Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation (of India), had once asserted –‘If I have to choose out of violence and non-violence, I will choose non-violence only but if I have to choose out of violence and cowardice, I will definitely opt for violence, for being a coward is a shame’. With my full respect to the great man and complete endorsement of his assertion, I complement it by saying that non-violence is a great virtue meant only for the brave. It is the adornment of a brave person, not a coward. If a brave person remains non-violent despite provocation from the other side, he deserves admiration. And there arrive certain moments when even a completely non-violent person needs to opt for necessary violence for which he should not be criticized because the time has compelled him to do so and in such a situation, the so-called non-violence becomes something uncalled for and is in danger of being considered as synonymous with cowardice.
Today, I am reviewing a four decades old Bollywood potboiler made on the theme of non-violence with the inspiration behind the script appearing to be the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi only. This flop and long forgotten movie is Lagaam (1976) starring Vinod Khanna and Yogeeta Bali as the lead pair.
Lagaam (bridle / rein) is an equipment tied on the head of a horse and is meant to guide and restrain it (by the rider). This Hindi word is also used metaphorically to denote a check or restraint on the activities / tendency / instinct of a person or a group. Since this movie is based on the theme of practicing non-violence or checking violent behaviour, it is titled as such.
Lagaam narrates the story of a villager, Bheema (Vinod Khanna) who always champions justice and is ever ready to fight for it. Since this fight of his always results into violence from his side, he becomes quite unpopular over a period of time because his fight for the cause takes a back seat whereas his violence becomes vivid to all and sundry. One day his mother makes him wear a slender metal chain containing a locket and take a vow that he won’t resort to violence till this chain is around his neck, come what may. This chain now functions as a bridle (Lagaam) for our hero who has been like an uncontrolled horse hitherto. Bheema’s mother tells him that the day injustice crosses the limit of tolerance, this chain will automatically leave his neck and then he will be free from his vow to practice non-violence.
Bound by this swearing of his mother, Bheema stops going for violence altogether and in turn, suffers a lot. However despite being hit by the violence of the others, he abstains from being violent himself and keeps on practicing non-violence in its entirety. And then comes the twist in the tale.
A deadly and licentious bandit, Saanga (Prem Chopra) is a terror in the region. One day he rapes a village girl (Farida Jalaal) who consequentially gets pregnant and gives birth to a kid. Now this aggrieved lady does not want anything for herself but being a mother, quite naturally, wants her child not to be considered as illegitimate during his life. Hence she urges Saanga to marry her. A heartless and insensitive Saanga refuses outright. Then she approaches Bheema for help. Bheema seeks justice from Saanga for the kid and his mother. What happens thereafter culminates in the chain hanging around Bheema’s neck getting broken, thus making him free from the oath to follow non-violence and taking the movie towards its action-packed climax. However in the end, Bheema voluntarily (without anybody insisting or compelling him to do so) wears that chain again and vows to practice non-violence only in his life.Though Lagaam is an entertaining movie, it is by no means great or extra-ordinary. It is a formula-based regular flick meant for the purpose of the Indian audience who was used to watching such movies during the seventies. It’s the theme and the message only that stands out and adds value to it. However such movies indicate as to how much thinking used to go into the writing of the scripts in the bygone era of Indian cinema and even routine potboilers like Lagaam were written on the basis of some ideal or value of life.
Almost all the aspects of the movie including the music by Kalyanji Anandji are just average. In the acting department, Vinod Khanna impresses in the lead role. Yogeeta Bali fills the quota of heroine and the love-interest of the hero. Among the supporting cast members, Farida Jalaal stands out as the raped girl through her natural performance.
In the ending scene of the movie, when Bheema wears that chain given by his mother again around his neck to follow non-violence again, the screen reads –‘Non-violence does not mean cowardice’. Perfect saying. Let’s believe in this dictum and follow non-violence in general but not shy away from essential and desirable violence when the situation warrants.
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