Animal Kingdomby Dhruv Somani August 1 2021, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 10 mins, 33 secs
A throwback by film historian Dhruv Somani, to the Bollywood movies in which wonder animals would prove to be proverbial scene-stealers.
If you thought that the best performances were restricted to only actors then you are mistaken. In many of our films animals have essayed pivotal roles, adding a dollop of extra entertainment.
Here’s looking back at a memorable bunch of Bollywood films in which the adorable animals (and birds), instead of being presented as predators, have been an essential component of the narrative:
Insaniyat (1955), the only film starring Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand depicted the conflict between the rich Mangal and the villager Bhanu Pratap to win the heart of the village belle Durga (Bina Rai). A chimpanzee named Pedro was cast as Zippy and proved to be a scene-stealer. It was proficient at playing the piano, roller-skating and even typewriting. However, Zippy had regular engagements on American T.V. shows and at nightclubs and was believed to have earned $55,000 dollars per month. Filmmaker S.S. Vasan wanted to liven up the film’s tempo with a separate track after seeing the rushes. So, a deal was struck with Zippy to fly him at an unheard price. Soon the chimp was seen in Hyderabad and Madras thereafter.
When Zippy landed at the Meenambakkam Airport (Madras), the publicity department of Gemini Studios worked overtime so that the chimp got maximum publicity. He was received with a warm welcome and responded back with kissing people. The function was well covered by the press. One headline read, ‘Zippy is a loyal lover’. Later, Dev Anand said, “That’s one experience I would prefer to forget.”
Homi Wadia, starring Azad and Chitra, directed Zimbo (1958), the action-adventure color film on the lines of Hollywood’s Tarzan blockbusters. Here chimpanzee Pedro was seen in a prominent role and was adored by the audiences. The simian star also went on to captivate audiences in Pedro (1960), Zimbo Comes to Town (1960), Tarzan aur Gorilla (1963) and Zimbo Finds a Son (1966).
Directed by Vijay Reddy, this remake of the Kannada film Thaliya Bhagya, Teri Meherbaniyan (1985) was a surprise hit in which wonder dog Brownie, as Moti, co-starred with Jackie Shroff, Poonam Dhillon, Raj Kiran, Asrani and Amrish Puri. Moti witnesses the murders of his master Ravi and his wife-to-be Bijlee. The canine with his sharp teeth and intelligence eventually wreaks revenge on each one of the killers, one by one. He also helps the police by giving them a videocassette on which the murders were recorded.
Parivaar (1987) directed by Shashilal Nair, starring Mithun Chakraborty, Meenakshi Seshadri, Aruna Irani and Jagdeep, was a super-hit family drama. The star attraction was Jaani - the wonder dog who played Bahadur, shown driving a car to chase the villains. Bahadur had the company of a wonder monkey, Savithri. A street performer, the hero, lives with both his pets along with two orphaned children. Together, they earn a living by doing street shows and eventually help out the heroine Anita who’s in distress.
Maa (1991) directed by Ajay Kashyap, a successful social drama-cum-thriller, featured Jeetendra, Jaya Prada, Kadar Khan, Gulshan Grover and Shakti Kapoor. The plot revolved around the murder of Mamta Sharma who is married to the businessman Ram Sharma. She returns as a spirit to protect her husband and their child from the evil intentions of her killers. The only one who can see her and hear her voice is her pet dog Dobby whom she uses against the villains. Beat that!
Bol Radha Bol (1992) was a revamped version of Qaid (1975). David Dhawan was the director of this film, which starred Rishi Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Sushma Seth, Kiran Kumar and Mohnish Behl. The script hinged on Kishan Malhotra who returns to his palatial home only to find a crowd gathered to mourn the death of his mother. Next, he is blamed to be a lookalike fraud of Kishan who is already present there. His pet dog too refuses to identify him as the original Kishan. It is then revealed that the original dog has been in the custody of the villains, who eventually escapes from there and helps his master towards an all’s-well ending.
To date, everyone remembers the dog Tuffy who played in Rajshri’s bumper Hum Aapke Hai Koun..! (1994). The audience gasps when Tuffy delivers a letter written by Nisha (Madhuri Dixit). Instead of delivering it to Prem (Salman Khan) he gives it to Rajesh (Mohnish Behl), clearing the path for true love.
Chillar Party (2011) directed by Nitish Tiwari, was a realistic tug-at-the-heart set in a middle class housing colony woofed around a group of smart children who make it their mission to save a stray dog from being exterminated. Salman Khan Productions produced this smile-a-minute valentine to dogs.
In Entertainment (2014) the dog played an equally important role as Akshay Kumar. Incidentally, the dog’s name was Entertainment. Here, the hero had to tolerate all the tantrums of the dog since his father had willed his property to his pet, in the vein of the comic strip Richie Rich’s dog Dollar. A laugh riot, it was directed by scriptwriter’ Sajid-Farhad.
Dil Dhadakne Do (2015) was a frothy caper directed by Zoya Akhtar, here was the story of Mr. Kamal Mehra essayed by Anil Kapoor and his family and their somewhat brooding dog Pluto. Aamir Khan chipped in to do the voice-over for dog Pluto, a winning touch that.
In Khoon Pasina (1977), directed by Prakash Mehra, the audience whistled and clapped during the scene in which Amitabh Bachchan combats a tiger. The sequence was shot with Tigress Bharthi. By the way, the day the sequence was being shot, Bachchan Sr’s son Abhishek was born.
Mr. Natwarlal (1979), directed by Rakesh Kumar, another Bachchan starrer, featured a fight scene with a tiger. Villainous Vikram (Amjad Khan) terrorizes the villagers with the tiger whom Bachchan fights and befriends. Later, towards the climax he unleashes the tiger back on the gang of villains. This was Tigress Bharathi’s opportunity to shine again.
Kovelamudi Raghavendra Rao directed Nishana (1980). It starred Jeetendra, Poonam Dhillon, Dr. Shreeram Lagoo, Jayshree Gadkar, Om Shiv Puri, Prem Chopra and Utpal Dutt. A tigress was used in a comedy sequence when Ganesh (Asrani) takes his pet Jyothi for a walk on the city streets. Following the chaos, which erupts, Jyothi is returned to her natural habitat, the jungle.
Himmatwala (2013) was a remake of the Jeetendra-Sridevi hit Himmatwala (1983). It starred Ajay Devgn, Tamanna Bhatia and Paresh Rawal. At the outset, the arrogant heroine, Rekha, unleashes a tiger on Ravi, the hero, whom he fights and defeats till it vanish into a jungle nearby. Towards, the climax, the tiger reappears to protect him from the bad guys. Though the hero’s life is saved, the messy remake couldn’t be saved at the ticket counters.
Life of Pi (2012), an international adventure, directed by Ang Lee featured Irrfan Khan, Tabu and Suraj Sharma. Laden with special effects, it told the story of the emotional relationship of a huge tiger (voiced by Richard Parker) with a young boy Pi when they are stranded on a boat in the middle of the ocean. A top global grosser, it won four Oscars including Best Director for Ang Lee.
Dharam-Veer (1977) was a multi-starrer mega-hit directed by Manmohan Desai and it showcased Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Zeenat Aman, Neetu Singh, Pran and Falcon Sheroo, who is the pet of Jwala Singh (Pran). The bird manages to save his master and Maharani Meenakshi Devi’s (Indrani Mukherjee) child from being killed by the baddies.
Miracle Man Manmohan Desai’s widely appreciated Coolie (1983) starring Waheeda Rehman, Amitabh Bachchan, Rati Agnihotri, Kadar Khan Suresh Oberoi, and a falcon named Allahrakha who is always sitting on the wrists of his master Iqbal. A line of dialogue drew claps when Bachchan said, “Bachpan se hai sar par Allah ka haath, aur Allahrakha ka saath.” The falcon was in its element warding off the baddies during the film’s climax.
In Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), a white pigeon played Cupid to unite Prem and Suman (Salman Khan and Bhagyashree). It was the biggest hit of 1989 from the Rajshri Banner. An entire song was pictured on the bird, Kabootar Ja Ja Ja, when Suman uses her feathered friend to deliver a love letter to Prem. The pigeon was also seen in the song Mere Rang Mein Rangnewali and was shown attacking the villain Jeevan (Mohnish Behl) towards the climax. The Rajshris used a talking parrot in Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (2003), which, however, tanked at the box- office. A pigeon in Delhi 6 (2009) was also the inspiration for the A.R. Rahman song Masakli. Abhishek Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor were seen constantly in its company.
One of Rajesh Khanna’s biggest hits Haathi Mere Saathi (1971) was directed by M.A. Thirumugham and produced by Chinnappa Devar and Sandow M.M.A., co-starring Tanuja and Madan Puri. Khanna relived the role of Raju, an orphaned child who along with four elephants performs on the streets to earn a living. Soon he makes it big by making a zoo - Pyar Ki Duniya, where various animals reside along with the four elephants; among them Raju the elephant is the closest to him. Complications arise when his wife Tanu delivers a baby and feels endangered about the child’s security. She gives Raju an ultimatum to choose between the elephant or his family.
After the success of this film, with a screenplay by Salim-Javed, he made Jaanwar Aur Insaan (1972) with Shashi Kapoor and Raakhee Gulzar in lead roles, with a man-eating tiger as the focus of the story.
Another Bollywood film from the Chennai-anchored producers was Maa (1976) starring Dharmendra, Hema Malini and Nirupa Roy. It revolved around Vijay and Nimmi who trap animals to supply them to the zoos and international circus owners. A personal tragedy shocks Vijay who then rescues all the animals and returns them back to the jungles.
Recently, Kaadan (2021) a Tamil film starring Rana Daggubatti, Pulkit Samrat and Zoya Hussain was dubbed in Hindi as Haathi Mere Saathi.
Manmohan Desai used a white horse in Mard (1985) who was seen following his master around everywhere. Other noteworthy films where horses were glimpsed were Azaad (1978), Jaani Dushman (1979) and Khoon Bhari Maang (1988) to name a few.
In the iconic Sholay, Dhanno is the tonga horse who is ever-loyal to Basanti (Hema Malini) in Ramgarh. The line of dialogue “Chal Dhanno aaj teri Basanti ki izzat ka sawaal hai” continues to be quoted to date.
Starring Jaya Bhaduri, Shatrughan Sinha and Bindu, Gaai Aur Gori (1973) portrayed a village girl named Vijaya in a dilemma. She has to make a choice between her abusive husband and her pet cow that loves and protects her dearly.
A cow was seen as a loyal protector in Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani (1988), starring Rishi Kapoor, Jaya Prada, Govinda, Farah, Anita Raaj and Shashikala, in which the gaai saves Sita (Jaya Prada) from ending her life.
The much-feared snake has played key roles in films based on Naags and Naagins, which were extremely popular during the 1970s and ‘80s. The biggest of them all was Rajkumar Kohli’s Naagin (1976) in which Reena Roy was the Ichadhari Naagin thirsting for revenge. And there was Nagina (1984) directed by Harmesh Malhotra starring Sridevi as the Naagin, which was a blockbuster. Its sequel Nigahen (1989), with Sunny Deol and Sridevi, was a loser though.
Produced by Salim and directed by Ashok Gaekwad, Doodh Ka Karz (1990) dealt with the revenge of Saperan Parvati whose husband is wrongly accused of theft and beaten to death. She nurses her son Suraj, along with a snake as her ‘second son’ by, believe it or not, breast-feeding them both! Eventually Suraj and the snake wreak vendetta. During the climax, the villain and his goons are bitten to death by flying snakes!
This oddity starred Jackie Shroff opposite Neelam, along with Varsha Usgaonkar, Aruna Irani and Raza Murad. The film did well and was dubbed in Marathi as Upkar Dudhache. It is said that the project was first offered to Madhuri Dixit who declined in keeping with Anil Kapoor’s advice.
Directed by Abbas Tyrewala starring Imran Khan and Genelia D’Souza, a likeable romedy Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na (2008) focused on the lead pair who calls themselves Rats and Meow. In fact, the popular track Kabhi Kabhi Aditi was a song, which revolved around Aditi’s cat. Quite a meow fest this!