Shammi, Shammi, Shammi…*shaking head in dismay*…why? why? There is a genre in Hindi cinema which I have privately dubbed the Red Mist Movie, because watching one causes a red mist of fury to rise in front of my eyes (which fortunately obscures the film itself). These films are pretty much the only Hindi movies that I simply can’t sit through. Once I reach the Red Mist point, I’m done. I am sad to report—indeed, it pains me a lot to say it—Shammi has been in one such film, and in case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is it.
These are the primary hallmarks of a Red Mist Movie:
- Shrewish greedy self-centered mothers/mothers-in-law who should never have been allowed to bear children (and who caterwaul at a hideous decibel level that makes your head explode)
- Shrewish greedy female relatives of said mother who egg her on and conspire to make life miserable for…
- The spineless self-sacrificing martyr of a daughter-in-law (representing the ideal Indian woman)
- Women who make their own lives miserable with their own actions (the shrewish ones blame everyone else, the martyrs blame their “fate”)
- Male figures who are useless at best, who tacitly accept being ruled by their shrill abusive womenfolk despite disapproving of their actions (I particularly hate this point, because it makes the men out to be the good guys, albeit helpless; it’s the women who instigate every bad deed, and always against other women—the Hindi film equivalent of men saying “Women are catty and undermining and can’t get along with each other”)
- No mitigating story distractions like some dishum-dishum, a cabaret dance or even a bad Comic Side Plot, resulting in the unfortunate viewer being bludgeoned by nothing but angst, angst and more angst
- Misfortunes which pile up in unbelievable (literally) proportions, adding to the misery
Aaaargh! I curse these people:
I made it to about the 1 hour and twenty minute mark only because Shammi is in it. For a while I tried to pretend that it was a Raj Kapoor film since Shammi looks so much like him in this; but as much as I dislike RK’s penchant for self-indulgent melodrama and dirty-old-man leering, at least he hasn’t made a film as bad as this one (to my knowledge, anyway). Even Aah isn’t as bad as this.
Shammi, Shammi, Shammi. The story begins, appropriately enough, with a Shammi who has apparently gone mad. His overwrought and melodramatic (and misnamed) mother Ganga (Leela Mishra) has called in a doctor (Nazir Hussain) for help. She tells him that Shammi has not eaten, or slept, or spoken for two weeks. He lives with her and his infant son; when the doctor asks about the child’s mother, she spits out venom. The doctor gets rid of her and finally Shammi begins to talk.
Ganga had sent Shammi to meet his aunt’s sister’s daughter Leela (Shashikala) as a prospective bride. Leela lives with Ganga’s brother Chhotelal (SN Banerjee) and his wife Vimla, who have gone through the substantial amount of money that Leela inherited on her parents’ deaths. None of them are nice people.
On his way to their house, Shammi crashes (literally) into Kishori (Chand Usmani), and it’s love at first sight.
Shammi has the good sense to quickly realize that Leela and his aunt and uncle are not people he wants to entangle himself further with. He romances shy Kishori until he’s sure of her reciprocal feelings, and then he heads home to talk it over with his Ma. I think this screen shot captures their relationship perfectly:
I’ll tell you, my mother shouted at us a lot as kids (my brother says that when he thinks of our childhood, he thinks of Mom as “a big mouth yelling” hee) but she was not a patch on Ganga.
Shammi enlists the help of his very pretty sister Jamuna (Dulari) to help him convince Ganga that he should marry Kishori and not Leela. Jamuna, who has been widowed herself at a very young age (and who is one of the only sane people in the film besides the doctor), dotes on Shammi; and once Leela and Chhotelal and his shrill wife arrive hot on Shammi’s trail, she is definitely on his side.
One of the very very very few cute moments in the film comes when Shammi imitates Leela’s irritatingly coy mannerisms to Jamuna.
With Jamuna’s support, Shammi has the courage to reject Leela and send a proposal to Kishori’s father (Moni Chatterjee). Kishori and her father are poor; needless to say, Shammi’s mother is not happy that he’s rejected wealthy (she thinks) Leela for an alliance that will bring her:
She insults Kishori and her father, but Jamuna intervenes and rescues the engagement (although Kishori’s father wants to do the right thing and get her the hell out of there). They are duly married, but I see problems ahead. And indeed: tragedy strikes at the wedding itself, when the lovely and compassionate Jamuna’s sari catches fire as she sings.
She’s horribly burned, and dies after blessing the newly-wed couple. Ganga naturally blames Kishori for the disaster.
When Chhotelal, Vimla and Leela move in with them in the guise of “helping out,” the suffering (especially mine) really escalates. Vimla and Leela plot to get rid of Kishori and treat her like a servant. This atmosphere of stifling hatred and malice would make a reasonable person run screaming, but Kishori has decided that it is her fate to put up with it. She won’t let her husband interfere on her behalf either.
She’s willing to suffer anything for her dear Shammi and her beloved undeserving MIL, even though he’s as miserable as she is. Even the news that she’s pregnant doesn’t cheer anyone up. The film really reaches its nadir when Vimla poisons the family dog Moti and frames Kishori for it. This distressed me very much, because the dog didn’t look like it was acting. I’m not sure how you’d train a dog to stagger around that convincingly. Hopefully only tranquilizers were used and nothing stronger.
The dog was the last worthwhile creature around, and I now want them all to suffer the torments of hell (the red mist is rising). Ganga packs up her things and leaves with her brother and his family. Instead of celebrating a new and stress-free life with her husband, though, Kishori bewails her misfortune at having driven away her goddess-like MIL. And after she gives birth to a son, Ganga comes back to the house anyway to continue her constant criticizing and harassment (she’s welcomed with open arms by both Kishori and Shammi, naturally).
At this point I give up. I simply can’t watch any more, and I don’t care what happens to any of them. They all deserve whatever they get. The red mist swirls before my eyes and I need a cocktail.
If you really want to know what happens, you’ll have to watch. But I don’t recommend it, even for Shammi, who manages somehow to look like himself, and Raj, and Shashi, all at the same time.