Original release: January 7th, 1977
Running time: 185 minutes
Country of origin: India
Original language: Hindi
Director: Manmohan Desai
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh, Parveen Babi, Shabana Azmi, Nirupa Roy, Pran, Jeevan
When a family is broken, how do you begin to put it back together again? It’s a question I’ve asked myself so many times over the years and it’s one I’ve still not been able to answer.
What would it take to bring them all back together as one, a miracle? Turning back time? Making up for past wrongs? Asking for forgiveness? As I watched Amar Akbar Anthony again recently, for the first time since I was a small boy, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with these three brothers, their long-suffering parents and my own family.
It’s an epic film, and like many Indian films from this period, Amar Akbar Anthony tells of a struggling family broken apart by absolutely ridiculous circumstances.
It begins with Kishan Lal (Pran) finishing his jail sentence and returning home. Having taken the blame for a hit-and-run accident committed by his ruthless boss, Robert (Jeevan), in return for a nice “settlement” for his family. Instead, he finds his wife, Bharati (Nirupa Roy) suffering from tuberculosis and his three young sons starving.
He tries to confront Robert and when it goes badly he makes an escape in a stolen car. Returning home, he finds Bharati’s suicide note (she doesn’t want to burden him with her suffering), so he takes the children with him instead, but with Robert’s henchman giving chase, Kishan decides to leave them in a public park, by the foot of a statue of Mahatma’ Gandhi. The car crashes and Kishan crawls out, only to realise it was filled with gold bullion. Scuttling off with what he can carry, he returns to the park only to find the children are gone!
The children end up being adopted and raised in different faiths. Amar (Vinod Khanna) is raised a Hindu and grows up to become a police officer like his adoptive father, Akbar (Rishi Kapoor) is raised a Muslim and grows up to become a Qawaali singer and Anthony (Amitabh Bachchan) is raised Christian and grows up to be a small time crook.
What neither of them realise is that the blind woman they all end up in hospital with to donate blood to is actually their mother. After 30 minutes we realise this was merely the introduction as the opening titles indicate.
On her way kill herself, Bharati was hit by a tree falling after lightning had struck it. It not only caused her blindness but presumably cured her tuberculosis because it was never mentioned again! As for their father, after losing his children and presuming they, and his wife, were dead, he keeps the gold and builds himself an empire to put Robert out of business and kidnaps his daughter, Jenny (Parveen Babi), raising her in England as his niece.
Of course, Jenny and Anthony meet and fall in love but the story also focuses on the romantic pairings of Amar and Laxmi (Shabana Azmi) and Akbar and Salma (Neetu Singh). Mixed with lots of action, comedy and songs, Amar Akbar Anthony is three hours of Indian cinema at its most illogical, but that’s part of what makes it so enjoyable too.
As all of these semi-plots converge, eventually they all learn of their connections to each other, but before any of that happens, there are some real heart-tugging moments, such as when Bharati is struck blind and is rescued by the same man who adopts Akbar. As they ride in the car together she has no idea it’s her youngest son crying in the back seat. Later on we see Amar on the street where he lived as a child. Suddenly he’s overcome with a feeling of familiarity and searches for the toy gun he remembers burying in the dirt.
You can’t help but wonder how all of this could have happened and in truth, it really couldn’t! Or could it? We wonder why Kishan accepted so easily that his wife was dead.
We also wonder why Bharati assumes her husband and children are dead too. Couldn’t they have enquired a little further and saved themselves so much heartache and trouble?
In the world inhabited by the characters of Amar Akbar Anthony, there are kidnappings, murders, houses burning down, unconvincing fisticuffs and miraculous healings – it’s really a case of too many cooks in the kitchen but what makes it bearable are the performances. The ever-charismatic Amitabh Bachchan really goes for the comedy here and we can see that with the musical number My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves, which everyone who has ever seen the film will instantly recall.
Elsewhere, Rishi Kapoor and Vinod Khanna also deliver great performances, as do Nirupa Roy as the long suffering mother Bharati. Singing legends Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar add their vocal talents to the soundtrack and they are best displayed with the song Humko Tumse where all three love stories combine for another memorable moment.
As a film that employs the “lost and found” plot device, Amar Akbar Anthony is certainly one of the best remembered ones but probably not because it did it in such a great way but because of the illogical way it went about doing it with such an amazing cast at its disposal.
It made me think then, if three brothers could be reunited with their parents even after so much has happened, couldn’t my own squabbling family find a way to deal with each other for the sake of honouring our aging parents? After all, real-life tends to be as absurd as what we sometimes see on-screen, so even a “happy ending” can’t be that improbable… Or does that only happen in movies like these?
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .