The critical acclaim and the surprisingly good box-office run of Paan Singh Tomar (2010) notwithstanding the daku films are a thing of the past now. This one-time popular genre was nearly a rite of passage for many leading men and even seen as a go-to formula that rarely failed. Of course, unless there was a Dilip Kumar or a Sunil Dutt or later stars such as Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, these films mostly catered to a very specific audience and as they were usually made on tight budgets they rarely lost money. Even in the late 1980s when post-Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) and Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) the definition of the hero was undergoing a major overhaul, the daku continued to draw crowds. Later in the early 1990s when the liberalization had transformed the ticket buying audience to a great extent, a film like Bandit Queen (1994) rekindled some interest in the genre but not enough to revive it. Nestled somewhere in between these two phases and far removed from the finesse of the millennial cinema, Paan Singh Tomar, lies the now nearly forgotten Daata (1989), the last remnant of the popular Hindi dacoit films. Interesting enough this film also featured the last of the old-world superstars and, ironically enough, was also the last hurrah of the man who came to be identified with the genre.
Written and directed by Sultan Ahmed, Daata’s wafer-thin plot and straight as an arrow narrative coupled with an archaic filmmaking style might have had disaster written all over, yet it managed to rise overall trappings and how. A respected educator in a nameless small Indian town, Dinanath (Saeed Jaffery) is the doyen of idealism and leads a happy life with his wife and children Shanti (Pallavi Joshi) and Kundan (Mithun Chakraborty). Dinanth’s book ‘Daata’ that celebrates all religions of the world from a humanistic point of view is hailed as a masterpiece and the President of India felicitates him. It’s around this time that Dinanath fixes Shanti’s marriage but things go bad when her future in-laws make untoward dowry demands. Dinanath refuses to budge and insists that the gold jewellery that he presented her daughter is sufficient but when the jewellery turns out fake, the marriage is called off. Shanti kills herself and unable to take the pain of this daughter’s death Dinath, too, suffers a heart attack and dies. No one comes forward to help Kundan and his mother; tired of the injustice Kundan kills the boy who refused to marry his sister. On the run, Kundan becomes a brigand, joins a gang of bandits and vows to kill Gopaldas, the man whose demand of dowry caused his father and sister’s deaths.
In the few years preceding the release of Daata the failure of high profile dacoit themed films such as Dacait (1987) and Yateem (1988) along with the advent of the boy-next-door films such as Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Maine Pyar Kiya had more of less sounded the death knell for daku films. Yet Daata’s narrative that played to the gallery as far as the genre was concerned went down well with the audience as opposed to a deeper and even anthropological exploration that Dacait or Yateem were aiming for within the dacoit theme.
One of the reasons why Daata piped the others when it came to striking gold could also be the presence of Sultan Ahmed, a filmmaker whose entire oeuvre is nothing but an ode to the dacoit films. A one-time associate of K. Asif, Ahmed started with assisting the maestro on Mughal-e-Azam and even though his debut film as a director was Pyar Ka Rishta (1973), it was his second film that released in the same year, Heera (1973), which established him as the savior of the daku genre. Heera came at a time when the mainstream dacoit films like Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971) and Kucche Dhaage (1973) had gone beyond the underlying socialist motifs of Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960) and Mujhe Jeene Do (1963) to simpler plots and straighter narratives. Post-Heera Ahmed made one major daku film with each superstar who followed - Ganga Ki Saugand (1978) with Amitabh Bachchan, Dharam Kanta (1982) with Rajesh Khanna and Jeetendra - and after Daata his last film was Jai Vikraanta (1995) with Sanjay Dutt. Daata released in a year when Mithun Chakraborty had 19 releases and the same year also saw him give one of his career best performances in Prem Pratigya (1989) but the success of Daata was nothing less than a surprise. In Daata just like Mujrim (1989), another surprise smash hit from the same year and a reprisal of Brain De Palma’s Scarface (1982), Mithun da finally had a shot at an anti-hero character that took on the establishment and was commensurate to the immense cult-like popularity he enjoyed.
The fabled daku genre enjoyed a fair run and went from a deep societal study in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Gnaga Jumna (1961), Mujhe Jeene Do to become masala entertainers of the 1970s. The market pressures of the 1980s forced the likes of Sultan Ahmed to somewhat ‘update’ the narrative in Dharam Kanta where a certain degree of urbanism penetrated into the genre. Following Vijay Anand’s Rajput (1982) filmmakers like Rahul Rawail and J.P. Dutta experimented with the genre and came up with probing studies in Ghulami (1985), Dacait, Yateem and later Batwara (1989), which also came out in the same year as Daata, that looked beyond the perfunctory by including caste politics in addition to class while coming with characters. The microcosmic scrutiny of characters and situations that the later daku films attempted and failed is what a Bandit Queen and a Paan Singh Tomar rekindled and their success, therefore, makes a very compelling case for a revival of dacoit films. Imagine the prospect of a Sam Peckinpah esque The Wild Bunch (1969) or even a Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992) like foray into our desi bandit films…
- Gautam Chintamani is the author of the best-selling Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna (2014) and Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak – The Film That Revived Hindi Cinema (2016) | Tweet him – http://www.twitter.com/gchintamani
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(Gautam Chintamani is the author of the best-selling Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna (2014) and Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak – The Film That Revived Hindi Cinema (2016). He can be reached on Twitter, @GChintamani.)
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