Mr.India is one of the first movies I ever saw and still have fond memories about it. And why not? It is so hard to dislike this movie. During the 80’s Bollywood was churning out assembly line products which had a standard template. An idealistic hero in love having a supportive heroine (in all ways) as he clashes with an evil villain and the ever suffering family of its main lead with necessary comic relief and so on.
Mr. India was also a masala film but did not have any of these clichés. Oh yes there was a do gooder protagonist who becomes an unlikely hero and like the synopsis on the CD cover rightly states it’s “A decidedly delicious mix of patriotism, comedy, science fiction, romance and adventure”. The way these aspects were integrated into the movie has helped it retain its status as a classic over long years.
But the synopsis forgot to mention one element which was woven nicely into the film, that is the theme of invisibility. Prior to & after Mr.India, Bollywood had its fair share of films that dealt with this topic such as Mr.X in India and Gaayab but none of them could ever be as memorable as this film. It was mainly due to the director Shekhar Kapur, with Masoom Kapur had proved that he was a class apart. Only a director of his caliber could do justice to such a subject.
The other ace of this movie was its tight and well developed story & screenplay by the legendary duo of Salim-Javed. It did ample justice to all the characters and subplots as the movie moves in a logical and orderly fashion and rarely do you see any scene, song or subplot that seems out of place. It has a good element of fun & lends believability to the proceedings which is so necessary for a film like this and makes it memorable.
Mr.India briefly revolves around Arun Verma (Anil Kapoor) who lives with a bunch of orphans. An evil villain called Mogambo wants to rule over India and Arun finds an invisibility robe which pits him against Mogambo. Also woven into the story are a journalist Seema (Sridevi), a professor (Ashok Kumar) and many other interesting characters which become an important part of the story.
There are so many stand out scenes which has a genius touch of comic such as the introduction scene of Anil Kapoor, Calender (Satish Kaushik) & the kids. The first interaction between Sridevi and Anil Kapoor or the arguments and conflicts between the kids and Sridevi. A scene in the gambling den where Sridevi gives a wonderful tribute to Charlie Chaplin as well as the scenes in which Mr.India bashes up Daga (Sharat Saxena), Teja (Ajit Vachani) & their men with the help of Lord Hanuman’s idol are standout scenes. All scenes which involve Annu Kapoor (the harassed boss of Sridevi) & his telephone which has a penchant for wrong numbers are so very hilarious.
Many scenes also bring a certain lump in your throat without being melodramatic like the scene in which a dejected Anil Kapoor comes home without getting any food for the kids or Anil Kapoor’s breakdown when the cute little girl Tina dies due to a bomb blast. The film appeals because it has a heart & connect and somewhere you do end up relating & rooting for these characters.
Almost every character in the film is memorable. Even the characters with a short screen time leave a strong impression such as Calendar(Satish Kaushik), Roopchand(Harish Patel ) who has that famous line “Gayi Bhains Paani Mein”, Daga, Teja and so on.
Mr India had an ensemble of some of the best technicians of Bollywood in those times, who put in their best efforts which shows on the screen. Be it Saroj Khan who had brilliantly choreographed the songs; the most notable being Hawa Hawai & Kaate nai katate yeh din yeh raat. The ‘Kaate nahi’ moment is a perfect example of a song that was sensuous despite Sridevi being fully clothed.
Bijon Das Gupta’s set design was simply superb; especially that of Mogambo’s den which was lavishly mounted & spectacular.
Laxmikant Pyarelal scored some of their best tunes for the film and each song is superb, be it ‘Zindagi ki yahi reet hai’, ‘Hawa Hawai’ or the famous parody.The best thing about the parody was that it was a smartly done tribute to some of the biggest hits of Laxmikant Pyarelal’s earlier tunes. The soundtrack is also memorable since it was perhaps the last Hindi film OST to have most of the sings sung by Kishore Kumar and was also one of the earlier films of Javed Akhtar as a lyricist.
And how can one forget the special effects done by Veeru Devgan & Peter Pereira. All the scenes involving special effects are so very memorable like the one in which you can see Mr. India’s footprints in mud & on the floor while he is entering Teja & Daga’s den to rescue Sridevi. Another scene in which Mr.India comes to Sridevi’s office and one can see the chair slowly reclining and the cold drink slowly getting over indicating that Mr India’s presence or the scenes in which Mr.India is visible only through a red coloured glass. The special effects are done in a simplistic yet effective manner which is remarkable because terms like computers, CG,VFX etc. were terms relatively unheard of during the 80’s. Even now the film or the special effects don’t seem tacky, but sadly today’s films despite having the best of technological resources don’t have an honesty that is visible here.
Anil Kapoor devoid of his usual mannerisms & the Jhakaas mode gives a brilliant performance. As the goofy and struggling common man, Kapoor brings to the part a rare sense of believability & makes it so very likeable. You can’t help but root for his character and is definitely one of his best performances. Interestingly in the whole movie he has worn only one costume i.e. a white shirt with a cheap looking suit and a hat. I was never really fond of Sridevi as an actress due to my trauma associated with a movie called Chandni and the annoying rendition of the title song ‘O Meri Chandni” by her. But in this film , she was amazing in the comedy scenes and displayed a rare sense of superb comic timing which was visible only in a few films like Chaalbaaz. During 80′s most of the kids in films were supremely annoying and spoke like 60 yr old gents but not in Shekhar Kapoor’s films e.g. Masoom. In Mr.India all the child artists were endearing and natural.
The supporting cast comprising of Satish Kaushik, Annu Kapoor, Sharat Saxena , Ajit Vachani were given well defined roles and had their moments of glory in the given screen time. Annu Kapoor was superb as chief editor of a newspaper and had some really funny scenes and it is a pity nowadays that he is not seen much in the movies.
And importantly how can one forget Amrish Puri. As Mogambo, Puri took the film to a different level and was responsible for making it a classic. Equal credit for Mogambo’s character should go to Shekhar Kapoor & Salim-Javed. Everything about the character was terrific, be it the classic dialogue ‘Mogambo Khush Hua’, the way he talks, looks & reacts etc. He does not rape women or kill a lot of people like other villains during 80′s but his gaze itself gave goosebumps. It was a villain with a cartoonish streak which would have ended up as a caricature a la ‘Dong’ from Tehelka, had it been in the hands of an inept director & writers.
As mentioned earlier, I have a lot of memories about Mr India for whenever we used to get a VCR on rent, Mr.India would always remain an automatic choice. This is a fact told by my mom every other time whenever Mr.India is mentioned. I used to play the audio cassette so many times in loop that my dad had to buy the audio cassette thrice. When my dad when to get the cassette for a third time, the shop owner asked him “Kitne baar Mr.India ka cassette loge aap?” to which my Dad jokingly replied “Arre saab hum log itna baar nahin kharidenge toh platinum etc. records kaise hoga?”
After we got a VCP (Video Cassette Player) of our own in 1992, Mr India would still be played once in every 2 weeks. It was one of the first films to be shown on Sony TV when it was launched in India and it is these memories which have made ‘Mr India’ to me an even more special film. Most importantly the film has a heart (not H.A.R.T) and appeals to the kid in you defining it as a timeless classic.
I really hope some better sense prevails amongst Anil & Boney Kapoor and they shelve Mr India 2. A classic never should be tampered with, because no matter how much of the best resources they have at their disposal none of it can ever match or replace Mr.India as a movie.