A weepy melodrama starring Meena Kumari at her sacrificial-lamb finest, somehow made bearable by the presence of Guru Dutt and director Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s light touch with what could be (okay, IS) very heavy going.
Here’s our first look at Gauri (Meena Kumari), accompanied by the plaintive wailing of violins:
I steel myself for a soap opera where duty, honor and tradition mean that everybody suffers, especially Gauri.
She has just lost her father and his best friend Advocate Madhusudan (Manmohan Krishna) has arrived to take her home with him. He lives with his nephew Prakash (Mehmood) who is devoted to the uncle who took him in, and is a tabla-playing musician with some strange ideas.
Madhusudan also has a daughter named Maya (Zeb Rehman) who is in college in Delhi. He is planning to get her married soon to a wealthy doctor in Bombay. Gauri and Prakash help him plan the wedding and bring Maya home for it. Maya is not happy being married off, since she is in love with someone named Ramesh already. She goes through with the wedding, but “faints” at the end of it and is carried up to bed and given time to recover.
Predictably, she is gone the next morning and has left a note saying she has eloped with Ramesh. It’s not clear to me why she goes through the entire wedding since her eventual plan is to marry Ramesh—she could have pretended to faint before it was over, saving many people a lot of misery—but of course there would be no plot then.
Madhusudan tries to kill himself as his honor is now tarnished, but suffers a heart attack instead. To save him, Prakash suggests to Gauri that she take Maya’s place as the bride, since the groom and his family have not seen Maya’s face yet. This means of course that when the truth comes out (as it always does) Gauri’s honor will be in tatters and she’ll lose any chance at happiness herself.
Easy for him to say!
Meanwhile, Maya realizes that Ramesh is a scoundrel who has no intention of marrying her. She decides to kill herself (and him) and wrests the steering wheel away from him as he drives, causing a terrible crash.
Gauri arrives at her new home and meets her new family. Her suffering is writ large upon her face:
It is exacerbated by her mother-in-law’s sweet and warm welcome and by the fact that her husband Dr. Shankar Chaudhry (Guru Dutt) is kind and understanding when she asks him to leave her alone the first night. She tells him that she has made a vow for their well-being; he tells her to go to sleep.
The next day when he finally sees her face as she sleeps, he is smitten (well, she is beautiful and not crying at that moment). Over the next few weeks he courts her sweetly with patience and small gifts, but she continues to evade him.
I think this must have been one of Guru Dutt’s last roles; he committed suicide in 1964, the year this movie was released. He seems weighed down with sadness—which could be my imagination, although the role demands it too. But somehow his presence manages to give all the melodrama some dignity and credibility.
At home, Madhusudan has recovered and is angry with Prakash for making Gauri take Maya’s place. He vows to go to Bombay and tell the Chaudhrys the truth, but Prakash stops him and says he will do it since he is responsible for the whole thing. When he arrives in Bombay, he tells the family that he’s come to take Maya on the traditional post-marriage visit home to her family. Shankar’s mother convinces Shankar to accompany them, and they set off for Benares (where Madhusudan has gone to begin a pilgrimage).
(This screen shot is only here because I love the little bat-eared puppy looking at the camera crew.)
On their arrival, Madhusudan tells Prakash that he has discovered that Maya is dead, killed in a car crash. Nobody seems really upset about this, possibly because they already have enough problems. Anyway, Prakash hits on the brilliant idea of marrying Gauri and Shankar for real—without telling Shankar anything. To me this seems like the perfect time to tell the truth, but again, the plot would be derailed. So another wedding takes place, and now Gauri feels free to accept her husband even though he still thinks she is Maya. Shankar thinks he understands her previous reticence.
They begin their life together, and everything for a while is sweet. Meena-Gauri-Maya even smiles!
Prakash comes to live with the Chaudhrys, and is like a brother to Gauri. He meets and falls in love with Radha (Shubha Khote), whose mother Manorama (Praveen Paul) is a spiteful witchy creature—and she’s from Gauri’s village. Oh no! She has harbored ideas of getting Shubha married to Shankar, and is very disappointed to hear that he has already married. And Gauri (who is by now pregnant) sees Maya at the hospital—not dead—being treated by Shankar for amnesia and other injuries suffered in the accident.
What could possibly go wrong? Since at this point we are only halfway through the film—a LOT.
So even though I managed to stick with it all the way through—and even kind of enjoyed it—I will spare you any more details and say this: if you love Meena Kumari’s “Tragedy Queen” persona, melodrama, Mehmood’s antics, Shankar Jaikishan’s music, and/or Guru Dutt, and understand that suspension of disbelief is part and parcel of most Hindi films, you might like this.
If people making improbably poor decisions and each other miserable is not your cup of tea—avoid, yaar.