Muqaddar Ka Sikandar: Underrated Amitabh Bachchan-starrer is the quintessential '70s Hindi film

Gautam Chintamani

November 08, 2018 16:50:16 IST

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the third biggest Hindi grosser of the 1970s, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978) and even though it was surpassed by only Sholay (1975) and Bobby (1973), the film rarely finds a mention in the cinematic achievements of the decade. However, despite often getting overshadowed by not only Sholay or Bobby but also many other blockbusters of the era, director Prakash Mehra’s Muqaddar Ka Sikandar remains iconic and could, in fact, be the quintessential 70s Hindi film.

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Poster for Muqaddar Ka Sikandar

To understand what Muqaddar Ka Sikandar’s success means, one needs to begin with looking at blockbusters of the 1970s that did not feature Amitabh Bachchan. Amongst the films that one readily recalls from the era, there are only a handful that do not feature Bachchan, at least post-1975 where he finally arrived with Sholay and Deewar (1975). In this list, the films that prominently feature are Hum Kissie Se Kum Nahin (1977), Khel Khel Mein (1975), Golmaal (1979) and Aandhi (1975), to name a few. When you look at these films, the genres — musical, romance, comedy — vastly differ from the ones that Bachchan ensconced himself in. Even in Bachchan’s own case, when one considers these genres the more successful examples are Chupke-Chupke (1975), Hera Pheri (1976) in comedy, Kabhi Kabhie (1976) in romance. Perhaps that is why a Muqaddar Ka Sikandar is forgotten by even the diehard film aficionados.

The other reason why Muqaddar Ka Sikandar is overlooked could also have to do with Bachchan’s ‘other’ films becoming bigger cultural milestones for a cross-section of the audiences. When compared to Sholay, Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Kabhi Kabhie and Don (1979), Muqadaar Ka Sikandar appears to cater to a specific group. The character that Bachchan played in the film is a homeless urchin brought up by his foster mother (Nirupa Roy). He is wronged by nearly everyone he has ever come across. Unlike the other films, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar had elements of comedy, action and romance but it was not multi-dimensional enough to cater to all types of audiences.

In the Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema, Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen observe that this is the film that establishes Bachchan as "the icon of Bombay’s industrialised lumpen proletariat". Written by Lakshmikant Sharma with the screenplay by Vijay Kaul and dialogues by Kadar Khan, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar in some ways is also an interpretation of Devdas where Sikandar (Bachchan) cannot have Kaamna (Rakhee) and will not commit to Zohra Bai (Rekha), a prostitute, and the other woman in his life. In the film, Sikandar, as a young boy, falls in love with Kaamna, the daughter of his employer but is accused of theft and thrown out. Years later, Sikandar attains enough wealth but still pines for Kaamna memsahib’s forgiveness and love. He befriends Vikas (Vinod Khanna), a lawyer, who ends up falling in love with Kaamna. When Sikandar gets to know of his friend’s love, he ‘sacrifices’ as Vikas’ happiness is everything for him. Later, Zohra takes her own life and Sikandar arranges Vikas’s marriage to Kaamna before dying at the hands of the villain, Bilawal (Amjad Khan), a former lover of Zohra.

In retrospect, many social commentators have observed the high degree of fraternal, queer camp romance in the buddy films that Mehra made with Bachchan and Khanna. In Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Bachchan, playing a modern-day Devdas, vows to give up alcohol not for lady love Rakhee but for his ‘yaar’ Vinod Khanna. Whereas the bromance in Hera Pheri and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar has been revisited over and over again to suggest how the sexual camp outstrips most “other mise en scènes of (mis)recognition of queer scenarios in later Bollywood.”

Muqaddar Ka Sikandar had nearly all the elements that have now come to define the cinema of the 1970s. Intriguingly enough, on closer inspection, one can also see how this blockbuster had the ‘second-rung’ of talent that comes close to matching, even outdoing, the best across various departments of filmmaking. However, it is still not taken into consideration for all-time greatness. While the decade was defined by directors such as Yash Chopra, Manmohan Desai and Ramesh Sippy, Mehra was left out of the hallowed circle. Similarly, when it came to writers, a Salim-Javed (Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar) or a Gulzar and Sachin Bhowmick outdid Satish Bhatnagar, Prayagraaj, Kader Khan and Vijay Kaul. In the music scene, Kalyanji-Anandji might have been one of the greats to compose for Hindi films but their name comes after Shankar-Jaikishen, SD Burman, RD Burman, and Laximikant-Pyarelal.

Yet Muqaddar Ka Sikandar has aged better than some of its more famous contemporaries and still packs a punch especially when it comes to Bachchan’s extraordinary performance. Maybe this is why the film is, in fact, the essential 1970s’ film.

Updated Date: Nov 08, 2018 16:55 PM