Mahesh Bhatt's Awaargi: This Anil Kapoor, Govinda starrer didn't get the recognition it deserved

Gautam Chintamani

Oct,16 2017 15:18:51 IST

Editor's note: When was the last time you watched a film, just because you stumbled upon on it, or heard someone mention it in passing? We're so used to reviews, previews and a barrage of recommendations — it almost feels like it is impossible to enjoy watching a film without it being topical. And so, here's a column we're introducing — Films, Just Because — where we talk about films, just because.


In an age when the word ‘genius’ or ‘brilliant’ is instantly attached to any film that manages to stand out a little, how does one define films that in spite of some degree of cinematic magnificence lay forgotten? The one term that is usually attached to such films is ‘underrated’ but is this enough to celebrate few films whose significance can only be measured in hindsight. One such film is Mahesh Bhatt’s Awaargi (1990) that featured all the right inputs from the point of view of popular Hindi cinema in terms of cast and script but failed at the box-office and still remains largely forgotten despite being a major influence on two immensely successful films.

Poster for Mahesh Bhatt's Awaargi

Poster for Mahesh Bhatt's Awaargi

On the face of it even the die-hard Hindi cinema aficionado might not be able to find any relation between Awaargi and Sadak (1991) or Awaargi and Rangeela (1995) but scratch the surface a little and you’d see the straight connection. Awaargi is about Azad (Anil Kapoor), a mob henchman, and his love for Meena (Meenakshi Seshadri), a prostitute whom he rescues and helps become a singer. Azad becomes obsessed with making Meena famous and entrusts her to Dhiren (Govinda), a stage singer, who transforms her into a star. Azad’s silent love for Meena sees him take on Ranubhai (Avtar Gill), the owner of the brothel Meena is saved from, Bhau (Paresh Rawal), a don whom Ranubhai reports to and even Lala Jamal Khan (Anupam Kher), Azad’s own benefactor and Bhau’s rival. Additionally, Azad distances himself from Meena as well in order to not let the darkness of his world devour her and suffers more as he sees her and Dhiren falling in love. Written by Suraj Sanim, Awaargi has three tracks — Azad and the murky world that he rescues Meena from, Dhiren and Meena’s romance and Bhai versus Lala — and the narrative blends them well without letting go of the element of starkness that binds them. The film has wonderful performances especially Anil Kapoor and Govinda, who infuse great restraint and take it a few notches higher than the material.

Awaargi has a very interesting blend of the 1980s and 1990s where one can see a typical 1980s’ temperament in the story and the characters but a very 1990s-like treatment where a popular film tries to maintain an art-house like starkness amid the song-and-dance routine. Such treatment can be rightly attributed to Mahesh Bhatt, who first sowed the seeds in Naam (1986) and perfected the template with Saathi (1991), Sadak (1991) and Naajayaz (1995). This kind of cinema placed paramount importance on performances and everything else followed, which explains their overtly simplified nature. Bhatt’s partner in crime cinematographer Pravin Bhatt’s signature style gave these films a very typical look and feel. This distinctive style featured brightly lit frames that were essential to ensure the visibility of the image in theatres with even bad projection. Also, at the time the change in cinematography being ushered in by Kiran Deohans (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) and Binod Pradhan (Parinda (1989), 1942: A Love Story (1994) had not become standard and harsh direct lighting controlled by diffusers made the imagery functional. Similarly, at places, even Sanim’s dialogues and Anand Bakshi’s lyrics (sample this: 'Mujre wali hoon main mujra karti hoon, Rusva hoti hoon, main sabko rusva karti hoon'), seem utilitarian and therefore rob Awaargi of a chance to be significant in popular Hindi cinema. While most things in Awaargi — at best — seem basic, Kapoor and Govinda’s acting besides Mahesh Bhatt’s direction make the film’s context worthy of a serious cinematic debate.

Interestingly Awaargi seems to be the inspiration behind one of Bhatt’s most successful films Sadak and also Rangeela that practically is the same film infused with saccharine escapism. If Awaargi had followed Azad and Meena on the run after they escape from Ranubhai’s brothel it could have become Sadak. Similarly had Awaargi not have the realism and daydreamed a scenario where Meena, impractical and unfeasible as it was, ‘returned’ to Azad it could have been Rangeela where Mili (Urmila Matondkar) rejects stardom for Munna (Aamir Khan). Many times, certain films miss the mark but end up hitting bulls eye when reimagined — Do Dooni Chaar (1968) featuring Kishore Kumar and Asit Sen was the original version of Angoor (1982), Raat (1992) was rehashed as Bhoot (2003) by Ram Gopal Varma and similarly Black (2005) tackles the same terrain as Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s original Khamoshi: The Musical (1996).

The passage of time often sees such ‘underrated’ films, which fail with both audiences as well as critics at the time of their initial release, garner respectability thanks to a rediscovery via some kind of a cult following. Could it be that Awaargi’s simplicity in execution — difficult to intellectualise — hampers the film’s rediscovery? If you like Bollywood grittiness then Awaargi will have you right from the get-go, thanks to Anil Kapoor and Ghulam Ali’s voice in the ghazal ‘Chamakte chand ko tuta hua tara bana dala’ (Music: Annu Malik, Lyrics: Anand Bakshi). Unfortunately, Awaargi hasn’t enjoyed the kind of rejuvenation it deserves yet but it’s only a matter of time before it’s truly rediscovered.

Updated Date: Oct 16, 2017 15:18 PM