Saturday, April 11, 2009

Amar Akbar Anthony (1977)

Amar Akbar Anthony (Manmohan Desai, 1977)

There is enough story in the forty minute opening of Manmohan Desai's Amar Akbar Anthony to fill up an entire month's worth of melodrama. Kishanlal (Pran) ex-convict is released from prison only to find out that Robert (Jeevan), his boss who promised to take care of his family if he takes full responsibility over a hit-and-run accident he did not commit, has broken his pledge and left his wife (Nirupa Roy) afflicted with tuberculosis and his children starving. He goes to Robert's mansion, and pleads for the support that Robert owes him, but instead of getting what he deserves, is humiliated and forced out of the mansion. He fights back by shooting Robert with a gun, but fails to kill him, and thereafter, escapes from the mansion using one of Robert's cars that contains a crate full of gold bars. He goes home and finds out through a letter that his wife has left to kill herself. He takes his three children, leaves them to safety inside a park while he is being chased by Robert's men. The three children are then separated: the youngest is adopted by a Muslim pacifist; the middle child is taken cared of by a Catholic priest; and the eldest is raised by a Hindu police officer. The mother fails to kill herself, and instead, is blinded by a freak accident. Kishanlal falls from a cliff, and is presumed dead by the police, although he actually has escaped from the accident with a crate full of gold.

In a matter of forty minutes, director Desai manages to separate the three boys from each other and their parents through narrative twists and turns that appear out of nowhere, and thereafter reunites them with their mother in a sequence that serves as the film's belated opening credits: the three children, now grown up, are all inside a hospital room, donating blood to their blind mother and all of them not knowing that they are related. Its an outrageous concept, and cinematographer Peter Pereira's camerawork matches the outrageousness of the concept, focusing on the viscuous blood flowing from the siblings' arms and into their mother, focusing and de-focusing, shifting angles to enunciate the very unique circumstance of their reunion. Amar (Vinod Khanna), the eldest brother, is now a police inspector. Anthony (Amitabh Bachchan), the middle child, manages a liquor bar, while responsibly donating half of his profits to the Catholic Church. Akbar (Rishi Kapoor), the youngest, is a performer. Desai stretches the film for another two hours or so, infusing the narrative with upbeat action sequences, syrupy romance, and catchy melodies, before arriving at its predictably happy ending.

However, despite the film's obvious leaning towards plebeian considerations, it remains to be unbelievably entertaining. Desai commits to the impossibility and implausibility of the film's convoluted affairs; when the film purports sentimentality, it not only opts for shallow tears, it requires wails, screches, and enlarged gestures; when the film flirts with kitsch, it is unsatisfied with choreographed song numbers but decides that Bachchan pop out of an Easter Egg, singing a hilarious ditty ("My Name is Anthony Gonsalvez") that starts off with a long-winded yet incomprehensible speech that sounds scholarly but doesn't really mean anything; when it describes villainy, its unsubtle manifestations of human evil, from physical characteristics (bared teeth and gorilla-like muscularity) to heartless processes (Robert, in a showcase of his malevolence, orders Kishenlal to clean his shoes using his shirt's sleeve), are more than instructive of the characters' moral predisposition, they are also downright hilarious; when it involves romance, it triplicates the cheese and the corniness, giving each of the brothers a beautiful partner to court and ultimately win over. The humor, whether intended or unintended, adds to the allure of this undeniably charming flick.

It is Desai's particular preference for simple-minded pleasures fuels the film from start to finish. Desai manages to delegate the film's more-than-obvious political commentary (the three boys being separated on India's independence day, under the statue of Gandhi, and raised by India's three largest religious factions), fresh in its hopefulness on the nation's religious dynamics, in the background, not totally indispensible in the overall enjoyment of the film, but adds a possible discourse about the cinema that Amar Akbar Anthony represents. Amar Akbar Anthony is populist in its sensibilities yet not totally lacking of a say on the world-view that is current during its time. While the film is definitely unpolished, it possesses an energy, a certain rhythm, an inarguable sincerity to simply amuse without leaving any baggage or concern, that makes one forget of its blatant inadequacies and excesses.


Debojit said...

One of many films of Manmohan Desai which has similar themes and premises....though less of cinematic style.

Oggs Cruz said...

Any recommendations, debojit?

girish said...

Oggs, Desai is wonderful. I'd recommend NASEEB, MARD, and CHHALIA (among others). You can also check out Philip Lutgendorf's terrific site on classic Bollywood cinema for more on these films.

Noel Vera said...

It's a hoot and a half, and a helluva lot more fun than Slumdog Millionaire, you betcha.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks for the suggestions, girish. Now, I only need to see where I can get those films here in Manila.

I would have to agree, Noel. Slumdog's entertaining (I know you'd disagree) in a way supermarket-bought burger patties are filling but Amar Akbar Anthony is all meat, and none of the extenders.

chaks said...

Dear Fracis Cruz

I am delighted to have chanced upon your blog. Your writings are crisp, honest and full of level headed comments. With your permission I would like to post the link to your blog on our film school's website.


Venkatesh Chakravarthy
Dean, Ramanaidu Film School,
Hyderabad, India

Oggs Cruz said...

Dear Mr. Chakravarthy,

By all means, do so. I am an avid fan of your nation's cinema and it will be an honor for me to be read by your students.

Oggs Cruz

chaks said...

Thank you very much. Will do so at my earliest.

best wishes

Venkatesh Chakravarthy