12 January 2013 | MartinHafer
Worth seeing just for the airplane sequence!
During the last few years, I have watched quite a few Indian films and have enjoyed them very much. However, most these films were recent Tamil or Hindi films and so I recently decided to try some older films. Apart from the movies of Satyajit Ray (of which I've seen quite a few), I really have had no idea what to expect. Also, because this is only my second Indian musical of the era, I cannot make any generalizations and have no idea if "Dharti" is good or bad relative to other Indian films of the day. I will just have to judge it on its own merits--for good or bad.
"Dharti" begins in the fictional country of Basanpur. The Chief Minister is a cruel maniac who delights in killing his subjects and scheming. He also is more than willing to sell out his people to foreigners--not too surprising a theme considering the history of India. As for the King, he's weak and ineffectual--and afraid to confront the Chief Minister for his wicked ways.
At the same time Basanpur is being mismanaged, the young princess, Princess Chitralekha, is in Europe--oblivious to the problems in her nation. She meets a bright young Oxford graduate from her country, Bharat, but she doesn't want him to know she's a princess. The two fall in love and all looks great for them...until her father orders her home to marry the evil Chief Minister! Now here is where the film becomes insanely bad. On board the jet airplane, Bharat and Chitralekha have a run-in with one of the Chief Minister's lackeys. A fist fight ensues and the special effects for the plane are quiet stupid. In fact, they are the worst airplane effects ever in the history of cinema! The plane is obviously fake and a toy plane on a string would have been more realistic! As for inside the plane, during the fight a soft cushion hits a window and smashes it...on a Boeing 707!! Talk about a quality product. In fact, it's such a high quality product that there is no depressurization--none! No wind. Nothing! Then, inexplicably, the plane spins wildly and smashes into the ocean. Bharat and Chirtralekha are just fine--with no scars or loss of blood!!! It's a freakin' airliner dropping out of the sky in mid-flight--and yet they are only slightly shaken up by the ordeal!! The badness of this scene makes the film worth seeing and ranks among the worst special effects in all the films I have reviewed--putting it on par with the UFOs in Ed Wood's "Plan 9 From Outer Space".
Once they are back in Basanpus, Bharat becomes embroiled in the patriotic movement to oust the Chief Minister. Soon, many of his comrades are dead--killed by the evil Chief Minister's troops. But, throughout all this bloodshed, Bharat appears to be indestructible. Heck, he even manages to shoot down a helicopter with his rifle. He is some guy!! And, at his side is the princess--who has now joined with the rebels. From this point on, there are some assassination attempts (including one which MIGHT kill Bharat's own father, the Inspector General, in order to kill the Chief Minister!). And, ultimately, it comes down to a fight to the death between Bharat and the Chief Minister--a rousing finale, indeed.
As far as giving this film a numerical score, this is VERY tough. While the acting and plot were pretty good, some of the scenes (especially the airplane sequence) were simply horrible. In addition, since I haven't seen many other musical films from this era, it's hard to know how good or bad it is compared to them. For entertainment value, I'd give this one a 6. If the airplane scene was not in the film, a 7 or 8.
By the way, for the more tender-hearted, there is a graphic bullfight scene early in the film--complete with blood and a dying bull. You might want to speed past this portion--especially since it isn't necessary to the plot. I sure wish this had not been in the film and am actually VERY surprised they included this. Not only is it unnecessary for the film but must have offended many Hindu audience members where the animal is considered sacred.