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Tragic Willys Romance

Dharmatma (1975)


 

Dharmatma is a 1975 film directed by Feroz Khan, with a long and complicated gangster plot. It's basically a Bollywood remake of The Godfather (1972), with the locations changed from the U.S.A. and Italy, to India and Afghanistan. It was the first Indian movie to be shot in Afghanistan, and it's entertaining although a bit cartoonish in places, and with the usual badly lipsynced Bollywood musical numbers. The Michael Corleone character here is named Ranbir; his father, who has made a fortune from organized gambling, is known as Dharmatma or "Saint." (1)

Ranbir leaves India for Afghanistan, where he acquires a Willys CJ-3B. It's one of the few examples I have seen of a flatfender Jeep in that country. (And it's likely that none of those Jeeps have survived the decades of war there since the Soviet invasion in 1979.)
 

FrameThe late 1950s or early 60's CJ-3B, with its hood unlatched and no windshield, is an important element in the most romantic and tragic part of this story.

We first see the Jeep when Ranbir is driving along the road and something catches his attention.
 

FrameUp in a tree is a beautiful young woman, Reshma, keeping an eye on a herd of goats.
 

FrameIt's love at first sight for Ranbir.

(The continuity of details on the Willys is somewhat sloppy throughout the film. For example, this is the only shot where the windshield is in place, so this was probably the first footage shot of the Jeep, before director Feroz Khan decided to remove the windshield.)
 

FrameReshma tells him he's asking for trouble, because she's engaged to an Afghan man, who then shows up on horseback and tries to kill Ranbir.
 

FrameBut Ranbir can't forget her, and before long he's driving around again in the dramatic scenery of Afghanistan, looking for her.
 

FrameWhen he finds her, he uses the Bollywood approach and lipsyncs a song:

Your face casts such a spell. I get drawn to you!
I intend to go somewhere else, but get drawn to you!
(2)
 

FrameMaybe it's the song, or maybe it's his Willys, but this time, Reshma also finds herself falling in love.
 

FrameThere is an amazing sequence of scores of Afghan men on horseback playing the fierce national sport of buzkashi. Then Ranbir appears again in his CJ-3B to ask for Reshma's hand in marriage.
 

FrameAfter her family is convinced, Ranbir and Reshma leave in the Jeep for the trip to a temple, to be married.
 

FrameHe breaks into a love song as he drives the CJ-3B. The duet has lyrics like:

He: How beautiful you are, you look very lovely.
She: Say it again, keep saying it, it sounds nice. Every dream of my life now seems true.
He: How beautiful you are, you look very lovely. (3)

(The spare tire has disappeared from the side of the Jeep; probably the film crew had to change a flat.)
 

FrameAfter failing to sign Bollywood superstar Rajesh Khanna (see Love Song in a Jeep) to play Ranbir, the film's director Feroz Khan decided to play the role himself. (4) Dharmatma turned Khan into a major action star in India. He died in 2009 at age 69. (5)

Reshma was played by Hema Malini, who also went on to become a star, and since 2003 a politician. (6)
 

FrameWhen Reshma wants to stop for a while, she just slides provocatively up onto the hood while Ranbir is driving, and turns off the ignition. Maybe this scene is why Feroz Khan decided to remove the windshield.
 

FrameThe way she fondles his Willys makes this possibly the only onscreen example of a CJ-3B being cast in the part of a sexy vehicle.
 

FrameThey drive through the Bamiyan Valley; the Jeep can be seen here on the road at the bottom of the frame. This is the site of the famous Bamiyan Buddhas, huge statues carved into the sandstone cliff in the 6th century. The largest Buddha, 170 feet tall, can be seen in the center background, in a tall cave cut into the rock. This massive statue was dynamited by the Taliban in 2001. (7)
 

FrameStill singing, Ranbir and Reshma arrive at the site of the temple, which is also in a cave. (The spare tire has reappeared.)
 

FrameBut criminal rivals of his father have been following them in a Land Rover!
 

FrameIn their matching shirts, two scheming brothers grab an opportunity while the happy couple is in the temple and the CJ-3B is unattended (with the spare wheel missing again).
 

FrameThey plant a bomb in the Jeep.
 

FrameIt's wired through the ignition switch, and directly to the battery.
 

FrameRanbir and Reshma return from the temple, blissfully unaware of the danger, and she fingers the ignition key.
 

FrameRanbir steps away for a moment, and Reshma finally turns the key.
 

FrameInstantly there is an explosion.
 

FrameReshma is obviously badly hurt.
 

FrameLuckily her face is only a bit dirty for her closeup, as she dies in Ranbir's arms.
 

FrameThe CJ-3B plays the same part as the 1946 Alfa Romeo 6C (40K JPEG) in the original Godfather, in which Michael Corleone's wife Apollonia was killed when she started the engine. (8)
 

FrameRanbir returns to India and takes revenge on the rivals, who meanwhile have also killed his father.

Then he turns his father's ill-gotten fortune over to the police, who take it away in a Mahindra Jeep FC-160 paddy wagon. (See a 1972 Mahindra catalogue on CJ3B.info.)
 

FrameDharmatma ends differently from The Godfather. Ranbir heads back to Afghanistan in the final scene (and seems to be driving the same Willys CJ-3B.) In this beautiful shot a group of nomads rides past on the horizon. For a moment Ranbir thinks he sees Reshma, and tears come to his eyes.
 

Thanks to Suhail Qureishi for telling me about Dharmatma. You can watch the whole movie (with or without subtitles) on YouTube. -- Derek Redmond

Frame

Footnotes

  1. Hindi to English at hinkhoj.com.
  2. "Tere Chehre Mein", sung by Kishore Kumar, lyrics by Indeewar, music by Kalyanji Anandji, on YouTube.
  3. "Kya Khoob Lagti Ho", sung by Mukesh and Kanchan, lyrics by Indeewar, music by Kalyanji Anandji, on YouTube.
  4. Dharmatma Trivia at IMDb.
  5. Feroz Khan Obituary, The Telegraph, 27 April 2009.
  6. Dharmatma at Wikipedia.
  7. "Afghanistan: Buddhas of Bamiyan resurrected as laser projections," IB Times, 12 June 2015.
  8. Internet Movie Cars Database.

 


See another Love Song in a Jeep, from the classic Bollywood film Aradhana (1969).

See more CJ-3Bs in the Movies.

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Last updated 15 August 2015 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
http://cj3b.info/Movie/Dharmatma.html
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