Monday, July 4, 2011

Namak Haraam (1973)

What’s more important- profits or people? Now this is a lot closer to my current project in life- the Masters in Business Administration that I am pursuing. And this is also what Hrishikesh Mukherjee essentially tries to debate in his movie Namak Haraam starring Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna in principal roles.

A story of two thick friends who can’t even imagine leading their lives without each other, this is a sensitive representation of the clashes between the capitalists and the labor class- a subject that had relevance not only in India, but also the world over.

Vicky (Amitabh in a boisterous and aggressive role that is light days apart from what he played in the earlier Rajesh Khanna-Hrishikesh Mukherjee collaboration ‘Anand’) and Somu (Rajesh Khanna) are alter-egos. While Vicky is the son of a rich industrialist, Somu comes from a family with limited means. Their bonding is so strong that Somu doesn’t mind Vicky funding the day to day activities of his household. They go to work together, they get fired together. They go to ‘mujras’ together and do pretty much everything together (it may be difficult to comprehend such a bonding in today’s times and some people might view it with suspicion).

Their lives take an unexpected turn when Vicky goes to Bombay and look after his business after his father suffers a mild heart attack and is advised rest by the doctor. While handling his business he refuses to accept some demands of the union leader Bipinlal (played by AK Hangal) rather bluntly- leading to the workers going on a strike. Later, on his father’s advice, Vicky has to publicly apologize to the Bipinlal- in an effort to pacify the agitating workers. He considers this act of apologizing utterly humiliating and vows to take revenge. For that very purpose he calls Somu to Bombay and places him at the factory with the workers, as one amongst them. They both hatch a plan which involves Somu gaining the support and trust of the workers, and in the process alienating Bipinlal from rest of the work-force.

Initially the things go according to plan but soon Somu starts getting affected by the plights and pains of the workers while being in close contact with them. The trigger proves to be an alcoholic poet Alam (Raza Murad in a heartwarming performance). Gradually Somu realizes that the workers’ demands for better wages and better working conditions are completely justified and the stance taken by Vicky and his father is a selfish one. There ensues the conflict and it is with Somu’s retaliation to Vicky’s claims that the title of ‘Namak Haraam’ gets justified.

The movie is really different from what was usually attempted in Hindi cinema in the 1970s. Some might even say that it was made with a socialist propaganda and tried to show the capitalist in a negative light. But I feel that such was the demand of that time when there was rampant exploitation of the worker class by the money minting factory owners. Of course today with human rights, labor rights, and Corporate Social responsibility things are much better. But the central idea of Profits Vs People is still relevant.

The performances, as expected, are top notch. Rajesh Khanna’s Somu steals the thunder from Amitabh Bachchan’s Vicky. The former is brilliant as a man caught between his best friend’s interests and the calls of his conscience. Simi Garewal and Rekha pitch in small-almost insignificant supporting acts. But for me the character of Alam was the highlight of the movie in the sense that it performed the role of the catalyst in taking the drama forward. His lines in the movie reflected haunting sadness-

“Nadiya se Dariya, Dariya se Sagar, Sagar se Gehra Jaam- Jaam mein doob gayi hai meri Jeevan ki har shaam”

Parting note- Namak Haram deserves to be seen by the lovers of Hindi cinema for it attempted something different from what was the norm and also boasts of powerhouse performances from two of its most popular superstars.

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