Starring Dilip Kumar, Sharmila Tagore, Bindu, Prem Chopra, I.S. Johar

Released in 1972, Dilip Kumar’s fiftieth year, is certainly not the chapter from which to start the curriculum of a course on his work, albeit it was directed by none other than B.R. Chopra(‘Naya Daur’, starring Dilip Kumar opposite Vyajanthimala, with Chopra wielding the baton remains a cult classic till date).

After having tasted box office success and critical acclaim for decades, Dilip Kumar was running out of steam by the early seventies. “Ram Aur Shyam” (1967), in which he essayed a memorable double role was perhaps his last hit as a solo leading man. The mediocre success of “Dastaan” and “Bairaag” (1976) forced the indomitable star to take a sabbatical and resurface in ‘character’ roles in films like “Kranti” and “Shakti”.

“Dastaan” had a feel of tardiness about it, despite having an A list of actors and crew. It was evident that Chopra was falling behind the times in terms of technique.

The story, penned by the irrepressible, I.S. Johar (who also provides the comic angle as Johar/Birbal) with dialogues by Akhtar-Ul-Iman (father-in-law of the late Amjad Khan) is based on a foundation of lost siblings (something which B.R. Chopra pioneered with his 1965 classic, “Waqt”, directed by his younger sibling, Yash Raj Chopra).

Anil and Sunil are identical twins (Sachin/Dilip Kumar), who live with their father and have a petite neighbour, Meena and buffoon-type friend, Birbal. The young brigade is adept at staging plays, and Meena develops a liking for Sunil, spurning the advances of Anil. The friends visit a mela being held in the vicinity of their town, to the singing of a ballad by a mendicant (Mahendra Kapoor lending vocals to “O Mela”; reminiscent of Dilip Kumar’s other classic “Mela”, which had an identical number). Predictably, there is a storm at which Sunil gets separated and grows up in an orphanage to become a judge, Vishnu Sahay, married to Mala (Bindu) with a close friend, Rajan (Prem Chopra).

Anil harbours a passion for Meena (Tagore) and flirts with her, as he does with the lead dancer of his troupe, who is being lured into films by an agent Dhanraj, (Janakidas) something that Anil detests. One day, they have an argument, leading to a scuffle, wherein the agent gets killed.

A scared Anil scampers to Mussoorie, where Judge Vishnu Sahay is already staying for some official work. An astute Anil discerns the physical similarity he has with Vishnu Sahay at the counter, and therein hatches a plan to ensnare him in the murder charges by changing identities.

Leaving a drugged Vishnu Sahay in the hotel, he makes his escape in the former’s car, only to die in a car crash. For the world, Vishnu Sahay is dead, whereas Anil is the one to have met his nemesis. Vishnu Sahay stands trial for the murder of Dhanraj as Anil Kumar, but is let off after the prosecuting attorney informs the court that Dhanraj died of a heart-attack and not homicide. A relieved Visnu Sahay goes to his house and is shocked to witness the betrayal of Mala and Rajan. He leaves home to the lilting Mohammed Rafi number “Na Tu Zameen Ke Liye”.

Through Johar he reaches Anil Kumar’s house, to be met by Meena (Sharmila Tagore), who still longs for Sunil of her childhood days, little knowing that Vishnu Sahay and Sunil are actually the same person. Keen to seek revenge, Vishnu Sahay launches a trap to expose Mala and Rajan. The dénouement is a play on their life choreographed brilliantly by ace dancer, Gopikishen (keen observers of cinema will discern a similarity of the scene with Subhash Ghai’s later day opus, “Karz”).

In a testimony to Dilip Kumar’s larger than life stature, none of the stars, including Sharmila Tagore, Prem Chopra or Bindu can shine through, although, I.S. Johar, with his deadpan expression and comic timing is an exception. Other commendable actors like Iftekhar, Manmohan Kishen and Madan Puri are wasted in miniscule roles.

B.R. Chopra, most of whose films are remembered for their everlasting music and songs, fails to catch the nuances for “Dastaan”, despite Sahir Ludhianvi and Laxmikant-Pyarelal on board. The songs, including, “Koi Aya”, “Lachak Uthi Kaya” by Asha Bhonsle, are good to hear but have failed to retain their character in public memory. Ironically, Laxmikant-Pyarleal, working for Manoj Kumar in “Shor”, another director with an acutely developed sense of music, were nominated for the Filmfare awards that year.

Even the pairing of Dilip Kumar and Sharmilla Tagore – 22 years his junior – failed to ignite onscreen passion or chemistry.

Dilip Kumar, in the double role, is a notch below his exalted calibre, as the method overcomes the man, and one is left with a sense of déjà vu. The dialogue delivery and mannerisms, for which one could die for, seem stilted at times, and staged, particularly for the former role. The spontaneity is amiss, as is the sparkle.

APS MALHOTRA