A dull day exploded into life when I happened to switch on the TV and caught the last half-hour of a mid-1980s film called Insaaf Kaun Karega. Astonishingly, I couldn’t remember anything about the film – and here I was thinking I had an encyclopedic memory of every gloriously kitschy title from that unforgettable decade. Now I’m on territory that other bloggers, notably Great Bong and Megha, have made their own, but I’ve been having many nostalgia conversations with friends about our movie-watching experiences of that time and how they might have warped us for life. (This reminds me of something very funny I read recently about how many Indians born around 1976-77 have been cursed with emotional insecurity issues because their parents had been having "Nervous Sex" around the time of the Emergency.)
Back to Insaaf Kaun Karega. At the point where I come in, Jaya Prada, dressed in garish purple-and-orange kothewaali costume, is performing a dance number for leering villains including Amrish Puri. Bindu plays with a tinful of money in the background. A tiger in a cage bares his fangs indifferently for the camera. The tuneless song reminds me of why we were so quick to press the fast-forward button on our video players back in those days whenever a song sequence came on (what a great conceit that seems when I think of it now – it was like saying, get the songs out of the way but the rest of this masterpiece deserves to be carefully watched. And of course, that was how we felt).
The song finishes. Jaya pulls out a dagger and tries to plunge it into Amrish P’s black heart but another baddie disarms her and carries her off. "Nahin, nahin!" Then who should come to the rescue but Pran (playing one of his embittered-but-goodhearted, doddering old men). He shoots the evil Bindu three times in the stomach region; each time she looks with renewed astonishment at the spot where the bullet entered and emits a short scream; she throws a quick glance off-camera (where the film’s director is standing with a cue card) and collapses spectacularly.
I see Shakti Kapoor and Gulshan Grover running around, shouting. Just as I am beginning to wonder whether this film has any leading men at all, Dharmendra paaji (latter-day Dharam in his Badle ki Aag phase, red-eyed, at his dog-blood-sipping finest) appears on horseback to knock a couple of villains off with his huge fists. Five minutes later the inimitable Rajnikanth announces his presence by somersaulting off a terrace. (What film is this, I’m asking myself in amazement, and why did I never record it in that little notepad I used to carry around everywhere as a child?) He engages Amrish in hand-to-hand combat while Dharmendra does the same with the very uninterested-looking tiger. Just as the tiger (almost in spite of itself) seems to be getting the upper paw, it catches a glimpse of a medallion with a photo of Durga Ma on it. Claps of thunder appear on the soundtrack, split-second shots of lightning are seen. The tiger backs away, mewling.
The villains are vanquished but all didn’t end well: one of the good guys (Pran, who else?) has sacrificed his life to the larger cause. The other good guys stand around in a group, weeping noisily, looking out at the audience with their faces all screwed up. Cut immediately to the last shot, as the closing titles roll: paaji on his knees singing another tuneless song while Jaya dances in garish outfit, looking more or less as interested as she was when performing for the villains.
I miss the ’80s.