Shatrughan Sinha, Reena Roy, Ajit, Prem Nath, Madan Puri

Shatrughan Sinha was not quite a rage in Indian cinema despite a memorable performance in Gulzar’s 1971 classic “Mere Apne”. Shatrughan became one, five years later, when “Kalicharan” hit the screen. Director Subhash Ghai assembled a galaxy of villains in this super hit with Prem Nath and Ajit leading the brigade that included Danny Denzongpa, Madan Puri and of course, Shatrughan, who had begun the transition from negative roles from here.

It was Ghai’s first movie and had enough glimpses of some superbly sketched situational gems, one frame connecting the next with the flair that came to be known as his trademark in subsequent years. As the cop tortures a prisoner with a growl “Jab tak tu naam nahi bataeygaa main tujhe marne nahi doonga”, Ghai jumps to Ajit casually remarking, “woh mar jayegaa lekin bataygaa nahi”. These swift directorial gems stood out in this fast-paced thriller.

The plot is lit up by Shatrughan, portraying Inspector Prabhakar Srivastava and convict Kalicharan, pitted against the seasoned Ajit, who is Deen Dayal, a ruthless criminal masquerading as a kind-hearted citizen. That Deen Dayal is a friend of Inspector General PN Khanna (Prem Nath) adds to the intensity of the narration. When would Khanna discover the true Deen Dayal? When would the Inspector uncover the façade created by the scheming Deen Dayal? The keenness to get to the climax keeps you engrossed.

Ajit is the one to be watched, chewing at the cigar, throwing smoke in the air, creating an aura of intrigue and terror with his expressions and dialogues that are delivered with a deliberate drawl which was his forte. “Saara shehar mujhe Lion (pronounced Loin) ke naam se jaanta hai,” is typical Ajit, his expressive eyes heightening the impact on the screen.

In a rare occurrence involving Ajit, he confronts the hero in English. “How will you tackle an imposter,” raising his voice when he repeats the question. Ah, to listen to Ajit mumble those sentences in English, and watch Kalicharan stutter is one of the finest moments of the movie. They look so natural!

Ajit, sorry Loin, is the central character of this movie. He is cold-blooded, inflicting death, pain and poverty, relishing the misery of the world. The IG summons Inspector Prabhakar to deal with this menace. Prabhakar is a widower with two kids and a sister, who is the IG’s daughter. Within half an hour of the movie, we lose Inspector Prabhakar, slain at Deen Dayal’s orders. The cop is about to uncover Deen Dayal’s true character but falls to his machinations.

The IG is helped by a friend (David), who presents Kalicharan, a replica of Prabhakar. Kalicharan is serving sentence for murder but has a poignant story to relate. Revenge for sister’s rape has landed him in jail even as he vows to eliminate the third person (Shetty) in that ghastly act.

With some tautly shot scenes, involving Shatrughan and Ajit, the story moves towards a predictable end. It was among Shatrughan’s better known performances. He is loud as always but convincing, able to do justice to contrasting characters. Prem Nath is raucous, incoherent at times. Reena Roy grew in reputation from this movie but, at best, was passable. Ajit is the Loin indeed, towering over the rest every time he comes on the screen. “Paani ke bina machliyan kaise tadap rahi hain’, routine stuff but made so memorable by Ajit’s modulation. Simple but too good!