Ramesh Sippy’s Shakti (1982) is an interesting experiment in dismantling Amitabh Bachchan’s iconic image, which had been built up in the 1970s through such hits as Zanjeer, Sholay, Deewar and Don. Bachchan plays the familiar character of a drifter untethered from social niceties, but the Vijay of Shakti is also marked by inchoate anger and diffidence. Vijay is kidnapped as a child, and is witness to the moment when his police officer father (Dilip Kumar) decides to sacrifice the boy rather than give in to the kidnapper’s demands. The boy is rescued but grows up hating his father.
Vijay broods endlessly and wanders about aimlessly, and it is during one of his perambulations that he runs into Roma (Smita Patil). In a sequence that was recycled by Mani Ratnam in Agni Natchathiram (1988), Roma is being harassed by a bunch of toughs on a local train. Vijay swoops in to rescue Roma, and accompanies her to her residence later.
Thus begins an unequal relationship, a rare one in which the woman takes the lead. Vijay is unemployed, but Roma works as a singer at a hotel. She is bold and independent-minded and is not afraid to confront Vijay’s reticence with her assertiveness.
“I live alone,” she tells Vijay. He is shocked: “You live alone?”
“I make good coffee,” she says in an open invitation. Vijay blushes: “Some other time.”
She tells him all about herself. She is obviously attracted to him, but Vijay, in keeping with his character, reins it in.
Roma openly serenades Vijay when he comes to the hotel to watch her sing. How many times must a woman offer to ply a man with coffee? Roma is persistent, but she also knows how to play the waiting game.
“You sing very well,” he tells her. “I know,” she coolly replies. Smita Patil had a mixed record in commercial Hindi films, but in Shakti, Sippy and writers Salim-Javed gave her one of her nicest roles.
The elaborate foreplay culminates in RD Burman’s lovely tune Jaane Kaise Kab Kahan. Sung by a thick-voiced Lata Mangeshkar and a velvet-throated Kishore Kumar, the song with woodpecker-like beats rolls out amidst sprints through a park, close-ups of flowers, and a love-making scene by a lake. Roma and Vijay are draped in thick blankets, and an inviting fire burns nearby. Roma looks ready, Vijay is still diffident, but Roma’s desire triumphs. He eventually moves in with her, but there is never any doubt about who made the first move.