To enjoy Karz, you have to get past a few things that haven’t dated well. Like the fact that the hero – a singer named Monty played by Rishi Kapoor – is in love with a school girl. Tina Munim, now Ambani, plays Tina, a gorgeous but silly, shrieking teenager who steals Monty’s heart. They date and eventually marry. It’s icky and illegal.
But Karz was released in 1980, which also explains the high-decibel melodrama, the clumsy camera movements and some scenes that are laugh out loud funny – unintentionally of course. Like one in which a grown woman is terrified of men wearing painfully obvious ghost costumes. And yet, after all these years, Subhash Ghai’s rip-off off the Hollywood thriller, The Reincarnation Of Peter Proud, stills counts as among his best.
What holds Karz together is the relationship between Monty and Kamini. Simi Garewal is pitch perfect as the elegant, evil Maharani. Kamini is that rare thing – an older woman who is a sexual being. She goes for Monty because he makes her feel attractive and young. The writing is simplistic – Kamini is bad, so she drinks, smokes and is glamorous. And of course the film mocks her romantic feelings – Monty is just manipulating her to get to the truth. But Kamini is a fascinating character. She has oomph and personality. Urmila Matondkar in the awful 2008 remake wasn’t a patch on the original.
There’s also the haunting guitar tune (Ek Haseena Thi) that composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal lifted from George Benson’s We As Love. In fact even the thumping title track Om Shanti Om was a copy of a Lord Shorty song. But LP and Subhash Ghai used the music to great effect. The narrative leads up to a climactic song sequence in which the events of Monty’s past life and murder are narrated, which leads to Kamini’s breakdown and confession.
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Karz features one of my favorite villains – Sir Judah played by Prem Nath. We don’t know why he is called Sir – was he knighted by the Queen or is it because he’s so nasty – pay close attention to the long, painted fingernails. Sir Judah is mute so he taps out commands, which are interpreted by his right hand man, played by Mac Mohan. Mac Mohan, who I consider the superstar of sidekicks, got a few killer lines.
And then there is Rishi Kapoor in gold and silver outfits burning up the dance floor. He combined flamboyance with sentimentality and was utterly convincing, both as a pop music sensation and a loving, devoted son. I have to admit I also enjoyed the “Maa ke doodh ka karz chukana hai” dialogue-baazi – what’s a Hindi movie without a mother angle?
Karz is unabashedly pulpy but it works. See it on YouTube.