With all due respect to the film’s title, it is the mother and father of all Hindi family melodramas. A tangled epic of misplaced loyalties and self-sacrifice, it still has something which lifts it above regulation fare, at least for me. There is a slightly more complex plot—actually there is just a lot of plot; the film goes on forever (as does my post: you’ve been warned!). Also it doesn’t descend into the truly histrionic until about an hour or so in; up until then it’s an interesting story. It’s also blessed with some very good performances—Padmini as a proud street dancer and Ashok Kumar as a wealthy patriarch torn between his conscience and his pride are the standouts. The songs by Shankar Jaikishan are nice, and a Helen dance plus Pran’s usual slimy villainy don’t hurt either.
Raja Vikram Pratap (Ashok Kumar) is a dictatorial father who rules his household and family with an iron hand. His family consists of wife Yashoda (Sulochana) and sons Mahendra (Bhalla) and Surendra (Sunil Dutt). Surendra is obedient and respectful to a fault, while Mahendra is rebellious but terrified of his father. He loves music and dancing, which gives us a fabulous song: “Aa Zara Aaj To Muskaraale” (with a roomful of people doing the Indian Twist). I am pretty sure it’s lifted from a western one, although I have no clue what that song might be. Here it is so you can hear it (I am surprised to discover that the songs are impossible to come by, meaning that I have to rip them from the DVD—a chore I am not really fond of):
Mahendra gets away with this escapade (Surendra drags him home).
Meanwhile, we meet a feisty street dancer named Rani (Padmini). She befriends two good-for-nothing idiots (Mukri and Babbanlal as the minimal CSP) who want nothing more than to be returned to jail where they don’t have to worry about food and shelter. They also warn her about a local badmash named Ratan (Pran) who is trying to ensnare her. I love this little exchange: it sums up the Essence of Pran so perfectly!
With Vikram Pratap out of town, Mahendra sees Rani performing one day and can’t help but join in. I don’t blame him, because Padmini is just lovely and so is her song.
Unfortunately, Vikram Pratap drives past on his way home and sees his son dancing on the street. Incensed, he threatens him at home with a beating and Mahendra somewhat unbelievably dies of fright on on the spot. The humanity!
This tragedy leads Surendra to leave home. He boards a train for the city and unfortunately shares a compartment with Ratan who recognizes him as the Raja’s son. Ratan takes the (again somewhat unbelievably) naive Surendra under his wing. In the ensuing days, he introduces Surendra to the pleasures of cigarettes, alcohol and debauchery—via the lovely Helen, and the wonderful “Aye Dil Karoon Main Kya.”
Ratan also goes to see Raja Vikram Pratap to tell him that his son has gone wild, but that he is taking care of him. Vikram Pratap gives him money to that end, although he won’t ask his son to come home. He tells Yashoda that he doesn’t want to curb his son’s freedom, or “build prisons” any longer.
Meanwhile, Surendra sees the lovely Mala (Nutan) walking along one day. He pulls over to flirt with her.
The tactics for winning a woman’s affection which Ratan has taught him unsurprisingly don’t work on Mala and she gives Surendra a tight slap. He decides that he will get his revenge for that slap, and begins to stalk her in various guises: a Sardar taxiwallah first, then a blind pujari who miraculously regains his sight and “falls in love” with Mala on the spot. She is a *little* gullible and finds this charming, maybe because her own father (Shivraj) is blind. I roll my eyes.
Back at home, Raja Vikram Pratap is awakened one night by a strange teardrop-shaped light and the sound of a woman singing.
He gets up and follows the sound, and we are treated to some special effects which were probably newly discovered, and make absolutely no sense when they appear:
When he returns to his room he pulls out a photograph of himself as a young man and a woman who looks just like the street dancer Rani!
Mala has agreed to meet Surendra, but before she does she overhears him plotting with Ratan to “pluck the flower” that she apparently is.
She meets him for a nice song in a garden (“Chand Nikla Bhi Nahin”), but when he tries to woo her at the end with a diamond necklace she really lets him have it and tells him to get lost. I cheer: Nutan is standing up for herself!
This wakes him up out of his grief-and-Pran-induced stupor, and he realizes the error of his debauched ways. When he reaches home, the Raja’s dewanji is waiting for him with 10,000 rupees which Ratan had asked for. Realizing the entire truth of Ratan’s duplicity, Surendra confronts him and kicks him out.
There’s a lot of slap revenge going around.
There’s more of this going around, too:
Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should, people! This time Vikram Pratap follows the teardrop-shaped light outside and all the way to street dancer Rani’s house. She wakes up, startled, but he is mesmerized by a photograph on her wall:
It’s her late mother—the same woman in the photo with him we’ve seen earlier. Vikram stares at the photo, then at Rani, calls her “Tara” and then faints dead away. His servants arrive and haul him off, leaving a bewildered Rani in their wake.
When Surendra gets word of his father’s illness he goes to see Mala before returning home. He apologizes to her for his actions and tells her that he really has fallen in love with her—eventually managing to convince her.
He returns to a joyful mother and unconscious father, and takes care of the Raja over the ensuing days. When his father finally starts recovering, they reconcile and Surendra tells him about Mala. This encourages Vikram Pratap to confide in Surendra his big secret: a secret which he has been punishing himself (and his family) over for years.
He bowed to his family’s wishes that he marry Yashoda, but only after “playing with [Tara's] life” (how I love these euphemisms!). She bore it all in silence, and also a daughter, who is of course Rani—living in a basti, dancing on the streets for a living.
He begs Surendra to help him undo his mistake, but without revealing his secret—especially to Yashoda.
I wonder if this is as true as he’d like to think, but never mind. Poor Surendra though! He’s got to somehow make things up to Rani without telling her or anyone else why. He finds her at her house just as lecherous Ratan is pouncing on her. After thrashing Ratan (who again vows revenge), Surendra tries to convince her to move away from the basti and says he will buy her a house. Naturally suspicious, she asks him why; his answer—that she is “like” a sister to him—doesn’t convince her that his intentions are honorable.
With no other option and feeling that she’s unsafe where she is, Surendra takes her home to the Pratap family mansion. This does not go over well with Yashoda, who doesn’t understand why they are taking this slum girl in, and Vikram Pratap himself is too ashamed to face her. Surendra does his best, though, placating his Ma and making sure that Rani has nice clothes, teaching her to eat with cutlery and other such niceties of “cultured” people.
But Rani soon discovers the truth about her parentage and why Surendra has taken her in. As a child she had promised Lata as she lay dying that she would clear the stain on her mother’s name. How will she do it? Raja Vikram Pratap dies soon afterwards, and extracts another promise from Surendra that he will never reveal the truth to anyone, especially his mother, and that he will continue to take care of Rani.
How can this impasse be resolved? What will Mala think when she arrives to find Rani living with Surendra? Can he make anyone happy or are they all headed for endless doom and gloom? And don’t forget: Ratan is still lurking, waiting for his chance to get his own back on both Rani and Surendra.
As I said, the melodrama didn’t get to be too much until an hour or so before the end—although an hour is a long time to sit through all that scenery-chewing. At least the self-sacrificing victim in this case was a man! but really nobody wins when there are these kinds of secrets kept. And I think I’m done for a while with melodrama!