ZULM KI HUKUMAT (1992)

Zulm Ki Hukumat is a faithful albeit highly indianized version of “The Godfather”. It was nearly impossible to commercialize a film like Godfather and not end up being unintentionally funny. Even us the Indians who remade Amadeus and named it Shakalaka Boom Boom and cast Upen Patel as Mozart couldn’t do it.  Thankfully the Bollywood directors of the 1990s in almost every adaptation of Godfather have taken a very level-headed approach. There are song and dance routines nevertheless but those are kept to a bare minimum and a lot of the theatrics on the part of the actors have been mercilessly cut short. Zulm Ki Hukumat is one of the better straight remakes of the classic. I use the term “Straight Remake” because many films like Nayakan, Dayavan etc have been inspired by Godfather but in terms of plot they are very different. Zulm Ki Hukumat along with Sarkar, Aatank Hi Aatank and Dharmatma is the only straightforward remake of the Godfather.

Pitambar Kohli (Dharmendra) is a mafia leader but he was not one by choice but was forced by circumstances to become one. He is aided by his brother Yeshwant Kohli (Shakti Kapoor) but his youngest brother Pratap (Govinda) wants to have nothing to do with Pitambar’s Legacy. Soon, Pitambar finds a suitable match for his sister and the whole family including Pratap re-unite for a grand marriage. Almost during the same period, a group of other mafia leaders visit Pitambar asking for his help in forwarding their drug trade. Pitambar’s refusal kick-starts a feud that not only looks sets to engulf his whole family and legacy but also pulls the youngest Kohli into a world that he had stayed away from all this while.

Directed by Bharat Rangachary and produced by Sajid Nadiadwala, Zulm Ki Hukumat differed from the traditional Bollywood films of the 90s in many ways. To start with, this is a film which totally lacks happiness. There is an extremely somber feeling to the proceedings here and even though there are momentary sprouts of a happy moment or two, the film still remains dark and uncomfortable all throughout. The director had the courage to kill off Dharmendra’s character within the first hour of the film. Even though it served the film really well, I cannot help but praise the director for making such a balsy move considering the time and taste of the people.

If you thought that was the saddest part of the film, then you are mistaking. A chunk of other major characters are fatally wounded or killed resulting in the transformation of our protagonist, Pratap. What that does to the film is give it’s protagonist a real reason to come out of his hatred for a life of wrongdoing and use extreme measure to do what he needs to do in order to save his family. Once they get the transformation right, the film can take a piggyback ride on the intensity and performance of Govinda.

We all adore Govinda for his comic timing and his fun-filled acts but honestly speaking we haven’t seen much of his intensity even till date. If Zulm Ki Hukumat was any indication, then he was pretty darn good at it. From the moment he takes over the mantle of his brother’s legacy, Govinda’s Pratap is a picture of confidence and calm. Govinda gets the expressions just right and the intensity is never overdone. I am still in awe of the sequence where he requests his lieutenants to make words for a barter deal with his enemies. Any one hearing and watching his character would have believed his intents. What happens in the meeting was a jolt just because of the manner Pratap took us into his folds with his act in the previous scene.

The film doesn’t have a lot of hand to hand fights and that helps the cause of believability. Apart from the climax, most of the actions are straightforward shootouts. The action director did go the distance with certain scenes. When Pitambar Kohli is targeted, they had the courage to show kids being shot. That wouldn’t have been that easy to show in today’s time. However, the manner in which Yeshwant and Pratap’s Bhabi played by Moushumi Chatterjee recover from bullet wounds made my jaw drop. More on that later.

Dharmendra has a smallish role but he does great. The man feels like he could be the don that they show him as. He not only has a commanding persona but an unmissable physicality that serves his character well. He and Govinda share a great chemistry for however short a period and it forms the basis of Pratap’s insatiable desire for revenge and re-establishing all that his brother believed in. Paresh Rawal as the principal baddy is great. He is comic sometimes but that I believe was how his character was written. I loved his act in the scene where he finally realizes that Pratap is at the root of all his debacles and the manner in which he associates the events of the past. Moushumi Chatterjee is the proverbial mother and Kimi Katkar is the virtuous lover of the protagonist who can’t put a single wrong foot forward. Their characters are the cathartic clichés of Bollywood at its best.

Coming to the flaws of the film of which there are many, I would like to single out the technical issues first. This film had a handsome budget and some of the biggest stars of the industry at that time. I see no reason for this film to have such poor editing. The problem is not with the scene to scene edits but more so with the in scene edits. Certain cuts lead so far away from the action or so much has happened in between that it is irritatingly revealing. This is especially noticeable in the action scenes and the climax. That’s not all.

This film has four song and dance routines and all of them screech the story to a halt. There two songs in the first half, one introducing Govinda and the other setting up his romance with Kimi Katkar are boring of a different level. The next 2 songs are item numbers that are definitely and unquestionably aimed at the front rows. When they chose to approach this subject matter in a manner befitting the material, they could have in some way or the other avoided these clichés.

The believability of the film goes for a toss a number of times. The most noticeable are the shocking revivals of some major characters from fatal wounds, Paresh Rawal putting up a handsome hand to hand fight with Govinda, Rawal’s escape and Govinda’s unbelievable plot to kill him, etc. The list is long. The film also gets unnecessarily melodramatic at many points that doesn’t serve it well. Frankly speaking, they could have easily done away with some of the characters and some rather unnecessary sequences. It would have not only reduced the whooping runtime but also added some gusto to the film.

Having said all that, I still like this film a lot. It dared to be different and held its ground at a time when that was the most difficult thing to do. Govinda and Dharmendra’s performance, the interesting twists and turns in the tale, the organically flowing narrative and good execution make this one of the better gangster films of Bollywood. It may not be a Satya or a Company, but it has created a niche for itself and it will always hold on to that ground.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)

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