Monday, 30th October 2017

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45 years of Namak Haraam: Raise a toast to bittersweet bromance

This is a rare Bollywood film that shows what happens to bromance when life happens

By Sulagna Biswas
  • Published 30.11.18, 2:47 PM
  • Updated 30.11.18, 2:51 PM
  • a min read
A still from Namak Haraam. YouTube

Diye jal te hain, phool khilte hain, badi mushkil se magar duniya mein dost milte hain.

That's Somu singing as Vicky films him lovingly in the Hrishikesh Mukherjee movie on friendship torn apart by class war that completes 45 years this November.

In their second outing together after Anand, India's first superstar Rajesh Khanna plays a nice guy from a humble home who's best friends with a millionaire (emerging hero Amitabh Bachchan) in Namak Haraam.

Kaka's Somu got a glorious arc — he shifts loyalties from friend to friend's employees to earn the film's title and a glorious death. Bachchan's Vicky only got a jail term and a shot at redemption, but when the movie released in 1973, the writing was on the wall. AB's star was powered by a rocket. Kaka's slide would begin.

Like Somu and Vicky, their trajectories would separate, even though Bachchan, in a tweet sometime back, had recalled fondly how the uber expensive video recorder seen in Diye jalte hain had actually belonged to superstar Khanna.

A mainstream movie with music (RB Burman in fine fettle) that explores the fundamentals of capitalism, socialism and wealth distribution is ambitious. But 1970s India liked to sneer at the filthy rich and equated poverty with spiritual wealth, and Namak Haraam doesn't stray from this moral universe. At the same time, with Gulzar's tight script, Hrishida deftly sidestepped rigid good-bad binaries for the most part. Okay, poor parent (Somu's mother played by Durga Khote) makes laddoos and is nice, rich parent (Vicky's industrialist father Om Shivpuri) hires contract killers and is anything but nice. But their sons live more ambiguously in friendship, role-playing and real class divides.

This is a rare Bollywood film that gets under the skin of bromance to show what happens to it when life happens. There comes a time when a shared bottle of expensive whisky ceases to be a bond. One friend treats it as a drink while another wonders whether one glass equals a poor worker's monthly wages. Raise a toast to bittersweet endings.