Long before Subhash Ghai fell to the lure of ticket prices in dollars, he made bloody entertaining movies. Epic tales of love and revenge seared across 70 mm screens to the accompaniment of loud, hummable music from Laxmikant Pyarelal. I mention LP here because – coincidentally or otherwise – Ghai lost his touch when he shifted composers to Nadeem-Shravan or even AR Rehman.
The first film he produced exemplified his brand of filmmaking that was so entertaining that it did not need stars to pull off.
Hero starred an unkempt Jackie Shroff (in his first leading role) and a kempt Meenakshi Sheshadri (in her second leading role) in a film that was packed with stars character artistes – Shammi Kapoor (as the stern patriarch), Sanjeev Kumar (as the poetically-inclined comical police officer), Bindu (as the sex-obsessed widowed bua), Shakti Kapoor (as a second villain), Madan Puri (as the good Punjabi Samaritan) and – above all – Amrish Puri. Even Manek Irani – the standard issue side-villain appearing in the first-fight-to-establish-hero – was also there.
There was also Subhash Ghai, who made his first cameo-as-prerogative-of-director appearance in Hero and continued to appear in subsequent films – always looking bewildered, usually mouthing inane choruses in songs!
Pasha (Amrish Puri) is likely to get hanged due to a testimony from Commissioner Mathur (Shammi Kapoor). He gets this trusted henchman, Jackie, to kidnap Commissioner’s daughter to use her as leverage. Needless to say, they fall in love – thus running afoul of both Amrish and Shammi – and that populates the first half. The whole process of Jackie’s reform to become Jaikishan and win his lady love back formed the other half of the movie.
The movie is an IIMA case study of the phrase 'paisa vasool' - song, dance, action, reaction, melodrama, not-so-mellow drama, comedy, tragedy, deewana, parwana, falaana, dhimkana
Firstly, the music is kick-ass.
There was the completely inane Ding dong, O baby sing a song, SING A SONG (Ghai in faux-baritone). Sung on bikes, filmed on helicopters, it had four characters whose initials were Sa, Re, Ga and Ma.
Then, there was Nindiya se jaagi bahaar – with Meenakshi cavorting under a waterfall and Jackie looking game for a bath himself.
The title song was vintage LP and vintage Subhash Ghai – pulling out all stops as Meenakshi declared Tu mera hero hain while Jackie ruefully admitted Prem granth ke panno par apni taqdeer toh zero hain!
There was a ‘sad song of separation’ – Lambi judaai (which always got mispronounced in engineering colleges)
And there was the Hero flute theme. That got introduced when villainous king-pin Pasha promised an impoverished flute-seller lots of money if he played well. When he collapsed in an asthmatic attack, his son picked up the baton and played on. The father died, son cried and – instead of Inky Pinky Ponky – became a criminal under the evil influence of Pasha ki Bhasha.
And as Pasha ki Bhasha indicates, Amrish Puri – in his prime – was a villain like no other. A good villain – complete with outlandish costume, bad wig, menacing mannerisms and an elaborate den – can lift a movie many notches. In these days of missing villains and wimpy Chhedi Singhs, we seem to have forgotten that.
Shakti Kapoor went from an innocent NRI to a cocaine-snorting pervert in a flash, with only a brief stop as a world-class sport-biker!
Even Billa – the muscle-bound, goofy-grinning punter – who got beaten up in the first scene to establish Jackie-dada as a Robin Hood was one menacing bugger. He returned later to thulp Jaikishan and caused serious damage.
If you must know, Jackie was marrying off a wimpy Bengali school-teacher against the wishes of the bride’s family. *Note to self: Write an Open Letter to a Punjabi Filmmaker*
It had rocking action – without CGI to flip cars in the air.
The climax – for which Jackie got off from a hospital bed and drove a bike through the rains – was long and strong. Even the interim action scenes were gritty. There was a bike race, which – despite its predictability – was full-on adrenaline.
And then, there was the most patriotic scene in Hindi cinema ever, beating even Gadar by many miles.
Meenakshi’s suitor, Shakti Kappoor (the curiously named Jimmy Thapa), meets her lover, Jackie for the first time and does all the things villains are supposed to do. He makes fun of his job (a mechanic in a motorcycle factory - "labour class"), tries to lalkar his khuddaari and finally kicks his 'Indian' motorcycle down. As he gets into his convertible, Jackie blocks the way in a good-natured manner and thumps the bonnet badly enough to put a million dents on it. He then says, Gaadi toh aapki videshi hain, sahab, lekin haath zara Hindustani pad gaya… TAALIYAAN!!! SEETTIII!!!
And to paraphrase yet another motorcycle ad - har Hero mein ek hindustani hain...