"Camp is art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is ´too much´." - Susan Sontag
Susan Sontag was one of the first people to break the silence over how Camp works. Before this not many people had written about the essence of Camp. In her famous essay, "Notes on Camp", there are a lot of examples that would especially suit the works of Manmohan Desai. Desai´s films do propose themselves seriously but viewers cannot take his plots too seriously because it is altogether too outlandish. On the basis of Susan Sontag´s description, "Naseeb" is an apt example of a film that fits the model of Camp. To understand more, let´s look at another description of camp by Sontag:
"The essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration. Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylisation."
Everything about "Naseeb" is larger than life and exaggerated. The narrative´s emphasis is on style and star power. Camp is often misunderstood to be something that is mediocre. While in my opinion, "Naseeb" is Camp, I don´t think it is a bad film at all. It is an entertaining curry fare with all the doses of comedy, romance, action and revenge.
The story begins with Namdev (Pran), Jaggi ( Salim Khan), Raghu (Kader Khan) and Damu (Amjad Khan) sharing a lottery ticket. Luckily, or unluckily, the ticket turns out to be a winning one worth millions. Out of greed, Raghu and Damu kill Jaggi and frame Namdev for the murder. Unaware that his so-called friends have framed him for it, Namdev goes on the run, as he fears the police will arrest him for the death of Jaggi. Raghu and Damu pretend to help Namdev but conspire to kill him as well. The case is later closed because it is assumed that the murderer, Namdev, has committed suicide after killing Jaggi.
Many years go by and Raghu and Damu are living the high life. They have a successful hotel business and to add sting to the tale, one of Namdev´s sons, John Jani Janardan (Amitabh Bachchan) is employed as a waiter in the hotel. He has grown up under the care of Mrs. Gomes (Lalita Pawar) along with Julie (Reena Roy). His best friend is Vikki (Shatrughan Sinha), son of Damu, who is living in England. In England, Vikki meets Asha (Hema Malini) a singing sensation from India who is shooting for an advertisement. The whole set-up of this scenario is hilariously over-the-top as Vikki saves Asha from baddies. One of the baddies (under instruction from some obscure nemesis of Vikki´s) has the gall to ask for money from Vikki (in front of Asha, doh) for the stunt that they have pulled to impress the heroine.
There, this two-minute love story between Vikki and Asha falls apart. A hurt Asha returns to India and finds love in the arms of John. Meanwhile, Julie has been in love with Vikki since childhood. So she is heartbroken when the now alcoholic Vikki goes back to India and cries on John´s shoulder about his love story. John and Julie construct a drama to bring Vikki and Asha back together. Let´s not forget Sunny (Rishi Kapoor) and Kim (Kim) who have their own love story going on in a different part of the country. I bet you have not figured out that Sunny is John´s brother and Kim is Asha´s sister! The final chapter is sparked off when Damu prevents a possible engagement between Sunny and Kim by revealing that the boy´s father is Namdev- the murderer of Asha and Kim´s father.
From there on, the story carries on further down the route of sacrifices, love stories, melodramas and springs more surprises with the entrance of a few other characters.
To quote more on Susan Sontag´s works, she says that pure Camp is the naive mode of Camp. Camp, which knows itself to be Camp, is less satisfying. This is why "Naseeb" is such a satisfying piece of entertainment. Every far-fetched aspect in the plot is delivered with a genuine momentum of earnestness. The film is Cure camp in the true sense. On the other hand, if you take David Dhawan´s films (and I am mentioning him because he says that Manmohan Desai is the inspiration behind his work) and they are less satisfying because there is a sense of knowingness about the Hindi conventions in the films. Scenes from "Biwi Number One" to the recent "Chor Machaye Shor" and "Ek Aur Ek Gyarah" parody the Hindi cinema convention of male friendships, quick love stories and the overdose of emotions. Unlike these films, "Naseeb" is not smug with itself. The songs, the fight scenes, the rona-dhona, the comedy and the criss-crossing of characters are there to genuinely entertain the audience.
Performances are another aspect that help "Naseeb" to be a classic case of Camp drama. Particularly commendable is Shatrughan Sinha. He is not a great actor but the way he tries so seriously to be involved in the plot is applaud-worthy. The fact that he goes through his scenes with a straight face makes the film even more entertaining. Of course, Amitabh Bachchan is the biggest star in this wholesome multi-starrer. If proof of this actor´s versatility is needed then "Naseeb" is it. In this masala epic, he shines in serious, comic, romantic and action scenes.
As for Rishi Kapoor, he is at consummate ease in the role of a cocky schoolboy who is very loyal to his brother. His chemistry with Kim, a startling look-alike of Dimple Kapadia, brings back memories of Raj Kapoor´s "Bobby". Out of the heroines, Hema Malini is given the most screen-time and "Naseeb" is one of the few films where she is paired opposite Amitabh Bachchan. A promising rival for the Zeenat Amans and Parveen Babis at the time, Reena Roy leaves a mark in her few dramatic scenes.
Even though this is one of my favourites from my childhood, I have to admit that this entertainer is not flawless at all. There are quite a few illogical strands. It would be lazy to dismiss them on the basis that "Naseeb" is basically a Bollywood fantasy and not a film that pretends to depict reality. The character of Kim is an expert at lip-reading. Her talent is made use of at a crucial part of the climax where she lip-reads the intentions of the villain essayed by Amrish Puri. However, Kim does all this from an adjacent building with the help of her binoculars. And it is funny to see that she can still manage to lip-read even when the villains have turned their backs towards her! This is just an example of some of the illogicalities that blight "Naseeb". It is entirely up to the viewers whether to let these slight discrepancies affect their enjoyment.
It is scenes and moments that form the make-up of Manmohan Desai´s "Naseeb". Let´s not pretend that this is a film where the story and script are of paramount importance. The movie is full of memorable scenes. My picks of the lot are:
1) The director dedicated this movie to the late singer Mohammad Rafi, who passed away after he rendered the songs for this soundtrack. The first song in the film by Rafi, "John Jani Janardan" is a treat to watch purely for the dazzling guest cameos by the likes of Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna, Shammi Kapoor and Raj Kapoor. It turned out to be a trendsetter and a similar tactic can be seen twenty-two years later in Nikhil Advani´s "Kal Ho Naa Ho" where Kajol Devgan and Rani Mukherjee made fleeting appearances in a song.
2) The whole sequence where Rishi Kapoor´s character threatens to jump off the school roof if he is not given a pass grade is very entertaining. What does get him the pass grade is when he ´pretends´ to save Kim from a fire.
3) The chemistry between Hema Malini and Amitabh Bachchan is underlined in their motorcycle scene. Asha gives John a lift to a certain destination but the only problem for her is that he talks a lot. In her opinion, he does a little too much bak bak and she commands him to keep quiet!
4) The revolving restaurant is a rather fascinating concept. You wonder whether the customers and guests ever feel slightly queasy whenever they sit down to eat their dinner. The unusual setting of the restaurant provides for an enjoyable climax.
5) Things come to a head when Asha, John, Julie and Vikki meet in the village. John and Julie enact a drama in order to bring Asha and Vikki back together and this is significantly done around an erection of the Christian symbol of a cross (to symbolise the theme of the sacrifice). While the scene is slightly overdone melodramatically, it is compelling to watch because of the acting by all the four stars (Amitabh, Hema, Shatrughan and Reena).