(Reviewed on the basis of watching on T.V. 31 years after release)
Plot: A rich man and his loyal servant are murdered by his step-brother, for his property. The wife runs away with the master's son, leaving her own son Arjun with his grand father. Years later Arjun gets employed in a hotel owned by the master's son Raja babu. But the old enemies are still lurking around and are after Raja babu's life. Will Arjun be able to protect Raja babu and recognise the true identity of his mother?
Review: Prakash Mehra and Amitabh Bachchan made one of the most formidable pairs in Bollywood history by notching up seven consecutive hits from 1973 to 1984. Almost all of them were intense emotional dramas making it impossible for the audiences to hold back their tears after the climax. But there was one exception, Namak Halal (1982).
Hindi films back then followed a predictable storyline. Most of them were potboilers with generous doses of tragedy, comedy, romance, music and action. But the underlying tone throughout the film, especially at the climax was always extremely serious. Some of the sequences appeared silly and foolish but yet the characters always approached them with utmost seriousness. There were some comedies; but they followed a simple non-violent approach. But Namak Halal was the first film which introduced the concept of light-hearted action dramas. The hero loves to make a fool of himself throughout and with the same buffoonery he compels the baddies into submission. Reminds of some of the recent Bollywood blockbusters, doesn't it? That's where lies the greatness of this film for what's common today was rare back then. It shows how ahead of time Namak Halal was.
It's tough to believe a director like Prakash Mehra came up with a concept like this. His Zanjeer (1973) was one of the most serious films of the 70s; while Muqaddar Ka Sikander (1978) and Laawaris (1981) were enormous tear-jerkers, although they had their share of comedy as well. Even Sharaabi, which came later (1984), also followed the same format. Unlike those films, where the underlying tone was serious; here the whole treatment is light, comic and fun. The numerous fun sequences outweigh the serious ones with most of the dialogues being hilarious. Even the climax is funny, which is the most striking aspect of the film.
Complementing the mood is the bright picture quality, glitzy sets and dazzling costumes making it the most glamorous film of Prakash Mehra ever. Some of the outdoor locations can clearly be identified as fake artificial ones. But just like in Muqaddar Ka Sikander where Mehra used them to build a melancholic ambiance; here he blends them perfectly with the cheerful mood of the film.
Big B reprises his roles from Kaalia and Yaarana (both 1981) of the simple straightforward fellow who occasionally becomes a laughing stock but with time develops enough wit to stump the baddies. Bachchan is in top form and pulls off all the shades of his character with consummate ease. There was always the danger of going overboard, but he hardly puts a foot wrong. In one scene he even spoofs his own famous crocodile- wrestling sequence from Shaan (1980). While there the whole sequence was visually shown, thus giving goose-bumps; here he narrates the whole fight in a humorous tone comparing an assailant with the reptile! It's impossible to imagine anyone else salvaging the film by pulling off a character like this.
It's always great to watch Shashi Kapoor with Big B; but unfortunately here also he sportingly plays a second lead just like most of their films together. Although the role doesn't do full justice to his heroism; he still successfully portrays the fun-loving loner who suffers from the pain of knowing that his adopted mother is after his life! What makes the film more special is the fact that this is the last film where both of them are still at their peak. This is one of the few mainstream films featuring Smita Patil and she impresses thoroughly with her simple dignified portrayal. Parveen Boby doesn't have much to do except for dancing in dazzling costumes and looking drop-dead stunning which she does with aplomb. Special mention must be made of Om Prakash, in a 'double' role. He is deliciously good as the fun-loving old fellow in complete contrast to Big B's 'daddu'. Waheeda Rehman's quite good as well. It seems Mehra liked Satyen Kappu in negative roles as he repeats him in this uncharacteristic avatar again after Laawaris.
Considering the kind of music that garnished the Prakash Mehra films since Zanjeer, it seems unjustified to Kalyanji-Anandji for having been cold-shouldered this time around. But after having heard the five masterpieces rendered by our Bappida, there can be no complaints. This has to be one of Bappida's best albums in both Hindi and Bengali. In the 'Paga Ghungroo' song his creativity is overflowing as the song is garnished with a plethora of melodies which could easily have been set to a variety of different songs. The music undoubtedly is a major strength of the film. In spite of having a more compact script than some of the earlier films, there still are some flaws. How could 'daddu', with his modest means, afford to live in a five-star hotel? How could Arjun's mother not recognize her son despite knowing his name, surname and even his birthday?! But these facts never strike us during the running period; but only upon introspection.
Overall, Namak Halal has all the essential ingredients for providing wholesome entertainment; but what sets it apart and earns it a bonus point is its quirky treatment. It's also one of the last great films coming out of the golden era. And lastly, it's certainly a better watch than most recent Bolly-blockbusters.
Box-Office Verdict: Namak Halal was declared a 'Super Hit' and all the songs became exceedingly popular.
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