Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lal Pathhar - 1971

I have to thank a friend, Usman Latif Khawaja for recommending this movie to me.  Out of the blue, I was reminded of a song from this movie.  It led me to viewing the entire movie.

Kumar Bahadur (Raj Kumar) has watched his grandfather go mad.  He has seen his profligate father drinking and womanizing.   On top of that, one of his grandfather's had raped a lady called Sonmai, who cursed his family to ruin. All this factors make Kumar Bahadur to decide to abstain from wine and women, as per the advice of his sainted mother. He spends his life trying to do good.

On one hunting trip, he rescues a woman from the clutches of a dacoit.  Saudamini (Hema Malini) is a young widow from a neighboring village that the dacoits were carrying off.  Kumar Bahadur is dumbstruck by her beauty.  Yet, he tries to send Saudamini away, first to her in-laws place, where she is beaten up.  He wants to send her to live in Kashi, but Saudamini would have none of it.  Eventually, they become lovers.

Kumar Bahadur is a refined man, and he is taken aback by Saudamini's (now called Madhuri) crude behaviour.  He tries to educate her, but fails.  Soon he loses interest in her and starts living the lonely life like he used to.  As time passes, he feels he need to get married.  That is when he spots Sumati (Rakhee).  She is well educated and sings beautifully.  He buys off Sumati's father and marries her.

Madhuri is struck with jealousy and tries to do her utmost to keep Kumar Bahadur by her side.  Sumati's childhood friend Shekhar (Vinod Mehra) is in and out of the house as Kumar Bahadur has taken a liking to the young man.  Madhuri tries to wean Kumar Bahadur away by making him think Sumati and Shekhar are not really above board.  Caught between the tussle between his wife and mistress for his affection,  Kumar Bahadur finally cracks.

Hema Malini puts in a wonderful performance as Saudamini/Madhuri.  She is, at first, a widow who is abused and mistreated.  Once she is ensconced in Kumar Bahadur's household, her very body language changes.  She becomes a mistress, ruling over everyone, and lets her crude side show.  On the other hand, she is deeply in love with Kumar Bahadur and is hurt constantly by his rejection of her.  "Mujhe to tum chahiye ho Raja", she says to Kumar Bahadur at one time.  She is frank about her sexuality.  Her jealousy is visible.  Even though she loves Kumar Bahadur, she sees his faults and is not afraid to stand up to him. She is a real person here, 3 dimensional.

Raj Kumar as Kumar Bahadur shines as he does often in his roles.  A sophisticated prince with an impeccable taste and  penchant for hunting suits him to a T.  As he describes himself right at the start, he is a complex character.  He is good and bad at the same time.  He can be kind to people and buy them off at the same time.  He is good to his mistress even after he is put off her by her constant displays of crudity.  He tries to strike a balance between his mistress and his wife.

By contrast, Rakhee as Sumati and Vinod Mehra as Shekhar are not really center stage.  They seem more like interlopers in this drama, though of course, they are integral to the story.  Sumati is the usual 'good Indian wife' who ill put aside her feelings and wishes for her husband.  Shekhar also spends his time trying to make the best of a bad situation.  Being all sacrificing and asking Sumati to do the same. Their tame characters are totally overshadowed by the flashy and fiery characters of Kumar Bahadur and Madhuri.

Lal Pathhar has beautiful music.  All the characters, major or minor, have put in good acting.  The costumes, the ambience are all perfect.  The movie scores in all respects.  Definitely worth a few viewings.

9 comments:

Carla (Filmi Geek) said...

This sounds great. I can not wait to see it. It is on my list because I have a weird fascination with Raaj Kumar and it seems hard to find many good movies he was in. You have made me very hungry to watch it and that bumps it up the list. I am so glad that it is on YouTube with subtitles.

carla (Filmi Geek)
http://filmigeek.net

Giribala said...

Thanks for nice narrative. This is one of the movies I remember watching while growing up, though I remember only a few visuals. I should watch it again :-)

dustedoff said...

I remember watching this when I was a little kid, and (of course) understood very little of it. I love early Hema Malini and early Raakhee, so I should probably rewatch this for them - Raj Kumar, unfortunately, will not be the prime attraction for me! ;-)

harveypam said...

I saw this a long long long time ago. Most probably at the same time when Madhu watched it on DD. Even then I was struck by Hema's acting! It must have been dramatic.
Would love to see it now and how I react to it.
Thanks for the good review!

samir said...

Hema Malini considers this role to be one of her best. Raaj Kumar, for a change, is restrained, none of that "Jaani ......" style dialogs. Certainly a must watch of as the Americans like to say; a civilization "Gone With the Wind".
Great review !, will try and re-watch it. Great SOngs !!!

Ava Suri said...

Carla, I think you like Hema as well. If you like Hema and Raj Kumar, this movie is a winner for you.

Giribala: Thanks dear. We see so many movies and remember only snatches of them. It pays to rewatch.

DO: Early Hema is fabulous, She actually ACTS in this movie. The music is a definite plus as well :)

Harv: Hema Malini has nailed it. I was quite surprised, because she usually was a damsel in distress in most of her movies.

Samir: Thanks. Yes such movies are made no more .. sigh!

World of Cinema said...

When I first saw Lal Patther, I liked it but everything changed the moment I saw the original Bengali version, starring my favourite Bengali actor Uttam Kumar. Uttam Kumar was wonderful and so was Supriya Devi who played Hema Malini's role. I have never been a Hema Malini fan, so I guess I might sound a bit prejudiced when I say I preferred Supriya to Hema Malini. Some changes were also made in Hindi version-- Shilpi

Ava Suri said...

Shilpi,

I am sure the Bengali version is better. The regional cinema often tends to be more sincere.

I like Hema in this and Ek Chadar Maili si. Most times she just had to look pretty and dance. Her accent was atrocious.

Ava Suri said...

Shilpi,

I am sure the Bengali version is better. The regional cinema often tends to be more sincere.

I like Hema in this and Ek Chadar Maili si. Most times she just had to look pretty and dance. Her accent was atrocious.