An Indictment *Ahem* Review: Sohni Mahiwal (1984)

This is another one of those semi-rare Indo-Soviet co-productions, and one I'd never heard of before. On the surface, it shares some features that lend Ali Baba Aur 40 Chor so much camp charm ...

1. It's an interpretation of a beloved folktale (one of the four great romantic tragedies of the Punjab). 

2. It stars a Deol (Sunny) as a hero and a Zeenat (in her post-Insaaf Ka Tarazu avenging woman avatar) as an outlaw.

3. It highlights some "exotic" Uzbek locations, design, costumes, and architecture.

4. It's got an A+ KNIFE DANCE, "Chand Ruka Hai." (Has anyone made a Bollywood master list of these? Hema has quite a few to her name, including 40 Chor's but c. the 80s, I prefer Zeenat's, as she channels dominatrix over domestic goddess.)

5. Horse stunts and Central Asian sporting traditions that, sorry yaar, Feroz Khan got his hands on first (there must have been some Dharmatma fans in the house).

6. A very little bit of visual effects (OK it's no open-sesame disco cave or creepy-wali jinn, just an actress in faux clay with some fancy editing). 

7. Hero's best bro is strikingly, not Danny Denzongpa. He should be. But he isn't. wait, you say Danny isn't in Ali Bab Aur 40 Chor either? Um, he should be. (How is it possible that there are two '80s Bollywood films calling for vaguely "Central Asian" features without him?)

8. An epic love story! To be clear, as the star-crossed, nadi ke paas lovers, Sohni (Poonam Dhillon) and Mahiwal (Sunny Deol) together are the unfortunate result of producers thinking that A pretty thing + B pretty thing = onscreen chemistry. Luckily, dosti + bromance try to make up the difference.

WE actually do have chemistry but this wouldn't get past the censor board

What this film fails to deliver in romance, it makes up for in attempted social commentary. Yes, this is one of those rare films to portray, if only via subtext, the exploitation of pottery.

Meri jaan, I'm totally gonna haunt you a la "Ghost" if you mess this pot up

Early in the film, Izzat Beg/Mahiwal's uncle brings back a vessel imbued with magic powers. It is in this pitcher that the hero first gets a glimpse of his beloved. Disturbingly, this pot seems to have been pressed into a life as a migrant worker. If 2015 taught us anything, it's that such situations are but a FIFA scandal away from being exposed as human trafficking.

Religious figures, even the storyteller himself (a fabulous Shammi Kapoor, perhaps as poet and author Hashim? It's unclear to me), are just as culpable in this non-consensual gray market.

Sohni often uses earthenware to keep men at a distance, seemingly oblivious to the pots' needs.

This pot is as unadorned as you my love only it's actually useful

Yes, she does steal an intimate moment alone with a chalice, but this mostly just reveals her elitist bias toward metalwork.

Don't even get me started on the "reckless endangerment" charges that could be leveled at these folks.

If you love something, set it free

The story of Sohni Mahiwal may traditionally be the tale of a potter's daughter and her foreign lover, their subsequent violent separation by family and villagers, her forced marriage and continued rendezvous with banished aashiq, and their untimely death in the river after their meeting pot (I kid you not, it keeps them afloat when they cross the river) sinks. But looking for the new twist on an old story, the three directors (!) of this film dare to ask ... what happens to nice normal vessels-next-door when they are taken far from home and thrust into greatness? 

Sadly, pots were definitely harmed in the making of this movie

Aww, well, y'all tried at least.

In conclusion ... 

Sohni Mahiwal is undeniably pretty, but it doesn't hold up under the actors' lackluster performances, the repetitive soundtrack, or the legacy of previous Indo-Soviet collaborations. So yeah, you should learn from my mistake and skip this one. Unless you want to press the fast forward button and play "spot-the-lady dacoit." It's really too bad when the most entertaining 10 minutes of a feature is a secondary character's violent flashback.

This film does make me want to see Abdullah (1980), if only to get more ZPH (Zeenat Per Hour) demonstrations in desert terrain. And, praise be, Danny actually IS in Abdullah. As it should be. I suppose it would also be a shame if this film defined the classic for me FOREVER ... so I should probably seek out a more successful telling.

Your turn ...

Did you grow up with a version (print or film or TV) of this story that you loved? (It certainly hasn't been as popular with filmmakers as Heer-Ranjha.) If you know of one, do tell, as I hear Pran and Tanuja are also seeking a better version in which they can star together c. 1968.

If you're not Punjabi, is this story on your radar? What's more, is Poonam Dhillon even on your radar? I'd be curious to hear what y'all think.

Note: If you are annoyed by the gratuitous label in the corner of the screen caps (it was the best print on YouTube, so what can one do?), my tone of jest, or any great and wonderful plot twists or dialogue bits that I missed because of a lack of subtitles, my apologies. 


  1. Miranda, for some reason, your blog slipped off my sidebar, and so I missed this post when it came out. :( (Have since reinstated it in its rightful place.)

    I saw this film when it came out, and even teenage me with my immense tolerance for a lot of masala I couldn't stand it. But the story of Sohni Mahiwal has always interested me - I like tragic love stories, what can I say? :) (I'm not Punjabi.)

    Poonam Dhillon? I thought she was beautiful; I doubt anyone went to see her for her histrionics.

    1. Ahh, sometimes all the Blogger gadgets drive me crazy, too, no worries! Yes, I probably should have shut this one off, but there was just enough nonsense to spur me forward. Still, totally unnecessary to see, ever. I share your affable feelings toward tragedies ... as long as they give me plenty to love before the inevitable bloodshed and tears, I'm ok.

      Ugh, Poonam was beyond a snore in this ... I mean, there are other 80s heroines that aren't much on people's radar now (like Mandakini and Rati Aghnihotri and Selma Agha), but all of them manage to throw up some fiery glances or naughty looks into the remix that is a lot of the 80s storylines. But not here. Not at all.

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