Producer-director Yash Chopra is known in Bollywood as the ‘King of Romance’ because he has made certain classic romantic movies. However he had made some different movies too. One of them is Kaala Patthar (1979) which was a commercial failure but considering the quality of the movie, we can consider it a classic now. There are no chiffon saaris, no beautiful locales of Switzerland or Kashmir and no feelgood romance as in many Yash Chopra movies. Here are only dust, smut, stones, dirty water, dark, helmets with torch, rags, empty stomachs and illness.
The story of Kaala Patthar (black stone) has been set in the a coal mine (somewhere in Bihar) whose owner is a greedy businessman – Dhanraaj (Prem Chopra). Dhanraaj compels the coal mine workers to work in not only unhygienic but also potentially dangerous conditions. He does not care for their welfare or health or even security of life and interested only in making maximum money out of that coal mine. He hires the services of an engineer – Ravi (Shashi Kapoor) who is stunned to see that due to the excessive mining, one tunnel is about to go for water-logging and the lives of some 400 workers are in danger. Dhanraaj does not pay two hoots to whatever Ravi says in this regard and alongwith his yesman type manager – Saxena (Younus Parvez) continues in the wrong direction. Ravi also happens to see the poor condition of the workers and the lack of even the basic amenities for them which are the minimum requirement not only under the labour laws but also on humanitarian grounds. The doctor in the hospital maintained just for the sake of a legal formality – Sudha (Raakhee) keeps on complaining for medicines and a compounder but her calls fall on deaf ears of the management. Ravi, being a humanitarian, switches over to the side of the workers.
Among the workers, there are some goons too who extort money from the weak and hapless workers. Besides, there are two unique workers also. One is an escaped jailbird Mangal (Shatrughan Sinha) and the other is a courtmartialled naval ship captain Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) who was labelled a coward when fled away from his ship endangering the lives of 300 passengers and abandoned by his family. Vijay comes closer to Sudha who is able to sniff out that Vijay is actually not what he is visible to the world. Two parallel love stories also run. The first one is a hilarious love story of Ravi with Dhanjraaj’s niece – Anita (Parveen Babi) who is a journalist and the second one is the love story of Mangal with a village girl – Chhanno (Neetu Singh) who sells toys and the things used by married women as a symbol of their marital status (being SUHAAGIN).
As we can easily guess that the continuous extraction of coal from the potentially dangerous tunnel, finally leads to its collapse and lethal water-logging in the climax of the movie. Vijay, Ravi and Mangal do their best to save as many lives as possible but still many lives are lost including that of Mangal which is a big tragedy for the dream-seller Chhanno. Even an apparently bad person – Rana (Mac Mohan) sacrifices his life so that his co-workers can live which underscores that good and bad are labels only in this world. Vijay is able to wash off the stain of cowardice from his name and Dhanraaj is caught by the law.
The Govt. of India had nationalized the coal mines in 1973 and that’s why it can be understood that the writers and the director of this movie have kept the period of the story as prior to that. It’s said that it was inspired by the real life mishap of flooding in the Chasnala colliery on 27.12.1975. All the same, it is to be clarified that the movie is less realistic and more formulaic because the script-writers and the director have nowhere compromised on the entertainment front. The movie is damn interesting and the writer-director team should get full marks for not allowing even an ounce of boredom in this movie which is in a league of its own. Since there had to be a villain, the owner of the coal mine, i.e., Dhanraaj has been painted as completely black by the moviemaker.Despite the serious plot, the comedy-filled romance between Ravi and Anita on one hand and Mangal and Chhanno on the other have been given ample footage. Action and fights are also there and Amitabh and Shatru appear quite awesome when they take on each other in the tea-stall (in the climax, they work harmoniously though to save the trapped workers’ lives).
The movie starts in a very impressive way when the young engineer Ravi heads towards his destination by riding a motorbike and singing a very very inspiring song – Ek Raasta Hai Zindagi, Jo Tham Gaye To Kuchh Nahin (the life is a path and if you stop somewhere, it’s nothing for you). The song runs with the credits and the drama begins soon after the song.The art director – Sudhendu Roy is the unsung hero of this movie who has done a splendid job by bringing a coal mine area, tunnels, tea stall cum Dhaaba (small restaurant), workers’ homes etc. everything as alive on the screen. The complete look of this movie is realistic (though the script is formula-based).
Rajesh Roshan’s music is not great but the song mentioned above as well as in the title of this review is a memorable one which Kishore has sung (with Lata also contributing). The other song that stands out is Dhoom Mache Dhoom Aaj Ki Raina sung jointly by Lata, Rafi, Mahendra Kapoor, S.K. Mahan and chorus. Lyrics have come from Saahir’s pen.
Question : Who created the larger than life angry young man persona of Amitabh Bachchan in the Indian psyche ? Answer : Salim-Javed. Yes, this writer-duo who used to pen not only the story and the screenplay but also the hard-hitting and memorable dialogs only made AB what he became during the seventies. And Kaala Patthar is a milestone in this journey of AB who went ahead to become Big B. In the author-backed role, he has portrayed his guilt-complex, anguish and stuffiness with utmost proficiency. The role is apparently subdued but actually a highly emphatic one. Despite being a multi-starrer movie, Kaala Patthar allows Amitabh Bachchan with his soot-stained face, to stand out. His dialog (said to Raakhee) – Dard Mera Naseeb Hai Doctor, Aur Main Isse Bach Nahin Sakta (pain is my destiny doctor, and I can’t escape it) penetrates the viewer’s heart to the depth.
Among others, Shatrughan Sinha is there with all his theatricals and Shashi Kapoor with all his jolly gimmicks. Prem Chopra has done villainy in his typical style. Ladies did not have much to do but Raakhee has delivered a very mature performance and her chemistry with Amitabh Bachchan is amazing. The emotion in the relationship of Vijay and Sudha is subtle and remains as undercurrent in their interaction. Both Amitabh and Raakhee have performed this part with perfection. The director has not done any injustice to any actor in this multi-starrer movie and all have got ample screen-space and scope to show their mettle. Sanjeev Kumar also impresses in his cameo of the outgoing doctor. The complete supporting cast has performed brilliantly.Kaala Patthar was commercially not successful when released. May be because the people were expecting something different from the maker of feelgood movies. However it can be considered a classic now. All the coal mines in India are under government control now and the issue dealt with in the movie may not be very relevant in the present time. But this highly impressive movie can still be watched because it boasts of several plus points and high entertainment value.
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