I love 1960s Bollywood, with its grand homages to modern style and its riffs on the tension between tradition and modernity. My favorite Hindi films of that era delight me with their heady fusion of East and West - not to mention stars in cigarette pants dancing the Mashed Potato or driving flashy mod roadsters, and sets decked out in elaborate mood-lit pastels. And for a generous helping of all of these, the multi-star hit Waqt ("time") absolutely delivers.
Lala Kedarnath (Balraj Sahni) is on top of the world. With a booming retail business, a beautiful wife Laxmi (Achala Sachdev) whom he adores, and three adorable little boys, Kedarnath believes that fate has dealt him a winning hand, and life will only get better. But, the film tells us in the opening voice-over, time's "moving finger" has other plans for Kedarnath. A terrible earthquake destroys Kedarnath's business, and his family is scattered in its aftermath. Laxmi wanders through refugee camps with their youngest son, eventually finding work as a seamstress, and the boy Vijay grows into a serious young graduate (Shashi Kapoor). The middle son is taken in by a wealthy childless couple, growing into Ravi (Sunil Dutt), a playful young man on the threshold of a career in law. The oldest son Raja, after a brief stint in an orphanage run by a cruel schoolmaster (Jeevan), escapes to a life on the streets. Taken under the wing of a crooked diamond dealer named Chinoy (Rehman), Raja matures to become a suave hustler (Raaj Kumar). After learning of Raja's treatment at the orphanage, Kedarnath murders the schoolmaster in a fit of rage and frustration, and spends upwards of twenty years in prison. But destiny works toward reuniting the star-crossed family. Raja and Ravi both fall for the same girl, Meena (Sadhana), the beautiful daughter of an upstanding jurist. And Ravi's adoptive sister Renu (Sharmila Tagore) meets the studious Vijay in school and pursues a romance with him. Vijay, eager to earn some money to help the ailing Laxmi (and to be worthy of Renu), takes a job as Chinoy's driver. Soon, Chinoy's shady dealings bring the three unknown brothers together, with lives hanging in the balance.
The box cover of the Waqt DVD claims that the film is a pioneering multi-starrer that defined the Yash Chopra style for decades to come. I can easily believe this. Waqt is truly enormous in scope, with equal attention given to all its numerous stars. (Though, I couldn't resist the thought that the movie could have been even more epic had the brothers been played by Shashi, Shammi, and Raj Kapoor.) Even the parents get a song of their own, the beautiful qawwali "Ae meri zohra jabeen", picturized on a dashing Balraj Sahni and a blushing Achala Sachdev.
The movie's ultimate message is that the wheel of fortune never stops turning, and even its happy ending is tempered by Kedarnath's somber reminder that joy in the moment is only fleeting, and luck can change in an instant. In addition to that sobering idea, such themes as destiny, sacrifice, familial devotion, and transcending of class barriers that characterize many Yash Chopra (and, later, Aditya Chopra) films are amply explored in Waqt as well. Young Vijay is prepared to sacrifice his career prospects, his love for Renu, and even his principles to save his ailing mother - and his piety protects both of them, in grand dramatic style, when he breaks down after swearing on a copy of the Bhagavadgita. Ravi initially turns up his nose at Vijay, telling him that a driver should know his place - but he is set straight by a chastisement from the democratically-minded Renu. Even the hardened Raja is not immune from the pull of fraternal responsibility, willingly laying everything he values (including Meena) at the feet of Ravi when he learns of their true relation. Three decades before Karan Johar made a film under the Yash Raj banner, Waqt was all about loving your family.
Even more than that, though, Waqt is about epitomizing the visually sumptuous style of its time. In a competition that feels almost prescient of American Graffiti, Raja and Ravi drag-race their tiny convertibles with high mid-century elan. Vijay and Renu's adorable dockside song "Din hai bahaar ke" exemplifies the style as well. From Meena's colorful outfits to the lavish decor of her home, from Raja's tailored tuxedos to Ravi's cigarette pants and V-neck sweaters, every lovingly-composed scene in Waqt is packed full of mod. The screen capture at the top of this post offers a taste, and while I don't normally use a lot of screen captures in my posts, it's unfair to Waqt not to, so here are a few more (click to see them larger).