Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim, first published in 1900, finds a resonance even today; so timeless was his tale. And many a movie has been based on this book, only the setup has changed with the changing times.
It’s a tale of living an ignominious life and how the protagonist redeems himself. Very recently, we saw this theme being played out in Chak De India, with SRK in the lead role. And before that, Abhishek Bachchan in Zameen got an opportunity to re-live the character of Lord Jim.
But many years ago, it was Salim-Javed who brought this fine tale to Yash Chopra, Indiansed it, added the much needed entertainment quotient by introducing new elements into it and roped in Amitabh Bachchan to breathe life into the character.
After Deewar, Kabhi Kabhie & Trishul, this was the fourth collaboration of Yash Chopra, Shashi Kapoor and BigB. But for this movie, where Amitabh & Shashi gel well and are on the same side, in the three previous encounters they have always crossed swords with each other. In this movie, we don’t get to see that. Here we see Shashi’s calm and cool attitude being the best response to Amitabh’s smouldering anger, equal and opposite in effect.
Among the star cast, Rakhi and Neetu were again regulars who had worked with Yashji earlier; but Shatrughan Sinha and Parveen Babi were new to his school of direction. Their discomfiture in the movie can be gauged by the fact that neither of the two acted in a Yash Chopra movie again. Shatrughan has always indulged in theatrics in his characterisation, as seen in Vishwanath & Kalicharan. And such characters are rarely found in Yashji’s movie. And what can one say about Parveen Babi; she always had the looks but lacked substance.
Much before Coalgate scam and mine block allocation, there was a Seth Dhanraj, played by Prem Chopra, a capitalist who believed in making money by looting the mineral resources and depriving the coal miners of a decent livelihood. And the entire story revolves around this coalmine setup.
Before getting branded as the tour guide of Switzerland, Yash Chopra was known for capturing various industries with good detailing in his movies. In Deewar, the movie begins with a trade union meeting in the rain, and how they discuss the terms and conditions of the factory owners. Later, the movie goes onto capture smugglers lifestyle and how wheeling and dealing goes on in the underworld. In Trishul, Yashji dives deep into real estate development, opening and closing of tenders, and what underhand tricks are used for winning a tender etc. In Kabhi Kabhie too, poet Amit retires into a life of an industrialist. Even in later years, the movie Vijay had the modern outlook on Mahabharat with the backdrop of competitive industrial war. That’s the mark of a good director, they work hard on the characters and the detailing. They are never afraid to try a new setup, a different storyline or unique situations.
Here too, the coalmine workers and their living conditions are captured pretty well. Their working environment, the siren that marks the start of the working hours, the tea stall and the entire setting and backdrop is done with lot of effort.
We see a brooding BigB, playing Vijay Pal Singh, who is nursing a deep pain in his heart, some guilt of the past, a hurtful truth that he cannot runaway from. In his attempt to hide from the world, he takes up a job at a nondescript location where nobody would recognise him. He goes about his job silently, without interacting with fellow workers. The only person who seems to understand him is doctor Sudha, played by Rakhi, and she is the only person with whom he ever speaks.
Sudha can see through the hollowness in his heart and the vacuum in his life, but she can do nothing to fill it as he has built a wall around himself that nobody but him can break. In such a situation, Salim-Javed drops in two characters – Ravi, an engineer who marks the mining zone and looks into the concerns of the workers, and Mangal, an escaped convict who is just looking to have some fun while he keeps the police busy.
Mangal, played by Shatrughan Sinha, annoys Vijay, challenges him to a duel and behaves cocky just to cause an imbroglio, but for no particular reason. And on the other hand, Ravi, played by Shashi Kapoor, tries to assuage the animosity between Vijay & Mangal. BigB and Shatru were pitted against each other just for some whistles and cheap thrills. But it didn’t add much value to the movie. It was just the coming together of two huge actors, UP ka bhaiyya and Bihari babu.
The movie keeps you interested as we are still unaware of the cause of Vijay’s inner turmoil. But the additional characters of Ravi’s & Mangal’s love interests weighs down the movie. It not only reduces the pace but also the intensity of the movie.
Just when the movie starts drifting, Salim-Javed pull another fast one to bring about a sudden mood swing. A mishap takes place and how the lead characters change themselves for the better, and how they all come together to help save lives of the coalminers, takes the movie forward.
Vijay’s hour of redemption finally arrives, where he faces fear dauntingly and exorcises the demons of the past. The shadow of his inglorious act finally vanishes as the sunshine of guilt floats behind the clouds of a brave act, and he is ready to face the world again, with his head held high. He had the author backed role, and Amitabh Bachchan did complete justice to the character.
But the movie didn’t do very well at the box office. Only if Shatrughan Sinha or Shashi Kapoor had been given a meatier role, the movie might have fared better. It was Bachchan’s show all the way. Although, Rakhi did well to get noticed. Rest of the characters just became a supporting cast, in this show largely driven by Vijay.
The movie had some rather mediocre music and forgettable lyrics. Rajesh Roshan was the composer and Sahir Ludhianvi was the lyricist; needless to say, they never worked together again. Ek Rasta Hai Zindagi, sung by Kishore Kumar is the only memorable number from the movie. Rest of the songs were passé and uninspired. One of the few movies of Yashji with such indifferent musical score. Later, Faasle and Vijay were added to this list.
Overall, the movie was no great shake. Salim-Javed probably missed out on that elusive x-factor, which they usually get it right in most movies, but not this time. This was the beginning of a long and listless time that Yashji had to endure for a whole decade. From 1979, when Kaala Patthar released, to 1989, when Chandni released, was a muted period for Yash Chopra. All his movies fared badly in this 10 year period, starting with this movie. Silsila flopped, Vijay and Fasle were disasters and Mashaal was average.
But the story of Lord Jim is eternal, and it shall be played out again and again, in different regions with different flavours and a different backdrop. And Kaala Patthar will always be mentioned, even as a footnote, only because of its honest effort and a good adaptation.
This post was also published on MadAboutMoviez