Sawan Bhadon (1970)


Sawan Bhadon (1970)
Cast: Rekha, Naveen Nishal, Shyama, Jayshree T, Iftikhar
Director: Mohan Segal
Music Director: Sonik-Omi
Nutshell: Vintage Bollywood family drama potboiler full of twists and intrigue – epic!


No wonder people look back fondly to the 60’s and the 70’s as being part of the “Golden Age” of Bollywood movies when family entertainers extolling and promoting traditional home grown values were very much to the fore and “westernized” concepts seemed somewhat alien and misplaced. These were days of the “family socials” characterized by classic films such as the Rajesh Khanna – Mumtaz smash Do Raaste which was a modern film set in a contemporary urban setting but which promoted strictly “desi” values and scorned on the materialistic values of the “evil” west.

In the late 60’s Dilip Kumar had scored a big success with Ram aur Shyam, which was another fairy tale like fable involving evil step parents and huge fortunes – basically a load of family intrigue – but at the end of the day, it’s the home grown, traditional values that always prevail and the westernized mod lot usually end up with egg on their faces if not worse. (Ram aur Shyam was remade again in the early 70’s as Seeta aur Geeta and was even more successful than Ram aur Shyam had been) Sawan Bhadon is a film that will be remembered primarily for the reason that it was Rekha’s debut Hindi feature.

Rekha, just in case one needs reminding, was to become nothing short of a Bollywood legend and is still going strong thirty odd years after Sawan Bhadon first hit screens. The film is a throwback to the vintage family oriented yarns concocted so expertly by Bollywood and South Indian script writers during the golden years. One ought to keep in mind that a large proportion of films that succeed in Bollywood are originally regional hits picked up and remade by canny producers sensing a kill. Sawan Bhadon became Rekha’s debut by accident as she had already signed with the renowned sleaze merchants the Pal Brothers from East Africa (not to be confused with the Pang Brothers of South East Asia) who had signed her for Anjana Safar when she had been a mere 13 year old.

Fortunately for Rekha, Anjana Safar got bogged down with censor problems and couldn’t secure a release. Rekha managed to escape her contract due to the fact that she had been a minor when she signed and her career which could have been over before it even got started was given a second life when she got signed on by seasoned producer-director Mohan Segal to play the role of a buxom, feisty village belle opposite dashing and up coming young star Naveen Nishal. And so, not knowing a word of Hindi nor how to dance, this dusky, unpolished beauty got her break – without even having a screen test because Segal and especially his assistant were so convinced that they had landed themselves the real article in young BhanuRekha (as she was known before the Bhanu was thankfully dropped).

Sawan Bhadon was to become a significant success celebrating Silver Jubilees in 34 centres and Rekha’s career was successfully launched as she went on a signing spree of 18 films in the immediate wake of Sawan Bhadon’s success. Naveen Nishal also benefited momentarily but it was clear that this fairly likeable performer was simply too gawky and geek-like to make it to the big league and it was a matter of time before he was relegated to becoming a horror star who appeared regularly in about a thousand Ramsay and Bhakri shockers during the dreadful 80’s. Anyway, the plot of Sawan Bhadon is vintage Bollywood pulpy family drama stuff involving plenty of intrigue and twists and turns along the way.

The story goes a little like this: Geek-like and self righteous heir apparent to the vast inheritance of just departed Daddy arrives home from Europe to the family mansion to be met by the dutiful driver Qasim at the airport- various step family members being far too busy with their own interests to bother going to the airport to receive the future master of the house. Once Vikram (Naveen) reaches home all is hunky dory with his step mother and his kid sister Dolly who he is somewhat surprised has grown up into a hot pants wearing go-go dancing siren rather than the demure, sari wearing, doormat that his dead father would have hoped for. He is also rather taken aback at his clubbing, alcohol swigging and rather trendy mother in law who isn’t adverse to a little hip shaking her self from time to time. The other parasites in the house include the step mothers gambling loser of a brother known as Mama and the group is soon joined by slimy Madan who is hoping to ensnare dumb cutie Dolly in his own nefarious scheme. The driver Qasim appears to be the only person who is genuinely faithful to Vikram as he tries to assert his authority on the family affairs, something he finds that his step mother is out to scupper at every given opportunity.

It doesn’t take long for Vikram to realize that his beloved family only have eyes for the inheritance and that he is viewed as an obstacle to their achieving their glory days. Meanwhile Vikram comes across feisty village belle Chanda who doesn’t take too long in becoming the apple of his eye. The plot thickens as the scheming family plot party pooper Vikram’s demise so that they can lay their hands on the entire inheritance and live the debauched lifestyle they so adore. Then the shocker…….they actually murder Vikram and are just getting down to some serious celebrations when a dead ringer shows up claiming to be the “dead” Vikram, and more importantly claiming the entire inheritance as his own as was the original instructions of his fathers will.

With the wild celebrations cut short, the magnificently wicked step mother with the diabolical hairdo comes into her own and open warfare ensues with Vikram, Chanda and her mother at loggerheads with Shyama, Dolly, Mama and their lot. Meanwhile Chanda isn’t quite convinced that this “up from the dead” Vikram is in fact the real Vikram as he claims.Then, the diabolical mother in law decides that a second murder is the only way forward and so a plot is hatched to poison the fake Vikram having already blown the real one to bits with a time bomb! Believe it or not, there are a couple of twists still left in the tail of this wonderfully cooked concoction of deliciously old fashioned melodrama.

Director Mohan Segal maintains a tight grip on proceedings and the pace never flags – no mean feat in a film that runs close to 150 minutes. The films cast are all in top form with Rekha turning in a performance that belies her zero experience – clearly acting was in her blood and it had been spotted by Mohan Segal’s assistant and it is abundantly clear that the girl on screen here had a certain allure and spark and had “star” plastered all over her. She exudes confidence despite being a 14 year old child making her debut in Bombay.

Navin Nishal on the other hand, poor fellow, just doesn’t have what it takes and when he breaks into his dance routines to woo Rekha with a typically spunky Mohammad Rafi number, one fears that he might fall over with his wobbling antics that are supposed to be some sort of new trendy dance….perhaps the Funky Chicken or the Legless Ostrich more likely. He is embarrassingly in his attempts at song and dance and blessed with such a gormless personality that one spends more time wondering whether that thing on his head is his real hair or a fake hair-piece – (we would wager the latter), then watching his performance.

Shyama who took over the mantle of Bollywood’s prime bitch once the wonderful Shashikala had gone into one of her stretches of exile is excellent as the wicked, scheming, foul mouthed bitch on the warpath while Jayshree T is a perfect foil with her airhead comments and bimbo outfits. Shyama was soon to be ousted by Bindu who arrived with a bang with the abovementioned Do Raaste to take over as Queen Bollywood Bitch for many moons to come. Iftikhar gets to enjoy a role when he isn’t a police officer and turns in a fine supporting cameo.

One weakness the film has is in the musical department – Sonik-Omi were never able to make the A grade (or even the b grade for that matter) and wallowed in the Z grade department bagging the films that the big names wouldn’t touch. This was a big break for them and there tunes were not unpopular as such, but when one considers the incredibly rich music that was coming out of Bollywood during that era – this soundtrack is remarkably unremarkable. Sonik-Omi were very one dimensional in their compositions and basically relied on recreating some popular folksy Punjabi tunes to suit the demands of Bollywood – none of their work sounds particularly interesting or creative and one is hard pushed to remember even one composition of theirs that sticks in the mind……..surely Cheecho Cheech Ganderian fails to qualify, though that is the only somewhat tuneful song of their that I can recall off hand…..that too from another Naveen Nishal Rekha starrer the name of which escapes me at the moment.

Anyway, Sawan Bhadon was such a successful concoction that a remake was made in the late 80’s as Mera Haq starring Sanjay Dutt in Nishal’s role and Bindu retreading Shyama’s dastardly steps. Even the remake was fairly enjoyable if nowhere near as deliciously stylish as the heavily South influenced original. One of the films vintage moments that is a giveaway that reveals the films South Indian connections were the gloriously gaudy title sequence featuring wild kaleidoscope colours cascading all over the screen while the credits roll – this “type” of title sequence being the hallmark of vintage and not so vintage South productions from the glory days of the 60’s and 70’s.

It’s a scintillatingly entertaining movie from beginning to end and don’t be too hasty in fast-forwarding all those admittedly sub-standard songs as you will be depriving yourself the joy of watching Naveen Nishal’s Do the Funky One Legged Ostrich dance numbers!