Balak aur Janwar certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of jungle adventure thrills, but it also delivered a lot more, combining a sort of “Boy Tarzan” tale with elements of Arabian Nights fantasy and, to a significant though lesser extent, Indian Mythological films. With no English translation, it was all a bit hard to follow, but the presence within it of things like miniaturized dancing girls, underwater kingdoms, a statue of Ganesh that comes to life and shoots sparks out of its trunk, and floating and talking disembodied heads went a long way toward sustaining my interest despite that. It was also a weird film in that, while made in 1975, it looked, even by Indian cinema standards, like one made ten years previous – like the sort of thing that Homi Wadia and/or Babubhai Mistry would have come up with in 1965.
What seems pretty clear, though, is that the film’s events are set in motion by an evil sorcerer king played by Randhawa (Don’t call me Dara Singh’s brother. Don’t call me Dara Singh’s brother.), Dara Singh’s brother (D’oh!). Note that Randhawa was the only actor in the entire film that I recognized, which really tells you something: When a film’s only identifiable player is an aging Randhawa, you know you’re in deeply obscure territory.
Anyhoo, King Randhawa appears to be quite smitten with a particular, virtuous maiden whose name I couldn’t catch, but she belongs to another: a righteous fellow who I think was named Swami (or who was a swami, or whatever). Foiled in his romantic pursuits, Randhawa decides to simply content himself with making Swami, his bride and their newborn child miserable. This pursuit culminates in him shooting his evil sorcerer hand rays at Swami, which burn the shit out of Swami’s face, after which Randhawa takes the baby, Suraj, and tosses him in the river. (Presumably after saying something like, “Now THIS is happening, fools.”)
And at this point, you’re probably saying, baby Suraj is threatened by a hungry alligator, only to be rescued in the nick of time by a helpful chimpanzee. But you are wrong; that’s not what happens at all. What really happens is that baby Suraj is threatened by a hungry alligator, only to be rescued in the nick of time by a helpful elephant. You see what they did there? Suraj is then raised by the elephant herd with the help of a helpful chimpanzee, growing into a full fledged jungle boy. But Suraj has more going for him than just a rapport with animals. We also see him walk on water, and, at another point, the god Krishna shows up to gives him something that will allow him to become invisible.
Balak aur Janwar also focuses a lot on Suraj’s uncle Jundun, a swashbuckling type who’s pretty fancy with a bullwhip. Jundun sparks up a romance with the evil King’s daughter, whose contemporary looking denim outfit throws a little much needed wardrobe what-the-fuckery into the mix. Needless to say, King Randhawa is none too pleased with this development. After a confrontation with the King leaves Jundun wounded, he is forced to throw himself into the river in order to escape. Unconscious, he is carried downstream, where Suraj and his animal pals rescue him and nurse him back to health. Meanwhile, we see a lot of Suraj’s parents wandering around and looking sad, and then occasionally stopping so that Suraj’s mom can massage Suraj’s dad’s feet.
Now united, magic jungle boy Suraj and swashbuckling Jundun can get started with the whole business of exacting bloody vengeance against King Randhawa. Whee! A highpoint of the film occurs when the two of them, along with the King’s daughter, make a trek down into an enchanted underworld in order to find a golden blossom that will help restore Swami too his former, not burned self. Here we get a giant, lumpy idol that comes to life and talks and a couple of hostile yetis, as well as a slew of wonderfully surreal looking sets.
Finally, all of the principles end up being imprisoned in the King’s castle, and, just like in Zimbo, it is up to our little hero’s elephant friends to charge in and bring the place down around the villain’s ears. Then little Suraj gleefully runs that villain through again and again with a sword.
I’ve got to say that Balak aur Janwar was a lot more than I bargained for, but in a good way. It was one of the many Indian VCDs that I bought based solely on what was on the cover. And what was on the cover was a little kid dressed like Tarzan, some elephants, and an assortment of other jungle animals. Like I said, it delivered all of that, but, were I the person who designed that VCD sleeve, I would have also included some of the other crazy shit that happened in it. I mean, it’s simply hard for me to believe that anyone would be disappointed that a movie about a boy Tarzan would turn out to also have Yeti fighting and cartoon hand rays in it, or that anyone would be dissuaded from buying the movie if they new that those elements were present. It’s like Tarzan with crazy gravy, which to me means that everyone wins.
This review is part of "Stranded in the Jungle", a month of jungle adventure themed posts at 4DK.