Sunghursh (1968)



Director:  Harnam Singh Rawail

Starring:  Dilip Kumar (Kundan/Bajrangi), Vyjayanthimala (Munni/Laila -e- Aasmaan), Balraj Sahni (Ganeshi Prasad), Sanjeev Kumar (Dwarka Prasad), Jayant (Bhavani Prasad), Sunder (Mama, Kundan's uncle), Ulhas (Bhim), Deven Verma (Lal Chand), Durga Khote (Bhavani Prasad's Wife), Sulochana Latkar (Kundan's mother, Bhawani's daughter-in-law).

Indian film accurately depicting the Thuggee cult


It's an o.k. movie.  Bhavani Prasad has been a member and then leader of the Thuggee cult of thieves and murderers all his life.  In fact, his forefathers were also leaders of the cult.  He is an angry man because he feels that his daughter-in-law seduced his son and turned him against his father (Bhavani).  He wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, but his son rejected the criminal life.  Therefore, Bhavani has virtually kidnapped his grandson, Kundan, in order to force  him to be future cult leader.  But Kundan is frightened of his grandfather and rejects the old man's way of life.  Denied contact with his family, Kundan seeks solace in a close relationship with a young orphan girl, Munni.  But Munni is adopted and taken to Calcutta.  And Bhavani has his own son, Shankar,  killed when he tries to rescue Kundan from his grandfather.  (Kundan and his family think that his father was killed by his grandfather's old enemy, Naubatlal.) 

To expose Bhavani for the monster he is, Naubatlal brings Shankar's bloody clothing to the cult leader's family to tell them that Bhavani had Shankar killed.  Of course, Bhavani denies it.   For revenge, Bhavani has Naubatlal killed.  In order to get away from Bhavani, his family escapes to another town in India.  

The next we see is Kundan all grown up.  Someone tries unsuccessfully to kill him.  (The two sons of the murdered Naubatlal have sworn vengeance against Kundan.)

Kundan sees the lovely Devotee and falls in love almost at once, but she walks away from him.  Since his sister Yashoda is getting married, he travels to the wedding site (with the great reluctance and reservations of his grandfather to permit this).  Another person that goes to the wedding is Dwarka, one of the two sons of Naubatlal who have sworn to kill Kundan. 

We learn that Devotee is really Laila, a dancer from Calcutta, but is suspected of being much than just a dancer.   The two sons of Naubatlal think they hire her to seduce Kundan and deliver him to them, but she has another objective in mind.  Dwarka, the younger sun, tries to kill Kundan, but Laila saves him.  She also saves him a second time, by switching the positions of the drinking glasses, one filled with poison.  Dwarka is poisoned, but survives.  These secret activities of Laila are unknown to Kundan.  

Laila appears before Kundan and reveals herself as Munni, the girl he loved from his childhood.  Kundan is so taken away by her that he wants to marry her and introduces her to his mother and grandmother.  But the evil grandfather interferes again, exposing Munni's background and accusing her of being a whore.  He also reveals that she was hired by the two Naubatlal twins to seduce Kundan and deliver him to them.  The disillusioned Kundan breaks off the relationship with Munni before she can explain. 

On his way back home, grandfather is bitten by a poisonous snake and dies.  But not before his mother reveals that it was grandfather who had killed Kundan's father, not Naubatlal.   And now a very strange transformation begins in Kundan.  Suddenly he decides he will become saint-like and vows to do everything to make up with the sons of Naubatlal and end the feud.  In this sudden religious awakening, he seems to forget that the two sons have vowed in the name of their father to kill him and have had no such religious awakening themselves.  In fact, to save the watcher from a certain amount of disillusionment with the hero of the story, he becomes somewhat of a jerk (at least, we hope, for only a limited amount of time). 

How will Munni get her man back?  And will the would-be saint be killed before she can reunite with Kundan? 

I was somewhat happy with the film until the less than satisfying ending scenes.  Kundan is so absorbed in his own guilt that instead of being saint-like, he is more devil-like.  He is selfish in his contemplation of his own guilt feelings and is willing to sacrifice the love of Munni and the life of a beloved and faithful family servant. 

Don't despair, the very ending is not too bad, so don't let that discourage you. 

I was a little surprised that the main characters were all a  little heavy.  (I guess they weren't poisoned as yet by Hollywood's obsession with being thin.) 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


See Gunga Din (1939).



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