Hum se Badhkar kaun (1981)

Release Year: 1981
Country: India
Starring: Mithun Chakraborty, Danny Denzongpa, Amjad Khan, Vijayendra Ghatge, Ranjeeta, Kajal Kiran, Neeta Mehta, Padmini Kapila, Ranjeet, Purnima
Screenplay: Khalid – Narvi
Director: Deepak Bahry
Cinematography: Arvind Laad
Music: Raam Laxman
Producer: Pranlal V. Mehta

I am going to have to hire myself a translator because there are just some films that you really, really, want to know what’s going on, and Hum se Badhkar kaun is one of them. You may be thinking why do I keep watching films that I can’t understand? Generally, it stems from a modicum of boredom with mainstream cinema. Look, I love a good movie starring Pitt, Clooney, Damon… whoever, but let’s face it — after you’ve watched a certain number of films (meaning ‘lots’), the formulas start to become quite apparent. Even independent cinema is formulaic, simply because there is money for independent cinema. It’s not as much as the blockbuster studios, but the directors who choose to work in independent cinema know how to make good, reliable small-budget films. And there is nothing wrong with that.

But there is something unpredictable about older foreign cinema. Even the humble Eurospy film from the 1960s is completely unpredictable. We know they should be like a Bond film, but they never are. Budget restraints and even simple things like talent and ability stop these films from being what they want to be, and in the process they became something new…unpredictable.

The same applies to Bollywood. Over the last ten years or so, Bollywood has almost become respectable. In some instances, with so many Hollywood studios in trouble (at the time of writing MGM is in the crap again), Bollywood almost seems like it could be the saviour of modern cinema. I don’t know how many reports I have read that Spielberg is being (or going to be) backed by Bollywood money.

But it wasn’t always like that. Bollywood, like European film in the generation before it, were learning the ropes. And while they were learning, they were inadvertently breaking the rules too. That dear reader, is why I keep watching films that I can’t understand. It’s this rule breaking – the serving up of the unexpected and the unpredictable – that keep me coming back.

Now I have mentioned Eurospy in my intro – and if your aware of my proclivity for spy films, you’re probably expecting this to be a Bollywood spy film. Well, you’d be wrong. What we have in Hum se Badhkar kaun is an engaging crime thriller with just a hint of swashbuckling treasure hunt, and it features Gunmaster G-9 himself, Mithun Chakraborty. But maybe it’s best if I start at the beginning. As I cannot speak Hindi, this is how I perceived the film – whether this is factual, is rather doubtful.

The film starts off with a family of six; that is Mum – Radha, Dad – Mohan and four children – Chandan, Raju, Bablu and Pappu, paying a visit to their bedridden Grandpa. Gramps is old and frail, and as the family present him with a gift, which happens to be a sculptured bust of his long since passed wife, he almost has a heart attack. This spurs Gramps into action. He has some family business to attend to before he dies.

Gramps tells Mohan that there is a family treasure hidden away, and that he will lead his son to it. Unfortunately, one of Gramps servants, Lalchand (Ranjeet) overhears the conversation and is itching to get his hands on some treasure.

Gramps takes his Mohan to a temple and reveals a secret door way. They go through into a secret chamber (that’s the thing with ‘secret doors’ – they often lead to ‘secret chambers’). Gramps gives Mohan four keys and points to four keyholes at the other side of the chamber. Mohan scrambles over and unlocks a large door and opens a giant pink cupboard. Inside the cupboard is the families hoard of gold and jewels.

The family secret has now been passed to Mohan. The timing is fortuitous as Gramps falls down the stairs as they are leaving the secret chamber. He dies. After the funeral, Lalchand approaches Mohan and demands to be given the keys to the treasure. Naturally Mohan refuses. But Lalchand doesn’t take no for an answer and one evening as Mohan is out for a casual stroll, Lalchand shoots him with a rifle.

Now this is kind of dumb. Because if Mohan dies, no-one will know where the treasure is. But luckily for Lalchand, Mohan doesn’t die from the gunshot wound. Instead, the blast sends him toppling over the edge of a cliff – with an avalanche of boulders as well. Amazingly (well I was amazed), Mohan survives. Bloodied and battered, Mohan staggers home and into the kids bedroom. There he pins one of the four keys to each of his sons bedclothes. Just in time too, because Lalchand turns up and once again demands to know the location of the treasure. But Mohan dies.

Lalchand believes that Mohan must have passed the secret onto his wife Radha (Purnima). He asks her for the keys. She doesn’t know. But Lalchand doesn’t believe her and begins to whip the children to make her talk.

During the burst of violence, one of the boys has his key knocked free, but Lalchand is too busy beating people to notice. After dolling out an amount of physical abuse, Lalchand leaves the family locked upstairs, while he goes somewhere (I dunno where – I don’t speak the lingo – maybe he needed a can of Sprite?). On his way down the stairs, he finds a key on the ground, and this starts the cogs in his mind turning.

Meanwhile, Radha has found a convenient rope in the room – just lying on the floor near the window. She ties it off and she and the children escape out the window and run to a nearby boat. The family get in the boat and begin to row away from shore. By this time, Lalchand has realised what the key is, and runs up stairs to retrieve the others only to find the family have fled. From the window he starts firing his pistol at Rahda and the children as the sail off. Lalchand’s rein of terror comes to an abrupt end when the police arrive to arrest him.

Meanwhile as Radha and family sail off, the boat capsizes and the children are all washed ashore in different locations. And folks, all this happens before the main title sequence. Yep – the film hasn’t even started. This is the appetiser.

Alone and widowed, Radha, separated from her family goes mad with grief. Of course, time passes and the boys grow up, and we slowly get introduced to them one by one. Chandan now calls himself Bholaram (Amjad Khan) and he runs a milk dairy farm. He’s essentially a good guy, but is struggling to make ends meet. Raju now goes by the name of Tony (Danny Dezongpa), and he is a small time crime boss. Bablu has become Vijay (Vijayendra Ghatge), who is a police officer. And finally we meet the youngest, Pappu, who has also drifted into a life of crime He now calls himself Johnny (Mithun Chakraborty), and in a weird twist of fate, on occasions works for Tony, unaware that he is his brother. Johnny is a super thief, and with his introduction we also get the film’s first big production number with Mithun strutting his stuff – in a dayglo red terry-towelling robe – with a bevy of bikini clad women falling at his feet. Then he moves to the disco floor where he gets a chance to not only display his moves, but also model a wide lapelled white gaberdine suit. Very chic, indeed.

Above I described Johnny as a ‘super thief’. That isn’t a lazy metaphor. He is more than an elusive cat burglar. He dresses like a super hero in a purple costume with a cape – and he wears a Zorro mask. Not quite ‘The Phantom’, but still what’s the point of being a super criminal if you can’t dress like one of them?

Lalchand, now out of prison ropes Tony into helping him out on a little job he has planned. He needs Tony to track down three men and steal some keys from them. Of course, Tony doesn’t realise that these three men are his brothers. Also, because he was the boy who lost his key – Lalchand still has it – he doesn’t realise the significance of the keys.

Of course, each of the four brothers is going to be drawn inexorably towards each other as the film builds towards in climax. And essentially, what you have is two good brothers, Bholaram and Vijay; against the two criminal brothers, Tony and Johnny. There is no prize for guessing how it all ends.

As I mentioned at the top, this is one film I wouldn’t mind seeing a subtitled version of. It appears to be a great deal of fun. Sure the plot has holes that…let’s be honest, that just don’t make sense. Four boys go missing, yet are found and brought up living right on top of each other. Didn’t the people that found the children ask around if anybody had lost a child (let alone four)! There’s even a mad woman; Radha going around pining for her lost children. And even the whole treasure thing is rather silly. Lalchand knows where the treasure is, but can’t get to it because the door is locked. C’mon! A sledge hammer, or a drill could open the safe. It’s not really a safe, but a steel doored, pink cupboard. It’s not rocket science. But this film is first and foremost a slice of wild, kung-fu, disco dancing mayhem. The intricacies of the plot don’t really matter except to move the story forward.

The film may not be Ocean’s Eleven but it is an interesting caper and the four main stars handle themselves pretty well. Mithun and Amjad Khan get most of the screen time, but their styles are very different – Mithun, young fast and sleek, and Amjad, large slow and almost performing as comic relief – in a Bud Spencer kind of way. Yeah, I enjoyed it.

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