MAJBOOR (1974)

Majboor is one of those few Bollywood films of the 70s that relied more on the plot and screenplay and less on the charisma and histrionics of its leading man. This was one of Salim-Javed’s initial breakthroughs and when I watched it very recently, it held up pretty decently. Ravi Khanna (Amitabh Bachchan) is a middle-class humble man who may not be dirt poor but still finds it reasonably hard to make a decent existence from his job at a travel agency. He lives with his handicapped sister, aging mother, and a kid brother. His bad luck hits a jackpot when he is diagnosed with a brain tumor that would either kill him or turn him vegetative. Ravi is crestfallen.

Before his recent predicament, Ravi was very nearly a witness to a murder of a client who was kidnapped and murdered. The victim’s brother declares a bounty for anyone who can give him the identity of his brother’s killer. Ravi sees an opportunity to secure his family’s future after him by framing himself for the murder and making arrangements for his family to collect the bounty. He does it successfully and then something strange happens. He is on death row and spending his last few days in the jail when he suffers a critical seizure. He is hospitalized, operated and miraculously comes out alive without any side effects.

Vijay now no longer wants to hang for a crime that he didn’t commit but his lawyer expresses his inability to save him as he himself had pled guilty and there was no evidence proving otherwise. The only way out for Vijay is now to find out the actual killer of the man. It’s only the killer’s conviction that can save him from the gallows. In his pursuit, he is aided by his love Neelu (Parveen Babi) and a common thief, Michael (Pran), who gives Ravi his first crack at the actual killer.

I just loved the breathtaking pace of this film. I would have loved it more had it been devoid of any songs. Frankly speaking, it is the songs that screech the whole vehicle to an uneasy halt from time to time. If you keep that out of the way, the rest of the film is insanely exhilarating. It takes a little time to introduce the brain tumor in Ravi’s life and once that is done, the clock starts ticking like a time bomb resulting in some major twists and turns. It was a masterstroke on the part of the writers to keep the real killer out of sight for the majority of the film’s runtime.

This resulted in the naïve viewer’s mind going in thousand different directions. What further worked big time for me was the amount of believability that the plot had about it. Whatever Ravi does and the manner in which he goes about proving his innocence felt real and possible. Yes! One has to agree that the climax and the goodness of heart that Pran’s character shows for Ravi was highly improbable and the only thing that was overdone. Another mild hiccup was the manner in which the climax unfolded. They should have thought of wrapping it up in a little more subtle manner. That I say going by the manner in which the rest of the film built up. A big action-packed ending was something that I was not expecting and it caught me off guard up to some extent.

Amitabh Bachchan was a terrific leading man. He could easily shift gears between characters and his Ravi Khanna here is a far cry from what he would be better known as in the future. He is real and is able to bring out the frustration of his character, who is unable to climb out of a web that he spun around himself, quite thoughtfully and in a very effective manner. In the latter half of the film, he grows in more confident and brings out some of his trademark histrionics which must have gone down well with his fans of the 70s. I believed some of these scenes are designed primarily as fan service and I didn’t have much of an issue with them.

Pran is superbly likable. Even though his Michael is someone you would like to pummel in real life, here his character shows the kind of goodness that is as improbable as it is heartening to watch. He not only leads Ravi to his man but does so in such a calculated and then later courageous manner that you can’t help but fall in love with him. He is also part of the only song that I could sit through “daroo ki bottle mein”

If you skip the songs, you will miss a great bit of Parveen Babi’s act. She is more noticeable in the second half and makes her presence felt through her ravishing beauty and un-miss-able charm but that’s all about her character. Neelu is the rendition of the most clichéd outlook on the Indian woman of that era. Farida Jalal as Ravi’s handicapped sister is one of the most irritating Bollywood sisters that I have ever come across. I hated her hyperbolic act and her incessant and racy dialogue delivery. I didn’t feel a thing for her and chances are neither will you.

Majboor has speed, novelty, a great protagonist and realism on it’s side. It is not only tense but also highly entertaining. The film delivers a great hook in the first hour of its tale and takes the rest of the film to provide the viewers with a solution to that hook. The good news is, we are intrigued and don’t mind sitting through some of the clichés before we arrive at our destination.

Rating : 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)

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