Or: Life Goes On…And On…And On…
Oh so unfair! This film beguiled me at the beginning with its humor, pretty songs, and lovely characters, and then sucker-punched me: ka-POW! It turns dark and depressing, full of tragic misunderstandings and a fatal lack of communication. The final message that I got out of it made me want to stick needles in my eyes (there are spoilers towards the end), although I’m pretty sure that’s not what the makers intended.
We meet gorgeous Neela (Sharmila Tagore) and painter Avinash (Rajesh Khanna) in their class at medical school. Avinash gets in trouble when the professor, Dr. Chandra (Ashok Kumar) catches him sketching Neela instead of paying attention to Chandra’s lecture. Neela and Avinash discover that they are neighbors and a friendship is quickly formed, especially when Neela discovers that Avinash isn’t well.
Neela lives with her brother, an aspiring but not very talented playwright named Kalidas (IS Johar) and sister-in-law Laxmi (Aruna Irani), and it’s not long before Avinash is making himself at home with them and vice versa.
I love the constant bantering and teasing that goes on between these four, with Avinash the main instigator. Even with bad subtitling it makes me laugh along with them.
Although medical school appears to be something that you can attend at will, Dr. Chandra is very fond of his young protege Neela. He gets her a job tutoring the younger brother, Monto (Mahesh Kothari), of a wealthy friend of his. Monto is not fond of studying and has managed to fail his exams spectacularly several times.
Monto is quickly won over by sweet Neela, and when his older brother Shekhar (Feroz Khan) gets a look at her, he is smitten immediately.
Avinash doesn’t go to class at all as far as I can tell, preferring to spend his time painting portraits of Neela, singing beautiful songs by Kalyanji Anandji and teasing his neighbors mercilessly. There is sadness hanging over his head though, and we find out what it is when he goes to see Dr. Chandra.
Nooooo!!!!! May I say that I am delighted to see Nadira as Shekhar’s mother although she isn’t very nice to poor Neela and thoroughly disapproves of Shekhar’s obvious feelings.
I read somewhere that at the premiere of this film Meena Kumari remarked on the fact that Rajesh Khanna looked awfully healthy for a cancer patient, a comment which Nadira promptly took back to Rajesh! Love her.
Nevertheless, Shekhar is determined to marry Neela, and talks to Chandra about it; Chandra advises him to see Neela’s brother and also Avinash. When Shekhar approaches Kalidas with his proposal, Kalidas himself tells him to take it to Avinash.
Shekhar does so, and Avinash promises to speak with Neela on his behalf. He shows her his medical report and tells her that he wants her to marry Shekhar and embrace life instead of waiting for death with him. She protests, but he refuses to listen and she finally relents.
Kalidas shows up at the wedding eventually but Avinash does not, which puzzles Shekhar—and makes him a little suspicious.
Avinash stays at home in the dark and as the sun rises we hear a train pulling out of the station. So much of symbolism in this film!
As the days pass, Neela grows fond of her new husband but the little seed of suspicion planted at the wedding itself grows quickly into a prickly bush as Shekhar sees how much time Neela spends with Avinash (Neela of course is worried about his health). Since they don’t talk to each other about the issue, it just gets worse. Then Shekhar’s business goes bankrupt (he doesn’t tell Neela about that either—although to be fair, it is in the news) and he finds what he thinks is “proof” of Neela’s love for Avinash. This leads to a final confrontation between him and Neela.
What happens next? I’ll give you a clue: nothing very happy.
One of the best songs is pictured on a bunch of boats with boatmen singing about the river flowing with the tide and the film’s general (supposed) philosophy:
It’s even repeated early on in Neela and Shekhar’s marriage.
My main problem with this film is that Neela doesn’t actually keep on moving (the story is told in flashback from a gray-haired Neela’s point of view). After Shekhar’s death, she retreats into a life of medicine and saving others—but she gives up on any chance for love and happiness in her own life. This seems to win her universal approval (I guess she’s behaving like a proper widow should) but it just makes me mad to see someone so young, vibrant, beautiful and intelligent give up on the things that make life worth living. She doesn’t even see Avinash before he dies. I want to scream at her: “Stop with the self-sacrifice already!” Sigh. It’s really my biggest cross to bear with Hindi films.
END SPOILERS (except in the comments where they crop up again!)
In all, it was a bit of a mixed blessing for me. The characters were flawed but likable, and there was a great deal of humor. All the actors were up to the mark; there was no scenery chewing, although there was certainly scope for it. It wasn’t melodramatic. The songs, as I said already, were lovely too. I just wish it had played out differently for Neela, and in general it felt a little rushed through the second half. But the film’s charms compensate for its bad points, and it was nice to spend some time with Feroz. What a man!