Kroadh: Sunny Deol-Sanjay Dutt's tale of two brothers bent on revenge deserves a re-examination
While Ram Lakhan is popularly considered to be a farewell to the classic Bollywood ‘do bhaiyon ki kahaani’, the mostly forgotten Kroadh (K Shashilal Nair, 1990) perhaps might be a more worthy contender when it comes to bidding adieu to the template
Editor's note: Whatever happened to watching a film, just because? 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.
The drama surrounding two brothers has been one of Hindi cinema’s beloved plot ploys ever since one can recall. The sub-genre practically remained the same from the 1950s that saw Mother India (Mehboob Khan, 1957), Naya Daur (BR Chopra, 1957), Ganga Jumna (Nitin Bose, 1961) till the mid-1970s where Deewar (Yash Chopra, 1975) paid a great tribute to the theme. The sub-genre enjoyed a high point with Parinda (Vidhu Vinod Chopra, 1989) and Ram Lakhan (Subhash Ghai,1989) and finally got a major makeover with Kapoor & Sons (Shakun Batra, 2016) where other themes such as a dysfunctional family and sexual identity were merged. While Ram Lakhan is popularly considered to be a farewell to the classic Bollywood ‘do bhaiyon ki kahaani’, the mostly forgotten Kroadh (K Shashilal Nair, 1990) perhaps might be a more worthy contender when it comes to bidding adieu to the template. Besides being an elegy to the two brothers concept, Kroadh is also a requiem for many things that were classic Hindi cinema of yore.
Kroadh is the story of two brothers — Ajay (Sunny Deol) and Vijay (Sanjay Dutt) — in search of Dharamdas (Yashwant Dutt), the man who killed their mother while they were young. The two only know the name ‘Dharamdas’ and move to Mumbai to become criminals in order to unearth the man. Ajay’s childhood sweetheart Matki (Amrita Singh) accompanies them and the two brothers help out her uncle, Mastram (Jagdeep) by bashing the goons who collect hafta. The brothers do this to come in contact with the gangster Avasthi (Paresh Rawal) and impress him enough to take them on as partners. Avasthi pretends to be their friend but does not tell them that his arch-rival Kumar, in fact, is Dharamdas. Vijay falls in love with a club singer, Sonu (Sonam) and the four go to a Md Rafi memorial concert where the Amitabh Bachchan is paying a tribute to the legendary singer.
Kumar sends the police there to nab Ajay and Vijay, and while Vijay escapes Ajay is caught. Sentenced to death, Ajay makes Vijay promise to become the biggest criminal in the city and kill Dharamdas. Vijay becomes the kingpin of the underworld but fate takes a strange twist when an incarcerated Ajay undergoes a transformation. He becomes a police officer following a meeting with the jailor, Aslam Khan (Anang Desai), who also happens to be the husband of Ajay’s adopted sister Salma (Pallavi Joshi). Ajay is tasked to arrest Vijay and the two brothers now have to convince each other that their way to catch the mythical Dharamdas is the best.
Kroadh’s deviation from the standard format with both brothers becoming criminals and later Ajay undergoing a transformation, is what separates it from the others. Usually, the elder brother protects the younger from evils of the world but here Ajay actually pumps Vijay right from the time they were children. Rather than exploring this facet in greater detail, Kroadh spends most of its screen time chasing the typical ‘do bahiyon ki kahaani’ tenets and by the time things come to a pass, the viewer loses interest. The screenplay of the film is ordinary with every single reel making a reference to some iconic film and at places the narrative lazily lifts entire sequences from films such as The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972), Deewar, The Untouchables (Brian De Palma, 1987) without even pretending to an attempt to avoid blatant plagiarism.
It is not as if Kroadh does not surprise the viewer. There are a few moments that make the effort of viewing the film worthwhile. The one thing that truly stands out is Sanjay Dutt’s performance where he is the innocent young boy trying to please his elder brother and at the same time, a cold and heartless killer. Dutt resembles a ticking time bomb and the fine line that he walks where you don’t know what he will do the next moment holds the film that tends to wander off easily. Even in the scenes where he is warm and friendly, his eyes are blank and it is a joy to watch him. While people associate Sunny Deol with Ghayal (Rajkumar Santoshi, 1990) when it comes to onscreen anger it is, in fact, Kroadh where for the first time one sees the angry young man from Ghayal. Released a few months before Ghayal, Kroadh’s courtroom scene where Ajay is sentenced to death is a precursor to the outburst that his Ajay Mehra has in Ghayal. Even the antics of Matki, the sweet girlfriend from childhood seems to be the inspiration for the Salman Khan-Mamta Kulkarni scenes from Karan Arjun (Rakesh Roshan, 1995). Interestingly enough, as Satya (Ram Gopal Varma, 1998) celebrates its 20th anniversary, many of the film’s moments find inspiration in Kroadh such as the brothers shack up in a tabela upon reaching the city or the iconic scene where the rival gang members spot Satya in the cinema hall and plan to take him out.
In hindsight, Kroadh remains a badly made film but probably not as bad as it might have seemed at the time of its release. Nestled between Falak (1988), the film that made the world aware of Nair’s presence and Angaar (1992), the one that established him as a big-ticket filmmaker, Kroadh might never enjoy a revival of interest such as the one Angaar has been experiencing. But the film has enough of the curiosity factor for aficionados from a meta-cinema point of view.
The manner in which Koradh uses Hindi film tropes such as the brother (Sunny Deol) nearly being the cause of the death of his adopted sister’s suhaag, the nightclub singer girlfriend who has to pay the price of being loved by the hero, and even the references to Mumbai, both within the film such as the familiar imagery (the former Churchgate station, etc.) and the song ‘Bombay, Bombay’ and outside for the audience watching it such as archival shots of Md Rafi’s funeral procession intercut with the song ‘Muhammad Rafi tu bahut yaad aaya’ is now almost dead. The meta-cinema narrative where such tropes and also Mastram’s dialogues where he tells Ajay and Vijay, who have come from the village, that he is known to popular film stars, leave no doubt in the audience that they are watching a typical Hindi film, might warrant a worthy reexamination.
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