Like most odious Bollywood films, Himmatwala (1983) has its origins in South India, or what North Indians mischievously refer to as gaand Bharat.
In 1981, a South Indian director with the unpronounceable appellation of Kovelamudi Raghavendra Rao cobbled up a plain awful movie in the Telugu language called Ooriki Monagadu starring Krishna and Jayaprada (who won notoriety in 2013 for supporting the criminal Sanjay Dutt).
Kovelamudi was a blessed soul since he hailed from Andhra Pradesh, a state where Dum Biryani flourishes but civilization, class, and culture are still work in progress.
Given the insatiable passion of the Telugu natives for anything simian in style and content, Ooriki Monagadu turned out to be a super-hit, fueling the ambitions of Kovelamudi to set his sights on the bigger North Indian market.
For the Hindi version, Kovelamudi toiled hard to find the worst actor in the universe and after a long search found one in the shape of the bizarre Amritsar lad Jeetendra, whose screen actions, at the best of times, closely resemble that of an escapee from the notorious Agra mental asylum.
To play the female lead, the director imposed only one condition – the girl should have thunderous, plump thighs to rouse the somnolent snakes in North Indian trousers into a frenzy.
Finally, Kovelamudi happened upon Sridevi, a scheming starlet from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, a land partial to the ardent worship of plump women like Khushboo and Jayalalitha and dark men like Rajinikanth and Vijay.
Sridevi was no Helen of Troy.
With a face not designed to launch 10 catamarans let alone a thousand ships, Sridevi still managed to capture the hearts, minds and, above all, the frenetic hands of millions of panting young South Indian boys, men and not so young men.
Sridevi’s distinguishing traits were those common to all successful South Indian starlets – the clumsy gait of a washerman’s overburdened ass, eyes of a loony, callipygian hips, and the general demeanor of one not well endowed in the upper story.
But her thundering thighs set her apart!
Such are the origins of Himmatwala, the movie which decisively proved North Indians are no less crass in their movie tastes.
Himmatwala went on to become a super-hit and sensitive souls like yours truly living in Mera Bharat Mahaan in the 1980s still remember with anguish the untrammeled assault of the song Naino Mein Sapna on the auditory passages.
Our premature deafness owes in no small measure to the relentless blast of Himmatwala songs from loudspeakers near and far, day and night for months on end in the benighted land of Ashoka, Aurangzeb and Narendra Modi.
Torture Ad Infinitum
The singular achievement of Kovelamudi’s Himmatwala (1983) is that for sane individuals, the film appeared to be targeted completely at quadrupeds (four-legged creatures where the tail is not vestigial).
Alas, since four-legged creatures lack the Rupiah to buy tickets it was left to the North Indian bipeds to do the needful.
North Indians, of all shapes, girths and colors, gleefully flocked in massive numbers to theatres, turning the Himmatwala monstrosity into a blockbuster.
Thanks to the lavish, wanton display of her plump thighs that more than hinted of the lush forest above, Sridevi was immortalized, in the feverish gasps and gushing eruptions of 300 million Indian men, as Thunder Thighs.
Besides Sridevi and Jeetendra, Kovelamudi roped in Amjad Khan, Asrani, Kader Khan, Shakti Kapoor, Swaroop Sampat and Waheeda Rehman to add to the miasma of Himmatwala.
Amjad Khan played Sher Singh Bandookwalla, a wicked fellow terrorizing the people of a nondescript village.
When Sher Singh is not actually shooting enemies into flames on straw piles, his favorite threat to terrify and cow people into submission is to have them throw on the rail tracks and their bodies torn into pieces by the rushing train.
Thank God, the Rajdhani Express was not plying those days!
Jeetendra plays Ravi, the son of a honest schoolmaster who abandons town, forsakes family and loses sanity after his lily-white reputation is stained by the diabolical Sher Singh on false charges of rape.
Sridevi essayed the role of Sher Singh’s haughty college-educated daughter Rekha, dressed in thigh-flaunting attire or black tights.
After two decades outside the village, supported by the hard labors of his mother doing menial work, Ravi returns to the village as an engineer in charge of a new dam coming up in the area.
Ravi’s return to the village sets in motion his encounters with the cruel Sher Singh, the villainous Munimji (Kader Khan) and the unfunny buffoon Bhushan (Asrani).
And of course, his Mills & Boon meeting with Rekha (Sridevi) who quickly gives up her callous behavior after seeing the light of “compassion, love and humanity” and before long falls headlong in love with Ravi.
But before this interminable movie can end and Sher Singh defeated into abject submission we have to endure one monstrous frame after another spanning the spectrum from the hopelessly ridiculous to the utterly insane.
A mute guy Govind (Arun Govil) and his chirpy lover Champa (Shoma Anand) add to the cacophony until they’re both dispatched to their maker by director Kovelamudi.
The sight of Jeetendra and Sridevi repeatedly trying the dancing thing is not for those with delicate health.
Artistic people with high blood pressure or a heart condition must close their eyes when these two hopeless bonobos, Jeetendra and Sridevi, start ‘dancing’ in the interests of maintaining good health.
Veeru Devgan (father of Ajay Devgan who reprises Jeetendra’s role in the 2013 remake of the remake) is the fights director of the 1983 Himmatwala.
A crass and incompetent dolt, it’s safe to say what Veeru Devgan knew of choreographing stunts can be written on one side of a matchbox with space to spare.
That Indian filmmakers should stoop so low as to remake this horror show a second time is a depressing reflection on Bollywood and the millions that embrace such offal.
Directed by a thief called Sajid Khan, the 2013 version of Himmatwala releasing this Friday features Ajay Devgan, Tamanna Bhatia, Mahesh Manjrekar and Paresh Rawal.
Given Indian moviegoers’ utter lack of taste, don’t be surprised if the 2013 version of Himmatwala turns out to be as horrible as the 1983 version and as stupendous a hit.