Starring Navin Nischol, Rekha, Pran, Ajit, Bindu, Helen, Geeta Siddharth, Sonia Sahni, Madan Puri, Faryal, Mohan Choti, Asit Sen, Murad

Although he had given a harrowing time, whenever opportunity came his way, to almost all the big heroes from 1948 to 1965 — and beyond — and shifted to essaying sympathetic character roles after playing Malang Baba in Manoj Kumar’s blockbuster hit “Upkar”, Pran has always regarded S.K. Kapur’s “Dharma” as one of his more significant films from amongst more than 400 (beginning as a villain in Bombay Talkies’ “Ziddi” co-starring Dev Anand and Kamini Kaushal to a nondescript role in the Manoj Kumar disaster “Jai Hind”). An important feature of it was a qawaali, “Raaz ki baat keh doon toh, jaane mehfil mehfil mein phir kya ho” rendered by Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle, and picturised on him and Bindu which, reportedly, provoked viewers to throw coins at the screen and paved the way for more song picturisations featuring the character actor. And this was, perhaps, one of the few films where his name did not feature in the titles….And Pran. The Dadasaheb Phalke Award announced recently for Pran was only fitting.

The film was nothing but the standard Bollywood dacoit drama. Sevak Singh Dharma is a dreaded dacoit living in isolation with his followers Bhairav Singh (Rajan Haksar), Mangal Singh (Madan Puri) and his wife Parvati (Geeta Siddharth) amongst others. He kills Bhairav for betraying his trust during a police encounter. While escaping in a boat, both his young son, Suraj, and wife are hit by firing by inspector Ajit Singh (Ajit) and considered drowned while he survives and lands up in a city as the feared dacoit, Chandan Singh. Chandan Singh takes revenge on Ajit Singh’s family and abducts his wife Asha and daughter Radha (Rekha). Asha gets killed accidentally while Radha is rescued by a prostitute. Flash forward: Ajit Singh is now the Inspector General of Police; Chandan Singh is impersonating Nawab Sikander Bakht. Radha is a dancer who flips for Raju (Navin Nischol) Chandan’s second-in-command. In time, Chandan tells Ajit that she is his daughter, and he should take charge of her. Even though Ajit suspects Raju’s true identity, he admits him into the police force with the explicit duty of arresting Chandan who, after the truth about him comes in the open, is on the run. Bottles of blood and bullets run amuck in sequences leading towards the climax; the truth about Raju (or Suraj), now a police inspector, is revealed in the encounter between father and son. Chandan gives himself up to the police.

This was one of Pran’s six films with producer S.K. Kapur and was dispirited by director Chand who ruled the roost for a while with his dacoit dramas. It had passable lyrics and ordinary music by Sonik Omi except for the hit qawwali. Rekha is generally wasted, and so are Bindu, Murad, Jayshree T, Faryal, Sonia Sahni, Asit Sen, Mohan Choti and Helen. While an early Rekha displays her substantial talent both in emotional scenes and as a kotha dancer, Navin (who also began his career with her in “Sawan Bhadon”) runs through his role uninterestingly.

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