This is Vintage Ghai!
By MovieTalkies.com, 04 February 2009
Subhash Ghai's Saudagar will remain a memorable movie for a number of reasons, the primary being that it was perhaps the last time that we saw the two mighty giants Raj Kumar and Dilip Kumar come together on screen. Of course, Raj Kumar passed away subsequently, while Dilip Saab has more or less become a recluse these days. This was also the movie where Ghai introduced his romantic leads, Manisha Koirala and Vivek Mushran. The latter has gone into oblivion, while Koirala is just about hanging in there.
Saudagar has been made in true Ghai style. The film has been mounted on an epic scale, with a huge cast and a dramatic plot. One of the first things that strikes one as the film progresses is the intricacy of the plot. The story is simple enough a tale of two friends, who fall apart due to a misunderstanding and become foes. Their grandchildren break with family traditions and fall in love, thereby uniting the two friends and their families. But the ace director manages to skilfully weave in romance, family drama and action and turn it into a three hour plus mega opus. Released in 1991, the film went onto to be nominated in quite a few categories at that year's Filmfare awards and eventually fetched Ghai the award for best director. It also received the best editor award for Waman Bhonsle and Gurudutt Shirali. The film's dialogues have been written by Kamlesh Pandey, the screenplay by Sachin Bhowmick and the story has been credited to Ghai. The film's music, again a highlight of most Ghai films, has been composed by Laxmikant Pyarelal.
There are many elements at work in the film. If on one hand, there is this whole focus on love and its power for redemption, then there is also the omnipotent power of evil to destroy. In this drama of good versus evil, set against the backdrop of love and friendship, good triumphs over evil, but not till the old order changes accompanied by a lot of blood spilling. In the end, it is the young and untainted lovers, Vasu and Radha who are left behind to begin anew a tradition of love, hope and goodness.
The rustic Bir Singh (Dilip Kumar) and the sophisticated and arrogant Rajeshwar Singh are childhood friends, absolutely in love with each other. Rajeshwar's sister's marriage is fixed with Bir Singh but the nuptials do not take place due to no fault of Bir Singh. However, Rajeshwar's sister kills herself and his brother in law, Chuniya (Amrish Puri) uses the opportunity to turn him against Bir Singh, without giving the latter a chance to defend himself. Matters keep escalating from then on as a heartbroken Rajeshwar goes off abroad to spread his business, leaving behind his zamindari in the hands of the malevolent Chuniya, who wants the property for himself. The enemity between them leads to a strict demarcation between both their villages, with the borders of both being zealously guarded by armed men. The price for crossing the border is a bullet in the back.
Chuniya and his men continue their bad work while on the other side Bir Singh's elder son, played by Jackie Shroff, grows up to be a peace loving man, happily married to Deepti Naval's He becomes a threat to Chuniya, who has him bumped off and then proceeds to frame Rajshwar in a murder charge and ensures that he is jailed for 14 years, making it appear to Rajeshwar that Bir Singh is the one who has framed him.. Rajeshwar stews in jail, his hatred for Bir Singh growing with the passage of time. His two sons, played by Dalip Tahil and Anand Balraj, grow up to be corrupt, arrogant and totally blinded by their hatred to Bir Singh and his second son, played by Mukesh Khanna. Pereciving there to be a threat to his grandson, Baba Bir has him sent away as a child to complete his education. Many years later, Dalip Tahil's college going daughter, Radha (Manisha Koirala), comes home to stay at her ancestral home along with her brother, played by Abhinav Chaturvedi. Vasu also comes back home.
The two meet and fall in love. But all too soon they discover that their love is doomed from Mandhari (Anupam Kher), a hermit, who knew Bir Singh and Rajeshwar since they were kids. He hatches a plot designed to help the two lovers change the atmosphere of hate into love and thus get the blessings of both their families. But it is easier said than done, with obstacles galore in the path of the lovers. Old wounds, rivalries, and accusations surface when their love is discovered, and both are threatened with death and forbidden to meet. However, love finally melts the hearts of the two old hardened men, just in time, as they fight, together this time, to save their grandchildren from the clutches of Chuniya and his cohorts. In their final battle together, Bir Singh and Rajeshwar lose their lives but manage to vanquish the villains. Good prevails again, spearheaded by the love of Vasu and Radha.
Ghai manages to very successfully build up the epic scale of events primarily due to the presence of Dilip Kumar and Raj Kumar. He constructs his plot meticulously, building up the story of friendship and trust, which has gone awry due to the evil machinations of outsiders. The two veteran actors lift the proceedings and their bits together sizzle with energy and heightened drama. Their scenes together have been handled superbly by the director, who manages to bring out the best from both his actors by playing to their strengths. The role of the rustic Baba Bir rests just right on Dilip Kumar's shoulders and he manages to play him with perfection. The late Raj Kumar is also given a role which is perfectly suited to his personality. He conducts himself with his trademark style and matches up to Dilip Kumar in histrionics. Anupam Kher as Mandhari, the narrator of this story, has a dramatic role and acquits himself with conviction.
The two newcomers, Vivek Mushran and Manisha Koirala get enough opportunity to showcase their skills and talent. Manisha looks quite ethereal and puts in a very natural and passionate performance. Vivek Mushran does his bit well, and puts in a confident show in front of veterans like Raj Kumar, Dilip Kumar. Mukesh Khanna etc. Jackie Shroff makes a small appearance, but overshadows with his personality. Deepti Naval and Dina Pathak have smaller roles but are both very effective. Coming to the baddies, Amrish Puri is excellent as always, and so is Gulshan Grover. Mukesh Khanna, Dalip Tahil and Akash Khurana provide excellent support.
The film's music by Laxmikant Pyarelal, with Anand Bakshi penning the lyrics, is good but one has heard a better score from Subhash Ghai. The numbers which went on to become popular include the numbers 'ILU ILU' and 'Imli Ka Buta' and the title track of 'Saudagar.' With Ashok Mehta behind the camera, the film has been shot beautifully, keeping in mind the epic scale of the movie.
Saudagar is vintage Subhash Ghai. The director, at his best, is absolutely unparalled in the manner in which he handles emotions on a grand scale. His understanding of the grammar of Hindi films is phenomenal and it is evident in this movie as well, specially in the manner in which he structures the movie. He handles his actors superbly and seems to know what to extract from them, specially with the two veterans, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kumar. The film is absorbing and moves at an excellent pace. Where Ghai succeeds is primarily with his story and screenplay. With that set in place, he is able to embark on an epic journey and carry his audience along with him.