Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Yaadon Ki Baaraat (India, 1973)

Man, what is there not to like about Yaadon Ki Baaraat? It's simply one of the most entertaining 70s masala films I've seen, thanks to great performances by Dharmendra, Zeenat Aman and Vijay Arora, a fantastic score by R.D. Burman, a tight script by the hit-making team of Salim-Javed, and the shameless -- and expert -- manipulations of director Nasir Hussain. In fact, rather than writing about it, I think I'll just go watch it again. Here, watch this clip:

Like so many Bollywood films of its era, Yaadon Ki Baaraat is a "lost and found" story, telling the tale of three young brothers who are separated following the murder of their parents by a ruthless outlaw. The problem so often with these type of films is that, once the family at their center is split, so is the narrative, and the parallel stories that get told are not always of equal interest. Thankfully Yaadon is a rare exception, focusing primarily on two diverging narrative threads that, while quite different in tone, are both just as involving -- and which, even more impressively, end up re-entwining in a thoroughly satisfying manner.

One half of Yaadon's story involves middle brother Vijay (Vijay Arora), who we find -- upon meeting up with him again in young adulthood -- has been adopted by a kindly old man who works as groundskeeper at a wealthy family's vacation home. Vijay becomes involved, after a fashion, with that family's pampered daughter (Aman), who, visiting the home for the first time, is unaware of his humble circumstances. But this relationship is less of a romance than it is a weirdly obsessive juvenile rivalry, involving some fairly cruel pranks on the part of both parties. This mean-spiritedness adds some welcome vinegar to what easily could have been a typically saccharine Bollywood tale of young love, and also provides interest as we watch how each becomes trapped by their own deceptions once feelings for one another that they are, at first, only feigning turn out to be real. It also doesn't hurt that both stars are disarmingly appealing here (and, in Aman's case, even more kittenish than usual), a fact which makes it easy to root for them to overcome the well-orchestrated odds that the screenwriters have so meticulously lined up against them

On the other hand is Dharmendra, playing the eldest brother Shankar, who has grown up to be a thief -- though a thief of that movie variety that has a staunch moral code and an inability to separate himself from his troubled past. Dharmendra does a lot of what would normally be his standard bad-ass shtick here, but he seems to be putting a lot of soul behind it in this case, portraying it more as behavior arising from character than from just Dharmendra being Dharmendra, and it's all the more gratifying as a result. Things start to get extra complicated for Shankar when, without his knowing, he becomes involved with a gang lead by Shakaal (Ajit) the man who murdered his parents -- who, in the intervening years, has gone from being a regular outlaw to a standard Bollywood supervillain with a lair that looks like a cross between a wood-paneled basement rec room in a 1970s suburban home and the bridge of the starship Enterprise.

Finally there is the youngest brother, Ratan (Tariq), who is there less to provide a story of his own than to serve up some a-w-e-s-o-m-e musical numbers in his guise as a guitar-slinging nightclub entertainer, such as this one featuring a cameo by Neetu Singh as a scat-singing go-go girl:

Yaadon Ki Baaraat is no less predictable than other movies of its type. But somehow director Hussain just manages to hit all the right beats, making the emotions of even the most hardened cult movie blogger dance like an especially eager-to-please organ grinder's monkey despite his better judgment. (I'm not mentioning any names, of course.) I've already said more than I wanted to say about it, as my original intention was just to post a couple of clips and bugger off for a sandwich or something (see what love will do?), so just see the thing already.

*When I mentioned this movie to Beth over at Beth Loves Bollywood, she hipped me to the fact that the role of the young Ratan is played by a very young Aamir Khan, and indeed it is! Thanks, Beth! You've provided me with a possible way to trick my wife -- who loves AK, but not so much 70s Bollywood movies beyond the standard classics -- into watching this movie. I think she'll forgive me.


Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Bollywood-related marital trickery! Go for it!

Hitting the right beats in the right masala formula is what makes life worth living.

Rum said...

yaadon ki baraat is one of my favorite lost and found stories ever. though i do wish tariq could replaced with a better looking rockstar like Feroz or Vinod Khanna!

Todd said...

Well, sadly, neither Feroz nor Vinod was the director's nephew! Tariq looks kind of like a bug in those big shades, doesn't he? All in all, though, I think the fact that he's kind of weird looking adds to the awesomeness of those musical numbers. Though I could see why the ladies might prefer someone a little easier on the eyes.

Prof. Grewbeard said...

hey, i've actually seen this one! does Tariq know he's playing "Rawhide" at one point? if he does, i don't think he cares...

yves said...


Well, I'm sorry to disagree on that one! Yaadon ki baaraat is OK as family thrillers go, but haven't you been struck by its outrageous amateurishness? For me the movie is nothing but a perfect bundle of "you want it - you get it" recipes. And I think the movie's clumsiness is forgotten because because refer to it as a nostalgic landmark.
Well, whatever, you'll tell me!

Todd said...

Yves, I can't really argue with your position. But, since 1970s Bollywood movies in general aren't really known for their slickness of technical execution or avoidance of pandering formulas, I choose not to judge Yaadon Ki Baaraat by that criteria. Also, since I only just saw the film a couple of years ago, nostalgia can't be blamed for my affection for it. The culprit, I'm afraid, is just my own innate cheesiness!

yves said...

Well, one thing is sure: that answer of yours has made me accept your point of view a little more:-))