Raj Kumar Santoshi’s epic dacoit drama China Gate neither featured a superstar or a main action hero nor did it have any romantic songs but it still managed to capture the audience’s attention. Though not being a commercial hit considering that it was made on a large scale, I still think this was a movie which did not get its full due at the Box Office.
It is the story of ten axed army men who were court marshalled following a failed mission called China Gate. Colonel Krishna Kant Puri (Om Puri) who was leading that mission continues to fight the case single handedly for 17 years in a civil court and ultimately loses the battle and contemplates committing suicide. He gets intervened by Sandhya (Mamta Kulkarni in a non-glamorous role for the first and last time). Mistaking him for his father’s (Girish Karnad) friend, she pleads for his help to fight the notorious dacoit Jageera (Mukesh Tiwari making his debut) and making Devdurg safe for its inhabitants. Both Karnad, the forest officer and the Village Chief (Shivaji Satham) are killed by Jageera in close succession.
Col. Puri then collects his motley crew of team members and invites them to his place for a reunion and discussing the mission. Most of them turn down the offer except Major Gurung (Danny) and leave, but then all of them realize that after getting sacked from the Army, they don’t have any good thing going in their lives and ultimately turn up at the station the next day to travel to Devdurg. What follows for the next 2.5 hours is a story of how these over the age ex-army men tackle those dacoits and liberate the villagers.
Though the screen presence of the four main characters (played by Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Danny and Amrish Puri) is towering over the rest of the cast, the highlight of the movie is still the excellent chemistry between the ten members of the team. There is no doubt that actors like Kulbhushan Kharbhanda, Anjan Shrivastava and Jagdeep are very good character artists, but even actors like Tinnu Anand, Samir Soni and Viju Khote have acted way beyond expectations. Most of the scenes involve 4 or 5 actors at the same time and it has been beautifully shot which only a director of the caliber of Santoshi can achieve. The film also shows the transformation which each of these ex-army men undergo in their perceptions, whether it is Amrish’s hatred for the dog turning into love or his antipathy towards Muslims.
Amrish Puri is exceptional in his role, so much so that he should have got an award for this performance- watch out for his scenes where he says “Krishnakant hum log jaayen yah ruk jaayen” or when Naseer retorts “Kutta Jaayega” in the train. Paresh Rawal in his small role as the corrupt police officer is good. Rests of the actors including Ila Arun are ok. The dance item number “Chamma Chamma” by Urmila is good but feels out of place in this action flick.
Two or three scenes virtually stand out in the movie. One where the group gets divided between the fit and the brave ones on the one side, and the unfit and the not so brave ones on the other side and they virtually come to blows. Watch out for the dialogue delivery of both the Puri’s, Kharbanda and Danny as also the reaction of the others. This is the highlight of the movie. Another scene where Amrish and Naseer confront each other over the Hindu-Muslim feelings is also beautifully shots and sums up everything in one sentence “Zakham to humaare itihaas mein lag gaya hai”. Special mention has to be made about Mukesh Tiwari who debuts as Jageera; he really excels in his role along with the vultures. Om Puri is restrained in his role but sums up beautifully at the end “Jung ka ant chahe kuch bhi ho, ek sipahi apna kuch na kuch kho hi deta hai.”