Mera Naam Raja (1978)

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Mera Naam Raja (1978)
Cast: Habib, Naghma, Sangeeta, Munawar Zareef, Mussarat Shaheen
Director: Hamid Usmani
Cast: Bond inspired caper promises much but fails to live up to its spectacular poster

 

An intriguing animated title sequence set to some plagiarized R.D. Burman title music (Yaadon ki Baraat) promises great things, especially as it follows on from a particularly mystifying shoot out after which a shadowy figure takes a pistol and plants it in a secret compartment carved into the witness box in the courtroom. The next day during a court trial a nefarious diamond thief makes good his getaway using the planted pistol to great effect. We find that Habib (Raja) is the diamond smuggler but in fact that he really isn’t a diamond smuggler at all but was just using the title as a means by which he could gain access to the criminal underworld.

One day rich socialite Farzana’s Mercedes breaks down and she is attacked by some goons only to be rescued by Raja in the nick of time. Soon enough love blossoms between the rescuer and the rescued with Raja enchanting Naghma in next to no time at all. Then we follow the exploits of happy go lucky Raja who appears to be hot on the trail of a gang of villains whose boss is none other than Talish, father of the luscious Farzana (Naghma). Unfortunately, what should have been a wild and wacky pseudo-Bond caper turns out to be a chaotic mess from the very outset and never recovers from the basic mess that is the films dreadful script.

It transpires that Raja’s accidental sidekick’s mute sister was horribly gang raped (as one is shown in a very gratuitous flashback) and he is out to take revenge from those who perpetrated the horror. Meanwhile Raja appears to have his own secret agenda. Raja’s sidekick is played by Munawar Zareef and together they provide much highly tedious slapstick style comedy to proceedings.

There is much light comedy (too much) and inane frolicking as well as some very forgettable songs including a huge “piya tu ab to aa ja” rip off danced to by the seductive Madame Sangeeta. Just when the farcical events on screen appear to be meandering to nowhere, there is a sudden interlude providing the audience with some much-needed respite. All of a sudden, the rather genteel events on screen are interrupted by a stunning snake dance by Ms. Voluptuous Thunder Thighs Mussy Shaheen performing a raunchy number where the camera tries to catch her panties from all sorts of unlikely angles – mesmerizing stuff these “chaddee shots”. Then the audience is treated to a series of almost surreal fight sequences with typically insane stunts involving men leaping up to 70 feet at a time! Bizarre, totally insane, wild stuff – but alas even the sleazy dance, Mussy’s thunderous thighs and the demented fight sequences can’t rescue the film form its inherent weakness; a lousy script and a non-existent plot.

Mera Naam Raja is for all intents and purposes a vehicle for the thespian talents of Habib (It’s a “Habib production” after all) and though his diehard fans may delight in his antics, most filmgoers were not amused as the film died an ignominious death at the Box Office when it was released back in 1978. The fact that the film was shot in black and white when most productions had adopted colour was another reason for its dismal failure. However, as with most rotten films, this one has a truly wonderful poster, which certainly would have fooled me into parting with my money – the poster is far more of an attraction then the film itself.

Naghma who happened to be the real Mrs. Habib when the film was made does an adequate job as Farzana though she really doesn’t have much scope while the legendary Madame Sangeeta makes a brief but disjointed appearance as well. However, despite its many dubious qualities, sadly the film didn’t turn out to be the mega cult classic that it really ought to have been.