Raj Babbar recently lost the Lok Sabha elections. He celebrates his birthday on 23rd June. Babbar was hardly known for his acting competence. Here is a look at one of his lesser-known films that showcases his acting prowess.
Even elephants can slip. That is the thought that crosses your mind when you watch Jhooti (1985) directed by legendary filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Mukherjee, who is known for Bollywood classics like Anupama, Musafir, Anand, Namak Haraam, Khubsoorat, Golmal, Satyakam, Naram Garam, Bawarchi, Mem Didi, Abhiman, Mili, Anari and Guddi seemed to have lost his magical touch with advancing age and a debilitating illness.
Sadly, Mukherjee's last movie Jhoot Bole Kauwa Kaate (1998) that starred Anil Kapoor and Juhi Chawla was a box office disaster. But Mukherjee’s oeuvre is not only vast but also exceptionally brilliant. There is no doubt that he was a prolific filmmaker who was also a strict disciplinarian. He reportedly shouted at Rajesh Khanna during the 1972 shoot of Bawarchi for turning up late for the shoot.
Despite having given Khanna the eponymous role in Anand (1971) Mukherjee chose not to work with him after Namak Haraam (1974). I think very few films have portrayed Juhu beach as beautifully as "Anand".
Jaya Bhaduri was Mukherjee’s favourite actress: so much so that he rushed to sign her for Guddi even before her final examination results in FTII were declared. That was the conviction that he had in the abilities of the newcomer who continues to remain one of the outstanding students that FTII has ever produced. He made a number of movies with Jaya in the lead and it was clearly a winning combination on all counts. After Jaya’s premature retirement from films, Mukherjee leaned on Rekha who couldn’t match up with Jaya’s acting prowess. Rekha is no doubt an outstanding actress but one cannot imagine her playing any of the roles that Jaya did.
One of Mukherjee’s successful films was Khoobsoorat (1980) that starred Rekha and Rakesh Roshan. Sonam Kapoor’s remake is terrible and is no patch on the original. The attempt to recreate the success of Khoobsoorat by making Jhooti seems to have failed.
The plot is wafer thin. The production values are outlandish. Rekha tends to overact. Amol Palekar looks unconvincing as a police inspector. But the surprise package of this film is Raj Babbar. Babbar who was known for his anti-hero image in movies like Insaf ka Tarazu and Agar Tum Na Hote has surprisingly delivered a restrained performance.
Rekha plays the lead character (Kalpana) who lives with her mother Shammi, brother Kamal (Amol Palekar) and Alpana (Prema Narayan). She is a habitual liar and this lands her in embarrassing situations. There is a subplot that involves a neighbour Seema (Supriya Pathak) and her mother (Dina Pathak). Seema has a soft corner for Kamal.
Kamal is an inspector and he is keen to get his sisters married before he ties the knot. The neighbours know Dr Anil (Raj Babbar) and suggest that Alpana’s alliance be fixed with him. But Alpana who is working in a travel agency has already fallen for the charms of Rasik (Deven Verma at his best). Kalpana decides to help her sister by cooking up a story saying that Dr Anil tried to molest her when she visited him for a consultation. Soon enough she stands exposed.
Then there is another subplot that involves Dr. Anil’s younger brother Sunil (Rasik Dave in his debut) who gets involved in a drug racket. Madan Puri (who masquerades as a professor) is the mastermind behind this racket. In trying to save Sunil, Kalpana gets involved in a murder case and she has to tell a lie to save Sunil. In the process, she ends up tarnishing her own image. But soon matters are resolved. Kalpana is kidnapped by the drug trafficking gang and is saved in the nick of time by the male cast in the film.
The film has its moments of charm (after all it was helmed by Mukherjee who is known as a great editor cum director). However it cannot be compared to his earlier classics. As in Anupama, in Jhooti too, the lead characters go for a picnic and these scenes are endearing and refreshing to watch.
This is one film where the supporting cast has delivered a commendable performance. Manmaujee, Suresh Chatwal and Goga Kapoor are at their villainous best. Chatwal and Kapoor are dead and gone. Manmaujee Mishra has a record 1000 films to his credit and lives in Baptista Colony in Andheri in his humble abode. Manmaujee was introduced to films by the legendary comedian Mehmood and he is grateful to Mehmood for giving him the opportunity. By the way, he is a textile engineer from Kanpur.
Jhooti was Madan Puri’s last film (his voice seems to have been dubbed) as the actor passed away in 1984 a year before Jhooti hit theatres. Rasik Dave's looks are deceptively similar to Raj Kiran. The famed stage actor has a remarkable screen presence in his debut. It is a pity that Bollywood did not use his talent much.
Gopi Desai, a noted theatre actress, has limited screen time as Rekha’s friend but displays ample spunk and verve in the role assigned to her.
The surprise element in the film is Raj Babbar who is not generally known as a great actor in Bollywood circles. His understated performance remains the highlight of Jhooti. His screen chemistry with Rekha is sparkling. One really misses the late comedian Deven Verma known for his “clean” comedy sans any double entendre.
Some scenes are truly hilarious (especially the scene where Kalpana cooks up a lie to Rasik that her sister is divorced making the latter flee from the scene).
Prema Narayan was on her way out from Bollywood in 1985 – yet she has managed to deliver a convincing performance in one of her last roles. The nursery school teacher turned actress was seen in a number of supporting roles in Bollywood (1973-1985). Supriya Pathak, however, looks too young to have been paired with Amol Palekar.
Rekha has delivered a good performance (as expected) but she tends to overact a bit. The joie-de-vivre that Rekha demonstrated in Khoobsoorat is conspicuous by its absence in Jhooti.
The music is by Bappi Lahiri ; only two songs stand out (Chanda Dekhe Chanda, Bhaga Bhaga Dushman Bhaga).
Jhooti is at best a one-time watch.
(After working in the corporate world for close to two decades, Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam started her second career innings as a head-hunter. She is passionate about Hindi movies and loves retro music. When her family shifted to Chennai in the 80s, Bhagya had a taste of Tamil cinema too. In the long term, she plans a book on two of her favourite directors – Guru Dutt and K Balachander. She travels across the country on work and is based in Mysore.)