Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra, Laxmi Chhaya, Asha Parekh
Bandits, outlaws, dacoits, rebels have been engrossing subjects for Hindi cinema. Fans have loved films with such off-beat themes and tales of valour and revenge continue to appeal to a wide section of the society. The images of Chambal, the terrain as deadly as one can imagine, captured so stunningly by various filmmakers, have become an integral part of these narrations.
Sunil Dutt in “Mujhe Jeene Do”, Dilip Kumar in “Ganga Jamuna”, Pran in “Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai”, Amjad Khan in “Sholay”, Irfan Khan in “Pan Singh Tomar”, Seema Biswas in “Bandit Queen” are some of the most memorable portrayals of an outlaw. But Vinod Khanna as Jabbar Singh stands out for the fierce countenance that dominates the screen in “Mera Gaon Mera Desh” (MGMD). Dharmendra played the central role of a reformed criminal with Jayant as his mentor, but it was Vinod Khanna all the way as Jabbar. Significantly this movie came four years ahead of “Sholay” but there were distinct moments similar to both. The “mausi” act by Dharmendra in “Sholay” has been documented well but there is a fleeting “mausi” show in MGMD too. Jabbar is not Gabbar but he leaves a lasting impression, thanks to a powerful performance by Vinod Khanna.
Vinod Khanna, a popular and versatile actor, was barely five movies old and this was released in the same year that saw him grow in stature with “Mere Apne”. Having begun his career with negative roles, “Mere Apne” gave early indications of Vinod Khanna’s acting talent, which were confirmed with his superb depiction of a teacher in “Imtihaan”. But MGMD was a benchmark in his career.
As Jabbar Singh, a dreaded dacoit, Vinod Khanna occupied far less space than Dharmendra but it was an arresting show, his eyes speaking for his character. The close-up shots bring out the fierce side of the actor as he slips into the role of a dacoit so naturally and fluently.
Jabbar is an individual that needed an actor like Vinod Khanna to do justice. And he does it with a flair that saw him play similar roles in two subsequent movies. For his long tenure in the film industry, Vinod Khanna remained an under-rated actor. One could call him an underachiever, especially after his excellent show in MGMD. Credit to director Raj Khosla for creating such a ruthless outlaw, who cares for none and is unsparing even with kids. In a heart-wrenching show, Jabbar shoots dead a kid to underline the brutal side of the character. Dacoits are supposed to be unforgiving and Jabbar plays one to perfection.
Dharmendra plays Ajit, an orphan, who is reformed by an ex-soldier Jayant. The village is repeatedly looted and savaged by Jabbar’s gang and Ajit stands up to wage a lone fight. Some of the shots showing the rural landscape stand out with the climax sequence easily the highlight of the movie as Ajit slays Jabbar to mark the end. Unlike “Sholay”, where censor intervened to prevent the Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar) from killing Gabbar, the public left the cinema hauls applauding Ajit’s triumph.
Asha Parekh lends the glamour quotient but it is Laxmi Chhaya who gives a stellar performance as a nautch girl. She gets to sing more songs than the leading lady, including “Hai Sharmaoon Kis Kis Ko Bataoon”, one of the best situational numbers you would get to see.
Music is not the strong point at all but the background score by Laxmikant Pyarelal adds to the ferocity that Jabbar comes to signify. MGMD was a big hit in the year it was released and catapulted Vinod Khanna’s stock as an actor to watch. For some of us teenagers, the warm cheers that he evoked in the cinema hall, Jabbar signified the image of a dacoit—white dhoti and black shirt, rifle slung on his shoulders, mouthing profanity, a merciless and frightening picture. Few have portrayed the dacoit on screen as impeccably as Vinod Khanna in MGMD.