Movies rarely offer more rip-roaring action per minute than does "God Is My Witness," [Khuda Gawah] a three-hour epic adventure from India that is as crude as it is energetic. The movie, which opens today at the Quad Cinema, wants to be an Indian answer to "Ben Hur," "Duel in the Sun," "The Desert Song," "Giant" and "The Seven Samurai," all rolled into one churning, palpitating package. 

It opens with a game of buzkashi, a dangerous equestrian sport involving a dead goat, and closes with a version of the same game played with a live human. In between, enough plot is jammed in to fill several seasons of "Dallas," along with a musical's worth of songs. 

Anchoring this multigenerational saga, directed by Mukul S. Anand, is the actor Amitabh Bachchan, an Indian superstar who outthunders Charlton Heston and outglares Rudolph Valentino. In "God Is My Witness," his 85th film, Mr. Bachchan plays Badshah Khan, a heroic patriarch who gets into all kinds of trouble because he is such a stickler about keeping his word. The moral of the story seems to be that one's honor is something that must be upheld at all costs. Or must it, various characters wonder late in the story. 

When Mr. Bachchan speaks, he proclaims his lines in a deep impassioned roar. As he locks eyes with Sridevi, the actress who plays his wife, Benazir, the screen is in danger of melting. 
Sridevi in Khuda Gawah

Over the course of the film, Badshah is beaten, tortured, imprisoned, shot at and bombed, but he always rises up, as indestructible as Superman. Benazir is so madly in love with him that she instantly goes crazy when told he has been killed. (He hasn't been, of course.) For the next 18 years, she mumbles only three words over and over: "He will return." Sridevi also plays the couple's daughter, who eventually travels to India to find the father she never knew. 

With scenes of high adventure that are abruptly broken by elaborate musical production numbers, "God Is My Witness" is stylistically typical of mainstream Indian movies. What distinguishes it from assembly-line fare is its relative grandeur. The arid mountain landscapes in which much of the action takes place are as impressively spacious as the Wild West of Hollywood. The musical numbers have an opulence that recalls the most jewel-encrusted M-G-M fantasies. 

For all its borrowing of Hollywood formulas, "God Is My Witness" suggests that the busy Indian film industry is happy to remain 40 to 60 years behind Hollywood both stylistically and technologically. 

The musical numbers, with their dubbed voices, recall Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson. The lumbering fight sequences suggest that the martial-arts revolution begun by Bruce Lee has yet to affect the Indian cinema. What fun lies ahead!

God Is My Witness
Directed by Mukul S. Anand; written by Santosh Saroj (in Hindi with English subtitles); cinematographer, W. B. Rao; edited by R. Rajendran; music by Laxmikant Pyarelal; produced by Manoj Desai and Nazir Ahmed; released by Headliner Productions Releasing. Quad Cinema, 13th Street, west of Fifth Avenue, Greenwich Village. Running time: 180 minutes. This film has no rating.

Badshah Khan . . . . . Amitabh Bachchan
Benazir, Menhdi . . . . . Sridevi
Raja . . . . . Nagarjuna
Henna . . . . . Shilpa Shirodkar 

Review from NY