Karan Arjun, which released 27 years ago on 13 January, begins with a disclaimer that it’s a story of belief. Indeed, watching the movie now will definitely require a single-minded dedication towards suspension of disbelief.
Filmmaker Rakesh Roshan’s reincarnation juggernaut Karan Arjun was the second highest-grossing film of 1995, just behind Yash Raj Films’ NRI bait Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. The film’s box office fate is testament to its reception with viewers. However, revisiting 90s films more than two and a half decades later can sometimes prove to be a daunting task. There has been a marked change in how viewers consume content now. Comedy that elicited thunderous laughs could come across as problematic, and dialogues can sound dated. Once the appeal of nostalgia wears off, the ludicracy of our favourite movies isn’t too difficult to spot.
In an interview with Hin dustan Times, Roshan had revealed how no one really believed in the screenplay of the film, but went ahead nonetheless because of the director’s conviction in his story. But he also added that he would never remake Karan Arjun in this decade, because a film that may have worked 27 years ago, might not now.
The story follows Durga (Rakhee), a woman who is single-handedly bringing up her two sons Karan and Arjun in a village in Rajasthan. Karan and Arjun are kept in the dark about their father, until one day, they learn they are the grandsons of the village zamindar, Bada Thakur. His son, who had gone against his father’s wishes to marry a woman from a different social class, was brutally murdered by Durjan Singh (Amrish Puri), the terrifying and oppressive relative of the zamindar, so that Karan-Arjun could not stake their claim on the estate.
Durjan Singh’s bloody murder spree continues, when he learns Thakur has plans of making Karan and Arjun their heirs of his land. He proceeds to kill both Thakur and Karan-Arjun, in possibly one of the most long-drawn murder scenes in the history of Hindi cinema.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, we are told. In this case, Karan-Arjun are offered a literal cold-turkey death before they are reincarnated as Ajay and Vijay. The rhyming names, of course, indicate that they must share a connection. They are both brought up by abusive parent figures, and are visually fitter and more adept at tackling deadly attacks. Ajay and Vijay both have romantic interests this time around, but one, Sonia (Kajol), is a fiancé of an enemy camp member, the other, Bindiya (Mamata Kulkarni) is shamed by her lover for not being feminine enough for his liking.
But there is nothing that a little bit of bangle clanking and ghagra-choli dance number cannot fix. She also suffers from Stockholm Syndrome, because she regards his slaps as ‘pyaar ki nishani’ (signs of love). So, lovers dance in stables and forests. Beyond this though, the women have nothing much to contribute to the revenge narrative. Sonia is always kidnapped by either her father, her father-in-law or her fiancé, so that Vijay gets the opportunity to display his deft rescuing skills.
In its defence, Karan Arjun promises an exciting ride. Roshan pulled a casting coup with this reincarnation drama, featuring Kajol, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan in one film about revenge and justice. Shah Rukh and Kajol’s pair had already been accepted by one and all in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. Further, ensemble films with two or more A-listers are almost always made in a way to appeal to the widest possible demographic. There are also sword fights, horse races and blazing guns – twice over in real-time, and multiple times in negatives through flashbacks, just to hammer home that Karan and Arjun were rather brutally skewered through.
Over the years, Rakhi’s turn as the tragedy-stricken mother has almost become a cultural icon. Beyond “Mere Karan Arjun Ayenge,” iterations of which are littered across the interwebz, Rakhi also left an indelible mark on her viewers and on Goddess Kali’s temple by banging her head on every stone surface inside the temple premises. But there is no denying that its exalted melodrama worked for the film at the time. Its music, composed by Rajesh Roshan, is perhaps still one of the most memorable things about it.
Karan Arjun begins with a narrative voiceover, that this story is about vishwas (belief). The disclaimer hits home even more after 27 years, because watching Karan Arjun will require a single-minded dedication towards suspension of disbelief. Once you’re suspended, no amount of logic can impale your viewing experience.
Watch Karan Arjun here