Blast from the past Friday Review

Kunwara Baap (1974)

Mehmood and Manorama in "Kunwara Baap". The Hindu Archives   | Photo Credit: HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

Mehmood revelled in leaving you in splits. Slapstick mostly but his comedy had a dedicated following. He could also leave you in tears. As he does in the concluding frames of “Kunwara Baap”, a movie that had social messages on eradication of polio and cleanliness, now in vogue as Swachhata. For Mehmood, this was a movie close to his heart for many reasons. He directed it with passion and reached out to an audience that remembered him for this meaningful movie.

Cinema was Mehmood’s life. His presence, at one time, was as towering as the leading actors of the day. It was not tough to understand why some of them shied away from sharing the space with this maverick star. He had a knack of stealing the scene. But this was a movie which he stole wholesome with his performance. It worked reasonably well when first released in regular shows. It stole the thunder, just like Mehmood, in the morning show slot where busloads of children arrived from various schools to watch the movie high on the message quotient.

Mehmood though packed the film with special appearances. From Sanjeev Kumar, Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Amitabh Bachchan, Yogita Bali, Dara Singh, Lalita Pawar and Mukri. They all had fleeting moments while Vinod Mehra, as Vinod, and Bharathi, as Radha, were cast as the leading pair. The leading role was Mehmood’s as a kind-hearted rickshaw-puller, who stumbles upon an abandoned child on the footsteps of a temple. In a rare case, it was Mehmood rather than more saleable box office stars who hogged the limelight in the posters.

The child, born to Mehra and Bharati, becomes the central figure of the narrative. Mahesh is the rickshaw-puller, now saddled with the task of bringing up the child, who, because of his negligence, is afflicted with polio. The father and his adopted son embark on an emotional journey that ends on a despondent note. Mehmood’s presence on the screen is huge and unsurprising too. He liked it that way and this was his offering.

It was heartening that he chose a subject that needed to be addressed during the 70s. Polio eradication. It is coincidence that Bachchan, today’s brand ambassador for the crusade against polio, has a negligible role in this movie. It is Sanjeev Kumar, as a doctor, who lectures Mehmood and his ilk on the importance of cleanliness.

Mehmood, for his dominating part, is matched by Manorama, a noted Tamil actress, in splendid form as Sheela, his lady love. Her banter with Mahesh is so natural and her diction floors you. “Haat nai laga (don’t touch)” is delivered in such a sharp tone that rickshaw-puller feels the shocks and scampers to safety. But Sheela is at her best when she tries to woo Mahesh and the two strike a lively pair.

There is a villain who looks to create trouble for Mahesh and Sheela but they are separated by the cruel twist of fate. Mahesh, the father, vows to shed all worldly comforts and dedicate his life to bring up his handicapped son and provide him education in order to secure his future. It is a struggle no doubt but the rickshawallah pulls on undaunted. The lesson here is to give every child education and Mehmood chooses the medium as best he could to drive home his point.

Time flies. Radha and Vinod, her repentant lover, are now married and praying to find their son. The long-lost son is restored to his parents when Mukri, the policeman, identifies Mahesh as the man who had picked up the child from the temple. In a touching courtroom climax, the son refuses to part with his ‘adopted’ father before Mahesh persuades him to.

Humour concedes ground to gloom in the latter part of the movie. The zestful “Main Hoon Ghoda Yeh Hai Gaadi” gives way to a sombre “Aa Ri Aa Ja Nindiya Tu Le Chal Kahin”, a soulful rendition by Kishore Kumar and one of the finest compositions by Rajesh Roshan. There is also a Mohammad Rafi number “Saj Rahi Munne” which became an iconic song representing the transgenders. Mehmood made many movies but this one was remained special for him. His garrulous presence on screen and life was silenced two decades after the release of this movie when he died in sleep. In the movie, he departs to the lullaby from his son “Aa Ri Aa Ja Nindiya Tu le Chal Kahin….” “Kunwara Baap” is as engaging as the title.


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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 9:55:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/kunwara-baap-1974/article7971884.ece

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