Dir. Pramod Chakravorty
Jugnu is a super-satisfying masala film built around a title character who is part Batman, part Robin Hood. Batman, because Ashok Roy (Dharmendra) is a wealthy, respected member of his community who moonlights as a disguise-wearing do-gooder. And Robin Hood, because the good that Ashok's alter ego, Jugnu, does is robbing other rich people to finance the orphanage he runs for apparently hundreds of little boys (little orphaned girls are on their own, I guess). As Ashok, he is always nattily dressed, a man about town. When he transforms into Jugnu he might impersonate a sardar or a pathan, defraud a bunch of smugglers out of their booty or creep into a heavily guarded museum to pinch the jewel-encrusted treasures within. Ashok Roy leads a very busy life.
And the movie about him is a ton of fun, about as satisfying masala as there is, seasoned with a few borrowings from the spy-movie and heist-movie genres. In one sequence, Jugnu goes after a bejeweled fish sculpture, protected by the most high-tech security system that the movies can offer: the criss-cross cage of invisible beams that, when breached, trigger an alarm. In Jugnu, the beams become visible to anyone who dons a special viewer that looks suspiciously like a swim mask, and thanks to the film's budget the beams themselves look a whole lot more like neon tubes than ephemeral beams of infrared radiation.
After a jaunty song (of course) distracts the museum guard long enough for Jugnu to climb onto its roof, there is a bit lifted right out of my favorite heist movie, How To Steal A Million (which for all I know lifted it from somewhere else). Jugnu uses a strong magnet's pull through a wall to manipulate a key off its hook and into its keyhole just like Peter O'Toole. Sadly, it isn't followed by setting off the alarm with a toy airplane or making out with Audrey Hepburn in a broom closet, but that's really not a strike against Jugnu. Because who needs Audrey Hepburn when you have Hema Malini, who is as much of a badass in this film as ever? When we (and Ashok) first meet her character, Seema, she is giving a sharp-shooting demonstration with a pair of pistols that charms Ashok right out of his snakeskin shoes. Later, she holds her own in a melee scene or two, something that Hema Malini does more and better than any heroine of her era. She even gets to pilot a helicopter. A HELICOPTER. Seema is also a superior dancer - of course - providing the opportunity for just one of Jugnu's fantastic songs. Another one of those great songs comes when the jealous Ramesh (Prem Chopra), hoping to make a fool of Ashok, spikes a glass of soft drink that is naturally consumed by Seema instead. The result is something magical: not merely a drunk song, and not merely a rain song, but a drunk-in-the-rain song. Bada maza aaya, indeed.
Ramesh's relationship to Ashok is a tangled masala microcosm in itself; after Ashok's grandfather (Nasir Hussain) becomes estranged from Ashok's father (Pran), he is defrauded into believing that Ramesh is his long-lost grandson, and raises the boy with all the love and privilege that should have been Ashok's. In the meantime, Ashok's mother is murdered and little-boy Ashok kills her murderer in revenge; this guy turns out later, of course, to be Seema's father. No masala element is spared in the construction of this magnificent narrative.
And there is more, so much more. Jugnu is an epitome of all the reasons we watch masala. There's Dharmendra's cute patriotic song, performed with the help of a hundred adorable little boys and capped by "Jai Hind" written in fireworks. The theme of patriotism is flogged rather hard throughout, in fact; Ashok's father was a freedom fighter, and though Ashok never knew him, Ashok himself frequently proclaims his loathing for traitors. There's a comic sidekick as well, Mehmood, who gets his apotheosis while wearing a clown suit and evading a prowling tiger. There is even Ajit as the head bad guy, menacing about his stylish tricked-out lair with a steel lobster claw in place of a hand. Jugnu just pulls out all the stops in the name of paisa vasool, and it doesn't disappoint - not for a minute.