Blast from the past: KALA PATTHAR

February 28, 2011


Kaala Patthar Poster


This post first appeared many months ago in Atul’s immensely popular blog on Hindi film songs. In his blog, Atul discusses songs- generally old- and also gives the full lyrics and a link to the video. I contribute occasionally to his blog. While ostensibly the post is on the song “Ik rasta hai zindagi”. I have written more about the movie itself!


It has been one of those big mysteries of Bollywood which I have not been able to fathom yet. Just why did Kala Patthar not become one of the biggest block-busters of all times! Heck, it is not even among the top 50 grossers of 1970’s (it was released in 1979)

To start with it was the multi-starrer to beat all multi-starrers. I do not think any other movie has brought so many stars together in one film. The only notable exception being the recent film “Om Shanti Om” and that too in just one song only, “Deewangi, deewangi”.

The director of Kala Patthar was Yash Chopra, the man with the Midas touch, fresh from the successes of Deewar, Kabhi Kabhie and Trishul. Story and script were by the duo Salim-Javed who could do no wrong. Remember Sholay, Deewar and Zanjeer? They are the ones who created the angry young man persona of Amitabh Bachchan. Music was by Rajesh Roshan (Des Pardes, Doosra Aadmi and Swami fame). The story was based on the Chasnala mine disaster of 1975 which was fresh in people’s minds.

As far I am concerned this movie deserved to be a super-hit, but it actually did average business at the BO. But first the story.


Kala Patthar is a story of migrants and refugees. Nearly all of them victims of their pasts.

Vijaypal Singh, Amitabh Bachchan, a disgraced shipee, is tortured by his past. He was court-martialled after he abandoned his sinking ship, instead of “going-down” with it like a dutiful Captain. To escape his internal demons he takes a ride on a goods-train. And lands-up in the coal-mining area around Dhanbad.

Mangal Singh, Shatrughan Sinha, is also, somewhat “tortured” by his antecedants. He, a convicted crook, needs to escape from the long arm of the law. He too takes a train. And lands up in Dhanbad.

Ravi Malhotra, Shashi Kapoor, is also on a trip, except that he is on a mo’-bike trip. Just out-of-college after his studies in mining engineering.

Anita, Parveen Babi, a new-age journalist, and an old friend of Ravi’s, is there on the spot- at that mine near Dhanbad- on the invitation of the mine owner, Dhanraj Puri (Prem Chopra).

Dr Sudha Sen, Rakhi, is a dedicated young doctor at the local clinic. She has deliberately chosen a posting at this mining outpost as she wants to help the marginalized. (She had seen her father die in her village when she was young.)

Chhanno, Neetu Singh, lives in the village but we are not told where she has migrated from. She is that poor, parentless, village belle eking out a living selling talismanic finger-rings and other knick-knacks.

Each character well-written, well-etched.

There is a “reverse-migrant” too so-to-speak. Sanjeev Kumar in a cameo of a Doctor. He runs away from the mine’s clinic in just three months, he is so sick of it.

Even the relatively smaller characters, Yunus Parvez (the chief engineer), Parikshit Sahni (a truck driver), Manmohan Krishna (tea-stall owner), Bharat Saxena, MacMohan (miners) are given their clearly defined spaces, albeit small. Poonam Dhillon, Satyen Kappu, Iftekhar (Vijay’s dad), etc. etc., I could on-and on!


Vijaypal is on this major guilt after he has got court-marshalled.To add to his woes, his dad, a retired army officer, disowns him. He is the quintessential angry young man, but this time his anger is not directed towards the injustices heaped upon him or his family. He is angry with himself, he is seething with blind rage at his own cowardice. This makes him nearly masochistic, ever ready to embark on dangerous missions.

Witness the scene where, when confronted by a co-worker- a local toughie (Bharat Saxena)- he grips the sharp-edged knife held by the latter, wrenches it off his hands, chucks it and walks away nonchalantly.

The scene when he enters into the mine to rescue a fellow-miner even when he knows that his life is in danger.

In a classic scene at the clinic he refuses local anaethesia which his doctor (Rakhee) wants to administer to ease his pain as she tends to the wound on his leg. She beseeches him to take the medication: “Why don’t you understand?” She bursts in English, she is so exasperated. Right comes this killer from AB, “Why don’t you understand? Pain is my destiny and I can’t avoid it!” In AB’s crisp English, of course.

Mangal Singh runs away from the law at a stone quarry where the prisoners are laboring with a cleverly executed escape behind a screen of smoke and rubble after he ignites the dynamite at the quarry. Destination: Dhanbad’s coalmines.

Vijay and Mangal loathe each other, it is very evident from the beginning. The tension which builds between them is a highlight of the movie. The director holds the maar-peet between the two till much later, he just makes taut the already tense animosity between the two at each encounters of theirs’.

But it is not hatred all across, romance is blossoming between Vijay and Dr Sudha, between Mangal and Chhanno. And of course Ravi has charmed his way into Anita’s life.

Dhanraj Puri, the classic villainous character, is plotting a watery graveyard for his miners. He has instructed his engineers to drill deeper ignoring the large body of accumulated water in the depths of the mines. Till one of the walls is breached and water floods in.

The good guys all come together and finally they win. The evil is vanquished.


Amitabh’s performance is A++ grade, no one else could have essayed the role of a man at war with himself. Seething with inner rage, his brooding eyes, his sullen looks. With weighty one-liners delivered in a manner in which only AB can. To wit, the one in English mentioned above.

Shatrughan Sinha has the role of a lifetime, written it seems, specifically for him. The petty, uncouth, foul-mouthed ruffian, but, as it eventually turns out, one with a heart of gold. The sparkling dialogues which the S-J duo has written for him are delivered with elan. Some of them are all-time classics:


Shotgun is playing a round of “teen-patti”, flush. He draws two Kings and one minor card. His opponent draws three Jacks. The opponent is flush -pardon the pun- with anticipation when he does a “show” of his three Jacks. Shotgun nonchalantly “shows” the two Kings and tears into bits the minor card as he makes a grab for the cash on the table. When challenged to show his third card, he thunders, “Teesra badshah main hoon.” (I am the third king)

His terms of endearment, or scorn, are unique. More notably when he addresses his lady-love, Chhanno:

Ai meri bholi banjaran” (Oh, my naïve gypsy woman!)

Ai meri gulshan ki bulbul.” (Ah, the sparrow in my orchard)

Referring to her derisive repartee to him to sell him bangles when he refuses to buy the tantric finger-rings: “Kyon fakeeron sey mazaak karti hai, balikey! Waisey ham kadey zaroor pehentey hain kabhi kabhi, lekin lohey key aur who bhi sarkari”. (Why do you joke with us mendicants, young lady! I do wear bangles, but those are made of steel, and are standard police department issue). As you would have guessed he means the handcuffs!

Haaayyy, aisa lagta hai ki ek-saath chhey darzan choodiyan kanon mein chhank gayi hon…”, when she introduces herself to him as Chhanno. (When I hear your name Chhanno, I can feel the clink of six dozen bangles are ringing into my ears!)

To the others:

Arey o ullu key patthey, teri duty meri bhookh sey badhkar hai kya?” (Oh, you SOB, you think your duty is more important than my hunger?) Shotgun says to the truck driver, after he has just stopped the truck he was travelling in, just to spite AB who was a co-traveller.)

Abey o arthi key phool, ham apni line khud banatey hain, samjha. Abey hat”! (Oh you wreath-on-a-corpse! I make my own line, understand? Now you get lost!) Shotgun to a patient in a queue at a doctor’s clinic.

I could go on-and-on.

Salim and Javed have excelled in this movie. Hats off to them!

Rajesh Roshan, the music director has also done a wonderful job, with so many hummable numbers in the movie. The most enjoyable of all being “Ek rasta hai zindagi” sung by Shashi Kapoor as he drives to “Dhanraj Coal Fields” to take up his job. A classic Rajesh Roshan song with the typical beat of bongos. And very hummable.

IT-BHU 1985, Silver Jubilee Meet, Dec 2010: Part 4

February 26, 2011

“It was for you.”

“No. No. I did it for you.”

“No. You. Believe me!”

“No, no. You!”

Happy married lives are made of such selfless gestures. My wife and I were trying to convince the other that the delay in waking up was due to our consideration for the other on that cold wintry morning of 25th December at Varanasi. We had over-slept, plain and simple, and had missed the meeting of our batch with the current students of IT-BHU that morning. I have the reassurance of friends like Chalis, Anshu and Arun Anant who I knew would play the roles of responsible seniors and address the concerns of the juniors. And they did as I heard from the others


I was woken up by a call from Bipin Jha, an old friend and an ex roommate at 112, Limbdi.  I now had some urgent matters to attend to. Bipin had a tummy upset and needed some medication. And I had a very old favour to return. As I told you, Bipin was my room mate in our first year. He, incidentally, is also from my school in Jamshedpur but I barely knew him then. He was the one who had nursed me into health when I was having a severe bout of blood dysentery. So much so that we had to seek specialist care at the University’s hospital, Sir Sundar Lal Hospital, commonly called SL by the campus denizens. But the problem with the hospital was that it was not limited to only the Univ. students. Patients came from far and wide, such was the reputation of the hospital those days. (It is another matter that the University residents got thrown far and wide as a consequence of events in the hospital, but more about that later.) And for anyone to get some time with the consultant on duty was a difficult proposition. And I, and for that matter, Bipin, were just a few weeks old in the campus. No hope for me. Till Netaji’s intervention.

BHU in that era was a hotbed of student politics. Politicians of all hues, parties, ages and departments were active in the campus. The Netaji referred to above was none other than IT’s Manoj Sinha. He accompanied me to SL, both astride a cycle-rikshaw with Bipin pedaling behind on his cycle. Thanks to Netaji, I was given a priority appointment by the doctor and was out of the hospital quickly.

I think I am digressing now, the student politics of BHU deserves a post (maybe posts) of its own. Back to the Reunion meet.


We reached the campus only at lunch time, the morning’s interaction was missed. We gathered that many in the IT café had missed the morning’s session as they were busy sight-seeing. But all made it a point to come for the lunch. Rantim (V Mech) and wife came from Sarnath, “No way we could miss out on the reunion meals”, they said! I shall not delve into the details of the spread, suffice it to say that it had a distinctive Rajasthani flavor. And a little Bhojpuri too. There was litti-and-chokha, amazingly well made. I was busy canvassing for this and I remember persuading many of my friends to have it. In case you are not familiar with this sinfully delicious stuff, here is a definitive guide to it! A most satisfactory lunch, I can tell you!


Post-lunch was the time for introducing my family to MY campus. Started that with a pilgrimage to 112, Limbdi, which surprise, surprise was open (in that vacation season) and we were welcomed by the current occupant whose name eludes me now. He was happy to invite us into his room. The room looked pretty much the same but for a feature which was non-existent in my 1st year engineering, namely a PC! My teenage sons found it strange that I had studied in an era when there no PCs. “So weird, Papa.” That’s what they had to say! “So weird!”

112, Limbdi. Do not miss the current occupant!

The Expansive Limbdi Campus

Oh those hanging towels and undies!

The scene outside the room was familiar, the famous towels and undies drying in the sun in the “lobby”. So reassuring, I thought to myself, there is a bit of the old BHU alive even now!

A march to the “mess” after that. A current student was showing off the mess to his grand parents. We peered into the cavernous corridor of the mess from behind the closed doors but could not figure out any of the royalty; no maharajs around! Even the “canteen” where Sri Hasanand Punjani, the canteen contractor ruled had been converted into multiple messes.


After Limbdi we proceeded to the DG crossing, the setting for many an exciting debate during those five years. I have written about this in an earlier post of mine.

The next stop was the Arts Faculty Auditorium. I was involved with dramatics in the campus; some plays I had directed while in the others I played various roles. A lightman, the backstage incharge, a prompter etc. The auditorium was locked and some helpful persons guided me to the chowkidar of the Arts Faculty, I think Lachhoo was his name, who cheerfully opened the audi and let us in. Felt a bit weird to have it only for ourselves, no audience milling around! My kids were excited to see the stage where a “debacle” of sorts had happened during one of my plays, “Kamala”.

Director awaiting audience!

Time to leave the campus, but a stop en route at pahalwan’s to partake of the delightful lassi! Unfortunately, there are three Pahalwan outlets at the same location (the family has split since we left the campus), none sells lawanglata anymore.


The dinner was at the same venue as the previous night’s. And as expected, another grand affair! It was the Christmas day, and to add to the X’Mas cheers, the hall was done up with white and red balloons. The waiters wore the Santa Claus’ red peaked caps. I would not have been surprised if the caterer, who paid so much attention to details, brought in a pair of reindeers into the hall! And Santa Claus himself with his bag of goodies for us. Well, the caterer had the dimensions of Santa Claus and he was indeed carrying his bag of goodies. All spread on the tables for us to savor. Yet another fabulous meal. Thank you very much Milan Caterers, your fare made the reunion that much more memorable.

Don't miss the peaked caps!

The evening entertainment was provided by a one man band- Rolando orchestra. Rolando from equipment the “one-man” was playing on. I love music, but the action on the lawns outside was a lot more exciting. Just a few hours to go before this fairy tale of a reunion came to an end. Big time (re)-bonding was happening outside.

Anshu: the one man army!


Arey, idhar aa, phir galey mil jaa

“Don’t you visit the US? Please drop by the next time round!”

“We REALLY must meet again, maybe when our batch turns 30.”

Apni beti ki shaadi kab kar raha hai tu, I wish my son was old enough for them to get married”

“Go away, this group photo is only for the 1980-81 Limbdi gang.”

Some of the 1980-81 Limbdi gang

The lawns outdoors

Sandy scurrying about with his massive photography equipment. Chellam urging all to fill in their demographics in a book he was carrying. Salil, the methodical organizer as ever, persuading the laggards to pay up the contribution for the reunion (I was one of the laggards). Anshu flitting from inside the hall to the lawns ensuring all were happy and occupied. Kaustabh making sure that his corner of imbibers were kept well provided for. Balaji doing what he does only can do best; regaling us with his one-liners delivered in his chaste Tamil-Mumbai Hindi. The sagely Chalis (beard-and-all) spreading peace all around. A shawl-clad Anant Arun guffawing as only he can. An impossibly black-bearded Panesar (which hair dye do you use? I need to try it out myself) narrating tales of Canada where he lives now. Bipin Jha, a little weakened after a night’s illness still managing to join in the revelry, that too minus a drink!


Ojha is flitting between the lawn and the indoor hall. In the hall nibbling into a kabab, patting a friend’s son on his back, keeping an eye on his sons who were lost among their new-found friends, getting introduced to a friend’s wife. As his wife, who had kind-of forced her way into the reunion, bonds with the ladies in the group.

Some wives! (Oh dears)

Ojha returns to the lawns to discover the “smokers’ corner” even more active. He even gets invited to inaugurate a new smoke round. And clink glasses with yet another group.


I get back to the lawns, the more happening place.

Ajeet Saran grabs me by my shoulders: “Ojha, jaantey ho, I have continued doing plays even after the campus days!”

Manoj Prasad is intrigued I want to see a mine: Open cast he says, will you be interested? Of course I am, Manoj!

I am now suddenly missing those who are not present there. Randomly. Ramki (one of the andhas in my play “Andho ka Haathi”). Partha Dey (the guitarist). Subhash Shanbhagh (Shambhu we called him). Rajesh Tiwari (Tavare, named after the Brit cricketer of those days, Chris Tavare). Biju John from Thiruvalla. Sunita Singh, the lone female protagonist I have had in my plays. Bhandarkar, for no reason at all.

And then, I catch myself weeping, tears flowing down my cheeks.

Don’t know why.