Friday Review

Blast from the Past: Swarg Narak (1978)

Komila Wirk and Vinod Mehra in `Swarag Narak'.

Komila Wirk and Vinod Mehra in `Swarag Narak'.   | Photo Credit: HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

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Bollywood works on the diktats of good economics over good cinema. It is brutal and unrelenting when it comes to typecasting actors in a straitjacket. Only a motley group managed to swim against this tide, that too while working in commercial cinema. If one were to look at the top grossing films of 1978, domination of the ‘angry young man’ stares in the face, with four of the top ten films featuring Amitabh Bachchan. On other side of the spectrum is Sanjeev Kumar, who, without being typecast and straitjacketed thereby limiting his acting potential, presents an oeuvre that is equally riveting –– from playing Bachchan’s father in “Trishul”, to being a flirtatious, middle aged executive in “Pati Patni aur Who” to being a good for nothing sucker, Pandit Sohanlal Tripathi, in “Swarg Narak” (a remake of the 1975 Telugu hit “Swargam Narakam”, also directed by Dasari Narayana Rao).

Surely, the man deserves encomiums and a standing ovation.

For Sanjeev Kumar, perhaps the most versatile actor of Hindi films, a virtual chameleon on the marquee, it was never a smooth ride to the top echelons of stardom. Painstakingly, he worked his way up, from doing B-grade films to rubbing shoulders with the veritable who’s who of the industry. The man possessed a knack for comedy –– subtle as well as slapstick –– which is on full display in “Swarg Narak”. Undoubtedly, the film rests squarely on his shoulders, as none of the other actors, with the possible exception of Shabana Azmi, is in his league. Even Azmi, despite her jaw dropping credentials as an actor par-excellence, looks out of place and uncomfortable in some scenes; this not being her comfort zone. Probably, this being the first few years after her launch, she could not resist the temptation of working in commercial cinema, and sharing screen space with more saleable actors.

“Swarg Narak” revolves around the trials and tribulations of two newly married couples, Geeta (Azmi) to a Casanova, Vinod (Vinod Mehra) and Shobha (Moushmi Chatterjee) to Mohan ‘Vicky’ Kapoor (Jeetendra). While Shobha and Vicky live a happy life, there is hell in the other house, due to Vinod’s obsession with late night parties in clubs, where he gambles and drinks to his heart’s content and his proclivity towards Leena (Prema Narayan, grossly irritating with her supposedly Anglo-Indian accent). Geeta’s angst and isolation is shared by Vinod’s mother (Kamini Kaushal), who tries earnestly to bring her wayward son on the right track.

Meanwhile, ominous clouds gather over the Kapoor household that forebode the arrival of bad times. Shobha, unduly possessive about her husband, sees red on learning about Vicky’s acquaintance with Radha (Tanuja), who know each other from earlier times. Immediately, her mind is clouded with a shroud of doubt, which gathers force, till the heaven (swarg) like home is turned into hell (narak). The walls of the family crumble as Shobha walks out on Vicky. Further despair is in store as Radha dies, wherein Vicky also leaves his house to become a vagabond.

At the same time, the erstwhile narak is slowly transforming into swarg, through the sheer devotion of Geeta, who nurses Vinod (involved in an accident) to health, while inviting his friends to a game of cards over many a drink to their house. A repentant Vinod accepts Geeta as his wife.

Ordeal for the Kapoor household is brought to an end by the manoeuvrings of Tripathi, who salvages the situation, even as a drunken Vicky, belting the soulful Rafi song “Aag hai lagi hui yahan wahan” moves towards his death. The dénouement is quite predictable for a film that can be categorized as ‘family comedy/drama’.

Music by Rakesh Roshan, is of the highest order, as are lyrics by Anand Bakshi. The songs, “Leena O Leena dil toone chheena” (Kishore Kumar) and “Nahin nahin koi tumsa haseen” (a duet by Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhonsle), fit effortlessly into the narrative. “I love you” (interspersed with shlokas; sung by Lata Mangeshkar) is penned by Harindranath Chattopadhyay.

Expectedly, it is the screen persona of Sanjeev Kumar which stands out. Although the stars, Vinod Mehra, Moushmi Chatterjee and Jeetendra, try their best, they fail to get under the skin of their respective characters. Tanuja exudes depth and pathos in her role, while the slew of character actors, including Kamini Kaushal, is competent.

However, the art director, S. Krishna Rao, is a big letdown. The film, shot mostly indoors and on sets, looks jaded, and is marred by a lack of finesse, something which the camera, wielded by P.L.Roy, captures honestly. The duration of two hours forty minutes is a tad lengthy, and the scissors, wielded by K. Balu could have been used more aptly, by chopping at least half an hour. Considering the level of production, art direction and cinematography “Swarg Narak” looks quite amateurish, especially coming from the stable of Dasari Narayana Rao, who has also written the story and the screenplay. Dialogues by Raj Baldev Raj are competent, particularly one-liners written for Sanjeev Kumar, which bring smile to the face in the midst of alternating Swarg and Narak.

Genre: Social drama

Director: Dasari Narayana Rao

Cast: Sanjeev Kumar, Jeetendra, Vinod Mehra, Moushumi Chatterjee, Shabana Azmi, Tanuja, Jagdeep, Kamini Kaushal, Shammi, Paintal, Om Shivpuri, Helen, Madan Puri, A.K. Hangal, Prema Narayan

Story and screenplay: Dasari Narayana Rao

Dialogues: Raj Baldev Raj

Lyrics: Anand Bakshi, Harindranath Chattopadhyay

Music director: Rajesh Roshan

Box office status: Hit

Trivia: Remake of silver jubilee Telugu film “Swargam Narakam” (1975) by the same director

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2018 7:20:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/blast-from-the-past-swarg-narak-1978/article6485073.ece

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