Here was the third clue that I was really going to enjoy at least something about this film:
—the first two clues being that it was directed by Shakti Samanta and that it was made in 1974.
Rajesh Khanna hasn’t been one of my favorites, partly because his characters are often chest-beating male chauvinist types. Here too he portrays a struggling young man who is attracted to and marries a strong-willed, high-spirited heiress, only to resent her for missing the comforts of her former life and wishing for some success of her own. This ends in tears and recriminations, of course. But the film is saved by the nuances of the relationship between the two (a Samanta specialty). Khanna’s performance is very good—he is convincing as a man torn between his inborn values and the woman he adores, and Zeenat Aman as his wife Rashmi is no martyred push-over! And the songs by RD Burman are just brilliant; they include two “tribal” dances and several lovely romantic songs.
The film opens with Sonia (Yogita Bali) arriving at a rural train station at night, where she just misses the train to Bombay. She is distraught and confides in the stationmaster Rohit (Rajesh Khanna) that she is running away from her mother’s stepson, who wants to steal her mother’s expensive jewellery from her. He puts the case containing the jewellery into his office safe, and offers his quarters as a place for her to spend the night before the next morning train. She admires a painting on his wall, and he tells her that it was done by his wife Rashmi who has gone away. He says that they married for love:
He makes sure Sonia is comfortable and returns to his office, where he loses himself in memories of meeting Rashmi on his way to his cousin’s wedding. He is on his motorbike, she is driving a Jeep and he prevents her from passing him. She finally manages to pull up next to him and admonishes him sharply for hogging the road.
As they argue (although he is clearly smitten) her jeep runs out of gas and dies. He offers to give her the fuel from his bike if she will give him a ride to the next gas station—she agrees, but drives off without him after he’s filled her tank. He gets a lift with a passing truck driver and they catch up with her; he scolds her for her behavior and then continues on his way in the truck.
They meet again at his cousin’s wedding ceremonies since it turns out that Rashmi is one of his cousin’s closest friends. He sings “Ek Ajanabee Haseena Se”—a very pretty song which has that typical RD Burman sound. At the wedding itself, she then casts him a wink and a smile and the romance begins.
She convinces her father to hire Rohit as the manager of their timber estates. She tells Rohit that she thinks her late sister’s husband Moti Babu (Prem Chopra) is cheating them and sure enough, Rohit discovers discrepancies in the accounts. Moti Babu devises a plot to get rid of Rohit by setting him up as a rapist. The plot works and Rohit is run out of town after being whipped by Moti Babu, but Rashmi discovers that he was framed and goes after him. She tells him that she loves him and will give up everything for him, and they move to Bombay and get married (accompanied by another lovely song, “Hum Dono”).
At this juncture, Rohit’s memories are interrupted by the arrival of two men claiming to be police inspectors. They describe Sonia and ask if Rohit has seen her. He says no and asks why they are looking for her. They tell him she is accused of robbing a jeweller. Rohit puts them off, but after they leave he goes to find Sonia. He asks her who the two policemen are and she says that Sinha is the stepson who wants her mother’s jewellery. She says that Sinha is a goonda, not a police inspector, and that their ids must be fake.
His suspicions allayed, Rohit returns to his office through the rain, thinking of Rashmi. We return to his memories with another lovely romantic song, “Bheegi Bheegi Raaton Mein”:
In Bombay, Rashmi and Rohit settle happily into married life, although Rashmi can’t cook and misses having servants. Rohit has found work with a modeling agent-photographer-advertising exec (it’s never really clear to me, nor do I figure out what it is that Rohit does for him, exactly). Rohit’s boss (Madan Puri) is a bit of a lecher and hilarious to boot, with an amazing wardrobe of truncated neckties and a flowery way of speaking.
At this point the clothing on everyone threatens to distract me from all else.
Let the fashion parade begin! Pink suits! Polka dots! Crocheted hair accessories!
At home, Rashmi has befriended a neighbor, one Chetan Kumar (Asrani), who is a painter. As Rohit’s time is taken up more and more by work, Rashmi feels lonely. Inspired by Chetan, she starts a painting to give Rohit on his birthday. Chetan suggests that she take up modelling as well, since she’s so beautiful, and tells her that it pays very well. She brings up the idea to Rohit, but he’s not keen on it. They have a fight; Rashmi is tired of being poor and struggling, and she’s bored at home all day. He explains that in the world he comes from, it’s not something that “nice” girls do. But he realizes that she has sacrificed a lot for him and relents:
Rashmi is thrilled, and Chetan helps her put a portfolio together. She catches the suspect attention of Rohit’s boss (who seems unaware that she is Rohit’s wife). Rohit struggles with this and her increasingly busy schedule and late hours. Then Chetan suggests that she enter a beauty pageant, where the prize is Rs 50,000 and a trip around the world (this is the “fashion parade” of the credits and it doesn’t disappoint). When she wins, she is thrilled, but her first thoughts are of Rohit:
He is happy for her, but as they celebrate, Rashmi feels ill and they call a doctor. The doctor tells them that Rashmi is expecting a baby. Rohit is over the moon, but Rashmi realizes that a baby will curtail her success and change everything for her. She hesitantly suggests that maybe they “drop” the baby. Rohit is horrified and she lets the idea go, but a few days later falls down the stairs at home. Chetan takes her to the hospital, where she loses the baby. Rohit learns the news from a jealous “friend” of Rashmi’s, who tells him that she’s had an abortion. He rushes home to confront her. She tries in vain to tell him that it was an accident; but he is too angry to listen. He shouts at her that he hates her, and storms out.
When he calms down a bit and goes home to apologize and talk to her, she is gone. She has left a note with the painting she had done for his birthday gift, and gone back to her father. Chetan arrives, and tells Rohit that he is wrong, that she really did lose the baby by accident but didn’t call him to the hospital because she didn’t want to alarm him.
Racked with guilt, he tries to contact her but she refuses to talk to him. He goes to her father’s but is told that the family has gone away. He receives a divorce notice in the mail, and takes a job as stationmaster in the middle of nowhere. When he does finally track her down and pleads with her to forgive him, her father and Moti Babu intervene.
They tell him that he is not worthy of her, and Moti takes his whip to Rohit again. Rohit grabs it and beats up Moti instead. He vows that he will make enough money to be worthy of Rashmi, and then he will return for her. She watches from inside as he leaves.
With this, Rohit returns to the present. He realizes that the money he needs to be reunited with Rashmi is sitting inside his safe, in the form of Sonia’s jewellery. He takes it out of his safe, tempted. As he sits there with it, the local police arrive and question him about Sonia. They spot the case, and take him to his quarters. She is lying there, dead. She has been murdered, and Rohit is arrested and goes to trial.
What will happen? Was Sonia telling the truth? Who has really killed her? You’ll have to watch to find out.
And I’m going to give Rajesh Khanna another try! I really liked the chemistry between him and Zeenat—their love story was sweet, believable and poignant. And last, but not least, here’s MY fashion parade: