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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

40 years of Satte Pe Satta: This Amitabh Bachchan film is one of RD Burman’s last great soundtracks

All the songs of this 1982 hit suit their setting and are choreographed with aplomb. It helps that in many of them the comic instincts of actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Paintal and Shakti Kapoor shines through, taking Rahul Dev Burman's composition to a madcap level.

Written by Shaikh Ayaz | Mumbai |
Updated: January 23, 2022 9:40:36 am
Satte Pe Satta is narrated and co-written by Kader Khan. (Express Archive photo)

Satte Pe Satta, one of the top grossers of 1982 and the madhouse that gave us some rollicking banter and a crazily innovative soundtrack by RD Burman, turns 40 today. Directed by Raj N Sippy, it starred Amitabh Bachchan as the eldest brother in charge of a family of slobs that live on a ranch with horses, cows and poultry for company. One song describes the seven brothers as “seven wonders of the world.” Instead, they are the blunders of the world, all apparently named after each day of the week starting with Bachchan as Ravi, Shakti Kapoor as Mangal, Sachin as Shani and so on. One day, Ravi brings home a bride (Hema Malini as Indu). All hell breaks loose. At first, the rest of the singletons revolt but soon they accept their new bhabhi. What’s more, the brutes have lucked out, as they have their own romantic alliances going on now. Just when you think there’s no 1980s-style boilerplate antagonist in this happy story, in walks Ranjit Singh (Amjad Khan) who sends a Bachchan look-alike Babu to bump off his handicapped niece so that he can inherit a family fortune.

Satte Pe Satta is narrated and co-written by Kader Khan. And it’s easy to see the quintessential KK stamp in dialogues like ‘Daru peene se liver kharab ho jaata hai’ and ‘Agar maa ki mamta ho sakti hai toh kya baap ki bapta nahin ho sakti.’ The film is not original — it was a spin-off of Stanley Donen’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) — but it was Indianised well keeping in mind the 1980s audiences and their taste for kitsch and melodrama. For example, the character of the protagonist’s twin Babu was a fresh element. In the double role, Amitabh Bachchan is a delight to watch as always. Whenever audiences conjure Big B’s brand of comedy they instantly think of his many drunk vignettes (his career seems to be full of it), going all the way back to Amar Akbar Anthony’s iconic mirror sequence. Here, too, Bachchan manages to pull off some boozy stunts (despite holding forth on the dangers of alcohol to Ranjit Singh). While some of the plot’s humour may not have stood the test of time you cannot say the same about its enormously enjoyable songs.

Penned by Gulshan Bawra and composed by RD Burman, Satte Pe Satta’s music remains as timeless and towering as ever. The elaborate choreography adds further grace notes to the tracks. Considered as a classic musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was known for its riveting dance sequences, especially the barn-raising one, which has charmed Hollywood audiences over the decades. Given this history and background, the Satte Pe Satta makers may have designed their musical creations in such a way as to better the original.

Do they succeed? One can certainly say that this is one of Rahul Dev Burman’s most interesting soundtracks — and also one of his last since by the late 1980s his career tumbled downhill. (He kept his very best for the very last, though, in the form of his masterpiece 1942: A Love Story). All the songs suit their setting and are picturised with aplomb. It helps that in many of them the comic instincts of actors like Bachchan, Paintal and Shakti Kapoor shines through, taking Burman’s composition to another madcap level. Kishore Kumar once again proves his exemplary range and modulation in ‘Pyaar humein kis mod pe le aaya.’ He injects dollops of plaintive brooding in the initial part of the song and as it becomes high pitch later on, you can imagine Kumar’s eccentricities soaring in the recording room (for the sake of comparison, watch ‘Ek chatur naar’ from Padosan to see the extent to which Kishore-da could raise the bar). One of the high points of the film, this song takes in all the brothers and could have so easily belonged in a Hollywood Western with characters having desperate and weather-beaten faces. Don’t miss Burman himself upping the ante in the background with ‘Arre dum hai toh unse chheen ke le aayenge/ Arre dee na ghar waalon ne agar manzoori.’ Along similar lines is ‘Dukki pe dukki ho,’ only this time the men are accompanied by an all-women gang. The first song, ‘Zindagi milke bitayenge’ captures the camaraderie of the brothers and establishes the film’s mood. Ravi has just saved his youngest sibling Shani from being killed by a wild horse. Beneath the tough exterior, Ravi does have a heart of a softie, after all. The movie’s only out-and-out romantic number is shot on Hema Malini and Bachchan. ‘Dilbar mere’ is the beginning of a blossoming romance between the film’s two major protagonists. There’s also ‘Jhuka ke sar ko puchho’ that features Indu teaching her brother-in-laws some well-needed manners and niceties of gentlemanly behavior.

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satte pe satta Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini and Sudhir in Satte Pe Satta. (Express archive photo)

The film, however, belongs to Bachchan. Not just that, it was made for him. Bachchan, who was nearly 40 during the filming of Satte Pe Satta, worked through the 70s as that era’s dominant star. Come the 80s and he was still ruling the roost, as the success of Satte Pe Satta proves. The same year, he gave us Bemisal, Desh Premee, Namak Halaal, Khud-Daar and one of his career-best performances in Shakti alongside his personal favourite Dilip Kumar. The Bachchan magic went on well into the 90s, fading only after Hum and Khuda Gawah. Many of these 80-90s films boasted some of Bachchan’s most memorable songs, including ‘Jumma chumma’ from Hum, ‘Manzilein apni jagah hai’ from Sharaabi, ‘Dekha ek khwab’ from Silsila, and ‘Pag ghungroo bandh’ from Namak Halaal. Even in a later career packed with such gems, Satte Pe Satta stands out. It’s all thanks to the likes of Kishore Kumar, RD Burman, Bhupinder Singh, Gulshan Bawra and mostly, director Raj N Sippy’s unique vision for reimagining them with a light touch. And of course, a shout out to the cast for their manic energy and dialing up the fun sevenfold.

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