Machley Khan (1977)
Cast: Sultan Rahi, Mustafa Qureshi, Aasiya, Najma, Iqbal Hassan, Anita, Ilyas Kashmiri, Bahar
Director: Nasim Haider Shah
Nutshell: Frenetic Action packed Masala film breathes the same air as Maula Jat but asphyxiates on its own lack of direction.
The police is stumped and running in rings around the cities notorious underworld Kingpin Machley Khan whose dagger has the entire populace held at ransom and ordinary god fearing citizens tremble at the very mention of his name. The cops, frustrated by the hopelessly inept judiciary must now resort to extreme methods to rescue a terrorized city.
Things are in fact much worse than imagined as the city doesn’t only have Machlay Khan to deal with but at least three other pretenders to the crown of “The Shehenshah of Crime” in Lahore, Top Dog of Lahore. There is Ilyas Kashmiri, a notorious thug with a posse of heavies and there is Mustafa Qureshi in top form as the demented and psychotic Ustad all vying for the title of the undisputed Underworld King. Machley Khan is of course Sultan Rahi who is in fact the Robin Hood of the city and is battling not only the police but also keeping the crime kings from running their business as usual. It’s a familiar template for the typical Sultan Rahi character; the avenger who represents the down trodden masses against the corrupt system and the criminals and inept government. All familiar territory that can normally only be elevated by the director and scriptwriters ability to keep the romantic and comic elements at bay and to keep the plot (predictable as it may be) at a rollicking pace with hopefully an element of sleaze thrown in for good measure.
The film starts off with immense promise as the main characters are introduced and the scene set for some crackling confrontations. Mustafa Qureshi’s opening scene is quite excellent and its within the first half hour that our favourite Club Dancer/Moll makes her first appearance with a fabulously saucy number voice by Madame Noor Jehan “Neeli Neeli Aankhen”. Anita in a cute little blonde weave more than does justice to the song with a sizzling little dance – club dance perfection. The opening fights also have this wonderful style to them, instantly recognizable as the work of Rehmat Ali of Khatarnaak fame – Full of weird and wonderful angles, close ups and sound matching sound effects. Throw in a fast talking Aasia as a feisty, morally upright village belle. Thus all the ingredients are in place for a mouthwatering masala entertainer for the next couple of hours. Does it sustain?
Alas the answer is a resounding no. The romantic interludes take over as Iqbal Hassan in his usual role of the rustic milkman with a good heart, tache and gut (the epitome of the virile, handsome Punjabi man of the soil aka The People’s Chunk) serenades his bosses daughter Najma and love quickly blossoms.
Meanwhile the various king pin villains and their accomplices build to a terrible gruesome climax and one by one the entire cast of the movie ends up with the local undertaker very busy indeed.
Anita is never seen again and the movie lurches from one vengeance to another and back again. The film is a good example of why a country caught up in such a vicious cycle of meaningless violence and never progress and never advance as ridiculous enmities and revenge are far more important to the psyche of a Pakistani man rather than problem solving of any nature or any step forward. In this movie the problem is basically solved by death! Seemingly, everybody in the entire cast dies which rather indicates that the scriptwriter and director, having laid down an array of warring factions, couldn’t find a way out and the movie turns into a one mess of admittedly rather delightful fight scenes intermingled with some songs and a lot of loud threat-making from the warring parties. Many would say it’s just another Punjabi movie and they wouldn’t be far wrong.
Machley Khan is especially frustrating as it starts so well and has Mustafa Qureshi in absolute top form as the prime adversary. Qureshi takes a lot from this performance to his role a little over a year on in what was to become the legendary battle between Maula Jat and Noori Nut. Machlay Khan arrived at the end of 1977 and bristles with gritty action for the first 45 minutes but loses steam rapidly and degenerates into a mess by the end of its running time. Mustafa Qureshi and Anita provide some joy in an very mixed bag of tricks and some of the masala for the Machley Khan curry is just right but on the whole it might leave you with a little heartburn!