To me, “Amar, Akbar, Anthony”, a 1977 release, defined the Bollywood of late 70’s to mid-80’s. The ubiquitous lost-and-found formula, rocking songs, maar-peet, vendetta, incredibly hirsute villains…. you name it and it was there. It was a multi-starrer too, multi-starrer being a buzz-word in the era. A multi-starrer to beat all multi-starrers!
Amitabh Bachchan paired with Parveen Babi, Vinod Khanna falling in love with Shabana Azmi and Rishi Kapoor serenading Neetu Singh. With supporting cast like Shivraj, Kamal Kapoor, Nazir Hussain who played the foster fathers of the three lost-and-found brothers Rishi, Vinod and Amitabh respectively. Jeevan as the villain with henchmen Ranjeet and Yusuf Khan. Pran and Nirupa Roy play the roles of the real parents. Mukri is the father of Neetu Singh. You even spot the dialogue writer Kadar Khan voicelessly lurking in a scene in Jeevan’s den.
The story in brief: Pran (Kishanlal) is a driver in the employ of a smuggler, Robert, (Jeevan). His family of five (husband, wife, three sons) get separated on a tragic morning of 15th August. The details are too complex to recount here. However, suffice it to say, Pran ends up being a smuggler, his wife runs away to commit suicide but has an accident, turns blind but survives. Their three sons also get separated, and each ends up being raised differently, one a Hindu, another Muslim and the third a Catholic!
The eldest gets adopted by a Hindu police inspector, Kamal Kapoor. Hence Vinod Khanna retains his original Hindu name, Amar. He also takes up his foster father’s profession, that of a cop. The middle fellow lands up at Mount Mary Church, Bandra (though the movie places the church in Borivali) and is adopted by the priest and christened Anthony Gonsalves. Anthony, Amitabh Bachchan, grows up to be a country-liquor vendor and a local mawali. The youngest chap is adopted by a tailor-master and is named Akbar. He becomes a qawwali singer. Their mother, Nirupa Roy, now blind, thinks her entire family has perished in a car crash is now eking out a living selling flowers.
All this goes to prove the syncretic nature of the Indian culture typified by this oft-repeated ditty:
“Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Eesai,
Ham sab hain bhai-bhai.”
(Whether Hindu, or Muslim, or Sikh or Christian, we are all brothers.)
Bhai-bhai, of course!!
I bet if Pran-Nirupa had son number four, he would have been raised in a Sikh household!
Very tellingly, early on in the movie, the three brothers -all grown up now- and unknown to each other, get together to donate blood to a street-accident victim, Nirupa Roy, their mother. Of course they do not know who the other is, or that the beneficiary is their mother! You see these three young men, next to each other on hospital beds, with tubing into their arms carrying their blood directly into their mother’s body. Forces of gravity be damned! Blood is thicker than water, and it has properties which negates all principles of physics. Period! When asked what their names are, each speaks out, even as their blood is being drawn, “Amar”, “Akbar” and finally the baritone of Amitabh, “Anthony”. Then starts the credit roll with Rafi’s song in the background: “Khoon, khoon hota hai, paani nahin” (Blood is thicker than water). Taaliyan from the spectators! More taaliyan!
The sons grow up, and they fall in love. Vinod fancies Shabana who is a part of an extortionist gang. Amitabh is in love with Parveen, the foster daughter of Pran but who is actually Robert’s daughter. Rishi is besotted with Neetu Singh who is a doctor at a local hospital. Nirupa Roy, the flower seller, keeps bumping into her sons without realizing that they really are her sons. Pran, now a smuggler, reduces Robert, his ex-employer- and tormentor- to penury. He even kidnaps his daughter. If your mind reels at all this, worry not, check out the movie!
Over time, all pieces of this jigsaw come together. Each member of the family of five discovers the other eventually. Mom dearest even gets her eyesight back in a Shirdi Sai Baba temple. And all is well in the end.
This film is directed by Manmohan Desai, then the king of Bollywood. Remember “Dharam Veer”, “Parvarish”, “Chacha Bhatija”, etc.? He was the man with the Midas touch. Whatever he touched, turned to gold (jubilee). By the way, all the above-named movies were released in the same year- 1977- as also AAA, the movie under discussion. Needless to say all were bumper hits!
Manmohan Desai., MKD, would have been an outstanding cartoonist, if he had not taken upon film making. Larger-than-life characters, totally improbable situations, lots of action, tons of emotions, complex and confusing story lines, but all converging to an altogether satisfying conclusion. It seemed each of his movies had scenes ripped off from pages of comic books, but strung together so entertainingly. A pity he died early; he committed suicide in 1994, when he was in his late 50’s.
One short section of AAA encapsulates the utterly engaging comic-book approach of MKD, this song “My name is Anthony Gonsalves” and the events which follow after that. Amitabh, who is besotted with Jenny (Parveen), shows up at the Easter party where she is a guest. And how he shows up! Ensconced into a giant Easter egg wheeled onto the stage which opens up to reveal Amitabh in a dark suit, bow-tie and monocles. Carrying an umbrella which he uses as a prop to execute his dance moves. The bi-lingual lyrics are utterly zany. Specially the incredibly-worded English bits.
Amitabh gets beaten to pulp by Jenny’s bodyguard (Zebisco- played by Yusuf Khan) in the party. In the classic scene which follows, a drunken- and badly injured – Amitabh chats with himself in his bedroom mirror administering first-aid to his image. This scene is one of the most hilarious ones I have ever seen in Hindi cinema!
And from an acting stand-point, this is one of the best movies of Amitabh Bachchan I have ever seen.
Without further ado, I will now let you enjoy this song: “My name is Anthony Gonsalves”.
PS: I saw this movie twice, when I was in my 10th standard; just before my school-leaving ICSE exams, on 8th and 12th October, 1977. And the third viewing was on 30th November a day after the exams got over. Not that on the intervening day I was idling. On 29th November I watched “Zanjeer”, an older AB movie I had missed earlier was in town for a rerun. The movie that started the phenomenon AB is!
What a way to end my school-going days!!