Kumar. The actor is never over the top and gives a very controlled performance to bring out the cold blooded, calculating character of the villain. His eyes speak volumes and he manages to invest even a tiny gesture as adjusting his spectacles, a touch of cold menace. Little wonder that Kher finds himself in the hall of fame where screen villains are concerned.
These were early days for the likes of Jackie Shroff and, Anil Kapoor, who look more like 'taporis' than criminals from death row. Roped in probably to create some light moments, these two do manage to generate a few laughs and create some entertaining diversion from Dada Thakur and his serious business of revenge. Naseer plays his usual, dark, brooding, angry man. He, however, manages to leave an impact with his impassioned acting. The females, Poonam Dhillon and Sridevi are attractive diversions and nothing more. Veteran Dara Singh, Shakti Kapoor and Tomw Alter put in some earnest performances.
But in the end, it all comes down Rana and his wife Rukmani. Dilip Kumar and Nutan are really the life of the film and its emotional core. The scenes between these two veterans are poignant and sensitive. Together, these two manage to create some of the most enduring moments in this film. The most striking of these is the manner in which an angry Nutan communicates with him through the sound of her bangles. They look like a couple who has loved, had children, fought, made up and grown old together. They seem to fit into each other perfectly. All this and more is what Nutan and Dilip Kumar create with their acting skills. They are brilliant and it is their presence which is one of the USPs of this movie.
Ghai's favourites, Laxmikant Pyarelal compose the music for this film as well. The most outstanding song of this film is of course, 'Mera Karma Tu' which appears in both the male and female version. Both the versions are extremely catchy and it does not take long for one to start humming this song. Besides this number, Karma also has some good compositions by the duo in 'Sajna Ve Sajna' and 'Bada Kathin Hai Prashn Yeh Bhaiya,' which has Dilip Kumar joining in as well. Cinematographer Kamalakar Rao, and editors Waman B Bhonsle and Gurudutt Shirali, also Ghai regulars, pitch in to make this one of the most enduring classics to have come out of the Mukta Arts banner.