Namak Haraam (1973)

Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's "Namak Haram".  

This was a very different ingrate. Created by master story-teller Hrishikesh Mukherjee, the protagonist is Somu, played by Rajesh Khanna, in sterling form, with Amitabh Bachchan displaying equally awesome talent as Vicky. The first half of the 70s was a significant phase of Indian cinema. Actors were fading and emerging. Bachchan was beginning to assert his position among the sought-after actors in the film industry even as Khanna was bravely hanging on to his superstar status. What better craftsman than Hrishida to weave a compelling movie around these two.

The film deals with the subject of worker-establishment relations, the age-old clash between rich and poor, of dignified existence. The middle class is described as “dangerous and ambitious” because it looks to thrive on honesty and also its strong “conscience” to do things the right way. There is space for the rich. Also for the poor.

Two friends, hailing from different background, one rich and the other poor, form the soul of the story. Somu, unemployed and living in a modest house in Delhi, is supported by the rich Vicky, who takes immense pride in their relationship. The song, “Diye jalte hain phool khilte hain”, truly signifies their association, both drawing strength in each other's company. Things change when Vicky rushes to see his ailing father, a wealthy industrialist Damodar Maharaj, played superbly by Om Shivpuri.

As Vicky takes charge of his father's factory, a worker loses his arm in an accident. Issues related to compensation set up a confrontation between Vicky and union leader Bipinlal Pandey (A.K. Hangal). When Vicky refuses to enhance the compensation demand, the workers resort to a strike. He is reprimanded by his father who insists Vicky apologise to the union leader.

“A very thrilling game,” declares Damodar, who wants his son to remember the affront at the hands of Pandey. “This insult will be your strength,” Vicky is told sternly by his father, who has obviously worked out a plan. The humiliation stings hard and Vicky vows revenge. Support comes from Somu, who joins the factory to reach out to the workers, essentially pursuing a plot to marginalise the veteran union leader.

Vicky and Somu, now known as Chander, conspire to win the hearts of the workers. Chander makes various demands and Vicky tactically concedes them in order to enable his friend win the confidence of the workers. But Somu gradually is transformed into Chander. Living with the workers, he comes to understand the pain of hunger and penury and undergoes a change of heart when he comes in contact with an alcoholic poet, a remarkably cameo by Raza Murad, and a garrulous Shyama (Rekha).

The change in Somu does not escape Vicky’s attention, who now insists his friend return to his old ways. But Somu is now Chander, the popular leader of the workers, the messiah who promises them a rosy future. A rift leaves the two friends torn. Vicky has a sympathiser in Manisha (Simi Garewal), who, however, reminds him of his wonderful friend's qualities. Perturbed by the developments in the factory, a desperate Damodar relieves Vicky of his office duties and orders Chander’s elimination. Vicky learns of his father’s scheme but fails to save his friend, who is over-run by a truck.

In a dramatic development, Vicky turns masochist and owns up the murder in order to punish his father. The film, released two years after “Anand” earned rave reviews, appealed to the audience and became a hit despite the protagonist meeting an untimely death. Unlike “Anand”, the death scene involving Khanna and Bachchan is neither melodramatic nor lengthy. It is in fact swift, so different from the departure of the alcoholic poet, who takes leave listening to “Main shaayar badnaam” in a symbolic reference to not all dreams coming true. It remains an evergreen tribute to Hrishikesh Mukherjee's classic filmmaking.

Genre: Social drama

Director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee

Cast: Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Rekha, Simi Garewal, Asrani, A.K. Hangal, Raza Murad, Om Shivpuri, Durga Khote, Manmohan, Jayshree T

Story: Hrishikesh Mukherjee

Screenplay: Gulzar and D.N. Mukherjee

Dialogue: Gulzar

Music director: R.D. Burman

Lyricist: Anand Bakshi

Box office status: Successful

Trivia: Amitabh Bachchan won Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor and Rajesh Khanna won BFJA Award for Best Actor

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Printable version | Jan 14, 2021 4:11:38 PM |

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