BATWARA (1989)

Batwara chronicles the journey of two friends Thakur Vikram Singh (Vinod Khanna) and Choudhry Sumer Singh (Dharmendra), two inseparable friends who are torn apart by their duties towards their respective sects as situations and changing political scenario of the country weighs down on them and they have no option but to take sides with their respective sects. Thakur Vikram Singh is the son of the landlord who owns almost the whole village. When the government decides to handover the lands on which the landlord has been employing the villagers to cultivate, his younger brother, Deven Thakur (Vijayendra Ghatge) thinks of a plan to siphon the villager of their land. The villagers see through his plan and in a moment of uncontrolled rage, kill Deven Thakur. Vikram is crestfallen and bludgeons into the village and kills every man in sight including the brother of Jinna (Dimple Kapadia), the girl who is romantically involved with Sumer.

Sumer, who was out on duty, returns to find his village in a disarray. His people look to him for leadership and means to face the Thakurs. He is also deeply affected by the grief of the villagers and is brutally insulted by Jinna as well as a few other for not doing anything about the atrocities done to the villagers by his friends. Gradually he is emotionally forced to fight for the villagers and take up arms against Vikram who is now a fugitive of the law, has joined a gang of dacoits and become one and is being chased by his own younger brother Rajen (Mohsin Khan), a high ranking cop.

Batwara is a racy potpourri of every ingredient that makes a masala potboiler work in Bollywood. It has friendship, it has drama, it has romance, it has scintillating action, it has animated antagonists and above all, it tells a story that is laid out and yet remains simple enough to be understood and enjoyed by one and all. The film starts off simple introducing us to the two protagonists. The screenplay takes us through moments of their warm friendship, the blossoming romance between Sumer and Jinna and also sets up the character of Deven, who would go on to become the axis point on which the whole conflict would hinge. The film very clearly underlines the rousing sense of discomfort and disloyalty among the villagers and there rising mercury against the unfair dealings of the Landlords.

The film begins with a sequence wherein the peasants are shown making way with the yields of their respective lands without pledging the same to the Landlords. They believe that since they sow the fields, the yields are theirs for the taking. The landlords, on the other hand, look at it as an act of stealing from them. The very same conflict arises again shortly when a returning Deven, who is, by the way, a cop and has no business looking into the matters of the landlords and peasants gets into a confrontation with the villagers. He is grievously wounded in the conflict. When you look at the character of Deven in this situation, he does what he did sorely because he is a Thakur himself and is unable to look away from the matters of the estate. No matter how hard he tries to escape it, the Thakur in him takes over. Atleast in this sequence.

The conflict turns serious with the government’s pronouncement that the lands will be given to the ones who cultivate it. Bade Thakur (Shammi Kapoor) time and again compares independence to poison, clearly showing his attitude towards the equal distribution of wealth which also happens to be the primary cause of conflict here. The villagers whose discontent is at an all-time high are jittery right from the beginning. Their attitude towards the Landlords finds a voice in the manner in which Jinna’s brother deals with them atleast on 3 occasions. He is not afraid to mouth his opposition in front of the Thakurs and he is also the one who instigates the murder of Deven (though Deven is the one who lands the first blow on an elderly villager). Post the horrendous murder of Deven, Vikram and Sumer are split apart by the sides that they must take. One a Thakur, the other a simple villager walk the same path and take up arms against each other. Vikram loots from the villagers, Sumer loots from the Thakurs and it all sums up to nothing.

Vinod Khanna, once again in yet another J P Dutta film takes away the thunder from Dharmendra. His Vikram Singh is believable. When you watch the film, you will be able to connect with his character. You will be able to understand why he is doing what he is doing. Even though my heart was always with the villagers, I couldn’t help but be charmed by his act. He is just as comfortable as a romantic “yaaron ka yaar” as he is as a ruthless dacoit. Khanna’s physicality and his comfort playing a role that, I believe, was cut close to his persona helped him immensely. The result is a character that is as likable as it is believable.

Dharmendra is great too. He does exceedingly well in the emotional scenes. Watch out for his scenes with Jinna after her brother is killed and also the scene where he enters the village after the massacre and is stoned by the women of the village. In addition, I also loved his one to one with Vinod Khanna’s character where he has to let his friend know that they will be gunning for each other now. The third most important character in the film is that of Amrish Puri who plays a Thakur cop, Hanumant Singh. Hanumant would go to any lengths to torture the villagers as he derives sadistic pleasures from the predicaments of these men and women. As the film progresses, his character grows into an entity who would stop at nothing to gain complete control over the villagers and their lives. Amrish Puri was always a terrific antagonist and here he is not only evil but is in so many ways detestable.

Dimple Kapadia plays one of the few strong woman characters in J P Dutta films. Her Jinna, though is sidetracked towards the end, has some interesting scenes that not only stamp her character’s authority and strength over the narrative but also makes her stand out. But post her marriage with Sumer, the character is sadly turned into a victim, that is used time and again as means to extract Sumer’s devilish anger against Amrish Puri’s Hanumant Singh. Amrita Singh and Poonam Dhillon play the better halves of Vikram and Rajan respectively. Unfortunately, they have nothing to do except weep and care and sing and dance for their respective husbands. Neena Gupta as Deven’s wife is barely noticeable.

Batwara has blistering action all the way through. Be it the first action sequence where Vikram and Sumer hunt down wild boars, the elaborate sequence where Rajan fights off against the villagers or the scene where Vikram singlehandedly massacres an entire village. I was excited everytime an action sequence commenced and it was not only because it was well done but also because of the fact that each of the action sequences was a result of powerful build-up and heightened tensions. This I believe resulted in the viewers being a part of the sequences just as much as the characters involved.

I loved Batwara. It is everything that a J P Dutta film should have been. Dutta worked up an interesting palate on which he mounted his visual spectacles making minor changes to the plots and the treatment that radically changed the films and the messages altogether. Even though they feel very similar and familiar, they are all different films. Batwara is, as is evident, not just a tale of the divide between two friends but also a society of two distinct classes of people. The two friends are the torchbearer of the two classes of people and it is through the metamorphosis of their relation that Dutta documents the rift between the peoples at a time of change in the Indian society.

Rating : 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars) 

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