India 1970
Directed by S. Ram Sharma.

In his patriotic films, Manoj Kumar has always walked that fine line between righteousness and being a self-righteous prick. He firmly camps in the latter category here, as Bhanu, a representative of the working class who spends his free time wandering the streets with a pack of musicians denouncing anyone and everyone he deems to not be patriotic enough. The songs are catchy, but there is something unsettling in championing the way he incites the crowd to blacken the face of, for example, a doctor who refuses to treat patients who cannot pay his fee. His one stringed instrument strikes terror in the hearts of businessmen throughout the town, and earns him the enmity of the Maharaja and his son, the lecherous, drunken, and thoroughly westernized Prince (Prem Chopra). What none of them know, though, (but we do) is that Bhanu is the Maharaja's son.

He didn't want the child, though, so mom (Kamini Kaushal) had to flee the palace with the newborn Bhanu to keep him alive. She dropped him in a car, sitting idle in the desert, just for a moment, so she could flee the Maharaja's goons. The car was owned by Mamaji (Pran), a desperate alcoholic who has a weird habit of eating cigars. He happened to be in the desert that day murdering his wife and her lover. When he got back to his car and saw the baby, he figured he should take care of it, and entrusted it to his assassin friend Chand Seth.

Two main conflicts drive the story forward. First, there are general elections being held, and Bhanu is convinced to run, as a man of the people. The Maharaja is also running, intent on remaining in power despite the transition from autocracy to democracy. Lots of attempted bribery and name smearing ensues.

Second, there is the Prince, who rather fancies the sweet and good hearted Bavna (Nutan). He wants to possess her, but she isn't interested. In fact, after first being rebuked by Bhanu, she finds herself falling in love with him. The Prince tries a variety of ways to make her change her mind, including inviting her to a drunken orgy (of course everyone is well covered, but it reeks of decadence -- lots of blonde haired foreigners in attendance being the first clue). Later he kidnaps her and threatens to put her uncle in jail unless she agrees to marry him.

YAADGAR is entertaining, though wildly uneven, veering from touching moments of drama to hilarious moments that you would only expect in a parody of Bollywood movies, not in the actual thing. Pran, after so many movies, perhaps was running out of unique character traits to try out, so I suppose I can't blame him, but in this one he occasionally has seizures that he settles down by drinking booze -- the way he drinks is to hold the bottle and one end of his scarf in one hand, then pull the other end until the bottle reaches his mouth. He also eats cigars like beef jerky.

For all of us who have wondered through the years if dancing and singing up in the mountains is safe, YAADGAR includes an unbelievable moment of two lovers cavorting in the mountains, then accidentally falling to their deaths, for no apparent reason and without any foreshadowing.

Parts of YAADGAR take place in the desert. It is never clear exactly where the desert is in relation to the town, but it is apparently nearby, as sometimes a chase will go from the town to the desert without anything in between. Interestingly, though, it is never night in the desert, even if it was in town before you left.

Written by Manoj Kumar, YAADGAR can be seen as an unofficial entry in his "Bharat" series of patriotic movies. Unofficial because he has a different name here (Bhanu), and because he did not direct, as he did the others in the series. Compared to these other movies, YAADGAR is easily the weakest. But it is nevertheless quite entertaining, with a strong musical score, some very memorable scenes, and lots of scenery-chewing villainry. Let the one-stringed instrument speak!

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on November 20, 2005.

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