About the story: Chaudhary Amar Singh (Alok Nath), chief of the village Jaigard, works hard to ransom his village from its debts to thakur Pratap Singh (Nisar Ahmad Ansai) and the thakur’s son Jaswant Singh (Amrish Puri). He has taught his values like honesty and non-violence even to his son Vikraanta (Sanjay Dutt). When Amar Singh refuses to sell the peasants’ land to the thakurs, Jaswant kills him and falsifies the purchase contract with Amar’s thumb print. As inspector Khote (Ranjeet) supports the thakurs, Vikraanta’s and his mother Sharda’s (Reema Lagoo) pleas for justice with the police are futile. So Vikraanta takes the law in his own hands and kills Jaswant’s father as the latter befouls the memory of Amar Singh in front of the whole village. When Jaswant in return burns down Vikraanta’s house and kills Sharda, Vikraanta turns into an outlaw and henceforth has only two ambitions left: to protect the poor from Jaswant’s cruelty and to avenge his parents’ death. While the peasants worship Vikraanta like a saviour ("Jai Vikraanta" = Hail Vikraanta!), Jaswant and Khote falsely accuse him to be a criminal and murderer so that honorable DIG Sher Ali Khan (Shahbaaz Khan) starts hunting Vikraanta. On the run from the police, Vikraanta entrusts his wife Nirmala (Zeba Bakhtiyar) and his little son Suraj to Sakhina Chachi (Aruna Irani), an old friend of his family. But when he comes to know that all three of them are in Khan’s custody, a confrontation between Vikraanta and Khan is no longer evadable...
Chapeau! Sultan Ahmed produced and directed a colourful, touching and thrilling first class epic, and I take my hat off to M. Akhtar (story) and KB Pathak (script) for their good job. This story has many strands which run side by side till they sooner or later cross each other, and even though events and revealings sometimes go head over heels, there is no twist which comes from nowhere, everything was rooted somewhere in the plot. Jai Vikraanta is a film to watch at least twice as at the second time you can reconstruct better the development of the characters and their destinies. Only towards the end I suspect that Ahmed cut out one scene as Vikraanta suddenly is at a place where he normally could not be; maybe this was a tribute to the film’s extensive length. But in the end, of the 195 minutes you wouldn’t have wanted to miss a single one.
Consequently, to make a short synopsis out of this opulent story is close to impossible. Mine e.g. lacks some strands and figures, also to avoid giving away some twists beforehand. Of course, this does not justice to these figures who are not less important than the ones I named, above all Shankar (Suresh Oberoi) who probably performs the greatest personal progression of all, but also Sakhina’s daughter Zeenat (Sabeeha), the law-abiding police commissioner (Saeed Jaffrey), unscrupulous procuress Maina Sundhari (Bindu) and honorable thakur Harnam Singh (Mukesh Khanna) who in vain tries to bring Jaswant to reason – they all play their part in the story, no one is just a prop. Maybe this was also the reason why the complete cast delivered a great performance and inspried each other to all the better achievements. As I don’t want to name all actors again I restrict myself to a) a special praise for Suresh Oberoi for his well-thought character study, b) a special thanks to Amrish Puri for his delectable dance interludes and for his cat jumper (*g*) and c) a credit to Shahbaaz Khan for having been such a strong and equal antagonist to Sanjay Dutt. (To Sanju himself I’ll return at the end.)
Obviously, Sultan Ahmed made Jai Vikraanta for several purposes. First, of course, to ask the question what people can/may/must do if they are denied justice by the authorities. Alok Nath’s appeal to non-violence is countered by Suresh Oberoi’s embittered question about what to do when you are accused for a crime and no one believes that you are innocent, and by corrupt policemen like Khote who drive honest and law-abiding people into desillusion and arbitrary law. Second, as a kind of side effect, Jai Vikraanta preaches brotherly co-existence of Hindus and Muslims which is celebrated fondly and not too didactically in one of the film’s many colourful dance scenes. And finally, like a golden thread, the special bond between a mother and her son crosses the film, in the form of the song "Rishtaa tera mera sabse alag" which Sanjay interprets at the film’s beginning in a beautiful and touching scene with Reema Lagoo.
As I already said, in spite of playing the title role this is not Sanjay’s film alone. Probably only in Vidhaata he had had to face a co-star cast like this before, and Shahbaaz Khan even was close to outplay him in their big confrontation scene. Of course, this does not mean that Sanjay was not good; he plays the outlaw à la Robin Hood (in a magnificent warrior outfit and with a bold combination of long mane, moustache and black tika on his forehead) with strong intensity and emotionality. But fact is that his tension while shooting this film must have been enormous as the borders between fiction and reality more and more disappeared for him. In 1993, Sanjay had been arrested after the Mumbai bomb blasts, accused of having been involved in this act of terror – a charge which took the courts fourteen years to acquit him of. What did he feel when he, as Vikraanta, in vain craved justice from the authorities or when other film figures asked questions like "what to do when you are accused for a crime and no one believes that you are innocent" – or when he told the police commissioner, "I respect the law of my country. If the law of our country can protect the innocent and punish the evil, then the destiny of our country is very bright"? When the film finally was released, Sanju was in prison as an under trial and as exactly the alleged but innocent murderer as his film character Vikraanta with his fight for the truth. He had not been able to dub his dialogues himself before he was imprisoned, and hats off to Chetan Sashital who attended to this task as he was a very worthy substitute for Sanju’s voice.
Produced and directed by Sultan Ahmed
195 Min.; DVD: Shemaroo, English Subtitles (including songs)