Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Prem Nath, Prem Chopra, Johnny Walker

It must be a record of sorts in world cinema. Beginning with “Sharafat” (1970), Dharmendra and Hema Malini have starred together in 32 flicks in an effective span of 17 years. The last of these was “Jaan Hatheli Pe” (1987) if one was to exclude the dud, “Tell Me O Khuda” (2011). “Raja Jani” was the fifth. Of these, 18 were also big hits.

No other decade in history has been seen so many changes as the 1970s, which saw the unprecedented rise of Amitabh Bachchan as ‘Angry young man’, the sidelining of the heroine and, to a certain extent, even if for a while, the displacement of song, dance and music. It saw the eclipse of Rajesh Khanna as ‘superstar’ and with that the age of sublime romance; a decade in which almost all other stars as well as action heroes took a beating at the box office: Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar, Jeetendra, Rishi Kapoor and even Dharmendra.

In a curious way the 70s was also a decade of experiment and change. The emergence of new cinema movement, and its own star-system; purposeful comedies; middle of the road cinema of Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee variety; ‘Curry-Western’ and a throw-back to semi-period feudal romance in a somewhat modern setting, featuring almost all the big heroes (except, of course, Amitabh Bachchan) — Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Sunil Dutt, Dev Anand, Rajendra ‘Jubilee’ Kumar — all sporting modern royal costume.

The film was made under the banner of Seven Arts Pictures by producer Madan Mohla and directed by Mohan Sehgal from a script by Nabendu Ghosh with dialogue by Ali Raza. As such it had nothing new to offer either in the form of turns and twists in the plot or directorial treatment. Yet if the narrative holds viewers’ interest, it is because of clever editing, as also the Anand Bakshi lyrics set to lilting tunes by the reigning kings of music, Laxmikant Pyarelal, comprising five Lata Mangeshkar solos (“Aa aa kuchh kehna”, “A. B. C. chhodo”, “Duniya ka mela mele mein”, “Ladki kitna maza aa raha hai”, “Mubarak ho tujhe ae dil”), and one by Kishore Kumar (“Jani o jaani”) picturised on Dharmendra in the beginning.

The narrative begins with a young man, Raj ‘Raja’ Kumar (Dharmendra), with a dreary past, in search of a young girl who could be placed in the palace as heir to kingdom– courtesy an arrangement with the scheming Diwan Gajendra Singh (Prem Nath). He finds one in a street dancer, Shanoo (Hema Malini), trains her up as a princess and presents her to the Rajmata (Durga Khote) as her long lost grand-daughter, Ratna. Rajmata is delighted to have her back, but not without doubts and misgivings. Now the familiar twists and turns take over, bringing into the plot the mistrusting father and son team of Gajendra and Pratap Bahadur with whom Ratna has to get married. But Raja has his own plans of ditching Diwan. The usual attacks and counter attacks follow, leading to the climax in the treasure chamber in which a lot of tomato sauce is splattered. Raja and Ratna carry out a well thought out plan, and the lovers are united by the grandmother.

Most actors, including Bindu and Manmohan are wasted. So are Sajjan and Nadira. Helen’s dance towards the end has little scope because the camera (Madan Sinha) rotates between her and Hema who in fact steals the show. Johnny Walker shows his class in the limited scope that the miniscule role provided. Prem Nath and Prem Chopra run through their parts with usual competence.