Rajkumar Kohli might not have the clout wielded by the likes of Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra nor the enviable legacy they have left behind, but in one aspect where Kohli could give his contemporaries a run for their money was the ensemble star cast he managed for his movies, including the 1979 multistarrer “Jaani Dushman”. He assembled a galaxy of stars for a film and not just for a song as done by Desai in “Naseeb” and later Farah Khan for “Om Shanti Om”. With Sunil Dutt, Rekha, Shatrughan Sinha, Sanjeev Kumar, Neetu Singh, Jeetendra, Reena Roy, Vinod Mehra, Aruna Irani, Madan Puri, Amrish Puri, Shakti Kapoor and Premnath under his baton, Kohli, must have required the patience and courage of a ring master.
It is quite possible that even Kohli might not have imagined the level of box-office success the film would eventually earn him. The genre of Jaani Dushman”, a horror/suspense/action potboiler, is not common in Bollywood, although one can loosely trace its roots to “Mahal”, the cult suspense classic starring Ashok Kumar and Madhubala. In between, there were films like “Woh Kaun Thi” and “Bees Saal Baad” which kept this genre alive. Otherwise, horror on celluloid remained the sole prerogative of the Ramsays, who rolled out steamy films, which catered to front benchers in smaller towns.
Apart from the cast what made the film popular were the songs penned by Verma Malik and composed to tune by Laxmikant-Pyarelal including the soulful “Chalo Re Doli Uthao Kahar” (Mohammad Rafi) which achieved a cult status. In keeping with the the stature of the stars Kohli picturised one song on each pair: Sunil Dutt and Reena Roy (“Saare Rishtey Naate Tod Ke Aa Gayi”), Shatrughan Sinha-Rekha (“Dekha Na Saiyaan Hamar Jaisa”) and Jeetendra-Neetu Singh (“Tere Haathon Mein Pehna Ke Chudiyaan”), probably in a bid to keep everyone happy.
Compared to today’s Bollywood standards the film may seem technically outdated and jaded but keeping the late 70s in mind it was quite suitably placed in terms of technique: special effects (B. Gupta), make-up, costumes (Bhanu Athaiya, although men’s dresses were rather outlandish, sound (Mangesh Desai), editing (Shyam maintains continuity and ensures that the number of diversions from the main screenplay are kept minimum), stunts (Abdul Ghani) and cinematography. At times, art direction (Sant Singh) is tacky and patchy for scenes shot indoors. The dialogues by Inder Raj Anand add spice and flavour to the proceedings. The idea of the film, credited to Hakim Latta, was developed into a reasonably engrossing screenplay by Jaggi Rampal and Charandas Shokh.
The story is set in a scenic village, where a monster, Jwala abducts and gruesomely kills any bride dressed in red, whenever a marriage procession stops in front of the temple. The chilling mishaps occur unabated for years on end, despite the presence of law enforcing agencies working to neutralize Jwala. As expected, the horror plot is interspersed with multiple love triangles which is a bit convoluted and confusing.
Lakhan (Sunil Dutt) and Reshma (Reena Roy), daughter of the village vaid, Madan Puri, want to get married. In turn, Reshma is coveted by Shera (Shatrughan Sinha), son of the village thakur (Sanjeev Kumar) even though Shera is liked by Champa (Rekha). There is a further twist in the tale, as Thakur’s daughter (Bindiya Goswami) secretly loves Lakhan. The tussle over Reshma brings Lakhan and Shera in direct conflict to each other. Then there is the Jeetendra-Neetu Singh story within the story. How the many sided geometrical love structure pans out can only be understood after watching the film.
In the midst of all this, the finger of suspicion keeps moving towards many a protagonist, including the village priest (Prem Nath), the vaid, the thakur (held in high esteem by the village folks for his sense of justice), Shera and others.
The mystery is further deepened with the presence of a madman (Vinod Mehra) who roams in the village under inexplicable circumstances. Everyone is scared whenever a wedding is scheduled in the village with no idea on how to deal with the ogre. Demystifying the secret of Jwala forms crux of the story and the dénouement is well scripted and keeps one guessing till the very end.
Of the cast, Sanjeev Kumar, as the grey haired thakur is competent, as are Sunil Dutt, Shatrughan Sinha and Jeetendra (each sticking to his trademark style of acting and dialogue delivery, without much innovation or conviction). Same is the case with Rekha (she looks pretty but her accent quite jarring and uncalled for), Reena Roy and Neetu Singh – their roles are limited to dance sequences and a few other scenes each.
As for the support cast, it is too unwieldy for assessment on an individual basis.
Director: Rajkumar Kohli
Cast: Sunil Dutt, Sanjeev Kumar, Shaturghan Sinha, Vinod Mehra, Jeetendra, Rekha, Reena Roy, Neetu Singh, Bindiya Goswami, Sarika, Yogeeta Bali, Aruna Irani, Madan Puri, Amrish Puri, Raza Murad, Jagdeep
Written by: Inder Raj Anand
Dialogue: Inder Raj Anand
Lyrics: Verma Malik
Screenplay: Jaggi Rampal and Charandas Shokh
Box office status: Hit