Ramanand Sagar, best remembered for his contribution to the popularity of television through Ramayan, telecast in 1985, was in fact a man who wore many hats . Before turning his attention to television, he was known as a well accomplished film director, a man who chose his subjects with care and dealt with them with a rare sensitivity. His favourite genre, an action/romantic combo, more often than not won him accolades at the box-office. “Lalkar”, written, produced and directed by Sagar, was one of the highest grosser of 1972. In the movie, Sagar assembled an array of formidable cast and crew.
Sagar’s oeuvre includes the iconic Raj Kapoor film, “Barsaat”, for which he wrote the story and screenplay, as also the Filmfare Best Dialogue award for the Dilip Kumar-Raj Kumar-Vyjayantimala starrer “Paigham” made in 1960. However, his crowning glory was the desi spy thriller, “Aankhen”, made on the lines of James Bond flicks, which fetched him the Filmfare Best Director award in 1968. For “Lalkar”, Sagar again chose the lead pair of “Aankhen” – Dharmendra and Mala Sinha – along with Rajendra Kumar.
Made a few years after Chetan Anand’s war masterpiece on the 1962 Indo-Chinese conflict , “Haqeeqat” (which had the soul of Anand in it, so comparisons are inevitable), “Lalkar” is based on action on the Burma (now Myanmar) border in 2nd World War, and is the story of two siblings, Wing Commander Rajan (Rajendra Kumar) and Major Ram (Dharamendra). The two, sons of an armed forces veteran Colonel Kapoor, are die hard nationalists who have taken cudgels on behalf of the British in a bid to keep the Japanese aggression at bay.
True to diktats of Hindi cinema, any war movie is bound to have some diversionary elements introduced, as if to dilute the plot. These, in “Lalkar” are a love triangle and ‘funny’ angle (which is hardly rib-tickling).
There is a blossoming romance between Rajan and doctor Usha (Mala Sinha) who is the daughter of another war veteran (Nasir Hussain as Colonel Choudhary). But unknown to them, Ram also falls in love with Usha during a chance encounter. In the midst of all this, Rajan takes off on a risky mission to bomb a secret airstrip the Japanese are building along the border. While on the sortie, it becomes apparent that details of his mission have been leaked to the enemy. On being asked to retreat, Rajan reaffirms his commitment to the motherland, and goes ahead with his mission, during which his plane is brought down by enemy fire. But by this time he has conveyed his coordinates to his base camp. The officers at the base camp think that Rajan has attained martyrdom during his ill fated mission, whereas he has been captured and taken as a POW by the Japanese.
It is here, in the depiction of Japanese using Indian artists that Sagar falters. Most of them (including stunt director Shetty, father of the super successful director Rohit Shetty) are depicted as bumbling caricatures, rather than as smart fighters.
Based on the inputs of Rajan, a crack commando force, led by Major Ram is deployed by the army to attack the Japanese position. But even this mission is compromised (so easy to do it), although the two brothers come face to face during the encounter. At this stage only one came make his escape good. Who is it? Who are the moles? Well, that is the denouement.
Of the cast, Dharamendra, as the jovial and firebrand Major Ram is superb, even as he goes shirtless in some scenes and almost full monty, with barely a towel to hide his essentials. He was undoubtedly the foremost macho man of Hindi film industry, during a phase when leading heroes did not care much about their physique, and could often be seen with paunches hidden behind tight shirts. For Rajendra Kumar, who had already enjoyed an immensely successful stint at the box-office in the 1950s and ‘60s, this was more of a swan song as a leading hero. He is competent, as is Mala Sinha, who, though not in the same league of actresses like Nargis or Waheeda Rehman, is fairly proficient, particularly in songs. She has her limitations while performing scenes that require high octane emotions.
Sagar had a special knack of getting the right music composed for his films, and “Lalkar” is no exception, with its music composed by Kalyanji-Anandji. The song which stands out is a semi-patriotic number “Aaj Gaalo Musukralo”" sung by Mohammed Rafi in two different versions. Equally riveting is the Rafi-Lata Mangeshkar duet, “Bol Mere Saathiya”.
The film has an impressive cast of the so-called character artists, including Dev Kumar, Nasir Hussain, Roopesh Kumar, Ramesh Deo, Dara Singh and Sujit Kumar. In the parallel track, there are Kumkum (Rajkumari Toshi), Tun-Tun and Keshto Mukherjee who are introduced to provide comic relief.
Here again, the bias of mainstream cinema against the vibrant tribal population of India comes forth – this section of our population is shown in appalling garb. . Costume designs by Oscar winner Bhanu Athaiya could have been realistic or more subtle. Art direction by MM Aytoda just manages to pass the crossing line, considering that from the early ‘70s there had been rapid strides in this field.
Director: Ramanand Sagar
Cast: Rajendra Kumar, Dharmendra, Mala Sinha, Nasir Hussain, Dara Singh, Kumkum, Sujit Kumar, Agha, Roopesh Kumar, Ramesh Deo, Dev Kumar, Tun Tun, Keshto Mukherjee
Story: Ramanand Sagar and Moti Sagar
Music director: Kalyanji-Anandji
Lyricists: Hasrat Jaipuri, Indeevar and Kulwant Jani
Box office status: 35th top grossing film
Trivia: Continued the tradition of war films founded by Chetan Anand’s “Haqeeqat”.