The whole gang.
Salim and Javed's Immaan Dharam is a similarly forgotten classic. Salim and Javed, who became much more famous for films like Deewaar, must have written this on the back of a napkin. Heck, even the DVD description thinks it's crap:
The story is about two guys (Amitabh Bachchan) and Ram (Shashi Kapoor), who act as mock witnesses. These two are always around court and give evidence as per the requirement of the case every time. They never believe in God but in the end they have to accept the power of God. Helen's only performance as a heroine with Amitabh Bachchan. The main attraction of the film is the star cast.
Yeah, they are pretty attractive. Forgive Shashi's sweat, he has the flu in this scene.
Yet we've seen Deewaar and, hold your stones, we prefer Immaan Dharam. Why? Because Deewaar has the unnecessary weight of Classic tied to it, it has Messages and Meaning that never quite captured us and that are, admittedly, a bit of a downer. We always felt at a distance with it, always too reminded that we were watching something Important. Immaan Dharam has no such pretensions. You just expect it to be light-hearted crap and then are pleasantly surprised by how compelling it can get.
There's a lotta morality going on in that room.
Like Kaala Patthar, it's quiet and gritty and has a great ensemble (with the notable exception of Sanjeev Kumar's character, more on that later). Like Kaala Patthar, there are no arch-villains except for the anti-social kinds: the local thugs, rapists, and so forth. In fact, maybe it's the poverty of the two films that appeals so much to us. No, no, this is not poverty pornography à la Chakra, where that's the point of watching the film. In Immaan Dharam, like in Kaala Patthar, Amitabh and Shashi's shirts are a bit soiled, Rekha's saree is notably lacking all its usual flashiness, and everyone looks just a little bit sweaty. But it's not glorified or too much dwelled on. Rather, it's merely the unassuming background. These are characters who will work hard for a buck and, in the case of Amitabh and Shashi's characters, Ahmed and Mohan, bend their moral rules for a buck too. These aren't those wet dreams of wealth that current Bollywood seems to be so preoccupied with (Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham... Kal Ho Na Ho... or anything by Karan Johar really), nor is anyone ridiculously archetypal and Good or Bad (with the notable exception, again, of Sanjeev Kumar's character). Instead, these are films that have massive song and dance numbers incorporating the poorest of the proletariat; Kaala Patthar's Dhoom Mache Dhoom, for example, which featured scores of dancing coal miners celebrating their recent union victory against an evil mine owner, and Imaan Dharam's Koncam Koncam, which features hundreds (!) of construction workers serving as chorus to the love between the two-bit rough Mohan (Shashi Kapoor) and his Tamil love, Durga (Rekha). It's so, so beautiful.
Of course it should be the cruelty of the Internet that this one song, which we feel fully captures the greatness of Immaan Dharam and also is just incredibly sweet for its Shashi-Rekha (Shashekha? Rekhashi?) cuteness and working class background, should be unavailable on YouTube and the usual video sites. Unfortunately screencaps will just have to suffice. And we'll hum along.
Hmmm hmmm HMMMMM.
Hmmm HMMMMMM. (HMM HMM)
Hmmm HMMMM hmmmmmmmm.
Isn't it great?! You need to get your hands on this DVD, if only for this song. The lyrics are saying, first in Tamil and then in Hindi, how "little by little" they fell in love. Allow us to gush: gush, gush!
Apart from poverty, the film also features another favorite theme of the PPCC: religion. As you will soon know from our viewing of Suhaag, we just love to see handsome men partaking in pooja or praising Allah. And we are always keen to see actors like Shah Rukh Khan play explicitly Muslim characters (as in, for example, Chak De India and, Allah be praised, the upcoming My Name is Khan) with their wailing qawwali background, their (dare we say it) culture, rather than a bland non-entity of religionness as in... well, the Karan Johar movies.
Immaan Dharam is actually full of such active religiosity, as well as generous helpings of moral themes. In fact, it seems the main theme of the film is morality and how religions come into play. In the beginning, Amitabh and Shashi often swear on their respective holy books, the Qur'an and the Bhagavat Gita, and lie - giving testimony as false witnesses. Sanjeev Kumar's character engages in seemingly ceaseless moral pontificating, and spends most of the film reading from the Qur'an, Gita or Bible, and then beating us over the head with his pluralism. Hey, we're all about pluralism, but his indignation can be pretty irritating at times too.
How Durga sees Mohan.
Ahmed reconnecting with his Muslim roots (and Amitabh uncharacteristically playing a Muslim).
Nonetheless, there are gorgeous moments when, after Sanjeev has properly converted Ahmed and Mohan back to their respective religions of Islam and Hinduism, the two of them have moments wherein they are given the holy book not of their own religion and then they both respect and revere it as their own. We at the PPCC die for these types of scenes. It's just so touching. It's like Om's necklace in Om Shanti Om.
In Amitabh's scene, Ahmed the Muslim is asked by his blind Hindu friend, Shyamlee, to read from the Gita. He pauses before pulling the book from the shelf and then uses a handkerchief to cover his head. "In my religion," he says, "we are taught to cover our heads when touching holy books."
In Shashi's scene, Mohan the Hindu watches his Muslim friend die horribly in the street, baking in the hot sun on the pavement. The friend begs him to take the Qur'an, his only possession, from his home. Mohan does so, pausing to mourn his friend's passing, and then hugging the holy book to his chest as he walks home in the pouring rain.
Is Shashi not beautiful? Shashi bahut bahut sundar, hai na? Refer back to the Dance Off(!!) for his possible participation in a Cry Off(!!). The man is gorgeous when he cries.
While wet. With his shirt open. Oooh yeah.
Anyway, the film plays with its themes of morality and goodness in somewhat surprising ways. For example, there is one sequence when an alcoholic mother (Helen), buys Ahmed's services to pretend to be her daughter's long-lost father. The whole situation is noxious to everyone involved and even Ahmed admits that he finds it abhorrent to lie to children, and that she must leave him alone if he is to do it (he still does it, interestingly). When the woman dies of liver failure, Ahmed tearfully defends her dignity to the hospital staff; seemingly, he has had a change of heart regarding what he thinks of her. But then again, what is being good? Was she good or was she bad? The film seems to lean towards good, even though she was certainly flawed.
Lying to little girls. Yeah, that's bad.
Similarly, there is an extended sequence in which a charity function benefiting war veterans degenerates into a bizarre sermon-song, where the vets (some of whom are missing legs and arms) sing out their consternation: "Stop patronizing us with your false moral back-patting! We are not helpless!" The charity organizers are duly shamed, while the Holier Than All Sanjeev Kumar looks on with his flashy smile. The PPCC was, of course, infinitely intrigued by all this. What is the film trying to say about goodness here?
We are the vets and we are empowered.
I am the charity organizer and I am shamed.
I am the Ultimate Religious Pluralist and I am pleased.
There's even more (the blind friend of Shashi and Amitabh), though we'll let the viewer have his or her own viewing and interpretation. Basically, it seems that the film has a lot going on in its exploration of morality, and at times it can just seem confused and meandering. The PPCC, however, thinks that's the best way to explore morality, as the only character who seems to Have All the Answers (that being Sanjeev Kumar's) ends up alienating the audience. Or at least, he alienated us. Much more compelling are the two good-bad quasi-anti-heroes, Ahmed and Mohan, and how they interact with their world of seemingly endless moral quagmires.
Ahmed and Mohan's visible compassion.
The object of their compassion.
This one's definitely a keeper, but the PPCC must recognize that it is a somewhat peculiar beast and not necessarily widely-appealing. We can easily imagine that critics would say it's ill-defined or too ambiguous or too rambling, and that perhaps this ambiguity bespeaks a lack of direction on the part of Salim and Javed. We, however, loved this aspect most of all, as well as the humble setting. If you liked Kaala Patthar, you'll love Immaan Dharam.