Amitabh is the bad guy in this love triangle gone deadly bad
It may seem strange for someone aiming to be hero of Bollywood movies to play a baddie so early in his career – this was only the fourth film starring Amitabh Bachchan to be released (June 1971).
Although Shah Rukh Khan successfully followed the same formula with Darr in 1993 – his eighth movie – and it certainly worked for him too.
However it did give Bachchan – still a relative newcomer – the chance to demonstrate his capacity for playing serious, brooding and intense characters at a time when most movie good guys were bright, lively and happy-go-lucky personalities.
To be fair that was truer of heroes from the 50s and 60s, but certainly the 70s brought less clear cut black and white moralities, and more shades of grey conflict to the realities of life, and hence more realistic protagonists.
So playing a sensitive introverted artist just a rebuff away from turning into a cold killer, was probably tapping into the zeitgeist of the time. Sort of.
But we’re jumping ahead aren’t we?
What happens in the movie?
Amitabh’s character, Kumar Sen is a well-to-do artist who is family friends with retired gent Om Prakash’s Ashok Varma. Sen is in love with Varma’s niece Asha Varma (played by Yogeeta Bali) – and we’re talking obsessive love, as in he’s painted and sculpted loads of pieces based on her. And she doesn’t even know!
When she returns from a trip (or rather he indirectly forces her to return under false pretences) he is gearing up to ask for her hand in marriage. But being a Bollywood love triangle, he’s obviously too late.
Asha has already fallen in love with a wealthy tea plantation owner, Rajeshwar Singh (played by Navin Nischol) who is so charming, good-looking and gentle that you would too if he stepped out of the film and into your life.
When Asha confides in Kumar – unfortunately for him he’s very firmly in the friend zone now! – he finally reveals his obsession with her.
But she’s unfazed by it all, which is surprising, because if someone told you they had made hundreds or paintings of you and some very alluring sculptures all without your knowledge, you’d probably be creeped out and run for the cops.
In retrospect that’s what she should have done, because while they seem to settle on ‘okay, let’s just be friends’ relationship, when Kumar meets Rajesh and sees the two love birds together, something snaps so hard it causes a loving artist to turn cunning vicious killer.
Kumar Sen hatches a complex plan to kill old man Varma and frame loverboy Rajesh for the murder.
The first two-thirds of this movie is typical Bollywood fluff – song and dance routines, even an ‘item number’ by hip-swinging Helen (also known as the H-bomb – probably the ultimate poster girl of the 70s).
The songs aren’t the best or most memorable from this era – at least not for me – despite being voiced by singing legends such as Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar.
So it’s all a bit tedious until the film completely changes character and turns into a sophisticated crime drama. Which it does with a bit of an odd jolt, but then it’s not unusual for Indian movies to not retain a consistent style throughout, is it?
Asha is the least convincing character in the movie, completely unaffected by Kumar’s obsession with her, and whilst at the beginning of the movie she appears to be so desperately concerned at the merest suggestion that her old uncle is unwell, later on when he is killed she really doesn’t seem all that moved by his death at all!
At the end of the movie she even displays more sympathy for her Uncle’s self-confessed killer than showing sorrow at the death of Om Prakash’s character – and how can you NOT love Om Prakash?!
Navin perfectly suits the part, but his character is timid and ineffectual and really you wonder what Asha sees in the mummy’s boy, who’s even henpecked by his sister, apart from his good looks and the fact he’s gonna inherit loads of money once his mum snuffs it (which she nearly does when he is almost convicted) – I mean the first part of the film is him standing on hills with Asha doing the old ‘one day this will all be mine routine’.
I’m not really feeling much empathy for the gold-digger. Nor for Shatrughan Sinha, the Public Prosecutor, who typically hams it up, and nearly has Rajesh hung for the murder in overly dramatic style. That is until Kumar writes a confession and kills himself.
And again that second transition in Amitabh’s character is completely unconvincing. Considering the personality deviation he must have undergone to actually murder dear old Varma, a friend whom he was shown to have affection for, it’s difficult to believe that he would so easily make the return journey, simply to save loverboy because inconsequential Asha asked him for help. Especially as he almost had her in the bag!
The ‘how-dunnit’ aspect of the murder is probably the best bit of the movie and for two reasons.
Firstly because it’s actually quite clever. Kumar Sen establishes a cast iron alibi with withnesses confirming that he was on a train when the murder occurred. But secretly switches to a plane to come back and kill Varma, getting back to the train in time to be picked up by investigating police at the destination.
And then there’s the clever planting of incriminating letters which confirm Rajesh as the potential killer by the victim’s own hand.
So good is this sequence that it was referenced and copied in another movie years later.
Secondly, when Kumar Gets Mad, is when Amitabh really seems to get his teeth into the role. It’s only his quiet simmering angst and the portrayal of subtle growing turmoil that’ll have you believing the artist-turned-killer scenario.
Amitabh in this movie
As mentioned, it’s after Kumar Sen’s profession to Asha that this character really seems to become three-dimensional, and really starts to hold your interest, as he engages in the plan to carry out a premeditated murder and frame an innocent man.
And it’s definitely only Amitabh’s depiction of controlled rage at his unrequited love, directed fully at poor old Ashok Varma, that makes the character and turn of events even slightly believable. Though even Amitabh struggles to pull off the self-sacrificing transition back to suicidal artist – who interestingly is never remorseful of the murder, just conceding his failure in gaining Asha’s love.
Should you watch it?
To complete the Amitabh Bachchan set, yes; but apart from the very clever murder sequence, there isn’t too much to recommend this movie quite frankly.