Why 'Khoon Bhari Maang' is the ultimate revenge drama in Bollywood

Rakesh Roshan's film continues to be a benchmark for revenge dramas. As for me, I still fear getting Khoon Bhari Maang-ed near a pool.

I discovered Jaws much later. It was, in fact, because of Khoon Bhari Maang that I never quite became a ‘water baby’. Movies can affect you in the strangest ways, especially when you’re watching them as an wide-eyed, unsuspecting child. Rakesh Roshan’s film made me very, very paranoid about ponds, pools and the sea. And it was probably the reason why I didn’t learn how to swim till the age of 15, old enough to get over the irrational fear of a city swimming pool infested with crocodiles. It’s funny how in a film about betrayal, makeovers and revenge – the one thing I remember most clearly are how the crocodiles ‘get’ Rekha.

For the uninitiated, Khoon Bhari Maang came out almost three decades ago. The film starring Rekha, Kabir Bedi, Sonu Walia and Shatrughan Sinha is based around a rich widowed heiress (Rekha), who gets charmed by a smooth operator (a dapper-looking Kabir Bedi from his Octopussy days). Needless to say, once they get married he doesn’t waste too much time before pushing her into the deep end of the water. Literally. Did I mention that Rekha’s character has a visible birthmark on her face that allows her to cash in on the 80s stereotype of ‘an unattractive woman with a heart of gold’?

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Like any of the half decent stuff happening in the mainstream space in 1988, this film too was (officially?) remade from an Australian miniseries called Return To Eden. Borrowing the central plot of a wealthy widow exacting revenge on her lover, Roshan made the story palatable for our audience by adding the conniving Munimji, the helpful farmer and Bollywood’s own take on the Chariots of Fire theme. Vangelis, who was initially disappointed in Rajesh Roshan and was threatening to sue, changed his mind after he saw Sonu Walia in her yellow swimsuit.

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Khoon Bhari Maang might not have aged particularly well, but the reason it remains memorable in 2019 is how efficiently it squeezes out every last drop of the potboiler formula and subverts it in its own small way. Even as we start with an unattractive leading lady, Roshan gives us our diva in the second half.  And then flips the template by showing her use the ‘killer’ looks to her advantage, without crossing over into vamp territory.

In my opinion, people also love going back to the film because of the righteous justice that is served in the end. Rekha’s character after being the plain Jane through the first half, finds unlikely allies in a stranger who rescues her while she’s half dead, a photographer (played by Shatrughan Sinha) who helps her and a large amount of money. It’s fun to root for the underdog from there on.

And boy, how good is Rekha in the film? The film needed someone at absolute ease in her own skin, who could channel both her demure version as well as the diva. And Rekha nails both the parts. Also, Kabir Bedi plays his role with a subtlety that Bollywood wasn’t used to at that time. In an era full of Ranjeets, Bedi’s Sanjay was a slick guy who didn’t believe in overselling his character’s bad intentions. Instead, he proved himself with his actions by doing the unspeakable.

Khoon Bhari Maang remains a monument for revenge in Hindi cinema. Like someone said, there is no purer emotion than revenge – there is no revenge drama in Bollywood that leaves the audience quite as satisfied as this. With all its broad strokes, the Bollywood masala and the ‘inspiration’ – Rakesh Roshan’s film continues to be a benchmark. As for me, I still do fear getting Khoon Bhari Maang-ed near a pool, with or without crocodiles.