Most Hindi films from the 1940s are pretty melodramatic. Not only is the acting theatrical and stagey, but the dialogues are overwrought and repetitive (so that you don’t miss the point, I guess) and there are 10-15 songs sprinkled throughout at the rate of one every ten minutes (or so it seems). Characters are self-sacrificing and martyred, or unreasonably demanding; and there’s often some sort of love triangle ending with at least one person’s death (usually Dilip Kumar’s character). All this can make the movie heavy going, but at least the plots tend to be fairly straightforward and easy to follow. And if you know what to expect they always have something fun to offer (like Hindi films in every decade!).
Dulari is typical of its time. I’ve decided that melodrama has stages in the same way that grief does: at first disbelief (can it really be this bad?), then resignation (eyes rolling), and finally—enjoyment at its over-the-top nature. By the end of this film, I was giggling at the poor old man whose daughter had been stolen by gypsies when she was three. It was kind of his fault, since he failed to read the posted warning at the park until it was too late.
His self-pity and misery, endlessly repeated for two hours, just became comical.
Nothing cheers him up, not even NOT being killed by the gypsies.
Interspersed with scenes of his suffering is the actual story. His daughter Shobha is brought up by the gypsies as Dulari (Madhubala); she has grown into a real beauty and they plan to make a mint from making her sing and dance for the general public.
This taskmaster is a gypsy named Jaggu (Shyam Kumar) who wants to marry Dulari into the bargain. This doesn’t sit well with Kasturi (Geeta Bali), who loves Jaggu herself and wants him to marry her. He strings her along while he makes plans for his wedding to Dulari behind her back.
Their relationship is complicated, to say the least.
Enter our hero Prem (Suresh), the son of a wealthy businessman who is a close friend of Shobha’s unhappy father.
He’s an insipid dandy, who wears jodhpurs and riding boots even when he’s just hanging around the house. He spots Dulari dancing in the street one day and is smitten. He follows her back to the gypsy camp and woos her surreptitiously and with great difficulty, since Jaggu keeps a constant eye on her. Only Kasturi’s persistent efforts to get Jaggu’s attention give Dulari any time to herself.
Meanwhile, Prem’s mother (Protima Devi) and father (Jayant) are trying to find a suitably wealthy girl to marry him off to. He wants no part of their matchmaking though.
I can’t blame him. Dulari is gorgeous.
He continues to court Dulari but the tribe of gypsies is not going to let her go easily. She is their bread and butter, as it were. Sardar, the chief of the tribe, reminds me of an elderly and dissipated Bacchus.
Neither is Prem’s father ready to accept a gypsy girl as his bahu rani. Can Prem resist the pressure from his parents? Will he be able to rescue Dulari from the gypsies? He is kind of girly, and they are a mean and snarly bunch.
What will happen to Kasturi’s love for undeserving Jaggu? Will Dulari ever find out her real identity? Will she be reunited with her long-suffering father?
So as you see: not a lot of action—a little bit of dishoom-dishoom, but a lot more singing and looking wistfully at the moon. Dulari is hauled around first by Jaggu, then by Prem, then by Jaggu…you get the idea. The best part of the film by far is Geeta Bali. She’s hilarious and poignant by turns as poor Kasturi, and although it’s an early film of hers, her talent and sparkle leap off the screen, even in scenes with the lovely Madhubala (who is only 16 in this; Geeta is only 19!). The songs by Naushad are very pretty too. And there are plenty of them!