Dir. Manmohan Desai
Manmohan Desai's masala films are the richest, most symbolically laden, most delightfully creative of their time. His stories are packed with archetypes for good and evil, god and godlessness, creation, nurture, and destruction. They are masterful concoctions, with equal parts allegory and entertainment value bursting out of every frame. Naseeb is no exception to this - indeed, it's a superb exemplar, offering big themes, fun songs, more henchmen than you can shake a stick at, and a top-notch climax.
If you took Amar Akbar Anthony, pureed it in a blender, and passed it through a sieve into a parallel universe, you might end up with something like Naseeb. The syncretic spirit of that older film, joining Hindu, Muslim, and Christian to muster the strength of the nation itself in triumph over evil, is captured here right from the very beginning in the three rings worn by Namdev (Pran). Namdev is the victim of a grave injustice; like Pran's character in Amar Akbar Anthony, he is framed for a crime, wins a fortune, and has it stolen from him all within the first 20 minutes of the film. And like that character - like most anyone seeking justice in India - he must wait many years to see justice served.
Where Amar Akbar Anthony distributed the three gods across three brothers, Naseeb jelly-rolls them into one John Jaani Janardhan (Amitabh Bachchan), who introduces himself to the world in song much the Anthony Gonsalves did.
Speaking of Anthony Gonsalves, where he leapt out of an Easter egg, here Asha (Hema Malini), "India's most famous singer," steps out of an Easter basket to perform her signature song. And just like Amar Akbar Anthony, Naseeb's climax begins with a fantastically-costumed number in which all three principals and their romantic partners distract the bad guys.
But Naseeb ups the ante. This climax doesn't just offer silly costumes and acrobatic fistfights; it sets them in a revolving skyscraper-top restaurant which it then sets on fire.
Bottom line, Naseeb is as good and rich and satisfying as any masala movie you'll ever see, including Desai's other bests, Amar Akbar Anthony and Parvarish. Naseeb's cadre of villains includes Amjad Khan, Kader Khan, Shakti Kapoor, Prem Chopra, Yusuf Khan, and Amrish Puri – Pran, as noted above, is a good guy in this one, much as he is in Amar Akbar Anthony. With that crew, plus Amitabh, Rishi Kapoor, and Shatrugan Sinha on the side of light, Desai does skimp a little on the heroines. Hema Malini brings first-class star power, her gorgeous smile, and not a small helping of guts and ass-kickery.
But the other female leads are somewhat lesser lights – Rishi Kapoor and Shatrugan Sinha end up with Kim and Reena Roy, respectively. These two are certainly up to the tasks they are given, even if they aren't in the same league as Parveen Babi, Shabana Azmi, or Neetu Singh. But each gets a song – Kim's is a terrific boys-against-girls kabbadi sequence with Rishi.
The Farah Khan antecedents are as strong in Naseeb as her explicit quotations from Karz and Masoom. The college sequence in which Rishi Kapoor rabble-rouses from the roof and attempts to save Kim from a burning dormitory obviously provided a profound influence on Main hoon na. And the parade of star cameos in the picturization of John Jaani Janardhan's self-laudatory song – which is set at the golden jubilee celebration of Dharam-Veer – anticipates Om shanti om's "Deewanagi deewanagi" by almost three decades, and maybe does an even better job at capturing the glitter and reverence of a Bollywood star-party.
And get a load of the adorable pixie on Sharmila Tagore. Yum!
But wait - there's more. There is a delightful drunken buddy song between Rishi and Amitabh (Beth points out that there is something depressingly meta about Rishi Kapoor's character observing that since his family is full of alcoholics, he may as well drink too.) Shatrugan Sinha plays one of his trademark morally grey characters, like in Desai's Aa gale lag jaa, who seems like a creep but actually never does anything wrong and turns out to be a pretty good guy. If that's not all, there is sabre fencing – sabre fencing! - between Pran and a gloriously blond-wigged-and-bearded Amrish Puri. There is Lalita Pawar in perfect masala-maa form. And to punctuate Desai's syncretic message, Pran's rings get distributed among the three principals, who each take a turn making an “impression” on Yusuf Khan …
… before using the rings to support their weight as they zipline to safety out the towering windows of the burning restaurant. Wah ji wah.
In short, if you like masala – and let me tell you, I like masala – there is really no reason not to watch this movie over and over again. I'll be right there with you. Mere naseeb mein hai.