J.P. Dutta’s 1993 movie Kshatriya is set in his favourite desert state of Rajasthan and features the feuding families of Mirtagarh and Surjangarh.
Mirtagarh is represented by its Maharaja Bhawani Singh (Sunil Dutt), his wife Maheshwari Devi (Rakhee) and younger brother and ex-Indian Army Major Jaswant Singh (Vinod Khanna).
There is also his daughter Divya (Dolly Minhas) and her friend Madhulika (Meenakshi Sheshadri).
And to create conflict there is the Diwan (Prem Chopra) and his brave but ruthless son Shakti (Puneet Issar).
At the helm of Surjangarh is the childless couple Suman (Sumanlata) and Prithvi Singh (Dharmendra) who dote on their nephew Vijay Pratap Singh (SalimFatehi).
The bad blood between the families goes back generations and pivots on the question as to which Brave would have the honour of making an animal sacrifice to Ma Jagdamba, a ritual that is supposed to ensue rains. The government has appointed a Police Officer Ganga Singh (a hapless Kabir Bedi) to ensure that things do not get out of hand at this annual feature on Vijaydashmi day.
A golden maxim of feuding families is that their young ones will fall in love. And this is what happens between Divya and Vijay Pratap. However the love is not acceptable to both families and Vijay is killed brutally by Shakti when he comes for a rendezvous with Divya. A grieving Divya commits suicide and in a moment of rage, Prithvi kills Bhawani, holding him responsible for the death of the young ones. For this he is put in jail. (The only instance of the law existing in otherwise general lawlessness).
MIA Jaswant returns with his British wife, Jenny (Nafisa Ali) and goes on an orgy of violence which culminates in his presenting the decapitated head of Devender Pratap (the brother of Prithvi) to his widowed bhabhi. Revolted by this, Jenny severs all ties with him, goes back to England and dies in child-birth. However, she makes provision in her will that her daughter Neelima would not visit India before completing her education in England.
In the meantime, Maheshwari and Suman have given birth to Vikram Pratap and Vinay Pratap, respectively. These two are also bundled off to England for their education.
Meanwhile, in all this bloodshed, chaos, and tragedy, everybody forgets about poor Madhu, who – already nursing a broken-heart having fallen in love with the married Jaswant- now finds herself an orphan and in a kotha thanks to the mechanization of the Diwan. Jaswant who chances upon her one day is shocked to see her reduced to such a state and the two find solace in one another.
With one generation destroyed, would the second generation have it better? The four youngsters do offer possibilities. Neelima (Raveena Tandon) hates India, its men and especially her father; Vikram (Sanjay Dutt) is terrified of loud noises and firearms; Vinay (Sunny Deol) is a carefree, happy-go-lucky man with a penchant for saying ‘Hello’ (and how very irritating this word can be!) ; and Tanvi (Divya Bharti), the daughter of Ganga Singh is a drug-addict. However, a couple of songs, a few corny dialogues (delivered in English to underscore the point that they are in England) and everything gets sorted out: Neelima falls in love with Vinay and by extension with India, its men, and even her father; Tanvi falls in love with Vikram and kicks off her drug- habit (Must say I found Sanjay Dutt lecturing against drug abuse great fun); a few strong, encouraging words by his fast-friend Vinay and lo behold Vikram develops a liking for firearms and going for a hunt!!!
The four friends come home to India – without any inkling of the tragic history of their families – where the feud is about to turn another page as Prithvi Singh completes his sentence and both he and Jaswant wait for Vijaydashmi day so that they can finish off each other. Will the youngsters be able to rise above the bloody history of their parents or will they succumb to the pressures of the past?
Kshatriya is a good example of a movie where a promising first half dwindles to bathos in the second half. The first generation, for all its faults, showed some real emotions and feelings. The brotherly bond between Bhawani and Jaswant; the devar-bhabhi rishta between Jaswant and Maheshwari; the paternal love that Prithvi and Suman have for Vijay; the friendship between the sahelis Divya and Madhu; the doomed love of Divya and Vijay; the yearning of Madhu for Jaswant; even the enmity between Prithvi and Jaswant were the real thing. In contrast, the love and friendship between the four youngsters seem totally counterfeit, lacking the passion and blood of their elders. Divya jumping to her death as they bore away the body of her dead lover moved me immensely while the suicide attempt of Neelima was laughable to say the least. The ‘trials and tribulations’ of the younger generation were one big yawn and not helped by some disinterested and insipid performances. In fact, had the movie just concentrated on the first generation and fleshed out some of the characters like that of Kabir Bedi, Nafisa Ali, and Vijayendra Ghatge, (who plays a loyal courtier of Prithvi), things would have been far more interesting. Instead these actors are totally wasted.
Performance wise, Sunil Dutt shines in his small role. Rakhee is good in some scenes but could have been better in the impactful climax as the mothers revolt against the patriarchal order. Meenakshi is good but is sidelined for the most part. Puneet Issar makes his presence felt. Prem Chopra has played many such roles and acts accordingly. Dharmendra is suitably intense. However, the most interesting character, to me, was that of Vinod (no surprises there!) who emerges as the movie’s most tragic character.
As both perpetrator and victim of a blood-thirsty system, Vinod is in his element and makes the movie worth a (one-time) watch.
Do you like movies set in feudal India? Have you seen this movie? Feel like seeing it? Share your views.