Starring Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Neetu Singh, Shabana Azmi, Parveen Babi, Pran, Nirupa Roy

The grapevine has it that “Amar Akbar Anthony” director Manmohan Desai, who had been simultaneously shooting for four big-budget films with top stars of the day (the other three being “Parvarish”, “Dharamveer” and “Chacha Bhatija”), had so monopolised the RK Studio in Chembur, Bombay, for his first production and fourteenth directorial venture, that no space was left for other films. This propelled the studio’s owner, Raj Kapoor, to complain that he had no place to do any filming in his own studio. Interestingly, all the four films dealt with brothers separated in childhood. Amazingly none of them had a plausible storyline!

Same was the case with one of the biggest blockbusters in post-independence India. The episodic narrative (Prayag Raj and K.K. Shukla) relies considerably on highlights and performances. Relying substantially on Kader Khan’s dialogue in Mumbai street lingo of the times, the narrative had been so tightly knit by film editor Kamlakar Karkhanis that even the most absurd and illogical scenes became convincing, making the learned Times of India critic describe it as “Absurd, yet funny” as it contained the magic of Desai’s illogical formula — secularism coupled with supernatural mixed with family bonding and emotions, wherever necessary, birds, animals and beasts added in — that became the mainstay of all his films until he overdid it in his last couple of ventures.

Although Desai had himself, during his apprentice days, mastered the art of special effects, here he used the expertise of modern-day specialists like Ramesh Meer and Kirit Kumar and cinematographer Peter Pereira’s knowledge to create the desired impact — especially in three distinct sequences: Anthony’s drunken act in front of the mirror (with no director in sight); his emerging from the giant Easter egg; and Bharati, the mother, regaining her eyesight while Akbar invokes the powers of Sai Baba.

The story, or the gist of it: The small gate of the Central Jail opens and Kishanlal (Pran)) comes out having taken on himself the blame of knocking down a man though it had been his employer Robert (Jeevan) in the driving seat; heads straight home with gifts but is informed that his wife, Bharti (Nirupa Roy) is suffering from tuberculosis and his three sons haven’t eaten a morsel for days. Enraged he rushes to Robert’s bungalow to confront him for dishonouring his part of the deal, to look after his family. Instead of being apologetic Robert not only humiliates him, but orders his killing. Swearing revenge, Kishanlal escapes in a car with a box of smuggled gold. Returning home he finds his wife’s suicide note. He then loads his three sons in the car, leaves them next to a statue of Gandhi in a park to wait for his return, and goes to tackle the goons. The eldest chases the car but gets knocked down and becomes unconscious, the second goes in search of food while the youngest is picked up by a god-fearing Muslim. The wife too has been knocked down and loses her sight. And Kishanlal not only discovers the gold but also gets hold of Robert’s daughter, Jenny (Parveen Babi).

By the time he returns his three sons have vanished. Amar, the eldest, adopted by a Hindu cop, grows up to be a policeman (Vinod Khanna), the youngest living with a Muslim tailor’s family becomes the qawwal, Akbar (Rishi Kapoor), and gets as many as five songs, while the middle one, fostered by a Catholic priest and named Anthony, turns out to be a street smart bootlegger Providing lighter song-and-dance situations and bits and pieces are the three heroines — Jenny (Parveen Babi); Lakshmi (Shabana Azmi) and Dr Salma (Neetu Singh) as Anthony, Amar and Akbar’s love interests.

Generally, for a flick of this nature the songs are mere relief points but here each one of them is situation placed, and adds to the narrative flow. Anand Bakshi the lyricist and the Laxmikant-Pyarelal generate a magical spell that adds to the entertainment value of the film that won three Filmfare trophies: Best Actor (Amitabh), Best Editor (Kamlakar Karkhanis) and Music (LP). It was also later remade in Telugu as “Ram Robert Rahim” (1980) and Malayalam as “John Jaffer Janardhan” (1982).

SURESH KOHLI