Mayank Shekhar | Last Modified - Mar 29, 2013, 04:10 PM IST
This isn’t a film set in the 1980s. It’s a film set strictly within the movies of the ‘80s, which makes it a rather odd sort of period film, and possibly the first of its kind. In most remakes, like Farhan Akhtar’s Don, Karan Malhotra’s Agneepath, or even for God’s sake Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag, the director retains the basic storyline and key characters of the original, but reinterprets the film in his own way. This is why it’s called a remake rather than a plain copy.
Then there’s the homage, for instance Farah Khan’s wonderful Om Shanti Om or Milan Luthria’s The Dirty Picture, where the filmmaker, through the setting and certain scenes, pays tribute to the cinema of another time. The older audiences knowingly smile and wink at the references, but enjoy the movie for its own worth. This Himmatwala on the other hand could have released alongside Jeetendra’s film in 1983, and the effect would have been just the same.
Except that Ajay Devgn plays the 'Himmatwala' Ravi this time. The heroine, hired because she could pass for Sri Devi, is the 'Hunterwali' with a leash in her hands that she strikes at her driver because he didn’t come to pick her up from the station. “I hate gareebs,” she mutters repeatedly, two ‘city girls’ in strange skirts and hats nod. This isn’t exactly how she is after her brief intro. Exactly at what point does she start loving the gareebs and is willing to destroy her wealthy villain father is an existentialist question we would much rather avoid. There is too much fun to be had otherwise.
The basic premise of most mainstream films in the ‘80s – which is around the time Hindi movies earned itself the sobriquet “Bollywood” or B-grade Hollywood – was pretty simple. The film, as we know, was meant to be a bhelpuri of some sort – emotion hai, drama hai, romance hai, action bhi hai, sab kuch, sirf story nahin hai (only the story could be absent from the checklist). The producers, who like the hero were also men in whites, knew the audiences wouldn’t mind, because they were firstly the audience themselves. And frankly, they didn’t care so long as they could release several versions of the same film in record time.
These producers were also from the South. Hindi wasn’t their strongest point. The lyrics of their songs then would defy general vocabulary and they could understand them better: the poetic ‘Tathaiya Tathaiya Ho’ and ‘Taki Taki Re’ have been reproduced here wholly from the original. The camera would also usually fondle the heroine’s butt. It doesn’t here. To give such gibberish some social purpose still, the hero of 1983 Himmatwala would mobilise villagers to help out victims of Gujarat floods. The hero before us needn’t bother with any such old-school niceties – taming the tiger, his girl and the villains leaves him with very little energy.
He is in Ramnagar, where the most popular weapon is the Rampuri (chaku). He must avenge his father’s death. His family – mother and sister – have been driven out of the village. The rich Sarpanch, essentially the Thakur of this gaon, has a sidekick whose son marries Ravi’s sister. This son can torture Ravi’s sister, because she is his wife now and as her mother puts it, she can’t leave him until she dies. Ravi meanwhile gets back at the Sarpanch by claiming to have impregnated his daughter. Now the villain is at the hero’s mercy. Who would want to be born a woman in this manic world? Unless of course as Ravi says, “Jab tak aurat par hoga jurm, tab tak insaan banega Himmatwala.”
Himmatwala incidentally was a huge hit of its time, when TV even in the form of Doordarshan wasn’t really around. The audiences were only happy to witness the spectacle of big screen in theatres. Outside of certain pockets, I doubt the original movie has survived public memory. The only way to watch a movie like this is to appreciate it for its sheer, unabashed lunacy. It’s one of the reasons Kanti Shah’s cheesy C-grade Gunda (1994), a movie in rhyming verse, is a cult hit on the Internet. This one is roughly modelled on the same lines. “Behen ka bhai, maa ka beta” is Himmatwala. Mahesh Manjrekar plays the main villain, a role better suited for Mohan Joshi. His minion mortgages his wife’s mangal sutra to serve him mutton biryani. Paresh Rawal plays his sidekick – more or less aping Kader Khan. He directly talks to the camera, sometimes asking it to close-in, while he whispers, “Yeh haath hai ki hathoda? Keedon ki basti mein yeh kaun sa aa gaya makoda!”
You know where this flick belongs then. It’s just hard to look at it on the day of its release as corny cult-bad, when it’s also looking to crack over Rs 100 crores at the box-office. You just wish the filmmakers well. The superstar hero speaks in Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi to secure his territories, and the loud background score celebrates the power of Allah and Maa Sherawali to pander to believers.
You sit inside the hall, peering at the horizon, hoping for the end. My only friend: The End. It does appear, with the words, “It’s a Sajid Khan entertainer.” To be fair to the director, even he doesn’t call it a film. It certainly isn’t. I just wonder what happens if it starts another trend. What, are we going to start playing with marbles and picking up Ludo, and Snakes & Ladders, as well?