Starring Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Pran, Ajit, Lalita Pawar, Mahmood

During the late ’60s and early ’70s, when Rajesh Khanna swept the country off its feet, and thenceforth, when his box office supremacy was usurped by the angry young man, there were still some actors who commanded immense respect at the box office. One such superstar, who withstood the romantic onslaught of Khanna and the angst of Bachchan, was the original he-man of mainstream Bollywood, the jat Sikh from village Sahnewal in Ludhiana — Dharam Singh Deol, better known by his screen name, Dharmendra. The man was a rare combination of brawn and good looks, which ensured box-office success for films like “Jugnu”, released in 1973 (certainly one of his best years, considering another all-time hit, “Yadoon Ki Barat”, was released the same year).

“Jugnu” — produced and directed by Pramod Chakravorty — had all the ingredients for a jubilee hit (the barometer by which films were judged those days, akin to the Rs.100 crore club today): good music, great songs, taut screenplay, witty/hard hitting dialogues and the Dharamendra-Hema Malini pairing. Chakravorty assembled a team of aces which helped create excellent songs. With music by S.D. Burman, set to lyrics by Anand Bakshi, each song, including “Deep Diwali ke Jhute”, “Pyar ke is Khel Mein”, “Jaane Kya Pilaaye Tune” and “Gir Gaya Jhumka”, was a chartbuster.

Credit for the film, one of the highest grossers of 1973, goes to the story, written by Gulshan Nanda with dialogues by Ahsan Rizvi. The screenplay by Sachin Bhowmick, with not a scene out of place, undoubtedly helped editor R. Tipnis make a taut thriller. The only deviation from a near perfect screenplay is the introduction of Dhumal (as circus master), who is the father of Sheela (Jayshree T), Mahmood’s love interest, for some comic relief.

Cinematography by the legendary V.K. Murthy is another strong point, with several innovative techniques used. The action packed film had engrossing special effects, created by Babubhai Mistry in line with techniques available at the time, which includes car chases, a flying sequence involving a chopper and a plane, a chopper chasing a car chase, and others. Art direction by Shanti Das is commendable.

The story, which finds resonance in several later cult classics, revolves around a suave crook, Jugnu, a modern-day Robin Hood who leaves a replica of a firefly at the scene of each crime. The man is a master of disguise and carries off high flying robberies, including one from a running train, with panache. He is assisted by Mahesh (Mahmood — good, but certainly not at his best).

Jugnu has another avatar, Ashok, a respectable man in the society, who also indulges in charity, and runs a school for underprivileged children in memory of his mother. It was to save his mother from a lecherous landlord, Ghanshyam Das (Sujit Kumar), that the young Ashok (Master Satyajeet) had killed the molester, and to escape the law, disappeared, to resurface as Jugnu/Ashok.Ashok falls in love with Seema (Hema Malini), the niece of the IG, Police (Raj Mehra). One day Jugnu comes across a group led by Boss (Ajit), indulging in anti-national activities, which he vows to thwart. The group has trapped Ramesh (Prem Chopra), who is luring Seema by pretending to be the true heir of Shyam and his father’s property.

It is during his courtship with Seema that Ashok comes to know that he is actually in love with the daughter of the man he had killed as a child. He decides to abandon the relationship and move to another city. But for this he has to assure the future finances of his school. He plans a last, daring robbery. But the cops are alerted by a mole of Boss. However, after escaping from the dragnet laid by the police, he seeks refuge in the house of a professor (Shyam, who is his real father). Subsequently, Seema’s mother (Lalita Pawar) discloses the true nature of her notorious father, and the innocence of Ashok.

In the end, all the blocks fall in place for a happy denouement.

The film is one of the showpieces of the reel-life chemistry between Dharamendra and Hema Malini. Although Hema Malini is adequate, her limited talent as an actress — lack of emotional depth, limited facial expression, dialogue delivery that is not flawless — comes forth. However, the lady managed to have a dream run at the top because of the grace and poise she brought to her roles.

Chakravorty assembled an envious line-up of top notch actors. But despite their efficiency, as expected, they are somehow overshadowed by Dharamendra. However, it is really painful that the dashing superstar was to act in several forgettable films in later years, in which he was to become a caricature of his former self. It would be really unfortunate if the present generation were to remember him thus, eclipsing his remarkable contribution to Bollywood.