Basu Chatterjee’s films are difficult for me to like. There: I’ve said it! They tread a fine line: even the ones that do work for me (Piya Ka Ghar, Chhoti Si Baat), despite being funny and sweet, ultimately find me getting restless. The ones that don’t work (Rajnigandha, Baaton Baaton Mein) just bore my socks off.
Dillagi had moments which made me laugh very hard (like the scene captured above where Dharmendra puts on one of Hema’s saris so that his own rain-soaked clothes can dry). It also helped that I watched it with Beth, whose witty commentary kept me entertained even when the film didn’t. It had potential, but in the end Hema’s character was so egregiously tiresome that it made me want to poke my eyes out. It also rendered Dharmendra’s pursuit of her—the essential plot point—completely unbelievable for me.
Renu (Hema Malini) is the science teacher at a girls’ college. She has such a frigid and repressed personality that her students have nicknamed her CO2 (Carbon Dioxide). The arrival of a handsome new Sanskrit teacher named Kamal (Dharmendra) sends her into a tizzy of disapproval—although he is smitten at first sight.
And herein lies the big problem: Renu is so narrow-minded and bent on squelching any “frivolity” (for example, the girls in her hostel dancing) that you can’t possibly like her. Her face is so pursed up that it looks like she exists on a diet of lemons for breakfast, lemons for lunch and lemons for dinner. She quickly becomes incredibly annoying.
Kamal on the other hand is an incurable romantic; we know this because he quotes Kalidas endlessly and carries a red rosebud around with him every minute of every day. This too becomes annoying, although he does get a number of more relaxed and cute moments—like this imagined Holi performance (great song!) with a group of dhobi-walas.
Kamal does his best to woo Renu, and despite getting slapped down time and again he perseveres. I quickly want him to give up; it seems to me that he could do better, plus their endless repetition of the same basic conversation is unbelievably BORING.
The bright moments in the film (and there are some!) come mostly from his young female students, who are amusingly susceptible to their poetry-spouting sensitive-guy literature professor. It doesn’t help that his lectures are audible to everyone in Renu’s class next door (which of course annoys her no end).
My favorite of these students is the overweight but gorgeous Charu (Preeti Ganguly—daughter of Ashok Kumar), although her crush on Kamal Babu is unfortunately played for laughs by using her weight as the catalyst for humor (I’m not a big fan of fat jokes).
Kamal tries to convince Renu to play Shakuntala opposite him in a school fund-raiser, but she indignantly refuses (plays, like dancing, are apparently not for “good” girls). This leads to one of my favorite scenes, where Renu (in the audience) fantasizes that she is Shakuntala; I love it because Dharmendra’s costume is just FAB and so is the stage scenery (trees that are painted exactly like the background foliage in Indian miniature paintings). Those are no longer just your grandmother’s pearls!
The school holidays arrive, and Renu is going to her home in Kashipur. Kamal sees her at the train station and tells her that he will be visiting his sister who lives in Kashipur as well, and that he’ll come and see her. She doesn’t allow him to see that she might welcome a visit but luckily he has a very healthy ego.
At home, Renu’s mother (Urmila Bhatt) and brother Ramesh (Asrani) thinks it’s time Renu got married, especially since Ramesh is now engaged and he’s younger than she is. He enlists the help of a photographer friend (played by the Indian version of Sonny Bono) to take some pictures for a matrimonial ad.
Renu is reluctant to go out since Kamal has written to say that he will visit her that day, but she’s bullied into it. This is another facet of Renu’s character which I can’t tolerate: she is unable to say what she wants or what’s on her mind, beats around the bush, and eventually just gives up. It gets her into trouble later, and I don’t feel sorry for her at all. I know that I’m putting my western culture onto a Hindi film but I can’t help it.
On their trip to the park, they meet an acquaintance of Ramesh named Gopal (Deven Verma). Gopal is also a college lecturer and a two-timing lech to boot. His girlfriend Shobha (Anjali Paigankar) is pestering him to get married, but he’s always got his eye on several girls. Renu does not escape his notice either—which does not escape Shobha’s notice!
Why she wants to marry a man she can’t trust escapes me, but never mind. Renu and Kamal do meet, and she thaws quickly (I guess since she isn’t guarding her students’ honor at home she can relax a bit). When they return to the college, everyone notices the difference in Renu. But meanwhile, her brother has put a matrimonial ad for her in the papers. She encourages Kamal to answer it, and when Ramesh tells her that one respondent is a college professor, she assumes that it’s Kamal and accepts the proposal.
But it isn’t Kamal; it’s lecherous Gopal! What will happen next? Well, I have to admit that by this point I simply didn’t care. But the climax does provide Dharmendra with ample opportunity to show off his comic skills, and made me laugh until my stomach hurt. If the whole film had been as entertaining as the last fifteen or twenty minutes (think Chashme Buddoor funny), I’d have loved it.
One more point: this poor film is in serious need of some restoration. Large portions of it looked like this: