Blast from the past Friday Review

Lal Patthar (1971)

Hema Malini stole the limelight in “Lal Patthar”.   | Photo Credit: 27dfr lal patthar2

Stones and walls are mute spectators to history being made or re-written. If they have a story to narrate it remains confined within. How to read the story of a soul-less form? The protagonist here wants us to feel his agony through stones bloodied by a dark phase from his past. A story of his lust and love, a journey lost to the world but firmly ensconced in his conscience. It has left him a mental wreck much in contrast to the tiger-hunting and at times reclusive but fun-loving individual in a remarkable transformation of his persona.

Raja Kumar Bahadur (Raaj Kumar) leads an intriguing life. He abhors all the vices, stays away from women as the narrative digs into the colonial times, gradually unravelling the sinister mind of Raja Bahadur, who keeps a mistress, Madhuri (Hema Malini) and then brings home a wife, Sumita (Raakhee). Their union meets a macabre end that leaves a trail of blood and deceit that makes this movie a classic tragedy.

The movie was a remake of Sushil Majumdar’s classic 1964 black-and-white Lal Pathore which featured Uttam Kumar, Supriya Choudhury in the role of Madhuri and Srabanti Bose as wife. Prasanto Chowdhury wrote the story for both the films that highlight Majumdar’s excellent qualities as a director. He got Hema Malini to give one of her best performances on the screen and so early in her career. She was just about beginning to make her place with hits like “Johny Mera Naam”, “Sharafat”, “Tere Mere Sapne” and “Naya Zamana”. This movie established Hema Malini’s credentials as an actor –– she was certainly more than a mere dancer.

Fatehpur Sikri is the starting point of the narration. And the concluding frame too. A bunch of tourists run into an old man who takes them down memory lane. It is a story of Raja Bahadur, who advocates celibacy but later succumbs to the bewitching beauty of Saudamani, who he rescues from the clutches of poverty-driven woes.

Raja Bahadur brings Saudamani home but avoids a matrimonial bonding even as she comes to be acknowledged as the lady of the house. His attempts to reform her with private lessons in music and education fail to make any impact on Saudamani, now known as Madhuri.

Ten years pass before Raja Bahadur is attracted by the voice of Sumita at a public performance. She is half his age but nothing can stop the Raja from taking the young beauty as his wife. Sumita has a childhood love in Shekhar (Vinod Mehra) but poverty is the platform that the Raja exploits. He ‘buys’ Sumita by paying off her father’s debt. It is a marriage that rocks her world but she comes to accept the facts of life and settles into the world of the Raja.

When Shekhar returns home from abroad he is distraught at the developments. But the Raja encourages him to visit and meet Sumita. The story takes a twist that leads to the tragic end of Sumita and Shekhar. Driven by jealousy, Madhuri hatches a plot to drive a wedge between the married couple but realises her mistake and seeks to atone her machinations.

On a full moon night, the tourists are regaled by the fascinating account of Raja Kumar Bahadur by this old man. His quivering voice and unstable gait relive the tale of a man and his two lady loves. Madhuri moves away from the home to enable gift Sumita her husband. But the Raja is working on a plot out born out of jealousy. The climax leaves Sumita and Shekhar united in death with Raja Kumar Bahadur, declared unsound of mind, grieving the loss.

The tourists watch a figure step into the dark night and wash invisible blood stains. The blood stains of the two lovers done to death by quirk of fate. Madhuri, a grey haired woman now, has returned to care for Raja Kumar Bahadur, who is a frail reflection of the majestic and debonair master of the house. The Raja and Madhuri walk away from the tourists, leaving a trail of intrigue behind.

Hema Malini steals the show with her portrayal of a jealous and yet affectionate lover. She gives a commanding performance and steals every scene she shares with Raaj Kumar. Raakhee and Vinod Mehra do justice to their cameos but “Lal Patthar” is remembered for Hema Malini’s Madhuri. And some appealing music with a solo each by Rafi Saab (“Unke Khayal Aaye To Aate Chale Gaye”), Kishore Kumar (“Geet Gata Hoon Main”) and Asha Bhosle (“Suni Suni Sans Ki Sitar Par”) paying rich tributes to the evergreen musician pair of Shankar-Jaikishan.

“Lal Patthar” is not about stony silence. There is a story worth reliving. Raja Kumar Bahadur may be the narrator but Madhuri is the soul of the drama. Vyjayanthimala was said to be the first choice to play Madhuri. But it came Hema Malini’s way –– an impeccable choice indeed.

Genre: Social drama

Director: Sushil Majumdar

Cast: Raaj Kumar, Hema Malini, Raakhee Gulzar, Vinod Mehra, Asit Sen, Paintal, Dulari, Chandramohan

Screenplay: Nabendu Ghosh

Story: Prasanta Chowdhary

Dialogue: Vrajendra Gaur

Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri, Neeraj, Dev Kohli

Music: Shanker-Jaikishan

Box office status: Hit


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Printable version | Oct 22, 2021 6:15:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/lal-patthar-1971/article8651097.ece

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