Blast from the past Friday Review

Karz (1980)

A DIFFERENT TREATMENT Subhash Ghai direction along with Rishi Kapoor and Simi Garewal’s performance turned “Karz” into a timeless entertainer.  

Right from “Madhumati”, reincarnation has been a staple theme of Hindi cinema. But what makes “Karz” stand out is Subhash Ghai’s tenacity to not fall for the double-role rule and cast different actors for the born again theme. Ghai maintains that it was the first film where he got full creative control over the subject and that allowed him to take liberty. It cost him in terms of box office numbers because initially many could not get the point why Rishi Kapoor is fighting for Raj Kiran’s cause but over the years the film has emerged as a classic in the masala segment. It is indeed a blend of various ingredients as it draws from multiple genres. A reflection of the times, the musical has a bloody base. When the images of goddess Kali are juxtaposed against those of a guitar strumming hero, when a jeep with a red heart announcing ‘just married’ is used to trample love, you know it is a clash of cultures. The crux of the film is the scene where Ravi’s (Raj Kiran) mother played by Durga Khote identifies him in the body of Monty (Rishi Kapoor). It is the scene where logic evaporates and faith seeps in unannounced. It is melodrama at its entertaining best.

It was an image changer for the director. Before “Karz”, Ghai was known for his action films with Shatrughan Sinha and here he attempted a thrilling musical where he had a pop singer and a female villain at the centre of the story. Remember we were in angry young man phase and it was a story difficult to sell and perhaps that’s what pushed Ghai to launch his banner with the film. In fact, in one of the early scenes, Durga Khote hints at what the director is up to when she says the times are changing. He was inspired by “The Reincarnation of Peter Proud” and felt that it has an Indian soul which says as you sow, so shall you reap. So he teamed up with the inimitable Sachin Bhowmick and weaved a tale rooted in Karma theory.

If you give the hero a solid reason to revenge, you instantly get hold of the audience attention. Here the first fifteen minutes of the film where Ravi Verma is duped in love fills you with such revulsion towards Kamini (Simi Garewal) that you start rooting for him even before he is reborn as Monty.

Kamini is an amazing diabolical character to emerge at the cusp of 80s. She is getting married in an aristocratic family but still wants to kill her husband to move solo to fulfil her materialistic ambitions. Ghai doesn’t get judgemental and allows Kamini to flourish. Simi Garewal had her doubts. She was apprehensive that Ghai might turn him into another Bindu but she emerged as the success story of the film. She brings dignity to the villain and by the end she manages to prick you somewhere deep.

For pop music, R.D. Burman would have been an obvious choice but Ghai challenged his favourites Laxmikant Pyarelal to try something different. They listened to many western compositions and came up with a solid riposte to what R.D. Burman achieved with Rishi Kapoor in “Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahin” and “Khel Khel Main”. You can sense the influence of George Benson and Bonny M in the disco theme but you can’t deny LP their due. The signature tune continues to give goose bumps. No wonder, in times when western music was rarely awarded, LP, who even managed to give the ghazal (“Dard-e Dil”) a racy feel, went on to win the Filmfare Award for best composer. Lyricist Anand Bakshi was in tune with the teenage romance and the rebellious urge of the youth. Lines like “Woh na kahenge to mar jaaoonga main yaaro, woh haan kahenge to bhi khushi se mar jaoonga main yaaro” provided a youthful texture to the Hindi film hero who is unapologetically in love.

Ghai always had a good grasp over melodrama and when he was on song his films moved like a breeze. The way he cuts from a wailing mother to Rishi Kapoor dancing to “Paisa Ye Paisa” with opening credits rolling in a novel fashion is remarkable and underlines the core idea. It is said that the credits were hand painted and put on the sets and the camera moved accordingly. It was Ghai’s first association with Kamalakar Rao, who went on to shoot “Hero” and “Karma” as well. Similarly, the idea of using moving stage in the form of a gramophone in “Om Shaanti Om” is innovative. Composed and written on the lines of “Hare Rama, Hare Krishna”, the song went on to become a youth anthem.

The support cast adds heft to the narrative. Pran as the couplet spouting Kabira unabashedly chews the scenery and Pinchoo Kapoor is suitably condescending as the self seeking manager of Monty. Not to forget Prem Nath cast against his image as the mute Sir Judaa, who taps his big nails on the glass to convey his wily message. Interestingly, Mac Mohan who had emerged as the most sought after sidekick after his one line performance in “Sholay”, plays his spokesperson here.

Not many noticed, but to me Durga Khote always exuded more warmth than Nirupa Roy as the mother and here again she lent grace to an important hook. In mainstream cinema if there was one actor who survived the Amitabh Bachchan wave without venturing into angry young man space it was Rishi Kapoor. By the time “Karz” hit the screens, he had already emerged as the representative of the happy, well-heeled youngster, who was not too concerned by Salim Javed’s take on the social divide. So even if Monty is an orphan here what we get to see is a rakish pop singer whose kinetic dance moves and sunshine smile floors Tina Munim (who was an unknown entity at that time) on screen and millions off it. When his contemporaries were revelling in the sound of gun, Kapoor was playing piano, strumming guitar and violin to create “Dard-e dil dard-e jigar” in the audience. And who can forget his familiarity with the trumpet. The instrument seemed like an extension of his romantic image.

Rahi Masoom Raza’s potent dialogues continue to strike a chord. From the traditional debt of mother’s milk to bringing radioactivity in romance, Raza made the storyboard unravel seamlessly. With Raza busy with multiple projects, Ghai chipped in as dialogue writer. He contributed as a choreographer as well and when an extra didn’t turn up for small appearance in “Paisa” song, he again slipped in only to make it a practice. In an attempt to join the dots, he lost grip towards the end and played to the gallery by adding an Aruna Irani number but over the years it remains one of Ghai’s better films.

It is not only the film that inspired many imitations but even the songs inspired titles of many films including Sriram Raghavan’s thriller “Ek Hasina Thi”. Later Farah Khan paid tribute to the theme and its popular song through “Om Shanti Om”. The song has religious symbolism with Om symbol reflecting against scantily dressed girls but nobody got irked!




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Printable version | Nov 22, 2021 3:21:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Karz-1980/article14589038.ece

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