Hindi Classic: Karz

Dir: Subhash Ghai; *ing: Rishi Kapoor, Simi Garewal, Tina Munim, Pran, Durga Khote, Raj Kiran

If you’re in the mood for a serious dose of classic Bollywood masala, look no further than 1980’s gripping, revenge-is-a-dish-best-served-(really) cold emotional roller coaster, Karz. Very obviously the inspiration behind last year’s blockbusting tinsel-town love-fest Om Shanti Om, as well as the object of that film’s most affectionate in-jokes, Karz is pretty much inarguably director Subhash Ghai’s finest hour. And considering that that particular kitty is populated by the likes of Kalicharan, Hero, Ram Lakhan (and also admittedly lesser fare like Taal, Yaadein and Kisna), that is saying something. For it is in Karz that Ghai’s strengths as a canny storyteller and a sound filmmaker really came together to construct one heck of a yarn.

Loosely based on cheesy novel and cheesier TV movie The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975), Karz neatly omitted the source’s icky incest angle to instead spin the tale of teen singing idol Monty (Rishi Kapoor) who starts to have recurring flashbacks of a previous life when he was Ravi Verma (Raj Kiran), heir to a tremendous fortune that attracts the interest of wily Kamini (Simi Garewal). Ignoring mommy dearest’s (Durga Khote) well-founded fears, Ravi marries the gold-digging beauty, only to be bumped off by her even before the honeymoon has gotten underway. Realising that he is the reincarnated Ravi Verma, Monty sets out to find his long lost mother and sister, and, more importantly, to wreak bloody revenge on his killer, who has inherited his fortune and now calls herself Rani Saheba. But of course there’s still time enough to sing Main solah baras ki with cutie Tina (Tina Munim).

There is so much to love, admire and remember here that it is nigh impossible to talk about everything. Ghai’s command over the narrative is enviable; all the events and twists are joined seamlessly with cleverly spaced emotional punches peppering the script. Certainly, one has to mention Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s absolute knockout of a soundtrack. This is stuff that R.D. Burman could do with one hand tied behind his back, but L-P show that even they could do a more contemporary, westernized score that was somewhat outside their usual comfort zone. Apart from the underrated opening number Paisa yeh paisa, there are the mellifluous charms of Mohammad Rafi to be enjoyed in Dard-i-Dil Dard-i-Jigar, as well as the aforementioned Kishore-Lata duet where the two lovers act coy about being too young for certain acts of love – all in fun of course. Then there is the riveting Ek Haseena Thi, which includes that haunting guitar riff (sampled from the little-known ABBA number Kisses of Fire) that is the all-important link between Monty and Ravi; the song’s superb picturisation, where it starts to dawn on Kamini that Monty is much more than who he seems to be, has become iconic: Om Shanti Om’s sweeping number Dastaan-i-Om Shanti Om is clearly an homage. But the musical tour de force has to be the smorgasbord of Kishore’s scorching solo number Om Shanti Om where he really belts his heart out to L-P’s endlessly rousing tune. And here too, the picturisation is unabashedly, electrifyingly Bollywood: Rishi Kapoor, dressed in one of a variety of spangly, sparkly jumpsuits, dances atop a giant revolving record accompanied by a bevy of funkily attired chorus girls on instruments.

In the era of Amitabh ‘angry young man’ Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, with his soft, boy-next-door good looks and easy, breezy understated acting style, found it hard to stray upwards from the second tier of Bombay movie royalty, but in Karz it is more than amply clear that he is perhaps the strongest of the Kapoor thesps. His performance – which runs the gamut from playful and naïve, to dark and tormented – is the glue that really holds the film together. It is because he makes you identify with him, his joys and his tragedy, that you fall for the barely-credible plot hook, line and sinker. It is truly his one iconic role – the one that he will always be remembered for. And he is ably supported by old reliable Pran as Tina’s uncle, the cunning Kabira, and by Simi Garewal at her glacial best in a rare negative role which she carries off with effortless aplomb. One has to say a word about the wonderful Raj Kiran too, who also contributes towards making Ravi Verma such a touching, unforgettable character; it’s a true shame that Kiran never made it to stardom.

There are reasons aplenty for Karz’s impressive longevity. Certainly, apart from the obvious masala elements which gel together to the point of Zen, the theme of second chances has resonated with countless people over the years (OSO director Farah Khan being just one of them). Any which way you look at it, Karz is commercial Hindi cinema at its glorious best.

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