Ajanabee (1974)

Here was the third clue that I was really going to enjoy at least something about this film:

ajanabee_fashionparade.jpg

—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:

ajanabee_fragrance.jpg

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.

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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.

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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”).

ajanabee_humdono.jpg

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”:

ajanabee_bheegibheegi.jpg

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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

ajanabee_fashion.jpg

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20 Comments to “Ajanabee (1974)”

  1. I love a parade! That is fantastic! The crocheted hat-with-ponytail-hole alone is worth watching a movie for. Plus a tiara!

  2. I see once again we have a mind meld :-) Life would be so dull without tiaras.

  3. I actually have one. It was a gift, but still. European crystal and all. Yo know, someone just gave me an AP article from the local paper about how the high-end jewelers (and Stacy from What Not to Wear) are trying to bring back the tiara. http://www.heraldextra.com/content/view/249086/

  4. I have about 20 of them, including some beautiful antique ones :-) OCD strikes again!

  5. cut/paste:

    “The chemistry between Zeenat and Rajesh that I noticed in Ajanabee is fizzing away here too!”

    memsaab,

    Ajanabee is one of my favorite movie. Too bad many had overlooked the movie and it was just an average hit for RK.

    It was a movie where Shakti Samanta was trying to pitch a new heroin for RK to replace the outgoing Asha Parekh, Mumtaz and Sharmila. 1974: That was the critical changing year for RK.

    Many people at the beginning wouldn’t take the pair: Here are two examples:

    cut/paste:1 | rajaswaminathan

    July 27th, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    I remember this song NOT being one of my fav songs of that time. One of the reasons was that I loved movies of Rajesh-Mumtaz, Rajesh-Sharmila, Rajesh-Asha Parekh. This one came after most of those – and I thought Rajesh-Zeenat is not going to work ! I did not see this movie. I saw “Aashiq Hoon Baharon Ka” of Rajesh-Zeenat. It was a HUGE flop – the most expensive flop till then. It only re-confirmed my feeling about Rajesh-Zeenat.

    I finally saw this movie only about 6-7 years ago for the first time. And I must confess I quite liked the movie. And I saw the song also for the first time – and liked it. I had obviously heard it many times before but it had never really “stood out” for me.

    Guess I was more hung up on Rajesh-Mumtaz (”kajra laga ke”), Rajesh-Sharmila (”Chingari koi bhadke”) and Rajesh-Asha (”ye shaam mastani’).
    And totally hung up on Rajesh-Tanuja with “o mere dil ke chain”.

    Not that this is a bad song…there were just so many wonderful songs to choose from in those days.

    2 | squarecutatul

    July 27th, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    You saw this movie 6-7 years ago ? I have never seen this movie, but the song gave me a good idea how it would have been picturised.And of course, I was quite enamoured by this song.

    Oops, I just remembered.Ajnabi had another wonderful song, a duet. Of course you know what song (s) I am talking about. I have already posted that song in my rail songs post. In fact this movie has a rain song too, that figured in my rain songs post. Quite a treasure trove of nice songs this movie was.

    reference:

    http://atulsongaday.wordpress.com/2008/07/27/ek-ajnabi-haseena-se-yoon-mulaqat-ho-gayi/

  6. radzi: the music in this film is just fabulous, and the picturizations even more so…now that I’ve seen more RK films and realize how much he loved music and how he really spent time and effort on the songs I can appreciate them even more. Rajesh and Zeenat are just so hot together ;-) I like Rajesh-Mumtaz a lot too.

  7. I just read a recent interview with Aishwarya Rai and thought wow how true is that. She noted while talking about AR Rahman: “….your [the actor's] work is going to live on because of the recall of his [ARR's] music. In our cinema, that’s why music is such an integral part. It’s not something you only visually enjoy, it’s also the first recall of a film.” (http://www.telegraphindia.com/1090227/jsp/entertainment/story_10596631.jsp)

    I liked Ajanabee well enough because, of course, for me the 60s to early 80s RK is always ‘bildschön’! But personally without the fabulous songs I don’t know that I’d spend much time on it. RK was good as usual, Zeenie was good, but the ‘dil’ did not get squished, something was lacking. I’ve said earlier that Shakti Samanta neglected to put his all in his Hindi films of the time because he was so caught up with his big Uttam Kumar-Sharmila Tagore blockbusters in Bengali (i.e. Amanush and Ananda Ashram which were also dubbed in Hindi but didn’t do so well outside Bengal I think). Thus his Anurodh and later Mehbooba (both with RK) suffered and, like Ajanabee, both had absolutely wonderful music, L-P and RD respectively. Mehbooba had more heart though and is now considered a classic. Anurodh, of course, is the epitome of what you and your friends classify as ‘bromance’ Memsaab :-) It’s failing was miscasting of the leading lady i.e. Simple Kapadia who just could not cut it, apart from the real-life sister-in-law thing that mayn’t have gone down well with audiences of the time. Even RK’s famous pasha of romance persona deserted him here, there is zero chemistry with Simple.

    As an aside, apparently RK had begged to be part of Amanush. Shakti should’ve listened. If he’d done the Hindi version, that would’ve been quite something. Sorry if this got off topic a bit but I’ve a beef with the Shakti Samanta of the mid 70s as regards RK :-)

  8. Oh sorry what I forgot to mention above when I spoke of Amanush is that RK didn’t really want to do Ajanabee, he wanted Amanush instead which was being made at the same time.

  9. The songs, the Rajesh-Zeenat chemistry and the fashions were what made this so much fun. I have not seen Amanush and haven’t gotten to Anurodh yet (saw Mehbooba a long time ago and need to watch it again, I don’t remember that much about it)…

    • Even with the height odd match, I too think Rajesh-Zeenat do have chemistry……. but the old formula of Rajesh-Sharmila and Rajesh-Mumtaz keep haunting Rajesh himself.

      …thus when the public rejects the new jodi, Rajesh Khanna was at lost.

      cut/paste:

      baghwan (4 months ago)

      i think she and rajesh had a great chemistry between them u can see it in thier eyes in every song of thiers in every films they did together it was something like lust between them

      reference:

  10. Rajesh and Zeenat were a great pair and did a no. of movies. As per the grapevine then, they were pretty close and this reflects in their movies – Ajanabee, Aashiq Hoon Bahron Ka, Chaiila Babu, Janwar to name a few. Ajanabee is their best movie together- Apart from Rajesh’s performance and crisp direction by Shakti Samanta, the movie has great music by Rahul Dev Burman.

  11. Yes, I’ve read in my vintage Stardust magazines about their supposed “affair”—not that I believe most of what I read in them though! But they did have great chemistry, and this is a really fun film. I like it the best of the ones they are paired in too.

  12. I saw this movie today only. Rajesh Khanna & Zeenat Aman look really good together, but i like the pair of rajesh khanna & sharmila tagore better.

  13. A taut storyline & a restrained performance by rajesh khanna, well supported by zeenie baby. Their chemistry was also good. It did quite well but should have been a super hit. Melodious songs by RD.

  14. Saw this movie last week. I have always liked the songs on radio and chitrahaar (DD TV show of songs). “Spoiler alert” – I think in the original Gulshan Nanda novel, Rajesh Khanna murders his wife as he thinks it is Sonia who is still in his house resting that night. Just like in the movie Zeenat comes to Rajesh’s house and witnesses things unfolding – the heroine in the book does the same but has a dialogue with Sonia and confesses that she has returned to be with her husband for good. Sonia wants this to be a nice surprise for Rajesh, hence switches place with Zeenat. Rajesh only realises that he has murdered his own wife when Sonia comes to the station to collect her briefcase. The book was more realistic. “Spoiler end”. Apart from the 70s fashion stuff, the movie was quite good. Rajesh indeed acted well

    • Wow! I am so glad they changed the ending in the movie! I had a hard time just accepting Rajesh thinking of stealing the jewelry. Mainly because in the first part of the movie his character was not shown interested in riches, so this sudden desire for money to get his wife back was a bit weird for me to accept
      Really love Rajesh and Zeenat together!

      • Hi Rose – in the 2nd half Zeenat does complain about the lack of things she is used to and is after earning more money for the family – eg – modelling etc. Rajesh feels that it is the lack of wealth that has created a chasm – suddenly when a women with all the booty is in his vicinity he exhibits a momentary weakness (human feeling quite possible) that this wealth could help him. Hence the killing in the book. In fact even in the movie they show Rajesh contemplating murdering sonia and visualising it. Of course in true hindi filmi fashion the hero reflects “what am i thinking”? Even the most rationale person is sometimes driven to extremes.

        • Hi Filmbuff – went back and watched that part of the movie again. You are right, Rajesh does contemplate the murder but in a very diluted, almost wishful way so yes, like a true hindi film ( of which I am a guilty fan), it does not register quite as strongly with the viewer.
          Reminds me of Hitchcock’s ‘suspicion’ movie where book ends with Cary Grant as murderer while the movie does not.

  15. It has been a long time since I saw this movie but I remember it as being some what cold and not the usual over melodrama from Shakti Samantha . I think the songs were very good and the one on top of the train was very memorable. The movie’ s biggest let down was the ending. Had they stayed with the books ending it would have been one of the all time best. RK gives a great performance but I think he was starting to become more detached from his audience. His performances became increasingly cold and less charismatic as time went on. Still a good movie to watch!

  16. would like to state that Amanush was a great hit in Hindi as well as bengali. I was in Bangalore at that time as a youn boy and remember the movie running more than 25 weeks in one o the theatres.. Anand Ashram wasI believe only a average success.

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