This post first appeared many months ago in Atul’s immensely popular blog on Hindi film songs. atulsongaday.wordpress.com 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.