I love films that give insight into the issues and concerns of the time during which it was made. This is one of them, where a family is ripped apart when its members are caught between old traditions and burgeoning foreign influences.
Although Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz are nominally the hero and heroine, the film really belongs to the whole ensemble cast. Above all, Balraj Sahni shows why he is considered one of the great actors in Hindi cinema and Veena shines as the family matriarch.
Narendu (Balraj Sahni) is the head of a household that includes his stepmother Mrs. Gupta (Veena); younger stepbrothers Viju (Prem Chopra) and Satyen (Rajesh Khanna); stepsister Geeta (Kumud Bole); and his own wife Madhavi (Kamini Kaushal) plus their two children Raju (Jr. Mehmood) and Guddi.
Narendu’s father has long since passed away, but the family remain as close-knit as if they were blood relatives, and live together in harmony. Narendu has worked hard to care for and educate all of them, as he had promised his father he would do.
Satyen attends a local college, where he meets and falls in love with the feisty Reena (Mumtaz).
This takes up the first 45 minutes or so of the film, until Viju returns with an Engineering degree from a university in England. The story then changes from light-hearted romance to family drama.
Narendu has borrowed money to pay for Viju’s education and now dreams of being able to take it a little easy since Viju will have a good job and be able to share the burden. When Viju returns, he brings gifts for the whole family.
In England, Viju has fallen in love with fellow student Neela (Bindu)—who happens to be Reena’s sister—and soon after returning, they get married. Neela and Reena’s combative parents Allopi (Asit Sen) and Bhagwanti (Leela Mishra) are not happy together despite being well-off. Bhagwanti offers Neela some advice before her wedding: don’t live with all your husband’s relatives.
But going along with Viju’s wishes, Neela moves into the Gupta household anyway. Trouble begins almost immediately. There’s little privacy:
When Neela gets rid of all the old furnishings and installs new, expensive things it ruffles Mrs. Gupta and Satyen’s feathers. Narendu tries to smooth things over by accommodating Neela’s wishes, but she and Satyen quarrel further when she chastises Raju and Guddi for messing with “her” radio.
Stung by her selfish attitude, Satyen retaliates by moving all of “her” new things into hers and Viju’s room.
[Side note: Raj Khosla directed this, although it's not his usual mystery-thriller. I love the way he always frames scenes in a way that makes the viewer into a voyeur: looking through a window, or into a mirror's reflection, or a peephole.
(Side note to the side note: the caps above are from the lovely "Bindiya Chamkegi" which is one of my all-time favorite Mumtaz songs. End side note to the side note.)
End side note.]
Viju and Satyen quarrel over Neela’s high-handedness. Narendu and Madhvi are caught in the middle. For the sake of peace, they plead with Satyen to apologize and he does, but the tension is still there. Mrs. Gupta warns Narendu that letting Neela get away with her actions is going to backfire. I love that she does not encourage his self-sacrificing ways!
Neela’s next move is to take charge of Viju’s monthly salary; she stops helping Narendu pay back the loan for Viju’s English education. When she allows some visiting friends to believe that Madhavi and Geeta are servants, it’s the last straw for Satyen.
Neela then turns her poisonous tongue on Mrs. Gupta, which even Madhavi and Narendu cannot tolerate. Neela seizes her chance to demand that Viju and she get their own apartment, and Viju caves.
As Narendu sits sadly by his beloved gramophone (which Neela had banished to his room from the main hall, in favor of her radio), Viju and Neela move out lock, stock and barrel under the watchful eyes of Narendu’s father (and the mirror, see side note above).
As if all this weren’t bad enough, disaster strikes.
On the same day that Narendu loses his job, Viju is promoted to General Manager of his company and throws a big party. The family hears about it from their neighbor Khan (Jayant), but are not invited. Mrs. Gupta is incensed at the insult to Narendu especially:
Then the money-lender comes knocking at the door, and he gives Narendu a week to pay back the loan or lose the house. This upsets Mrs. Gupta so much that she becomes ill. Her medical expenses add to Narendu’s worries.
As he sells off the family’s belongings to pay bills, Viju and Neela spend their evenings in nightclubs. Neela continues her campaign against his family and poisons Viju’s mind further against Narendu.
As the title song puts it: you must choose between the temple and the tavern.
What will happen? Will Narendu lose the family home? Will Satyen and Reena’s love survive? Will Viju ever wake up to what’s important in life? Is Neela irretrievably bad? Watch Do Raaste to find out.
It’s not a perfect film. Neela, upon whom the disintegration of the family revolves, comes across more as personally selfish and greedy than influenced in that direction by her time in the west, which somewhat weakens the message. But the film mostly avoids the stridently anti-western stereotypes that this genre often espouses; and it’s interesting that some western ideas are endorsed by older characters (especially Bhagwanti and to some extent Mrs. Gupta) for whom traditional ways didn’t work.
The thread running throughout which addresses the issue of family ties itself is stronger, although less compelling. The end deteriorates somewhat into melodrama too, and resolves itself a little too abruptly. Still, strong performances and the nuances in the story make this film stand out.