Muhammed bin Tughluq is a 1971 Indian Tamil-language comedy film directed and written by Cho Ramaswamy. It is the film version of the play of the same name. Both the play and the film were conceptualised, written and directed by Cho who also stars as the title character. The film is a satirical take on the then political and social affairs of India and is considered a fine portrayal of the political attitude existent till today.
The title character’s name is an allusion to the present day politics in India that can be compared with those of Tughluq’s. It is believed in India that Tughluq, the sultan of Delhi in 14th century, was an unintelligent ruler especially for some of his decisions during his reign, including those of relocation of capital and experiments with coins. Thus, Cho found it to be a correct allusion to the present day political happenings. There are several dialogues in the film that mention these facts.
Thathachari (Neelu) narrates a small anecdote of Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq emphasizing on how the king had an arrogant attitude, indifferent view towards his kingdom and subjects, how he treated his guests and also the kind of plans he introduced that backfired. When his son Rangachari (Rajagopal) goes on a mission to research on Tughluq, he finds a buried coffin that contains Thugluq (Cho), and his accomplice Ibn Batuta (Peeli Sivam) alive inside. They claim that they are the true Thugluq and Batuta buried several centuries ago along with a herb that has protected them and kept them alive until 1971 A.D. (the present year of the film)
Thugluq becomes a national sensation and is welcomed in all grandeur to Rangachari’s house. He is interviewed by many newspaper journalists to whom he answers in a very sarcastic attitude. He learns the changes of the past centuries in almost four days and mocks that the advancements are no more than four days’ advancement. He decides to contest independent in by-elections of North-Madras Constituency to become the MP so that he can become Prime Minister of India. In his good faith, Thanikachalam, an old freedom fighter, and his daughter Gandhimadhi (Manorama) volunteer to help taking part in his political rallies. In his political campaigns, Thughluq makes a mockery of all of the other political contestants (in turn mocking the politicians of real life) and in a satiric tone asking the people to vote for him.
Thugluq eventually wins the elections and become an MP. He goes to Delhi and meets with MPs from all small parties. He makes them very big offers. A total of 324/545 MPs join his party and all of them want themselves to be made Deputy Prime Ministers, and confusion ensures. The MPs threaten him to take back their support. Finally, Tuglaq announces that all MP’s who had joined his party will be made Deputy Prime Minister. Everyone agrees and the existing cabinet is dissolved. Tughlaq is sworn-in as new Prime minister, with 450 MP’s supporting him and made as new Deputy- Prime ministers. At the news being announced at radio, the masses become very happy. A few people (like a tea shop owner and a hairdresser) even go as far as wagering and jumping with joy. The Rangachari family also become very overwhelmed at it.
Thugluq appoints the naive Gandhimadhi as one of his Deputy Prime-ministers. She initially does not understand the street-smart nature of the political world and shows an innocent face to the people she meets. Tughluq shows a self-opinionated attitude to the cabinet ministers and lends a deaf ear to all their proposals. He instead makes foolish plans to tackle the country’s problems that neither make sense nor solve the problems in question. For example, to solve the problem of which language (whether South Indian or North Indian) should be the national language, he suggests the foreign language of Persian as the national language, claiming that it is new to all Indians and it will not be a partial decision for both parties. In an attempt to abolish bribery and corruption, he legalizes them so that they are not illegal anymore. When there is a calamity for his decisions he makes a direct speech to the people through radio, to request peace and promises to look into the problem (which he ultimately does not intend to do).
Gandhimadhi slowly learns all the trickery of politics and gets indulged in bribery. She rises to a very pompous lifestyle as opposed to her previous poverty-ridden one. She is now able to take good care of a few children in her care and also celebrates her birthday in a lavish style. Venniradai Moorthy plays a cameo as a singer in her birthday party. Her father (Thankikachalam) gets bedridden and is dying. When Gandhimadhi comes down to meet him, he hands her over a letter and asks her to deliver it to Thugluq or Batuta on 31 December that year. He further says that she or anyone else must not read this letter and it must be given to Tughluq with utmost secrecy. She promises him on it. He eventually dies.
Back in Delhi, Tughluq and Batuta have a small talk in solitude. In a twist ending, it is revealed that both are actually college students (Mahadevan and Raghavan), who in an interest to reform the country have acted as Thugluq and Batuta. Both, with the help of their guru Thanikachalam, took an oath before Goddess Kali that they would surrender themselves for their crime on 31 December before the people. They hid themselves in a coffin on the site in Daulatabad, where Prof. Rangachari would take up his research, and started impersonating from there on. They believed that after this incident, the people would contemplate on this matter and cause a revolution that would change the state of affairs to come. However, Mahadevan alias Thugluq suggests that they maintain the status quo and live a prosperous life for themselves. Mahadevan, corrupt through his exposure to politics now refuses to accept that he is Mahadevan and still calls himself Thugluq. On the other hand, Raghavan (alias Batuta) is now stubborn on revealing their true colours.
Raghavan approaches Gandhimadhi to get the letter her father gave her. The letter is a written confession of the details of the trio’s plan signed by Mahadevan himself and posted to Thanikachalam. This letter is now the only evidence to reveal Thugluq’s true identity. However, Gandhimadhi, now equally corrupt herself and for the sake of the children she takes care of, refuses to hand over the letter because if she does, even she will be in trouble for supporting the both of them. She instead throws the letter into the nearby hearth. Raghavan attempts to explain everything to the cabinet ministers and later to the masses, however, Thugluq states that his “good friend” Batuta has gone insane suddenly and asks everyone not to believe him. He further tricks the people, through his words, to kill Batuta, with whom dies their secret.
Directed by Cho
Produced by Prestige Productions
Written by Cho
Starring Cho, Neelu, Peeli Sivam, Manorama, Usha, Ambi Rajagopal, Sukumari, Sampath, V.R.Sreenivasan, B.N.Ramasamy
Music by M. S. Viswanathan
Edited by R. Devarajan
Production Prestige Productions
Release date 5 March 1971
Running time 134 minutes