Sixties charm in a 1971 film! Despite the lack of Shammi (and Pran), this movie embodies just about everything I love about that decade in Hindi cinema. Lovely melodic songs, gorgeous scenery, a plot that stays on course and moves along briskly, Helen in a small part, and a feisty heroine (Asha Parekh, in one of my favorite roles of hers): ah, bliss! The best rainy day watching you can find. Navin Nischol stars alongside Asha, and though he doesn’t set the screen on fire, he is perfect here: an attractive, comfortably solid, gentle-humored guy with a good heart. Comic actor Deven Verma debuted very competently as a director with this movie.
Our story begins with a heavily pregnant village girl named Ranjana (Nirupa Roy) being visited by the father of her child, the local Thakur.
Suspicion that all is not well rears its ugly head immediately when he tells her mother not to come, and his servant Rashid Khan’s smirk doesn’t help either. When the two of them take her to a remote part of the forest and try to kill her, it’s not really surprising. The Thakur slips on some rocks when she fights back, and falls to his death in the valley below. When Rashid attacks her, she hits him with a rock, dislodging his eye.
She is tried for the Thakur’s murder (Rashid lies on the stand) and sentenced to prison for 7 years. Her son is born soon after the trial, but when the kindly jailer brings him to her cell, she asks that he be put up for adoption; she wants nothing to do with him and the memories associated with him.
The infant boy is adopted by wealthy Ramprasad Jain (Brahm Bharadwaj) and his wife, who name him Ajay, and bring him up with a lot of love. They send him off to boarding school to get a good education when he turns six. He bids farewell to his friend Bhola, the son of one of the family servants.
When Ranjana’s sentence is up, she relocates with the help of the jailer. He has a friend living in the wilds of Himachal Pradesh with a little girl who needs mothering (his wife died in childbirth). Glad to get away far away, she goes to meet the man (AK Hangal), a timber estate owner, and his little girl who is growing up a wee bit wild herself.
Soon after Ranjana arrives, her employer is killed by the men of a rival nearby timber estate, which belongs to Ramprasad Jain! Unaware that she now lives—and swears enmity with—the very people who adopted her son, Ranjana brings up Seema as the heir to the estate and is herself called Rani Maa.
Years pass, and Ajay (Navin Nischol) returns home after finishing his education abroad. He is greeted by his parents and Bhola, who is now quite fat (because he’s played by Asit Sen):
That evening his parents take him to the Silver Jubilee party at the Planter’s Club (it’s veddy veddy British, and lots of phirangi tourists were recruited to fill in as guests). There, he is introduced to one of Jain’s best friends, Mr. Saxena, and his wife.
They have a beautiful daughter named Rita (Helen) who has also recently returned from abroad, and both sets of parents nurture the fond hope of getting Rita and Ajay married to each other. She has opened a dance school in the area, and performs with her students at the Jubilee celebration. Ah, how I love Helen. And this is one of my favorites: “Naach Ae Dil” (Shankar Jaikishan are the music directors).
She has become quite westernized, though, and Ajay has remained a simple Hindustani with simple tastes, as a good hero should. Her flirting doesn’t really interest him, but she is quite smitten.
The next day, Ajay’s father surprises him by saying that he wants to sell the estate: it’s been losing money because of their competitor and neighbor, Rani Maa. Since Ajay’s education has been all about timber estate management, he is reluctant to give up so easily. He tells his parents that he’ll go and stay with the workers, anonymously, to find out what’s going on. They agree reluctantly as long as Bhola goes with him.
Ajay sends Bhola ahead, and sings a song about the spectacular scenery. He stops when he’s hit on the shoulder with a stick. Turning around, he sees a wild-haired, dirt-smudged hoyden glaring at him.
It doesn’t look like Seema has changed all that much since her tomboy childhood days. I love Asha in this role. She is hilarious and really seems to enjoy letting loose. She tells Ajay that her name is “Jantar Mantar” and he tells her that he is Ramesh, Bhola’s nephew. When he describes her to Bhola later, Bhola knows instantly who she is.
Rani Maa runs Seema’s estate with an iron fist and no empathy or kindness whatsoever. Life has made her a bitter, unhappy woman who only cares about turning a huge profit and continuing the long-standing feud with Jain. She’s got no control over Seema, however, although she wishes she would grow up, calm down, and take some responsibility for her inheritance.
Things are about to change drastically, however. Ajay discovers that the estate manager has been mismanaging it on purpose—he’s in Rani Maa’s pay. He also sees how little the workers earn, and how they don’t even have basic necessities like blankets for the cold. He fires the manager, gives the workers a raise, and buys the things they need for their homes. He also upgrades their production tools and techniques, streamlining the business for better profits and a safer environment for the workers. Morale soars.
We are treated to a rousing song about the virtues of hard labour, “Mehnat Hamara Jeevan.”
Meanwhile, Ajay keeps running into Seema (literally! their jeeps collide head-on several times). Her somewhat dubious charms attract him and he devotes a good deal of time to teasing her. He also approaches Rani Maa, hoping to put their enmity aside, but she rejects that idea.
One day Seema falls from a tree into a large pool where Ajay is enjoying a swim. He pulls her underwater and kisses her; when they emerge, she is speechless for once in her life.
She asks Rani Maa to help her with clothing and makeup, and sings a lovely song, “Bol Nadaan Dil Tujhko Kya Ho Gaya,” as she revels in her newfound love and womanhood.
She still has some things to learn:
but Ajay is charmed completely. Their romance blossoms sweetly apace, but of course trouble looms ahead.
Ramprasad Jain has promised Saxena that Ajay will marry Rita, and he still considers Rani Maa and Seema the enemy. Rani Maa, displeased with everything as usual, discovers that Seema is in love with Jain’s son, although Seema still thinks he’s just a simple worker. Her estate manager, Manglu (Madan Puri) is scheming to marry Seema himself for her property, and Rani Maa’s past comes back to haunt her.
What happens next? Can Ajay go against his beloved parents? Will Seema even want to marry him when she discovers that he is the enemy? Will Rani Maa ever discover that Ajay is really her son? Or will Manglu’s evil machinations ruin everything?
Watch Nadaan to find out! It’s comfort food in movie form: satisfying, not necessarily nutritious, but deee-licious all the same.