There are few, if any, who would argue with the statement that director Manmohan Desai is the father of the Bollywood Masala film. For the uninitiated -- a Masala film is one in which a handful of cinematic genres are blended together in order to appeal to as many segments of the ticket-buying populace as possible. It’s been a model for countless Bollywood films since the early 1970s, and Desai’s 1977 blockbuster hit Amar, Akbar, Anthony is about as archetypal a Masala film as one can find.
Amar, Akbar, Anthony’s extended pre-credit sequence (just under 30 minutes) which sets up the overly convoluted plot contains more melodrama and action than many 90 minute feature films. The film opens with Kishanlal (Pran) being released from prison, after having taken the rap and served time for his boss Robert’s (Jeevan) hit-and-run accident, in exchange for a promise that his wife and three sons (the titular trio) would be financially taken care of. However, he returns home to find his family on the brink of starvation and poverty. A failed attempt at murdering Robert leads to a thrilling car chase, a failed suicide attempt, the discovery of crate of gold, a key character's loss of vision, and the accidental separation of the three brothers, who are left by their father under a statue of Gandhi in a park. The youngest is found by a Muslim tailor, the middle by Catholic priest, and the oldest by a Hindu police officer. Cut to 20 years later and the unlikely scenario that finds the three brothers all donating blood to their now-blind mother, though none are aware of the familial connection. Cue opening credits.
Though the plot contains more than its fair share of happenstance, coincidence and serendipity, it never fails to be anything short of endlessly entertaining, mostly due to director Desai’s master skills in knowing just how much romance, melodrama, comedy, and action to add to the mix. Add to that a fantastic performance by the three leads (particularly Bachchan, who really gets to flex his comedic muscles here) and a memorable soundtrack by Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar and Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma, which includes the infectious and wonderfully silly "My Name is Anthony Gonzalves", which begins with Bachchan jumping out of a giant Easter egg. Though the film does paint a positive portrait of intercommunal harmony between the three religions, it’s subtextual at best.
Amar, Akbar, Anthony (1977)
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Parveen Babi, Pran, Jeevan
Directed by: Manmohan Desai
Produced by:Manmohan Desai, Subhash Desai
Music: Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar, Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma
Running Time: 3 hrs. 4 min
Link: Amar, Akbar, Anthony (complete film, streaming)