My review of J.P Dutta’s GHULAMI (Hindi, 1985)

J.P Dutta’s debut film GHULAMI remains his most powerful film to date, and undeniably his finest film as well. Watching GHULAMI again after 10 years proves to be an enlightening experience as the movie has aged superbly with time, and plays very much like the epic it was intended to be.
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18 Responses to “My review of J.P Dutta’s GHULAMI (Hindi, 1985)”

  1. masterpraz Says:

    I must say, I do fall in to the category of people who miss J.P Dutta!!!! His visual sense, larger-than-life characters and set-up’s, the grand scope, dialogue-baazi and some very powerful performances…YATEEM to KSHATRIYAA to BORDER (though BATWARA and HATHYAAR remain my closest Dutta films.

    I still havent seen UMRAO JAAN yet. Need to catchup on that….


  2. Glad to see you highlight this phenomenal film. To my mind still the greatest commercial Hindi effort over the last 25 years or more.


    • JP Dutta to me is one of the greatest Directors in Bollywood. This is based on his first 5 films. His downfall began with the OTT Border (1997) and went downhill after that. Can’t decide which is his best Ghulami or Hathyar? My regret is Dutta not going back to his school of film making after Border. He made masterpieces catered for the intellect audience and not for the mass, hence why his movies didn’t get proper recognition. If he was in Hollywood he would get that recognition. 4 Masterpieces and 1 brilliant film (Kshatriya) that was let down by the climax.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Got to agree 100% with that comment Satyam an absolutely phenomenal movie . Topical , yet not preachy with fantastic performances . Also thought Hathyaar was one of the best urban gangster movies ever made in India .


  4. Gulzar’s lyrics, LP’s music and that ride atop the bus scene with Mithun.C is simply a picture I cannot forget. The best part was I had gone expecting nothing from this movie. Everyone was very well cast, even Surendranath as the dacoit was perfect!

    Rajasthan has never been captured by anyone like how Dutta does here and then in YATEEM(another favorite of mine). He began to get a little ambitious with HATHYAAR and then went downhill from there. But for a brief BORDERish encounter, he has been a disappointment after that.


    • agreed completely.. the substitution of the war terrain for the Rajasthan one was deeply problematic and to my mind never quite paid off for Dutta barring the first half of Refugee where the no man’s land offered some very interesting possibilities but Dutta went very conformist in the second half. Do have a weakness for LoC though.


  5. another related older comment:

    “Incidentally Rishi Kapoor once said (after he’d done Hathyar) that one day Dutta would make a truly great film. What Rishi didn’t realise was that Ghulami was that truly great film! Refugee could have been a great film if the second half had properly followed the logic of the first half. I still find LoC very compelling for all its indulgence and consider it the best war movie of Hindi cinema (far better than Border though Border is a more even narrative). UJ revealed a filmmaker who was perfectly at home in this very different sort of setting (the last thing one would have expected from the guy who made all those macho Rajasthan films and then equally macho war films is UJ!) even if he was entirely out of step with his potential audience! But I find it fascinating that Dutta is now exhibiting this ‘Muslim’ turn in a way. Of course he had planned Aakhri Mughal earlier but nonetheless these will two ‘Muslim-themed’ films back to back, one a ‘costume drama’, the other a ‘costume epic’. This sort of thing is so rare that it should be taken note of!

    But Dutta is not everyone’s cup of tea anyway. His films move at a leisurely pace and not everyone has the stamina. This is one reason why most of his films in the 80s also flopped. Ghulami is by far his greatest film. But I am also a fan of Yateem, Batwara, Hathyar, Refugee (to some extent), LoC, UJ. The ones I do not like at all are Border and Kshatriya. The latter was a real copout. The former is fine but too jingoistic for my tastes. In fact one of the reasons I like LoC is that the jingoism here is greatly tempered.”


  6. masterpraz Says:

    I have a great weakness for REFUGEE…


  7. Nice review AS!

    While I remember being entranced by the film on the first viewing (in the 80s), a recent bits-and-pieces peek on cable left me a little underwhelmed. I agree that the cinematography is terrific, the landscapes, the dunes captured brilliantly on celluloid. The impressive scale on which everything seems to be mounted is another plus.

    But despite these flourishes, there are a few shortcomings. Most noticeably, the action scenes, which given a closer look quite amateurish by today’s standards. And for a film that relies on action for its final resolution, it’s not a small failing.

    Personally speaking, I vastly prefer the Dharmendra of Chupke Chupke, Satyakam or Aankhein over his later outings — the latter characterized by some heavy-handed theatricality, some old-school dialogbaazi, and a physical presence which was almost completely devoid of his early charm and natural presence. Ghulami, though is a much better outcome in that respect, but it’s not much fun watching an over-the-hill Dharmendra even in a film like Ghulami. The lead role required a sturdier hero, a young gun in my opinion.

    Mithun’s presence was indeed a hoot! It’s definitely one of his most memorable roles to date.

    All said and done, I do think Ghulami deserves a special mention in the annals of 80s cinema, but I wouldn’t go as far as Satyam on this one 🙂

    If for nothing else, it should be remembered as JP Dutta’s seminal and most consistent foray into making an ‘epic’ film. Both in terms of ambition and ‘length’. This particular trait, when not successful, cost him dear. Refugee being a prime example of that, where the story and the characters were too commonplace to be presented in an ‘epic’ form.


    • masterpraz Says:

      Thanks Saket…some fabulous thoughts here though GHULAMI remains for me untouched. Agreed on Dharmendra being a tad too old for the part..maybe Sunny would’ve been a better choice!


  8. Major weakness for Yateem and Batwara as well and I felt the first 45 mins of Refugee was on a par with the other batch of superb films till somehow he seemed confused in what he wanted to make . Actually love the leisurely pace of his movies as they give the feel of the classic western for me , whereby so much happens in what seems like vast nothingness . Felt he tried to tell too many stories in LOC rather than telling the story of one pratogonist and the lives he touched .


  9. JP Dutta was one of the greatest directors in Bollywood. His first 4 films: Ghulami, Yateem, Hathyar and Batwara are cinematic masterpieces. His movies catered for the articulate audience and not the bullshit churned out by Yash Raj, Karan Johar, Barjatyas etc.
    Can’t separate Ghulami and Hathyar as to which is his best!
    Kshatriya too was great, but was let down by a poor climax. Otherwise it had all the ingredients to be an all time classic.
    His downfall began with the over rated Border. After which he lost his craft and made watchable but not great films which left me disappointed.
    I miss the Dutta of old and I still hope he could return to his early days and make films like his first 5.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. JP Dutta for me is one of the greatest mainstream film makers in Bollywood history. This is based on his first 5 films; 4 Masterpieces in Ghulami, Hathyar, Yateem and Batwara. His 5th film, Kshatriya would’ve been a masterpiece too but was let down a crap climax and some corny London scenes.
    His films were way ahead of its time and too articulate and taut for the Indian audience, thus why they didn’t do well. He lost his touch with the OTT Border and its been downhill since then culminating in the ultimate insult in Umrao Jaan.
    How I wish he goes back to his old school of story telling as I still believe he has a few masterpieces left in him.
    Possibly revive Sarhad, Bandhua and Choodiyaan?


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