Rahul Rawail’s Arjun is a movie that was discussed a lot at our dining table during my growing-up years. The story goes that my mother was so impressed by that movie and Sunny Deol’s performance in it that she wanted to name her first born Arjun. Closer to the naming ceremony, she had an epiphany that she was not fine with her son becoming an unemployed vigilante like the titular character and hence I was christened a more generic option from the name pool.
Apocryphal tales aside, the fact remains that this Sunny Deol starrer has in all probability inspired the maximum number of remakes. If not the whole plot, the template of the unemployed do-gooder protagonist has been reused in multiple films. The subplot of Mohra involving Naseeruddin Shah and Suniel Shetty is an extension of the politician (Anupam Kher) betraying Arjun. Suniel Shetty is part of a similar subplot in another ’90s action movie: Krishna. Apart from the remakes like Sathya in Tamil (starring Kamal Hassan) and Bharatamlo Arjunudu in Telugu (with Venketesh), the protagonist of Arjun has appeared in countless movies. In the Telugu film industry, it all started with Ram Gopal Varma’s historic debut Siva. Siva was a slightly younger, college-going version of Arjun. Even the iconic poster of Siva with Nagarjuna wielding a cycle chain draws inspiration from Arjun’s poster, with a dapper Sunny Deol holding an iron rod. This protagonist found such following in the Telugu industry that we have had almost every major actor play it.
Arjun is set in a time when Mumbai was Bombay and Sunny Deol did not explode on screen (that was reserved for later films like Ghayal). Arjun, the movie, is layered and subtle. Arjun, the hero is brooding and more internal. His fight against the system is not driven by rage but fuelled by disillusionment. This Javed Akhtar creation does not get as much of print or web space compared to the Angry Young Man (which he co-created with Salim Khan). Nevertheless, this hero was as symbolic of his times as the Angry Young Man was of the Emergency era. Arjun did not exist in a vacuum or a make-believe universe. This hero was a product of the pre-liberalisation employment scene of the nation. Disappointed with the ‘No Vacancy’ signboards outside offices and mills, this generation of youth was ripe to be picked up by political parties and anti-social elements to play to their agenda. In the Bombay of mills and matkas, Arjun’s fight is against this system.
The supporting cast of Anupam Kher, Paresh Rawal, AK Hangal and Raja Bundela (amongst others) was given enough material to work with. Even Arjun’s friend who is killed in the iconic umbrella scene (another shot one would see in many subsequent movies) is not just another hero’s friend who gets killed to trigger the revenge saga. His death is tragic because his character is designed to be likeable with a smiling persona and the constant whistling. When he is killed, it is not just Arjun but the audience as well who feels the anguish. Arjun is memorable for the pragmatism of its hero (he does not hate his stepmother but blames her behaviour on his joblessness), the novelty in the action sequences (especially the shot with hidden cameras amidst a real crowd) and the song Mammaiya Kero Mamma (to this day I have no clue what that means and I have not felt the need to put meaning to that catchy phrase).
For the times that we are in, a rehash of this movie might feature an unemployed and disappointed modern-day Arjun (social media handle @naukrikakurukshetra) using his data pack to take down fake news and trolls. Next time you watch a movie with a heart-of-gold but out-of-job hero, a conniving politician or don manipulating the hero, or umbrellas coming out on a blood-soaked rainy day, remember that it is a hat-tip to Rahul Rawail’s Arjun.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.