Pyaar Ki Duniya (World of Love) was the name of a zoo that changed the lives of the protagonists of a film in which elephants Damu, Ramu, Mahesh, and Ganesh were the unlikely heroes. Haathi Mere Saathi (1971) will likely remain a favorite of most young movie watchers of the 1970s and 1980s. Its target audience is hardly just the children, though, and there's plenty grown-ups can enjoy. This was confirmed with my recent viewing of the film, which, as far as I can recall, was among the very first couple of Hindi movies I saw (it was in the mid-1980s, and the very first was this or Amar Akbar Anthony (1977)). All I remembered of it was one song, a group of loyal elephants, a beautiful but foolish woman wearing red, and a zoo. Watching the film after a little over two decades was a lot of fun, and somewhat validated these elements as the most memorable.
Raj Kumar a.k.a. Raju was saved from a cheetah by a bunch of elephants. He was orphaned at an early age, but not before his father's last wish instructed him to protect these elephants, which he did. A grown-up Raju (Rajesh Khanna) was as fond of the friendly animals, but was tested and emerged victorious after his accountant cheated him of his estate in hope he'd sell his elephants to rival Sarwan Kumar (K. N. Singh). Not all was rosy for Raju, though. His wife Tanu (Tanuja) -- the couple overcame the opposition of Tanu's father Ratanlal (Madan Puri) to unite -- presented him with a tough proposition related to his elephants for no fault of theirs. How dumbfounded would the result leave us?
1. First, the things I remembered going in. The title song by Kishore Kumar (watch it at the Bollywood Food Club at this post, through which we learn the film's appeal transcends people -- Sita-ji's pet found it engaging, and so did Gemma, who occasionally provides us with invaluable filmy insight at MemsaabStory)...
...the loyal elephants...
...the beautiful but foolish (this has since changed to paranoid) woman in red...
...and the zoo.
2. The film clearly belonged to the elephants and other animals including lions, tigers, a porcupine, bear, and goat. Was it too much to expect horses? I enjoyed watching the monkeys too, I must admit. South Asia is full of these shows, and they tend to be a lot of fun.
The scenes involving the friendly animals, which constituted the vast majority of the scenes, were very well done. Three decades after its release, the sequences maintain an element of realism to them that is quite remarkable. So it might not be too far-fetched after all to expect an elephant to 'hand' over a phone...
...or play soccer.
How cool must it be to invite lions to dinner?
3. Loved this frame!
4. Rajesh Khanna was brilliant. Conveying messages through the plot required a convincing performance, and he was more than up to the task. Tanuja was very good too, about the only thing about her that bothered me was the make-up she wore in her first scene.
5. Full of some touching moments for which the elephants deserved as much credit as did the actors and filmmakers, the film was engaging. There was always something interesting going on, and always something new the animals would teach the humans, proving, as a key piece of the effective dialogue suggested, that 'the worst kind of animal walks on two feet' (read: humans). If that was the primary message the film set out to convey, it did so easily, courtesy the antagonists and their often varying degrees of wretchedness at various points.
The flaws were easy to overlook, and putting them in the perspective of the era, they hardly took much away. The soundtrack (Laxmikant-Pyarelal) was decent, Dilbar Jaani stood out in addition to the title song, and the background score was delightfully in sync with the screenplay (Salim-Javed). In trying to incorporate several elements consistent with cinema of its era, there was the misunderstanding complete with a surplus of tears, the unexplained and deliberate endangering of a life, the father opposed to a marriage, the deceitful confidant, the merciless villain, and a surprising spunky item number.
Thankfully, these elements yielded center stage to the animals and their friend, which was what made the film work rather well. It could have directed more emphasis to the World of Love as a symbol for a greater good we must all work toward, e.g. more references such as this, to why the Mahatma Gandhi favored simple attire.
But it was always more about friendship and loyalty any way, and let that not take anything away from the end result. Four stars for a novel entertaining film that has stood the test of time, is packed with some of the most unlikely stars, and that incorporates some familiar elements for anything but a familiar product of film. I highly recommend you see it, if only for the enthusiasm Raju shows to his guests!
Yes, Ramu, take a bow... :)
Movie rating: 4/5 (Excellent!)
Music rating: 3/5 (Good)
My classification: U/G (suitable for all viewers)
I'm curious to see how children of the twenty first century react to it, and cannot wait to try it on my little nephew! ;)