Friday Review

Azaad (1978)

HE MAN Dharmendra donned the action role in “Azaad” to make a hit along with Hema Malini.  

By the time “Azaad” was released in 1978, the on-screen chemistry between Dharmendra and Hema Malini had reached its apogee, something which was well utilised by the director, Pramod Chakravorty, who had earlier directed the two in “Jugnu” (1973) and “Dream Girl” (1977).

The film, written by Sachin Bhowmick and Gulshan Nanda, with dialogues penned by Ehsan Rizvi, is a typical Bollywood potpourri with liberal doses of romance, comedy and action thrown in, so as to have maximum impact on the audience. And Chakravorty manages to accomplish his vision with a great deal of success.

This was a period of transition in the Hindi film industry, in terms of the straitjacket in which characters were slotted till then. And the first casualty was the comic character, with the hero taking that responsibility on himself. Although in “Azaad”, Keshto Mukherjee plays the pivotal comedian (with bit roles played by Mohan Choti, Bhagwan and Birbal), Dharmendra, also gives a substantial dose of guffaws with his antics.

Obviously, Chakravorty banks heavily on the macho image of Dharmendra (Ashok aka Azaad) which he portrays with style and chutzpah, something which had become the hallmark of Dharmendra’s myriad performances. In “Azaad”, he has a bare handed duel with a tiger, in which he finally vanquishes the animal. This might look ludicrous today, but in the times that were, surely the formula worked with the audience, considering the hefty collections the film made at the box office. The original He-man of Hindi cinema looks dashing and smart while performing stunts (some over the top) and horse-riding sequences which are aplenty in the film.

However, it is quite sad that an actor of the calibre of Dharmendra, who had mastered his art and reached the pinnacle of success in the 70s and 80s could not sustain the momentum in the 90s, unlike his junior in the industry, and a co-actor in several memorable films, Amitabh Bachan, who, at the age of 73, still continues to enthral and amaze his fans with his versatility.

Hema Malini, initially as an arrogant and haughty Princess Seema and later as a love struck girl looks stunningly beautiful, although like always, her acting prowess- diction, voice modulation, facial expressions, body language- leave a lot to be desired. But obviously, these were minor irritants for her legion of fans who made her heart throb of the nation, a true ‘Dream Girl’.

The story revolves around the activities of a young man, Ashok, who strives to help those in distress and are oppressed. (It is inexplicable why Ashok dons a facial mask in only a handful of shots in the film, when he plays Azaad, and not in other shots, in which he is again playing the Good Samaritan; the move by the director and his story writer defies logic). Not happy with his consistent antics, his sister-in-law (Sulochana) sends him to the city for a job through her acquaintance, Ramesh Sharma (Keshto), who, along with his sister Rekha accept him with open arms. On the way, Ashok lands in a nasty fracas with Princess Seema, who is destroying crops of poor villagers to create a favourable scene for the canvas on which she is painting. After teaching her a lesson, he reaches the city and gets a job in the factory, which, incidentally is owned by none other than Princess Seema and managed by her devious fiancée Prem Singh (Prem Chopra) and his suave, but evil father, Ajit Singh (Ajit).

An infuriated Seema plans to avenge her insult and get Ashok killed, first by asking him to ride a horse which is mentally unsound and then by throwing him into a deep well, but the he manages to defy sure death on both occasions. Now, he decides to teach Seema a lesson, but quite predictably, the two fall in love, which raises the hackles of Ajit and Prem. Matters get further aggravated when Ramesh is killed by the father-son duo and Prem tries to molest Rekha (Shoma Anand). Meanwhile, it is also revealed that Seema’s father, Thakur Ranjeet Singh (Om Shivpuri), is actually held captive by Ajit, who, over the years, was injecting him with substance to make him go insane.

From here starts a long process to the denouement, which could easily have been pruned in length were it not for the director’s penchant to showcase the death machine. A concept which was in rage in those days, with elaborate sets designed (mainly in hues of flickering red) for the villains to play with and inflict a miserable death on their beleaguered victims. The editor, Narendra Arora’s obvious lack of will to wield the scissors also comes forth at this stage.

Art direction by Shanti Dass is good in parts, but action by Mansoor could have been slicker for a film which was heavily dependent on action sequences for its success, considering that by this time the bar had already been raised in this field. Another surprising under performer for the film are its songs, which, although good, cannot be labelled as chart busters. This is quite a disappointment, especially when the lyrics were written by Anand Bakshi and music was composed by R.D. Burman.

The support cast of Ajit, Prem Chopra, Sulochana, Shoma Anand and Om Shivpuri are competent, although both Ajit and Chopra, famous for their stylized and powerful acting, are neither given any punch lines to deliver nor a meaty narrative. In fact, they look like lame duck villains in front of Dharmendra.

Genre: Romantic thriller

Director: Pramod Chakravorty

Cast: Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Prem Chopra, Ajit, Sulochana, Keshto Mukherjee, Jankidas, Mohan Choti, Birbal

Story: Sachin Bhowmick and Gulshan Nanda

Dialogue: Ehsan Rizvi

Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

Music: R.D. Burman

Box office status: Hit