Tridev turns 30: How Rajiv Rai's 1989 film revitalised the Bollywood multistarrer
In Tridev, Rajiv Rai successful managed to pack in not just three leading men and women but a barrage of secondary and tertiary characters that never got the short end of the stick.
The year Salman Khan emerged as a bonafide superstar with Maine Pyar Kya, Yash Chopra made a stunning return with Chandni. The numero uno box office stars Sridevi and Anil Kapoor too had stamped their dominance with smash hits such as Chaalbaaz and Ram Lakhan. But 1989 should not really be recalled as the year where the multistarrer — the one-time staple genre of popular Hindi cinema — got a near-perfect ode. By the time Rajiv Rai’s Tridev released in July 1989, the multistarrer was long past its glory days, but something about the film clicked like never before with the audience. The film not only became one of its kind but also infused energy across the various elements of this popular Hindi film template, leaving a long-lasting impression.
Tridev arrived during a period when popular Hindi cinema’s fortune was on the upswing thanks to a resurgence that was ushered in by Mansoor Khan’s Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988). The 1980s had seen the multistarrer become the mainstay for a lot of actors, but the quality was a pale shadow of what most of the other genres had managed. Even action as a genre had come to point where the narrative needed a substantial makeover, and Tridev became the cauldron where everything came together.
Directed by Rajiv Rai, Tridev was a film that was waiting to happen for a better part of the 1980s. The son of producer Gulshan Rai (whose filmography includes iconic films such as Johny Mera Naam (1970), Deewar (1975) and Trishul (1978) besides Dreamgirl (1977) and Vidhaata (1982)), Rajiv grew up around the likes of Vijay Anand and Yash Chopra, who directed films for his father. He also assisted Yash Chopra for a few years before directing his first film, Yudh (1985). Rai’s filmmaking reveals the influence of the likes of not only Goldie Anand and Yash Chopra on his style, but he also imbibed a bit of the grittiness that early Subhash Ghai films displayed. As Rai was present in an era where VHS had inundated India, one can also see how action films of the early 1980s inspired his blocking in Yudh. Although Rai’s debut Yudh failed at the box office, it nonetheless displayed enough potential in his skill as a filmmaker to follow closely. If in Yudh, Rai tried to give an edgy makeover to the classic Hindi film love-triangle, in Tridev, Rai successful managed to pack in not just three leading men and women but a barrage of secondary and tertiary characters that never got the short end of the stick.
There is no denying that Rai could have been inspired by his father’s banner, Trimurti Films, when he envisioned Tridev as a modern-day retelling of the trinity of gods; but barring the name, nothing about the film was antiquated. The film pivoted around an honest cop, Karan (Sunny Deol), who is framed by Bhujan (Amrish Puri), a powerful crime lord, and how he plots his revenge. Karan is engaged to Divya (Madhuri Dixit), the daughter of the city’s Police Commissioner (Anupam Kher), but her brother Ravi (Jackie Shroff) often resorts to criminal behaviour and even joins Bhujan and his sons (Dan Dhanoa and Tej Sapru). When Karan is wrongly framed and sent to a village called Madhavpur, he meets Jai Singh (Naseeruddin Shah), a villager with a heart of gold, who had also suffered at the hands of Bhujan back when he was called Bhairon Singh. In a strange twist of fate, Jai becomes a film star and shifts to the city after he witnesses Karan being burnt alive. Karan survives the attempt on his life with a little help from Ravi and becomes a vigilante. The three men — Karan, Jai, and Ravi — join forces with their sweethearts Divya, Renu (Sonam) and Natasha (Sangeeta Bijlani) and strive to eliminate the one fount of all evil - Bhujan.
The film’s story (Arshad Parvez, Rajiv Rai, K.K. Singh) might not be anything special, but a deft screenplay and Rai’s treatment took it to another level. The sheer audacity of its action set-pieces, such as the prison break where Ravi flies over the prison in a helicopter to free Bhujan’s brother Raghav (Rajesh Vivek) to save his sister, is simply out of this world. Although the film’s music rehashed some popular English songs of the era, it nonetheless ushered in a new sound in Hindi films. Composed by Viju Shah, who up until then was known for his sessions work besides being the legendary composer Kalyani Shah’s son, Tridev’s soundtrack featured the year’s biggest hit ‘Trichi Topiwale’ (vocals - Sapna Mukherjee, Amit Kumar, Lyrics - Anand Bakshi) that liberally lifted the melody from Gloria Estefan’s Rhythm is Gonna Get You. The film’s introduction ‘Tridev’, narrated by Naseeruddin Shah, was a reworking of Pet Shop Boys’ ‘One More Chance’while the romantic duet ‘Main Teri Mohabbat Main’ (Sadhana Sargam, Md. Aziz, lyrics - Anand Bakshi) rekindled memories of Tangerine Dreams’ Song of the Whale. One of the other songs, ‘Gali gali mein’ (vocals- Manhar Udhas, Alka Yagnik, lyrics- Anand Bakshi) remains one of the best from the period, both in terms of composition and the way it was filmed.
There has been a revival of the 1980s' inspired films in the last decade where more movies are trying to rehash themes that were popular in the decade with the action genre being at the centre of it all. In this aspect, nearly all of them seem to be paying a tribute to some aspect of Tridev. The film’s action still looks fresh when compared to the Singhams of the world; its music and background score continue to stand out; and none of the supporting cast, even walk-on parts portrayed by Yunus Pervez or Shubiraj, stick out. Besides a larger-thantlife villain in Amrish Puri, the zaniness of actors such as Dan Dhanoa and Dalip Tahil and the vibrant sound effects, the film also created a new style statement where Jackie Shroff sports his sister’s Bandhini dupattas as a fashion accessory. It’s hardly surprising then that even after thirty years, few films in the recent past can hold a candle to Tridev.
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