Kabli Khan (1963) – scenery-chewing patriotism!

Masala patriotism is not my favourite genre, but where there are rules, there are exceptions to rules. And this film is firmly in the exception-to-rules category as far as my no-unsubtle-patriotic-films rule goes. I picked this up because it stars Ajit and Helen, and have no reason to regret my choice.

Emperor Shahbaz (Samson?) has been conquering new territories right left and centre, leaving death and destruction in his wake. His latest conquest is Yakistan, whose king has surrendered, but a loyal patriot – Kabli Khan (Ajit) – refuses to admit defeat. Kabli Khan is held prisoner by Shahbaz’s army, but manages to escape with like-minded prisoners and stolen arms. He gets home to his village, just in time to save the village from being looted by Shahbaz’s soldiers. A further batch of the conquering soldiers are driven out, soon after. They return to Shahbaaz, to get the dressing down of their lives. (If only he’d seen Sholay, Shahbaaz would’ve known how to treat his defeated soldiers!)

While Shahbaaz is wondering what to do about Kabli Khan and his own hapless soldiers, his son Halaaku (Salim Khan) arrives, in a pink tunic (he doesn’t get another costume until the last scene!). Halaaku promises to capture Kabli alive-or-dead. So off they go to Kabli’s rural hang-out, with a whole army in tow. Kabli has no trouble in evading the Pink Prince and his entourage. On the principle that it is better to “live to fight another day”, Kabli leaves his comrades and makes his way to the neighbouring kingdom of Kohistan. He petitions the Sardar of Kohistan to help fight Shahbaaz since the latter’s growing power is a danger for Kohistan, too. The Sardar suggests that it would be best for the Yakistani patriots to join his army. Kabli thinks it’s a good idea, but his fellow patriots refuse to even consider working for a Sardar of Kohistan.

So Kabli joins the Kohistan army on his ownsome. He makes his way to Yaarganj, a cantonment on Kohistan’s vulnerable border. There he is shocked to find the place in complete disarray. In the middle of the day, the soldiers are busy pleasure-seeking and the commander of the town’s garrison – Jabar Khan (Jayant) – is busy drinking in a tea-shop. Then he finds that “tea-shop” is a euphemism since tea is the last thing served there! In the tea-shop Kabli almost blunders into a secret meeting between Jabar and Shahbaaz’s emissary Rakib Khan (Ulhas). Only the tea-shop owner Mirza Ershaad (Mukri) has secretly witnessed the meeting and realised that Jabar is accepting a huge sum to betray Kohistan.

Unaware of the betrayal in the offing, Kabli is only worried about strengthening Yaarganj against a potential attack by Shahbaaz. He suggests that the Kohistan army chief, Jung Bahadur, tour the border areas with a view to tightening security. On one of their tours, Jung Bahadur is kidnapped by Halaaku. Shahbaaz barely has time to rejoice in his son’s enterprise when Kabli engineers Jung Bahadur’s escape. He then has the effrontery to carry away Halaaku – right in front of his doting father! Shahbaaz is like a wounded tiger trying to find a way to get his cub back. Rakib assures him that he will “fix” Kabli Khan to everybody’s satisfaction.

Then follows my favourite part of the film. Kabli returns to Yaarganj with his royal prisoner, and proceeds to whip the soldiery of Yaarganj back in shape. But in this, he runs into a road-block – the aptly named Haseena (Helen!). She’s come to Yaarganj with two men, one of whom is Rakib. Her avowed intention is to entertain the troops with her dances, but she displays undue interest in Kabli!  She woos him in the true Bolly-hero tradition – she declares her love for him, often makes him look foolish, rouses his anger and then tells him that his anger only increases her love! Kabli dislikes her intensely, tells her off for being a lowly dancing girl, but ultimately cannot resist her charms. (Well… a Helen-ly onslaught is very hard to resist!)

Moved by his intense passion for Haseena, Kabli decides that only marriage will do. But the path of true love never does run smoothly… Kabli discovers that Haseena is a spy for Shahbaaz and her job was to entrap him – which she’s done very efficiently. A furious Kabli then boldly does what no other Bolly-hero has done before – he confronts Haseena and demands an explanation!!! That certainly made me sit up and take notice. Isn’t that illegal? Shouldn’t he be taking the passive-aggressive route, singing reproachful poetry at her, while she wonders if his ulcers are acting-up again? Well… explanations are demanded and, hold your breath, given! No, I won’t say what explanation Haseena offers. That would be telling! Suffice it to say that the drama does not end there. There is still a tyrant to be defeated, an enslaved nation to be freed, several sword-fights to be fought, and one Pink Prince to be accounted for.

Shahbaaz and his tyrannies are clearly proxies for the British rule in India and Kabli Khan is the quintessential freedom fighter who overthrew the Raj. The patriotism is of the usual Bollywood masala variety, i.e., it’s not characterised by any subtlety whatsoever. Plus, the acting leaves a lot to be desired. To say that almost everybody (except Helen) chews up the scenery is a gross understatement! The film is set in the confused-costume period so beloved of vintage Bollywood. Naturally, no historical context is given or sought. So why did I find it such a pleasant watch?

Reason #1: HELEN! It’s so nice to see her get a decent part and lots of screen-time. She is gorgeous as usual and so good as she dances, flirts and brings on the emotional attyachar. I wish she’d done lead roles more often. The fact that she gets to do a Shammi Kapoor act on Ajit is just the icing on the cake.

Reason #2: AJIT! Yes, he is old and over-made-up here, he chews the scenery something terrible, but I still have a fondness for him. He umm… scenery chews so… well!

Reason #3: The songs! They are lovely. My favourite was the foot-tapping patriotic number Chalo jhoomte sar se baandhe kafan, but the others were great too – particularly the Rafi-Lata duet Ya-halah-ya-habibi mere dil ke kareebi. This is definitely one of music director Chitragupta’s and lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri’s underrated tracks.

Reason #4: The movie is pretty fast-paced with lots of action and twists-n-turns. An imdb commenter dubs it an “Hindi action operetta” which describes it perfectly!

It’s only when I began writing this review that it struck me that Halaku aka The Pink Prince is Salim Khan of Salim-Javed fame. Now I can see where Salman Khan gets his “acting” genes from!

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19 Responses to Kabli Khan (1963) – scenery-chewing patriotism!

  1. dustedoff says:

    I’ve heard of this one, but never seen it. What a delight it sounds! Helen, of course, is a favourite of mine, and a Helen doing a Shammi Kapoor on Ajit – ah, that has to be seen. 😀 And Ajit toh hai hi. I like that man a lot; I do wish he’d done more of the sort of roles I like him in (Dholak, as an example).

    Great review, bollyviewer. You’ve added to my list of films I must watch.

    • bollyviewer says:

      Thanks, Dustedoff. 🙂

      Dholak was a one-off, I think. I’ve watched several of Ajit’s other films, hoping to find another Dholak, but no luck so far. But still, I keep trying…

  2. Anu Warrier says:

    singing reproachful poetry at her, while she wonders if his ulcers are acting-up again?

    Heh-heh. So worth the wait, bollyviewer. 🙂 I’ve heard of this film, but never thought of actually watching it. But you make it sound so tempting. (And it is available on YouTube, so I’ve bookmarked it.Yes!)

    Thank you for the grins; I’ll even forgive you for that crack against Salman’s ‘acting’. grin

    (Hopefully, this comment will not disappear into ether.)

    • bollyviewer says:

      Thanks, Anu. 🙂 Hope the movie will help you bear your involuntary incarceration.

      I’ll even forgive you for that crack against Salman’s ‘acting’.” You’re a Salman fan?! Heavens, we truly are twins-on-opposite-sides of the actors spectrum, aren’t we?

      PS: WordPress approves of you, for the moment. But you never know, when you’ll fall off the bandwagon. I’ll keep a watchful eye on my spam folder, just in case… 😛

      • Anu Warrier says:

        No, not really a Salman fan, as in, I don’t go watch his films and go ga ga over him, though the ones I have watched? He’s been eminently watchable on screen (Andaz Apna Apna, HDDCS, Biwi No.1, etc.) But yes, I have a soft spot for the chap -he very gallantly made sure I was sent back home safely from a shooting in a remote area at night – when I had no other means of getting back. 🙂

        p.s. Let’s hope WordPress continues to look at me with favour.

        • Filmbuff says:

          Salman does come across as a humane person – I saw a couple of dus ka dum episodes – his rapport with the audience was genuine. Good to know that he is a gallant guy – i am no fan either – as i told bollyviewer – his films mostly are time pass

          • bollyviewer says:

            Salman does come across as a humane person

            Really?! You are aware that he is involved in a hit-and-run case which resulted in the death of one person and injured four other pavement dwellers? According to this NDTV report, the injured witnesses are also being intimidated against giving testimony. Definitely not something that can be associated with many other actors.

            And then, of course, there are the charges of what we politely call “domestic violence” against his ex-girlfriends. I try not to hold an actor’s personal life against his onscreen persona, but some things are hard to ignore, particularly when you do not find his onscreen persona particularly pleasant.

        • bollyviewer says:

          Anu, a personal Salman anecdote! Do tell…

          Andaz Apna Apna I watched in the days when I still had a huge crush on Aamir – loved how Amar (Aamir) constantly put Prem (Salman) down. HDDCS I liked in spite of Salman – poor Aishwarya, faced with a choice between Salman and anybody, had to fall for her hubby! 😛

          WordPress is very pleased with you. Maybe WP has a soft spot for Salman, too?

          • Filmbuff says:

            Hi Bollyviewer

            I am aware of those hit and run cases as well as DV against ex girlfriends. That is why I used the words “comes across” not that he is a humane person. I would have no clue as I don’t know him personally.

            Incidentally in one of the dus ka dum episodes, Lara Dutta was a guest and she said “humney suna hai ie industry wallahs of how possessive he is about his GFs and she seems to hint that the guy is capable of stalking his GFs too.

            Dunno if this comment will be posted at the right place as i i did not find a reply button at the end of your comment

            cheers

          • Anu Warrier says:

            🙂 Nothing much. I’d gone to interview Sridevi around noon, which is when she had asked me to come. Unfortunately for me (and for her, since she is very punctual and actually keeps appointments), the shoot kept getting delayed and we finally finished the interview around 7.30 or so. She still had a few shots left to can, so I left. Only, by the time I packed up and reached the studio gates, it was around 8 and there was not a single rickshaw to be found. The studio was in quite a desolate place (at the time; now it is in the middle of a thriving suburb), and the only option left was to walk to a bus stop nearby and wait for a bus that may or may not put in an appearance.

            I was talking to the gatekeeper, wondering what to do, when SK’s car pulled up to the gate. He saw me standing there and asked the gatekeeper who I was and what I was doing there. The gatekeeper told him my dukhbhari kahani; SK hopped out of his car and told his driver to take me home. (He got a lift from someone else in a car behind – Jackie Shroff, I think, though I can’t be sure). He also told me I needed to be careful and make sure that I had a way to get home safely from such remote locations. So there I was, being driven home by SK’s driver, who, by the way, swears by his boss.

  3. Filmbuff says:

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Handsome Ajit and awesome Helen are welcome any time to my home.

  4. Shalini says:

    For a more genial Ajit, try “Guest House.” It’s nowhere near as fun or modern as “Dholak” but it does have some lighter moments and bantering between the leads. Oh, and Shakila is always worth watching.

    On “Kabli Kahn”, it’s been a long while since I watched the movie but only now realized – thorough your review – that Halaku was Salim Khan! Don’t remember much of the movie other than the nice songs and how gorgeous Helen looked.

    • bollyviewer says:

      I have Guest House in my to-watch pile. Someone in blogland had said it wasn’t a great film, so it moved to the bottom of the pile. I’ll bring it back up. It has some nice songs, and I like Shakila, too.

      Salim Khan isn’t particularly memorable. I’ve seen Teesri Manzil several times but I am still surprised when I hear that he is in it. Same in this film. I kept wondering who this really bad piece of wood is, and it’s only when I was screencapping the film that it struck me – this is Salim Khan!

  5. singhs says:

    This is a wonderful site. Thanks for all the great posts. Reading through and making a list of must watch G-oldies !

    I have been searching for a song for quite a while and I cannot seem to locate it. Google throws up wild suggestion.

    All I remember are the first two lines.

    yahi khwaish hai tum mujhe dekha karo. Aur meri jaan mai tumhe dekha karu.

    It is from a really old movie that aired on Doordarshan in the mid 90s.

    I don’t remember its name nor any of its actors. I just thought you might know !

    It was also used in an TV Ad sometime in the 2000s.

    Keep posting the gems

  6. me adarayai teledrama

    Kabli Khan (1963) – scenery-chewing patriotism! | Masala Punch

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