Oh oh oh I love this movie! Beautiful Rakhee, yummy Rajesh, imperious Veena, nuanced characters, an interesting story, plot twists, humor, lovely RD Burman songs, and plenty of squishy dil™ (ppcc)! The melodrama was saved for the very end, when it was welcome, because by then I cared so much about everybody and everything turning out okay. The film is also beautifully shot—a visual feast, with sumptuous sets and lovely hilly scenery, and interesting camera angles. And beautiful Rakhee and yummy Rajesh!
Wealthy Rajlaxmi (Veena) rules her palatial home and her company with a steely perfectionism. Her son Ratan (Karan Dewan) is an invalid who is pining for his wife and son.
He’s a spineless sad-sack; Rajlaxmi long ago had forced him to choose between her and his wife Janki, and to his everlasting regret he chose to stay with his mother. For her part, Rajlaxmi loves him and supplies him with the best doctors, nurses and medicine, but he longs for his wife and son who now live in poverty—although he is too much of a coward to leave home.
His son Rajesh—called Raji—(Rajesh Khanna) has grown up to become a truck driver, and he has an ongoing flirtation with a lovely shopkeeper named Chanda (Rakhee).
Chanda has an abusive uncle (Madan Puri) who takes all her earnings and spends it on booze. Raji can’t stand him and hates to see Chanda cry. He cheers her up with a song (“Ho Tere Athroo Chun”) and his bare chest.
It’s so sweet that it makes my heart hurt. Raji is away from home sometimes for days at a time, and his mother sends him a letter asking him to come see her. He finds Janki (Pandri Bai) chopping wood and chastises her for not buying it; after all, he says, he gave her 60 bucks last month. She teases him.
They also have a sweet relationship: she clearly dotes on him and he on her. It bothers her though to see him working so hard to earn money when he could live like a “prince.” She points out that his grandmother hates her, not him, and would welcome her grandson home with open arms.
Janki in true good Indian biwi style still loves and worries about her husband too, but Raji is immovable on the subject and refuses to discuss it further. It strikes me that he strongly resembles his grandmother in his implacable obstinacy!
Meanwhile, Chanda’s uncle is selling her off in marriage to an older man for a bottle of liquor.
Raji’s friend Nandu (Mohan Choti) is in the bar and overhears the transaction, and hurries to tell Raji about it. The next day, Chanda’s pleas are falling on deaf ears but Raji and Nandu arrive in the nick of time to stop the wedding. After a great deal of very athletic fighting with long sticks (what kind of fighting is this stick fighting? I just saw it in another film as well), he carts her off.
When he asks where she wants to go, she says pitifully that she has nobody, only her tears and poverty. His response is funny: “Wah, wah.” He doesn’t tolerate her teary self-pity for even a minute–but is affectionate about it. They sing a sweet duet, “Na Jaiyo Na Jaiyo Chhod Ke Na Jaiyo Meri Rani” which I wish I understood—but Eros doesn’t believe in subtitling songs (what’s wrong with them?)…
He takes her home to Janki, who welcomes her with open arms.
Meanwhile, Ratan thinks that he hasn’t long to live, and he wants to see Janki and Raji. To that end, he tries to enlist the help of his mother’s right-hand man Nekiram (Sunder), who points out that Rajlaxmi has eyes “behind her head” and that even the walls have ears.
Sure enough, Rajlaxmi calls Nekiram into her office—and has a recording of the entire conversation.
Poor Ratan has no chance of getting help from anyone in the household. Back at home, Raji continues to tease Chanda.
Their romance continues apace with my favorite song in the film, “Rim Jhim Rim Jhim Dekho”:
Janki has a bad dream about Ratan and tells Chanda the reason for her mother-in-law’s enmity. Janki’s father was a freedom fighter, but Rajlaxmi’s husband was a DIG working for the British who supported them and helped wage war on the men fighting for India’s independence. This ideological clash ended in Janki’s father shooting and killing Ratan’s father.
Rajlaxmi (naturally enough) could not bear to have her husband’s killer’s daughter living in her house (Janki’s father was hanged for the murder), and booted her out with her infant son, giving Ratan the option to stay or go; as we know by now, he stayed with his mother. I wonder briefly why Rajlaxmi with her wealth and resources didn’t force Janki to give up her son too, but if she had there would be no Shehzada for me to enjoy and I let it go.
Janki’s dream has worried her, and she’s determined to visit Ratan. Raji refuses to let her go, and goes instead to fetch his father. Ratan is overjoyed to see him, but afraid to go with him until his mother goes out of town on business later that evening. Alas, her trip is canceled and she catches them as they are about to drive away. She invites Raji to come in.
She shows him the room she’s kept as his, stocked with the clothes and toys she bought in trips abroad when he was a child. When she asks him to come live with her and Ratan, he says he’ll be glad to—when she apologizes to his mother. Her response is predictable!
He returns home to his mother, and tells her that his father is fine. She’s overjoyed that Rajlaxmi welcomed him, but he repeats that until his grandmother welcomes his mother too, he’s not interested. She’s not pleased with that, though she has bigger things to worry about soon.
Raji manages to fight off Chanda’s uncle and his array of colorfully-turbaned goons, but not before her uncle threatens revenge. Janki points out that the only way to really protect Chanda from her uncle is for Raji to marry her, and he does so the very next day. All I can say is—it’s about time!
Post-marriage, Raji discovers that his grandmother has bought out his employer Bandhu Transport and promoted him to manager, but he tells Rajlaxmi to eff off with another song (I think, although of course I have no real clue what he’s saying) called “Thokar Mein Hai Meri.”
Then Chanda’s uncle strikes again. He hires a girl to entrap Raji by falling in the road in front of his truck and then screaming “Rape!” when he jumps out to help her. Raji refuses the expensive lawyer sent by Rajlaxmi, and is sentenced to two years in jail. At the same time Chanda discovers that she is pregnant; she and Janki go to see Raji in his cell where Chanda shyly has trouble telling him why she’s not feeling well.
He is overjoyed to hear about his impending fatherhood, although obviously it’s tempered by sorrow that he’s behind bars. Still, he makes Chanda promise that she won’t let his mother go to Rajlaxmi and Ratan to ask them for help getting him freed. She does, reluctantly and also very literally.
When Raji is finally let out of jail, though, he discovers that Chanda and their son are living in luxury with Rajlaxmi and the ailing Ratan, while his mother still lives in her hut. What has happened in the interim? Was Chanda lured by Rajlaxmi’s wealth? Can he ever forgive her? Will the family ever be united?
This film is just so good. The characters are three-dimensional and believable: as proud and unbending as Rajlaxmi is, she also really loves her son and grandson. Raji is a lot like her, which makes their conflict all the more poignant, and his relationships with his mother and Chanda are so sweet. Chanda and Janki could easily have devolved into groan-inducing weepy sacrificing female stereotypes, but don’t thanks to good performances from Pandri Bai and Rakhee. Raji too is complex: stubborn, teasing and a bit aloof, but warm-hearted and loving too. Rajesh Khanna is at his most charming and endearing here. (Veena does overact a bit, but I think it’s a generational thing: she always did in her early films too. But I love her!)
I also kept waiting with some trepidation for the plot to come unraveled as so often happens in the second half of Hindi movies, but it never did! I was engaged and entertained from beginning to end. This one is going on the shelf of films that I never get tired of. I can (and will) watch it over and over again!