I’m on a Dharmendra or dog co-star kick this week apparently. This movie has both!
It’s oodles of good masala fun, despite the unfortunate presence of a weepy and sanctimonious Meena Kumari. I know she and Dharmendra carried on a real-life affair for awhile, but it’s a thanda jodi onscreen for sure. She was really beautiful and fun in the 50’s; I don’t know how she became so maudlin in the 60’s. However!!! The film is saved by the presence of numerous character actors in all their glory (and occasionally in drag), beautiful songs by Ravi and the aforementioned Dharmendra and Famous Dog Bhairon. Fun for everyone!
I’ve decided that another reason I love Hindi movies is because all the people in them show up over and over for decades and become like family.
Shaka (Dharmendra) has been a criminal from his orphaned childhood: in and out of jail, familiar with the police in his town, and the object of scorn and insults from the people he lives among. He works for “Boss” (Madan Puri in a red wig), who owns a hotel; and he is loved by bad girl Rita (Shashikala in a platinum blonde wig), a dancer at the same hotel.
I must note here that in spite of numerous fashion don’ts, Shashikala is quite wonderful. She’s yet another actress whose lack of stardom I don’t understand. And the music by Ravi is just fabulous, especially if you are a big fan of the “Indian Twist” like I am.
Boss has a new target for Shaka, the zamindar of a nearby town named Jeevan Lal (Jeevan). He is very rich, but so kanjus that he refuses to put his wealth in the bank, but keeps it in the house where he can maintain a close eye on it.
On the way to Jeevan’s village Shaka meets an old friend (from jail no doubt) Sadakram (played by director OP Ralhan) and his gang of pickpockets working a crowd. One of them is Ram Avtar (most famous as the fat guy laughing uncontrollably on the train at the start of Teesri Manzil). I love him. He is just so…fat!
Sadakram tells Shaka that Jeevan’s town is infested with the plague (another theme I encountered recently, in Dhoop Chhaon!). The inhabitants have all fled, leaving their homes ripe for the picking. Shaka is pleased to hear this: his job will be easy.
He reaches the deserted village and goes into Jeevan Lal’s house. Sadly, Jeevan and his family have taken all their valuables with them. But—they’ve left their widowed daughter-in-law Shanti (Meena Kumari), who is bedridden and ill, to die. They haven’t even left her with any water. Of course, she’s not one to complain.
Shaka takes pity on her and forces the neighboring town’s doctor (Sundar) to treat her. Shanti slowly gets better. When the plague ends and Jeevan, his wife (Lalita Pawar) and son Kalicharan (Ram Mohan) return to find her alive, Kalicharan attempts to rape her. Shaka returns just in time to save her, and takes her home with him. She has come to represent something to him.
I don’t know that I could stand her weeping and self-pity, but maybe I am one of those worse people.
She moves into his house, and of course asks him for a Krishna murti that she can pray to. She cleans up the place, too. And finally stops crying! But only for a minute: the prying and curious neighbors unfortunately don’t treat her any better than they do Shaka.
Meanwhile, back at Jeevan Lal’s, a lawyer for Shanti’s uncle has shown up. The uncle has died and left her 6 lakhs in his will, but the lawyer will only deliver the papers to Shanti herself.
They tell him that she’s gone on a pilgrimage, and then come up with a plan. They bury their wealth (which appears to consist mostly of large pieces of gold jewelry) in the back yard, and then call the police to report that they have been robbed and Shanti has been kidnapped.
Their plotting is overheard by the doctor, though, and he steals the jewelry from the yard and gives it to his wife (the one and only Tun Tun).
She is probably the only woman large enough to carry off wearing it all at once! Shaka’s friend Sadakram is passing by, though, and manages to steal a bangle off her wrist.
When Shaka finds out that the townspeople taunted Shanti, he beats up one of them. She gets angry at him (and she already disapproves of his profession). He tells her about his sad childhood, how he was forced to steal in order to eat, and then he starts crying.
At this point I am fed up with both of them and decide that Shaka falling in love with Shanti is just not believable, and I stop caring much about the plot. If you want to know more you’ll have to watch it.
There are still sooo many goodies!
For instance, there’s a qawwali performance during which Sadakram’s gang—dressed as women—pick pockets in the audience:
A favorite actor of mine, Manmohan Krishna, is a kindly police inspector:
And another fave, Iftekhar, as one of Madan Puri’s henchmen (named Babu) (he’s a bad guy!—although sadly, he doesn’t have much to do):
Dharmendra saves a little girl from a burning house, thus redeeming himself in the eyes of his neighbors. They love him now. Yay! (and he comes out unscarred and still beautiful):
A rocking Holi song, featuring my new best friend Laxmi Chhaya and another great dancer, Madhumati (and also Saroj Khan, before she became a choreographer):
DK Sapru as….the judge! What else?
Who hops on the back of the car when Shanti is kidnapped; he finds out where they hide her, and then goes back to get Shaka:
What a smart boy!
Weigh all this finger-licking goodness against the bad:
And that’s what the Fast Forward button is for! Enjoy.