It is rather surprising that “Adalat”, released in 1976, when the Big B’s star in Bollywood was on the ascent, should be etched in public memory rather sketchily, despite being a riveting film and having done well at the all-important box office. By this time Bachchan had showcased his prowess as an actor, having starred in films as diverse as “Chupke Chupke” and “Deewar”, along with the 1976 Yash Raj opus, “Kabhie Kabhie”. He had already dethroned the formidable Rajesh Khanna from his lofty and seemingly insurmountable pedestal and was in the race for superstardom with the likes of Vinod Khanna, before the latter withdrew from the race for spiritual solace.
In “Adalat”, Amitabh Bachchan dared to take a risk by the portrayal of a character at that stage of his career – both in terms of temperament and the age profile. Thus, in “Kabhie Kabhie” and “Adalat”, both released in 1976, for a portion of the films he essayed the part of an ageing man, with grey hair and grown up kids. In subsequent years this was to become a rarity, as the all-pervading ‘angry young man’ image consumed him. His streak for experimentation resurfaced only after the lapse of a few decades, a gross loss for his legion of fans.
Directed by Narender Bedi, son of eminent writer Rajinder Singh Bedi, “Adalat” is an engrossing tale of revenge, with Bachchan cast in double role – as father and son. Bedi, who died while still in his forties, was in fine fettle, when he directed Bachchan – a simple, purabi speaking farmer living in the hinterland, with his wife Radha (Waheeda Rehman, with no scope for histrionics, plays her role with assured confidence) and younger sister, Laxmi (Heena Kausar), on whom he dotes. The large hearted Dharamchand, aka Dharma, struggles to make ends meet as he toils on his sparse fields. His happiness knows no end when Radha delivers a son whom they name Raju (who will grow up to be the second Bachchan).
To earn some additional income, Dharma escorts three tourists from the city – Ajit (Anwar Hussain), Suresh and Sujit (Sujit Kumar) – on a tiger shooting sojourn. In the ensuing hunt, the fearless and bold Dharma, after a hand-to-hand combat with a tiger, saves Ajit’s life. Pleased, Ajit rewards Dharma, and gives him a letter promising a job if he were to shift to the city. When, even after backbreaking hard work things don’t work out for Dharma, he decides to avail the offer and lands in Bombay (as Mumbai was then called) with his family, and takes the job of warehouse manager in Ajit’s godown. Working honestly, he is entrapped by Ajit and his cohorts, using him as a cover for their nefarious businesses that include smuggling gold and drugs.
Unable to prove his innocence in the adalat (court), Dharma is sentenced to 18 months of incarceration. A traumatized Dharma suffers further when his pregnant wife suffers an accident and his sister, molested by Sujit, commits suicide.
It is at this stage that Bachchan’s acting blows into the conscience of the audience with the force of a tropical storm – his transformation from a straightforward, loquacious farmer from the hinterland to a silent, suffering victim in the bad city to an angel of death – is phenomenal. His eyes blaze with anger, his voice quivers with wrath. Thereon starts his journey which takes him to the pinnacle of the world in which he was duped by manipulation and treachery.
As he sends his young son to study abroad, the film takes a leap of 20 years and Dharma is shown with grey hair and dark shades, running a smuggling empire with sophistication and flair. On his return home, Raju (as the grown up son of Dharma) falls in love with Geeta Verma (Neetu Singh with not much meat in the role) which is opposed by her father (Pinchhu Kapoor). From here the film moves to its dénouement, as Dharma’s misdeeds catch up, engulfing his family in the fiery end.
Narinder Bedi, who had directed successful films like “Jawani Diwani”, “Rafoo Chakkar” and “Sanam Teri Kasam” deserves kudos for the story and screenplay, which is engrossing. The film also scores heavily in terms of the strong dialogues and deft editing, which ensure that there is not a dull moment, and the film moves at a swift pace.
Lyrics by Gulshan Bawra, set to music by Kalyanji-Anandji, give some hummable songs, which are remembered till today, specially, “Behna O Behna” and “Humka Aisa Waisa Na Samjho” (Mukesh, who sang some unforgettable songs for Bachchan, till his sudden death in 1976) and “Tumse Door Rehke” (Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar).
The film has a strong supporting cast, but a special mention needs to be made for an actor who had just entered Hindi films a few years earlier – Kader Khan. Playing the role of an upright, but sympathetic police inspector, by the name of Khan, Kader Khan effuses a style of acting that is natural and restrained. Unfortunately, over the years the fine actor in Kader Khan was somehow relegated to the background, as he joined the David Dhawan-Govinda school of filmmaking.
Genre: Crime thriller/drama
Director: Narender Bedi
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Waheeda Rehman, Neetu Singh, Anwar Hussain, Sujit Kumar, K. N. Singh, Heena Kausar, Pinchoo Kapoor, Kader Khan, D. K. Sapru
Story: Narender Bedi
Screenplay: Narender Bedi
Dialogue: Kader Khan
Music director: Kalyanji-Anandji
Lyricist: Gulshan Bawra
Box office status: Successful though Amitabh Bachchan’s films “Kabhi Kabhi”, “Hera Pheri” and “Do Anjaane” were much higher on the ladder.
Trivia: Original title of the movie was “Kanoon”; Bachchan and Neetu Singh did a dance number on the song “Kung fu fighting” by Carl Douglas, composed by Biddu