Muqabla (1979)



For someone who started his career in bhangra troupes performing in Punjabi and Hindi films, and slowly graduated to directing Punjabi films, and then finally multi-starrer Bollywood blockbusters like “Nagin”, “Muqabla” and “Jaani Dushman”, Rajkumar Kohli did exceptionally well for himself in the cut throat world of mainstream Hindi cinema. The feat is all the more praiseworthy as when Kohli was coming into his own in the 70s and 80s, two other directors had already established themselves in a genre similar to what Kohli aspired for, at least in terms of the ensemble cast which they liked to have in their films – Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra. Kohli even has a qawwali picturised on the then fading superstar, Rajesh Khanna and the then rising queen, Rekha, as both make a special appearance in “Muqabla”.

As for the plot, penned by Faiz-Salim (their debut film), one cannot help but ignore the underlying similarity the story has with the 1974 Manoj Kumar directed “Roti, Kapda aur Makaan”. Repeatedly, there are references to smuggling and hoarding of food grains, which leads inevitably to shortage of food and hunger for the poor, impoverished masses. There are thriving smuggling syndicates operated by the likes of Ranjeet (Keemtilal/Banwari Seth) and Madan Puri (Hiralal) in connivance with Government distribution agencies (aka ration shops) run by corrupt shopkeepers like Chhutan (Roopesh Kumar).

Shatrughan Sinha

Shatrughan Sinha   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: Shanker Chakravarty

Also, another pick from the film is a gory rape, where the victim is pinned on a weighing scale when she comes to Chhutan’s store to buy grocery on credit. The only difference being Manoj Kumar’s technical finesse, and archetypal style of camera positioning, which Kohli could not match.

In another strongly entrenched stereotype, Sabbirbaba (Dr. Shreeram Lagoo), the large hearted, genial do-gooder is introduced. Always in the forefront to solve contentious social issues amicably while mouthing pious servitudes with practised ease, the characterisation comes across as too uniform to be true!

In terms of performance, Reena Roy stands way above others. In “Muqabla”, she even leaves Shatrughan Sinha behind. She displays admirable maturity and restraint, her forte, which at one point in time pitchforked her to the pinnacle of stardom; and in league with top heroines of the day, including Rekha and Hema Malini.

While Shatrughan Sinha has no surprises up his sleeve and performs with his usual aplomb and over the top style of acting, one is disappointed with Sunil Dutt’s performance. Clearly, the director could not manage to extract a worthy performance from this seasoned actor.

Kohli also falters on another long standing Bollywood stereotype, the depiction of nomads or banjaras, who are shown in weird headgear and costume.

Thus, Om Shivpuri, the leader of one such kabila has two daughters, one of whom (Bindya Goswami) falls surreptitiously in love with a truck driver, Vinod (Sunil Dutt). When this is opposed by members of the tribe, the two elope, leading to the sudden death of the patriarch and banishment of his other daughter, Lachho (Reena Roy) and wife (Suolchana) from the clan. An embittered Lachho vows revenge on Vinod for her family’s misfortune, which leads her to Bombay. Here, she is saved from rape in the nick of time by Chenu (Sinha), a local gangster. Obviously, love blossoms.

Meanwhile, Vinod (now donning a new name, Vikram alias Vicky) also moves to Bombay after his wife dies while giving birth to their son, as he is not able to arrange money for her treatment due to mistreatment of his employer, Keemtilal. In Bombay, Vicky starts smuggling with Hiralal. Feeling threatened from Vinod, Keemtilal also moves to Bombay under a new identity, Banwarilal and hires Chenu to ensure safe passage for his trucks (not knowing that Vinod has already moved to Bombay). This brings Chenu and Vicky in conflict as their area of operation is common, especially when Chenu has a change of heart and decides to leave his nefarious activities after a sermon by the local police inspector (Prem Nath).

Not knowing who Vicky actually is, Lachho moves into his house to take care of his son. When Vicky discloses this truth to his mother-in-law she suffers a heart attack. But Vicky’s all-out effort to save her leads to change of heart, and forgiveness. All this leads to a series of misunderstanding followed by several twists and turns, lot of action (including a bike sequence) before there is a happy ending, enabled by Vicky dying to save Chenu.

A big let-down for Kohli is the music, otherwise his strong point. None of the songs, penned by Verma Malik to music composed Laxmikant-Pyarelal, leaves a lasting impression. The support cast of Dr. Shreeram Lagoo, Ranjeet, Madan Puri, Prem Nath, Sulochana and Roopesh Kumar follow their usual pattern of acting with nothing special to offer. Bindiya Goswami, as the second female lead, is lacklustre and is completely overshadowed by Reena Roy.

Genre: Social drama

Director: Rajkumar Kohli

Cast: Sunil Dutt, Shatrughan Sinha, Reena Roy, Bindiya Goswami, Ranjeet, Shreeram Lagoo, Prem Nath, Om Shivpuri, Madan Puri, Roopesh Kumar

Written by: Faiz-Salim

Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal

Lyrics: Verma Malik

Box office status: Average

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 12:36:27 PM |

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