For the last few years, prominent filmmakers and actors of Hindi cinema have repeatedly spoken about the significance of screenwriting. While the overall results have not been as pleasing as one would expect them to be, the makers still pat themselves on their backs when one odd film with particularly good writing does well and the conversation about how ‘content is king’ emerges again.
In this conversation, one often hears the mention of Salim-Javed, the writer duo of the 1970s, who can easily be classified as the most successful, best paid and the most influential writers of Hindi cinema. While the Salim-Javed association did not last for even a decade, the work they did together turned out to be a masterclass in making mainstream Bollywood films and one of their earlier films that helped them get their reputation was Nasir Hussain’s Yaadon Ki Baaraat.
The 1973 film released in the same year as Amitabh Bachchan’s Zanjeer. By the time Yaadon Ki Baaraat came out, Zanjeer had already been declared a monstrous hit and had made stars out of Bachchan and the writers. The film followed the lost-and-found formula that had first been introduced to Hindi movies by Yash Chopra’s 1965 film Waqt. Yaadon Ki Baaraat took that premise, and polished it up with some newer elements. Here, the three separated brothers have a song that unites them – the title track of the film.
The oldest, played by Dharmendra, is looking for the masked man who killed their parents but is unknowingly working for the same guy. The film comes alive when the dramatic family portions kick in but a large part of the film is dedicated to a mediocre love story between Zeenat Aman and Vijay Arora’s characters. These portions are saved by RD Burman’s songs like ‘Chura Liya Hai Tumne’, ‘Meri Soni Meri Tamanna’, among others. The thread that joins their love story to the central plot is so thin, and so badly acted that it almost feels like a parody. The story of the third brother, played by Tariq, has only one purpose – to get some music into the film as he plays a singer.
Yaadon Ki Baaraat wasn’t as loved at the time as it has been made out to be in hindsight. The film got some mediocre reviews, and unlike most of its contemporaries (by the same writers), it does not feel as engaging and a big reason for the same is its performances. It constantly feels like everyone was given the brief to dial up a notch which makes it look rather comical. The scenes where the villains are making plans feel like a parody even when compared to other films that released during the same era.
In a pivotal scene, when Dharmendra identifies Shakaal but is not supposed to say anything about it, he lets his arms and face take over giving out such a loud sigh that even the passers-by know something’s up. Vijay Arora, in another scene with Zeenat Aman, expresses his love in a way that it actually seems like they used the wrong take. Zeenat Aman used her hands while talking in a way that it feels like an amateur stage performance.
The film’s events trigger after the kids watch their parents die in front of their eyes, and this particular plot point was seen in Zanjeer as well. Nasir Hussain, in an interview, had spoken about how Salim-Javed had sold the same premise to him and Prakash Mehra (Zanjeer), but both turned out to be successful. In the book, Written by Salim-Javed by Diptakirti Chaudhuri, Salim Khan said that the only common element that the two films shared was the “vendetta angle” but Ajit’s presence in both these films made them look very similar. He said that they had told Hussain about the same but no one else was willing to play the role of the villain Shakaal.
Yaadon Ki Baaraat was one of the first few films that Salim-Javed wrote as a duo. In fact, for this film they did not even get the writing credit all by themselves, but had to share it with the director. One can imagine that they did not have as much sway in the business as they did shortly after this film because their later works look far more polished than this Nasir Hussain film, which should be known as a RD Burman musical.