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30 years of Ram Lakhan: Revisiting Subhash Ghai’s popular family revenge drama

Though on the surface Ram Lakhan was just another revenge drama by Subhash Ghai, it stood out for its endearing characters, music and comedy.

A still from Ram Lakhan

Mayur Lookhar

It was in the 1970s that revenge dramas began to proliferate in Hindi cinema. This was the period when we saw films like Zanjeer (1973), Sholay (1975) and Kallicharan (1978) and Amitabh Bachchan established himself as Hindi cinema's Angry Young Man.

The trend continued into the 1980s and early 1990s before a newcomer named Shah Rukh Khan ushered in a change with light-hearted romantic sagas.

One filmmaker who championed revenge action dramas in the 1980s was Subhash Ghai. One of Ghai’s biggest hits was Ram Lakhan (1989), which was released in theatres 30 years ago today.

For a man who had made a career out of revenge dramas, what new could Ghai offer with Ram Lakhan?

For starters, Ghai’s early revenge dramas always had a powerful but hidden criminal, a man of social standing, as the villain. In Ram Lakhan, the enemy was within the family.

Having served jail time for stealing from the family, brothers Bishambar Nath (Amrish Puri) and Bhanu (Paresh Rawal) are pardoned by their uncle, but the devious men kill the Thakur and brutally beat his son Pratap (Dalip Tahil), leaving him to be crushed to death on a railway track. Pratap’s wife Sharda (Rakhee) is witness to her husband’s brutal death and vows vengeance against the evil men.

Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff in a scene from Ram Lakhan

Sharda’s son Ram (Jackie Shroff) turns out be a righteous cop while the younger son Lakhan (Anil Kapoor), a spoilt brat, ends up becoming a corrupt cop. Their different ideologies invariably lead them on a path of collision, but it is the mother who reunites the brothers and the trio get their revenge. Sparring brothers Ram and Lakhan drew comparisons with another pair of siblings in Yash Chopra’s Deewaar (1975).

Subhash Ghai thrived on formulaic films with the right doses of romance, comedy, music and melodrama. The highlight of this was how the mother takes centre stage at the climax. Bishambar is shot in the leg by her sons and made to run on the same railway track where their father had once been laid to be run over.

While such dramatic tropes had been seen before, it was not often that we found the mother delivering the final blow.

Rakhee was experienced in playing avenging characters. Though not a mother, she played this suave lady Shraddha who avenges the death of her husband in Anil Sharma’s directorial debut Shradhanjali (1981). "Mai tumhe paani pila pila ke marungi [I will serve you so much water that it will kill you]," she says. Shraddha keeps her promise as she shoots the limbs of the villain Laxmi Narayan (Suresh Oberoi). With nowhere to run or hide, Laxmi Narayan chooses to die by drowning than to take more bullets.

Ghai, too, loved the dramatic tit-for-tat revenge sequence as seen from his Vidhaata (1982). Inspector Pratap Singh (Oberoi again) goes alone to arrest Jagawar Chaudhary (Amrish Puri). However, one officer armed simply with a service revolver cannot take on such a powerful foe with his army of goons. Jagawar shoots him and gives Pratap a chance to run as fast as he can to reach the police station for help.

The bleeding Pratap Singh is chased all the way by Jagawar’s men on horseback and eventually falls into the arms of his father Shamsher Singh (Dilip Kumar). Shamsher Singh and his grandson Kunal (Sanjay Dutt) exact revenge in similar style.

Suresh Oberoi played Ghai’s Pratap Singh in Vidhaata while Dalip Tahil played Pratap Singh in Ram Lakhan. Though repetitive, audiences back then loved such dramatic climactic action scenes.

Ghai’s revenge dramas also often featured suave, scheming villains and their molls. These women would start off as negative characters, but we would learn that they, too, had a bone to pick with the baddie. And they often had feelings for the hero. Vidhaata had Sarika playing Neelima while in Ram Lakhan, it was unheralded actress Sonika Gill playing Viviene, the moll of Sir John (Raza Murad), a smuggler.

So Ram Lakhan was another revenge drama with familiar story tropes, but the film also had some endearing characters, fine music and comedy, making it a complete 1980s masala entertainer.

The one character to gain iconic status was Anil Kapoor’s Lakhan. In times when your hero was meant to be the righteous guy, Ghai created Lakhan, a corrupt cop but lovable character. Rather than the righteous cop Ram (Jackie Shroff), fans identified more with Lakhan.

Kapoor was admittedly over the top, but Lakhan was liked for his wit and banter. Thirty years on, he remains a cult movie figure, with shades of him visible in Salman Khan’s Chulbul Pandey (Dabangg, 2010) and Ranveer Singh’s Simmba (2018).

Saeed Jaffrey and Anil Kapoor in Ram Lakhan

Interestingly, Simmba director Rohit Shetty had bought the rights to remake Ram Lakhan and was keen to make it with Ranveer Singh playing Lakhan, while the names of Varun Dhawan and Shahid Kapoor did the rounds for Ram. However, the buzz is that no actor is willing to play Ram. And so the remake remains far away.

Speaking to reporters while promoting Simmba, Ranveer Singh mentioned Lakhan as one of the inspirations for his character. “My first memory of a lovable role, archetype, in the mould of a police officer was Amitabh Bachchan’s Shahenshah (1988). When he is not Shahenshah, he is this lovable rogue cop. I remember Lakhan and then there is Chulbul Pandey [Salman Khan's character in the Dabangg franchise], even Singham (2011),” the actor said.

Lakhan had a song that described him as phoney but a joyful character. The 'My Name Is Lakhan' song had become a rage and remains a popular number even today. Add to it Kapoor’s trademark dance step and it made 'My Name Is Lakhan' a thoroughly entertaining number.

The song’s ‘Dhina Dhin Dha’ portion drove fans crazy. Mention Anil Kapoor and Ram Lakhan springs to mind. From awards functions to film promotions, Kapoor will carry Lakhan with him all his life. 

Lakhan’s dance step is loved by GenNext actors too. While promoting their film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019), Kapoor and rising star Rajkummar Rao both pulled out the trademark step.

Anil Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao perform the Lakhan dance step

Apart from being popular with fans, the song and the 'Dhina Dhin Dha' part have also spawned memes by the dozen.

Source: House of Memes
Source: memebomb.net 

Lakhan was the heart and soul of Ram Lakhan, but the film also had some cool villainous characters. Bishambar was the archetypal evil Thakur. Amrish Puri seldom needed dialogues to project menace. His bulging eyes and stern expression were enough. Puri and Paresh Rawal were intimidating, but the characters of Gulshan Grover and Raza Murad were intriguing. 

Gulshan Grover as Kesariya Vilayati

This was the film where the 'bad man' came to life. Two simple words, but they became a sobriquet for Gulshan Grover. The two words also justified why Grover was named Kesariya Vilayati. His looks were reminiscent of a dacoit from the Chambal, but the world had moved on from the days of the rustic Gabbar Singh. Vilayati also had a wicked sense of humour. 

Raza Murad as Sir John

Raza Murad played Sir John, a foreign national and smuggler who only comes into the picture in the latter part of the film. If we recall well, Bishambar tries to sell the Pratap Singh family property to Sir John. All grey hair and whiskers, Sir John also had a glass eye, a character that intimidated more with his looks and actions than with mere words.

Ghai had Anupam Kher and Satish Kaushik to provide the humour quotient. Kher played Deodhar Shastri while Kaushik played his innocent aide Kanshiram. Kher and Kaushik’s rustic banter saw them share the Filmfare award for Best Actor in a Comic Role that year.

Despite all the characters, Ram Lakhan wouldn’t have been the same without its popular music. All songs were penned by Ghai favourite Anand Bakshi and scored by Laxmikant-Pyarelal. Interestingly, Ghai had initially roped in legendary composer RD Burman for the film, but then dropped him to go back to Laxmikant-Pyarelal.

According to film analyst Dilip Thakur, Ghai had pencilled Burman in for his film Devaa with Amitabh Bachchan which eventually got shelved. “Since that film was not happening, the filmmaker wanted him [Burman] to work on Ram Lakhan," Thakur recalled. "I don’t know what transpired, but then Laxmikant-Pyarelal came back in and Burman and Ghai never worked together."

'My Name Is Lakhan', sung by Mohammed Aziz, was the film's biggest hit, but Anand Bakshi and Laxmikant-Pyarelal gave other popular tracks as well, like 'Tera Naam Liya', 'Mere Do Anmol Ratan' and 'Bada Dukh Dina'.

Finally, Ram Lakhan was the film that was meant to lift Madhuri Dixit’s career. However, N Chandra’s Tezaab (1988) came first and she became the darling of the masses with the 'Ek Do Teen' track.

In Ram Lakhan, Dixit played Radha, Lakhan's love interest. There was not much scope for her character, as Radha was this pretty village belle who romanced Lakhan and appeared more as a damsel in distress, having to be rescued by her lover each time.

Thirty years on, Hindi cinema's formulae have changed and Ram Lakhan may be a little out of synch today. Given how Rohit Shetty has struggled to get the remake going, perhaps some things are best enjoyed in their original form. If you love commercial Hindi cinema from the 1980s, Ram Lakhan is bound to be on your must-watch list.