In June 1975 Indira Gandhi declared India to be in need of Emergency administration. Predictably, thousands were arrested, press freedoms were done away with, political parties banned and Congress goondas presided over a new political dispensation based on fear, sloganeering and forced social engineering. All completely anathema to most Indians up until that point.
The next two years were dark. The Emergency divided the country and tainted public figures for years to come. The Nehru family’s reputation and that of the Congress Party were damaged forever.
But then in 1977 in a fit of self-deception typical of all autocrats Indira decided she’d like to bask in the love of her ‘disciplined’ people and called them to the polls to vote her in again. Well, being very naughty children, they grabbed the opportunity and threw her out.
What a day of rejoicing that was. I was too young to experience Independence but the relief and hope and joy I felt when I showed up in Delhi a couple months after she’d been tossed out must have been something like what an older generation felt when the Brits were finally sent packing in 1947.
The big blockbuster of Bombay in 1977, that year of India’s second Independence, was a romping comedic melodrama called Amar, Akbar, Anthony, a film film about three brothers separated during their childhood who grew up in three different homes, adopting three different religions.
Kishanlal (Pran), a chauffeur, takes the blame for a fatal hit-and-run accident committed by his mob boss employer, Robert (Jeevan), on the assurance that his family's income will be tripled and their welfare looked after. He returns from prison to find his wife Bharati (Nirupa Roy) suffering from tuberculosis and his three sons starving. Seeking help from Robert for the sake of his family, he is ridiculed, humiliated and repudiated, until he turns on Robert and tries to kill him. Making his escape, Kishanlal inadvertently takes a car containing a shipment of gold bullion. Robert's goons give chase.
Kishanlal goes home to rescue his family - only to find his wife's suicide note. Unbeknown to him she fails, and is struck blind. He leaves his sons in a public park (at the foot of a statue of Gandhi) while he draws off the pursuing goons. In the car chase that follows he crashes, is thrown clear of the wreck, and discovers the gold. But by the time he returns to the park with his riches, his three children have vanished. Amar, the oldest, has been adopted by a Hindu policeman; a Muslim tailor adopts the youngest and names him Akbar, and a Catholic priest, finding the middle son asleep on the steps of his church, fosters him and names him Anthony.
In revenge, Kishanlal kidnaps Robert's daughter Jenny and raises her as his niece, using the gold to destroy Robert's business and set himself up as mob boss instead.
Amar (Vinod Khanna) becomes a policeman like his adoptive father; the Muslim Akbar (Rishi Kapoor) becomes a singer; the middle brother, Anthony (Amitabh Bachchan), becomes a likable, socially-conscious Catholic scamp who runs quasi-legal operations and makes God his 'partner' by donating half his income to charity. The three meet when they donate blood for an accident victim, unaware that they are related - or that the recipient is actually their biological mother Bharati.
Their lives become entangled in an incredible web of coincidences and furious action sequences - interspersed with songs - when Amar's adopted father is seriously wounded and Anthony falls in love with Jenny, Robert's long-lost daughter. Because of it his adoptive father, the priest, is murdered. In their pursuit of justice their paths cross again until, combining efforts, the three brothers discover both the culprit and their mutual heritage.
In addition to the ongoing feud between Robert and Kishanlal, each son meets and courts - with greater or lesser difficulty - their love interests. When the grieving mother regains her sight at a Dewali festival in honor of Sai Baba, one by one the family is re-united and Robert, who caused their suffering, is finally imprisoned. (Wikipedia))
The movie starred three of the biggest leading men of the day, including the mighty Amitabh Bachchan, who was at the very peak of his powers at this stage. He didn’t make many flops in the mid-70s, and this film went on to win many Filmfare Awards (Indian equivalent of the Academy Awards) including Best Actor (Bachchan) and Best Music Director (Laxmikant-Pyarelal).
The janata (public) rushed to the cinemas in record numbers because Amar Akbar Anthony was the perfect celluloid antidote to what had just hit the country. After 2 years of stern government finger wagging and sloganeering (Less talk, more work! Discipline is the key to greatness!) here was three hours of silliness, farce and misadventure served up in great splashes of colour. Oh how drab the Emergency had been by contrast.
And if Indira and her tragic son, Sanjay, had driven a rift deep into Indian society by putting everyone on edge and dividing the country into hateful camps, the movie scooped up Indians of all types (Muslims, Hindus, Christians) in a wild embrace and said, “We’re all a part of the same family! The one for whom we have given our blood is our mother, India.”
It was intoxicating to watch that movie that year. I saw it in Mussoorie with some friends and it was the one we kept talking about the rest of the year. And kept singing the songs. The soundtrack, featured here tonight, is one of the most popular and includes the voices of Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar the twin titans of playback.
Every religious community got something it could hum along to. Muslims got one of the most famous film qawwalis Pardah hai pardah. Hindus got Shirdiwale Sai Baba (a paean to India’s modern guru of religious unity). Christians got Amitabh Bachchan popping out of birthday cake spouting outrageous non sequiturs such as “The whole country of the system is juxtapositioned by the hemaglobin in the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own vivacity!”. The song was called My Name is Anthony Gonsalves.
Altogether a riot of fun, hilarity and incredible coincidence.
01. Amar Akbar Anthony
02. Hum ko ho Gaya Pyar
03. Tayab Ali Pyar ka Dushman
04. Pardah hai Pardah
05. Shirdi Wale Sai Baba
06. My Name is Anthony Gonsalves
Extra bonus track:
07 Dialouge: A drunken Anthony (Amitabh Bachchan) talks to himself in the mirror
Anthony Gonsalves, the character played by Amitabh Bachchan, is a real man. He was the violin teacher of the film’s music comper Pyarelal, one of the many Goan master musicians who have played such a HUGE but unheralded part in the success of Bollywood music over the decades. A fantastic website called Tajmahal Foxtrot tracks the history of all little known corners of Indian jazz and music and has an absolutely unforgettable article about Mr Gonsalves for those interested. Indeed, spend many hours on Naresh’s website…it is true treasure.