Subhash Ghai's 1980 blockbuster Karz, starring the then hearththrob Rishi Kapoor, is among the bigger hits of the showman's career. The film, which Ghai unabashedly admitted was inspired by the American film, 'The Reincarnation of Peter Proud,' besides being a very popular film, had music which is still played and listened to today. The film's music composers, Laxmikanth Pyarelal went on to bag the Filmfare Best Music Director award for this film. Ghai handled the reincarnation theme so well that it went on to inspire even a Kamal Hassan starrer in Tamil. Closer home, director Farah Khan named her film after the one of the popular songs from the film, 'Om Shanti Om', which was sung by the late Kishore Kumar. In fact, Farah's film begins with this number. She was not the only one who was inspired by the movie. Himesh Reshammiya followed suit and decided to do a remake, which was directed by Satish Kaushik. The film flopped proving that a copy of a hit cannot expect success as a matter of course. The extra 'Zs' after the name did not help the film's case at all.
No matter what the inspiration, Ghai manages to transport his Karz into the Indian context beautifully. There are little touches, however, which are quintessentially Ghai, The story, screenplay and dialogues are all in complete harmony and the result is a film that is well structured with a seamless flow.
The film's story deals with the theme of reincarnation, greed, betrayal and revenge. Drop the reincarnation bit from it and the film loses half its poignancy. The other major factor behind the film's success is also the presence of Rishi Kapoor. His charming yet vulnerable face definitely went a long way in luring the fairer sex into cinema theatres, of that there is little doubt. LP's music was another plus. Both the late Kishore Kumar and the late Mohammed Rafi lent their voices to Rishi Kapoor for this film and scored a hit. Kishoreda's rendition of 'Om Shanti Om' and Rafi's 'Dard e Dil', were both nominated for the best male playback singer for that year's Filmfare Awards. Even lyricist Anand Bakshi joined the party with a nomination for 'Dard e dil.' The film had a youthful feel to it with Tina Munim and a young Rishi Kapoor cavorting on the screen. In short, the film had everything going for it, youth, romance, music, crime, greed and betrayal. The ingredients have been added in exactly the right proportion, lending it the flavour of success.
The story of Karz is about Ravi Verma, the son of a rich businessman. The sinister Sir Joshua (Premnath), has been eyeing his rich estate, but Ravi foils his takeover plans. The mute but very dangerous Sir Judah then enlists the services of Kamini (Smi Garewal). The plan is for Kamini to seduce Ravi, marry him, and then murder him and take over the estate. It all works according to plan with Ravi falling like a ton of bricks for Kamini. He marries her and then takes her to his estate in Ooty. On the way to the estate, Ravi strums a tune on his guitar. Meanwhile, their jeep runs out of water and Kamini uses this opportunity to run over Ravi with the jeep on the solitary highway. The entire episode is played out in front of an ancient stature of Goddess Kali. With Ravi out of the way, Kamini takes over the estate, by throwing out Ravi's old mother (Durga Khote) and young sister (Abha Dhulia). She even outwits Sir Judah and installs herself as the new pockets the entire estate and as the new Ranima.
The film now moves ahead in time, exactly 25 years later, with Ravi Verma being reborn as young and successful singer, Monty (Rishi Kapoor), with thousands of admirers. He is an orphan who was taken in by a shrewd businessman, Mr Oberoi, who harbours very little in the name of feelings for Monty, and is only out to exploit his talent. Monty is at the peak of his career, when he starts hallucinating and having nightmares about Ravi Verma's death. Most of these are triggered off when he plays or listen to a particular tune, which is the same as the one Ravi Verma was playing before he was killed. The psychiatrist advises him to take a vacation and rest. Monty decides to go to Ooty.
But once in Ooty, Monty keeps getting this feeling of déjà vu and his hallucinations increase. He feels a strong connection with the old Ravi Verma. His girlfriend, Tina's uncle Kabira (Pran), offers to help him confirm his suspicions about the new Ranima. In the meanwhile, Monty is also trying to locate Ravi Verma's old mother and sister. When he does find them, he discovers that they have been living in a shanty all these years, with the old mother waiting for her son to come back. If Monty had any doubts left about being Ravi Verma reincarnatedm they disappear when meets the mother. The old lady, who has half lost her mind, is very happy to meet him and addresses him as Ravi. This scene is wonderfully played out by Durga Khote and Rishi Kapoor.
Now that Monty's suspicions of foul play by Kamini are confirmed, he plans to get close to her and uncover the truth. With the help of some staging by Kabira and his men, Monty manages to get close to Kamini and even manages to scare the life out of her by playing the old tune on his guitar or creating all kinds of illusions. Towards the grand finale, he organizes a function to mark the opening of a school in the name of Ravi Verma, where he recreates the entire sordid crime of Ravi Verma's death, beginning with him being entrapped in love by Kamini and then finally killed. This shakes up Kamini and she leaves the event. Monty and Kabira follow her for the final showdown. Sir Joshua also lands on the scene to take his revenge on Kamini. The past is repeated once more as Kamini tries to run over Monty and kill him in front of the same Kali statue. But in a quirk of fate, she accidentally drives off the hill and dies.
Ghai suitably Indianises the theme with the meeting between the mother and son and the presence of the Kali stature in the past and in the present, as the sole witness to Ravi Verma's murder. The theme song, 'Ek Hasina Thi' is melodious and yet has something eerie about it, which makes it very effective whenever it is used in the film. With Monty being a singer in the film, music and the film's theme are quite closely intertwined, with the tune of 'Ek Hasina Thi' being the one which triggers the hallucinations in Monty and brings him to Ooty..
Besides the music, Ghai has created some quite memorable characters in the movie. Besides the protagonist Ravi Verma/Monty, there is the character of the beautiful but deadly Kamini, played superbly by Simi Garewal, the sinister Sir Joshua, the crafty Kabira enacted by Pran and of course, the mother, played with such tenderness by Durga Khote. Kaushik could not duplicate this in his remake, with most of character becoming mere cariatures. A case in point is the character of Sir Joshua. He is supposed to be mute in the film and yet actor Premnath carries manages to put across the character's sinister designs very effectively. It is a small cameo that this actor does and he leaves his mark on the film. Another veteran actor, Pran, excels in the role of Kabira. But the scene stealer is definitely Simi Garewal as Kamini, specially when she falls in love with the younger Monty. Tina Munim proves to be the perfect foil for Rishi Kapoor as Monty.
Rishi Kapoor is a class actor and Karz is one of the highlights of his career. It is a film which gave him ample opportunity to dance, romance, besides giving the actor in him a role he could dig his teeth into, something that is not so easy to come by for any actor. Actor Raj Kiran, who plays the role of Ravi Verma, bears a superficial resemblance to Rishi Kapoor and that works for the film. He also puts in a very sincere performance in his small cameo. The actor who has moved away from films these days, was one of the better actors of his time and generation and was eminently watchable in films like Hip Hip Hurray and Arth.
With Karz, Ghai really managed to shift gears and move into the upper echelons of the film industry. This is one of those films, which has an evergreen quality to it. Everything seemed to fall into place very correctly for this movie, making it one of the most popular movies of its times. The magic still endures.