For the generation that grew up in the late 80s-early 90s, there are a few films that defined their idea of perceiving cinema for life and thanks to the standards that were set by movies back then, they are still treated as the benchmark for films today. There’s a reason why music in today’s films is revamped from the tracks that we grew up with. Nostalgia, of course, is a big reason, but another reason for the same is that we treat the works of Hindi cinema from this period as something that defined an entire generation.
Shekhar Kapur’s science fiction film, Mr India, is one such film.
Just the mention of that film reminds the audience of the iconic dialogues like “Mogambo Khush Hua” and the invisibility gadget that we all wished we possessed but there’s much more to Kapur’s film than elements that are now treated as legendary. Kapur set out to make a film for children and while they are the toughest critics, he also managed to impress all those who accompanied those kids to the theater.
Mr India is a tale of a man who inherits an invisibility device and wants to utilise it in the best possible way. Written by Salim-Javed in what was their last film together, Mr India is a masterclass in story-telling.
Arun (Anil Kapoor) is a seemingly normal guy who has no heroic qualities on the surface. He’s a kind-hearted man who cannot manage to make ends meet yet takes on the responsibility of several orphans. His rented house on the beach is too expensive for his pocket and every passing day proves to be a struggle for survival for this man. So far, nothing about him seems heroic. But things change dramatically as soon as he discovers the invisibility device which has the potential to destroy the peace and harmony of the country.
Soon after he discovers the device, Arun steps away from being the meek man we were introduced to. It is now that he actually turns into a hero. The hero of this film now has the power and the film gains hopefulness. Up until this point in the film, it is only Mogambo who is portrayed as the villain who cannot be defeated, let alone by a musician who can’t even afford to buy the groceries.
Arun’s heroic actions like saving the “sone ka hanuman” and rescuing Seema (Sridevi) from the goons can only happen because he has the device but without it, he’s still a pretty regular guy. But this gadget changes Arun’s personality even when he’s not invisible. His demeanour around Seema is starkly different now. His tone reflects power, authority and the aura of Mr India, the one who can save the country.
Throughout the film, we see Arun rising from a struggling artist who is optimistic about a better tomorrow to a man who can now control his surroundings in many ways. He’s aware of using his power for the right reasons and is confident enough for him and his kids’ survival. But even then, Arun does not have enough motivation to fight against the larger than life Mogambo and that is when the filmmaker drops the bomb of a little girl’s death. This breaks the heart of the audience and the loss is shown tragically on screen as well. This is the ultimate nail in the coffin for Arun.
But all heroes need a villain and the story only comes full circle when there’s an actual chance that the villain is undefeatable. Mogambo (performed brilliantly by Amrish Puri) is one of the most iconic characters to have ever existed in Indian cinema. Mogambo wants to rule the world but his path is obstructed by a man who would not leave his rented accommodation. For a villain as powerful as Mogambo, ideally this should not be a big concern but he’s still unaware of the powers that Arun has.
Mr India, like many other classic stories, is a fight between the good and evil where the good will ultimately win against the evil forces.
With the usage of elements like the invisibility device, the film poses as a science-fiction drama but at the heart of it, it connects because of its humanitarian values. The film released 30 years ago but it has managed to stay relevant because it perfectly utilises all the given elements of the story. With a love story that motivates Arun to prove his worth, his affection for the children and his loyalty towards his country, Mr India checks all the boxes of being a wholesome film.
Shekhar Kapur set out to make a film that in all likelihood, even he didn’t know would become iconic but such is the magic of cinema. With perfectly crafted storyline, stellar performances, melodious songs and stars that must have been perfectly aligned, Shekar Kapur gave us a film that will be treasured for generations to come.