Vinod Khanna, Madhuri Dixit, Govinda starrer Maha Sangram is true-blue '90s flick that didn't get its due

Gautam Chintamani

May,12 2018 16:40:16 IST

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Released in the same year as Agneepath (1990), Mukul S. Anand’s Maha Sangram, a multi-starrer with immense potential, often gets overshadowed. Even though Maha Sangram was flawed, what made it an interesting proposition was the manner in which Anand came close to perfectly blending a sense of typical Hindi film grandeur with an independent or art-house passion.

Having made his bones with Kanoon Kya Karega (1984), a low-budget remake of Cape Fear (1962) with Suresh Oberoi and Danny Denzongpa, and then going on to helm a big budget extravaganza like Sultanat (1986) where for the first time Dharmendra and Sunny Deol shared the same screen space, Anand got both to Maha Sangram. If the film had been executed better and not given into what seems like market pressures like increasing Madhuri Dixit’s role post-Tezaab (1989) amongst other things, Maha Sangram had the makings of a classic.

The posters of Maha Sangram.

The film's premise is simple:

Vishal (Vinod Khanna) sends his younger brother Arjun (Govinda) for higher studies to Bombay but he falls in love with Pooja (Shaheen), the daughter of underworld don Bada Ghoda (Amjad Khan). What makes matters worse is that Bada Ghoda has agreed to a truce with his opponent, Vishwas (Kiran Kumar), and promised that his son Suraj or Chota Ghoda (Aditya Pancholi) and daughter, Pooja, would marry Vishwas’ daughter Neelam (Sonu Walia) and Prakash (Sumeet Saigal) respectively. All hell breaks loose when Chota Ghoda gets to know about Pooja and Arjun and the hotheaded gangster vows to stop them at any cost. Unbeknownst to Bada Ghoda, the peace offering is just a ploy by Vishwas to avenge the death of his brother at the hands of Chota Ghoda.

The film starts with the discovery of the Arjun and Pooja’s dead bodies and Vishal arriving in Bombay to find out with happened. Cutting back and forth we see Vishal meeting Jhumri (Madhuri Dixit), a petty thief who enjoys the protection and friendship of Babu Hyderabadi (Shakti Kapoor), and goes on a rampage when he finds out that Chota Ghoda’s men murdered his brother. He learns that Arjun, in order to protect himself and Pooja, had killed Prakash, which made both Suraj and Vishwas see red.

As things unravel, Vishal also finds out that it was, in fact, Babu Hyderabadi, who took the contract to kill Arjun. During a confrontation, Babu tells Vishal that both Arjun and Pooja are alive, as he had accidentally killed someone else. Vishal and Arjun reunite and go to seek Bada Ghoda's blessings and forgiveness. Overwhelmed by emotions Bada Ghoda blesses Arjun and Pooja but this doesn’t go down well with Vishwas, who pits Chota Ghoda against his own father and sister.

Fraught with uninspiring music, clichéd plots and double entendres across lyrics and dialogues, the 1980s were particularly bad for commercial Hindi cinema. It was around this time that a new generation of filmmakers like Rahul Rawail, J.P. Dutta, Subhash Ghai, and Mukul Anand tried to revive the narrative.

Their films had the usual elements of popular Hindi films but at the same time tried to infuse a new kind of storytelling. They didn’t abandon song and dance or the other standard elements but opted not to rely too much on them. Their films contained songs that people still recall but more than the music or the stars it was the characters and the stories they told that made films like Arjun, Dacait, Meri Jung, Kanoon Kya Karega, Ghulami, Hathyar, Yateem and Batwara to name a few stand out.

In many ways, Maha Sangram could have been an Omega point of this movement and the genre as well. But it failed on both accounts thanks to the trappings of the genre that simply pulled it down.

In spite of it all, Maha Sangram stands out because of powerhouse performances by Aditya Pancholi and Amjad Khan, who complement each other perfectly. Pancholi is loud and brash and might induce a headache in some but the honesty of performance transcends all the flaws and similarly Amjad Khan as the silent suffering don is peerless. There are some brilliantly executed set pieces like Babu Hyderabadi’s murder at Haji Ali during a high tide that perhaps also served as an inspiration to the sequence of the attack on Nawab (Aditya Pancholi) in Aatish (1994).

Post-Agneepath Mukul Anand went on to direct Amitabh Bachchan in two more films – Hum (1991) and Khuda Gawah (1992) and following his untimely death a few years later, the Bachchan Trilogy became the best thing the director would be recalled for. Maha Sangram does not have the finesse of Anand’s own cop thriller Insaaf (1987) or the urgency of Agneepath and Kanoon Kya Karega but it still worthy of a revisit, even if in parts.

The film can also be seen as a precursor to Hum (1991), Saathi (1991), Aatish and even Khuda Gawah in terms of scale. If Anand had stuck to exploring the meat of the film rather than getting swayed by the garnishing, Maha Sangram would have been something else.

Updated Date: May 12, 2018 16:40 PM