In the larger context it was not his acting prowess but his inherent talent as a storyteller and a stylish filmmaker that led to his once pre-eminent position in mainstream Hindi cinema for a decade and a half. Debuting as a leading man (after miniscule roles in “Panchayat” and “Fashion”) in “Honeymoon” (’60), the real breakthrough though came with Vijay Bhatt’s “Hariyali aur Raasta” (’62) and near immortality with “Shaheed” (’65). There was no looking back until his 43rd starrer “Dus Numbri” that was the biggest blockbuster of 1976 and is and counted amongst the top 50 of the ’70s. “Kranti” is the only referable before he dropped his make-up kit in only his 50th starrer. What Manoj Kumar did after that is better forgotten.
In “Dus Numbri”, his swansong, he essayed the role of an altruist sporting a customised logo T-shirt with ‘10’ imprinted on the chest, berets alternating between black and red, and dark glasses through much of the narrative, when not wearing weird costumes. Sloppy editing, continuity jumps mark the film. Also though the direction is attributed to producer Madan Mohla, it has the Manoj Kumar stamp visible in every frame (especially the scenes with him)…as also casting preferences to a certain degree.
It begins with a series of raids by Inspector Shivnath (Abhi Bhattacharya) on a dark night unearthing not only a fake currency racket but also one of the kingpins, Karamchand (Om Shivpuri). In retaliation he is framed, his wife Radha (Kamini Kaushal) loses her mental balance, and his teenaged son Arjun is forced to fend for himself on the streets until he grows up and becomes the local vigilante No. 10 (Manoj Kumar). Bade Maalik gets Karamchand’s wife, Sundari (Hema Malini) who had overheard the conversation, killed on route to Pune, but the kind-hearted jobber leaves the girl with a lame alcoholic who grows up to be a street hustler, Rosemary Fernandes (also played by Hema Malini) who after a few hiccups flips for No. 10.
Into the narrative enters CBI officer Karam — also doubling up as corrupt Havaldar Karan Singh Badshah (Pran) who clandestinely helps Arjun nab the fake currency racketeers — who is none other than loud and reckless Inspector Jaichand (Prem Nath), who too supposedly has a double, the real brain behind the racket. Pran excels, masquerading through several get-ups, improvising dialogue in the process. Hema is brilliant. Bindu just has two dance numbers and a scene in which she excels.
Although he tries his best, his familiar mannerism, modulated dialogue delivery and soft hero image make Manoj Kumar a weak gangster.
The comedy sequences are crude. Scripted by Shahid Akbarpuri and Dhruva Chatterjee with lackluster dialogue by Ali Raza, except some cornered by the hero himself. Cinematography by Rajan Kinagi and Madan Sinha shifts from brilliant to ordinary.
Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics “Yeh Duniya Ek Numbri” (Mukesh), “Tune Meri Jaan Bada Kam Kiya” (Lata Mangeshkar), “Mujhe Dard Rahta Hai” (Mukesh-Lata), “Dilruba Dilliwali” (Mukesh, Manna Dey, Asha Bhosle), “Na Tum Ho Yaar Aloo” (Mukesh, Manna Dey), “Prem Ka Rog Bada Bura” (Lata Mangeshkar), “Kahat Kabir suno bhai Sadhu baat Kahun Mein Khari” (Mukesh), have been set to catchy music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal though strings of familiar “Sanyasi” tunes inadvertently (or deliberately) find an echo.
Made under the banner of Seven Arts Pictures, the film was later remade in Telugu as “KD No. 1” (1978) starring N.T. Rama Rao and Jayasudha.
Director: Madan Mohla
Cast: Manoj Kumar, Hema Malini, Pran, Premnath, Bindu, Kamini Kaushal, David, Abhi Bhattacharya, Om Shivpuri, Sajjan, Imtiaz Khan
Story: S. Ali Raza and Dhruva Chatterjee
Dialogue: S. Ali Raza
Music director: Laxmikant Pyarelal
Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Box office status: Top hit of 1976
Trivia: Remade in Telugu KD No. 1 (1978) starring N.T. Rama Rao and Jayasudha