Monday, May 3, 2010

Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (Khanna-o-rama Day 1)

I thought I would start things off with a bang! Here is my first entry for Khanna-o-rama Week!

There was a story that made the news here in the United States recently about a woman who sent her adopted son
back to Russia on his own because she could no longer deal with him. I thought about that as I started watching Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, which is the story of an orphan. How we are treated in early life can and does have lasting effects on our personalities. Through the years, I’ve come across stories about how the institutionalization of orphan children in their early years in places like Russia has very negative effects on the ability of these children to learn how to love and bond with their families.

For the nameless orphan who grows up to be Sikandar, the scraps of love given to him by the little memsaab in the first 15 minutes of
Muqaddar Ka Sikander fuel the dreams of his entire life.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Muqaddar Ka Sikandar is the story of a nameless little boy who owns absolutely nothing except his pride. He approaches the fateful memsaab and her father at the train station in Shimla, where he asks to carry their bags in exchange for some small change. Memsaab’s father refuses saying that he is too small to do the work but the boy says that he is hungry and if he doesn’t work how will he eat. The man tries to give him charity but the boy refuses. He wants to work. This impresses memsaab’s father much as little Deewar ka Vijay’s refusal to pick up the cash flung at him by the man who would later be his boss but unlike his counterpart from Deewar, this nameless boy doesn’t even have a mother to take care of. He doesn’t even have a name.

Memsaab’s father takes him home to their chalet where he works as a servant in the house and forges a small friendship with the little memsaab who is the first person to treat him with any sort of kindness. He imprints on her much like a little duckling imprints on his mother and when memsaab’s father finds out about their friendship and whisks memsaab back to Mumbai, the little nameless boy follows them.

At sea in the great swarm of Mumbai, the little boy is almost run over by a car. He is pulled out of the way at the last second by that great filmi Maa Nirupa Roy who dubs him Sikandar, the name of her son who was killed by a car, and takes him home to meet her daughter. Nirupa Roy, of course, turns out to work for the very family that the little nameless boy most wants to meet but little Sikandar is branded a thief by memsaab’s father due to a misunderstanding and tosses out Sikandar
and his new mother, who promptly dies but not before leaving Sikandar with the charge to take care of his new sister.

Sikandar and his sister end up in the graveyard where they meet a
fakir who tells Sikandar to find happiness in life’s sadness.

When we catch up with Sikandar (Amitabh Bachchan) years later, he has become a very
bara aadmi - despite the fact that he is illiterate – by buying and selling black market goods that had been confiscated by the police. He has a giant house and has set up a good match for his sister but something is missing from his life. Sikandar still dreams of memsaab, who has grown up to be Rakhee, but she has never forgiven him for the alleged thievery and assumes that his newfound fortune is the result of illegal shenanigans.

Sikandar has become a success in the world but is not a part of it. He is not married and his emotional life is tied up in daydreaming of memsaab. It’s this airy existence that the earthy Zohra (Rekha) and Vishal (Vinod Khanna) attempt to shatter.

(And let me add that Rekha's lush curves are incredibly sexy - even under all that material. Who needs bikinis when you have a bombshell body like this?!)

Zohra enters with a burst of tabla and a flash of bright pink and silver with the song “Salaam-e-Ishq.” Zohra falls helplessly in love with Sikandar as she senses a kindred spirit – somebody as damaged emotionally as she is. She gives up her dancing for everyone except Sikandar, who finds her devotion to him irresistible even if he can’t return it the way she would like.

Vishal enters with a burst of
dishoom-dishoom and some insanely tight bellbottoms and, through some selfless actions, wins the heart of Sikandar who proceeds to set him up as an assistant to, yes, his old nemesis: memsaab’s father, who has realized the truth about Sikandar even if memsaab herself won’t believe it.

The rest of the film plays out in a tragic love triangle between Sikandar, Vishal, and Kammna the memsaab with grace notes of more tragedy from Zohra.

Muqaddar Ka Sikandar has been described as Amitabh’s Devdas and to a certain extent I see the comparisons, especiall in the tension between Zohra and Sikandar which is very reminiscent of that between Chandramukhi and Devdas. But Muqaddar Ka Sikandar is much larger in scope that Devdas and, I would argue, much more tragic. Devdas lets things happen to him and then quietly stews about it (or maybe just quietly pickles himself in booze). For Devdas, Chandramukhi is the woman who ties him to life – without her, he would have drunk himself to death much earlier than he ends up doing. Sikandar is the opposite. He goes about his life, doing everything he is supposed to as a good citizen and brother but his heart isn’t in it. His heart is hidden and it’s only through going to visit Zohra that he allows some small emotion to break free.

But what really makes
Muqaddar Ka Sikandar stand apart from Devdas, and makes this film an appropriate one for Khanna-o-Rama, is the character of Vishal. Vishal is Sikandar’s shadow and shows us what Sikandar’s life might have been like if only he wasn’t so damaged. Vishal enters Sikandar’s life with some dishoom-dishoom. Sikandar is out at a bar and a brawl breaks out between a guy who doesn’t want to pay his bill and Vishal, acting as the enforcer of moral order. While Vishal dishoom’s an entire bar full of rowdies, Sikandar sits off to the side following the action like a spectator. For the script to take this very deliberate choice, to have Amitabh Bachchan who dishoomed warehouses full of rowdies in Deewar sit out a fight, says something important about Sikandar. While he is certainly not a bad guy himself he is disconnected from life. Vishal is real and present, which is why he is able to win over Kammna. Despite the fact that Sikandar is the male lead, Vishal is, to a large extent, the Hero of the film.

You could almost say that
Muqaddar Ka Sikandar gives us the Hero’s story from the point of the view of the beta male.

Vinod Khanna does a magnificent job as Vishal. He has a natural machismo and charisma and an easy rapport with Amitabh – from years of two-hero films - that makes it easy to believe that Vishal as an open and caring man would be able to pry open the heart of Sikandar just a little bit.

(I thought Rakhee was perfect as Kammna because she looked pretty in a very ordinary way - exactly the kind of girl who wouldn't be won over by otherworldly declarations of love.)

Apparently Kammna was not well thought of when the film came out and I understand why. Sikandar was our point of view character and I, too, got very tearful when she denies his love. But I think it’s made very clear why she ends up with Vishal. Who is Sikandar to her? They met once as children and while Sikandar holds on to their shared childhood as many Bollywood Heroes have, Kammna lives in the real world and she grows a relationship with Vishal out of a shared friendship.

Of course, Amitabh Bachchan is the heart of the film and I think this might be my favorite role of his that I’ve seen so far. He really captures the pain and sadness of Sikandar without making him a tragic clown a la
Mera Naam Joker. Sikandar’s pain is kept below the surface.

One last thing I want to talk about is the song picturizations. Not only is the music superb but the song picturizations themselves are magnificent and a perfect example of how to integrate songs within the narrative.

Rekha gets two mujras – the glorious “Salaam-e-Ishq” and the more restrained “Wafa Jo Na Ki To.” Both showcase her dancing and movement and take place within the confines of her space.

There is the bittersweet “Muqadar Ka Sikandar” which has Amitabh wheeling around Mumbai on his motorbike – traveling through the city but not really of it.

The male version of “O Saathi Re” made me tear up. Kammna sings it early in the film and Sikandar does a heartbreaking version later in the film with copious emotion provided by Kishore Kumar, whose voice quavers over the phrases. Amitabh is basically just standing on stage while he sings it but the song combined with the way the camera catches the intimacy between Vishal and Kammna while we all know that Sikandar is singing for Kammna is just so sad.

The real prize for
Muqaddar Ka Sikandar goes to the gruesome cabaret of “Pyar Zindagi Hai.” We all know that natural surroundings are Bollywood shorthand for true love and the cabaret is the habitat of base instincts. That duality is played out here as Sikandar is forced to watch Vishal and Kammna explore their very mundane love in the world’s tackiest hotel. Sikandar’s love is pure and unearthly, as shown in an earlier song where he romped outdoors with a dream-Kammna, but it’s the practical kind of love that real-world Kammna wants, as showcased in this song.

(I sobbed through the entire thing – for people who watch Bollywood only for the camp value, I think this kind of song must be incomprehensible. Tacky surroundings are used to enhance the tragedy of the situation and if you are focused only on the plastic hearts and mini-skirted dancers than the emotion will pass you right by.)

(When is Amjad Khan Week?)

I’m very grateful to Khanna-o-rama for giving me an excuse to finally watch this film. It’s one of those ones where the synopsis just sounded so uninteresting and I’m kind of embarrassed that sometimes I forget that the synopsis writers of the Bollywood world are really, really terrible at their jobs. The genius is in the execution – which is superb. I didn’t touch on even half of what I could have talked about – Amjad Khan, Nirupa Roy, Ranjeet, Yusef Khan… But this has gone on long enough as it is and I’ll pick that up another day.


Beth said...

I'm not going to read this just yet because I hope to re-watch this and re-write it up too! I haven't seen it for awhile and it has faded in my memory except for Vinod being adorable and having a song with bubbles in it. Oh, and Rakhee's AWESOME hair.

Filmi Girl said...

@beth You know I'm living spoiler-free these days... :)

But I'll look forward to your review, too. :)

Just an FYI, I sobbed through the last hour of the film - I don't know if that's your kind of thing or not.

Bollyviewer said...

Its been a while since I watched this, too. Now, all I remember is that Vinod got the girl, and Rakhee was not, for once, mooning over AB! So its definitely a must-rewatch - hopefully this week.

Ness said...

Another film I own and yet have inexplicably not yet watched. Why am I wasting my time on the junk when there's such clear gloriousness waiting for me? WHY? AWESOME write up.

Filmi Girl said...

@bollyviewer I hope everyone re-watches this since I want to discuss it!!

@Ness Be careful, though because it's definitely a weepy and I didn't realize that until it was too late... :)

Filmi Girl said...

Also, I now realize there are a ton of typos that I need to fix -so, yes, I will do that.

Simran said...

I absolutely LOOOOVEDD Big B in this movie. What a character. :) So much power and reading this just made my wanna watch the movie again! :D

ajnabi said...

I really like your take on the effect of early orphanage on AB's character. It's very emotionally authentic, which to me is the hallmark of a good Bollywood film.

dishoomdishoom said...

Well there was one small thing that was off putting for me, that was they proclaimed in the opening credit sequence "SuperHit movie" or something.

Haha, and I only wish I could sing like Sikander when a bit tipsy. My choice of music generally goes the other way, towards the "Beeri" universe, under the influence of satanic potions.

and O Sathi Re was amazzing! Good work :)

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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