Sorry! No cute Sridevi in this one! But there is plenty of even cuter Geeta Bali, two dogs, and absolutely wonderful songs by the criminally underrated GS Kohli. It’s written by (and co-stars) IS Johar (who has written such gems as Afsana and Nastik). If it’s considered a B-movie then all I can say is that A has a lot to live up to. It’s a funny, sweet tale of love and social inequality (human and canine) combined with a noirishly silly precursor to the plot of Don (and Shammi’s China Town too)! IS Johar is perfect as the hapless goofball Gullu, and Geeta Bali hilarious as the spoiled England-returned Miss Bambi. Plus, 21-year old Feroz Khan in what *might* be his first movie ever (?) and Excellent Use of Helen!
Bambi and Gullu meet one day as he is walking his mongrel dog Charlie along Marine Drive. Despite his natty suit, Gullu cannot find work in the communally-divided economy of Bombay (although great care is taken to point out that otherwise all live together in harmony).
Charlie is his only friend; his father berates him at home for not having a job (and calls his suit a circus costume, for which I can’t really blame him), attributing his inability to find work on his stupidity and laziness, although his mother (a very young Praveen Paul) tries to stick up for him. Poor Gullu!
Anyway, as he wanders aimlessly with Charlie on Marine Drive one fine afternoon, he runs into socialite Bambi and her father, wealthy businessman Rai Bahadur Himmatchand (Hari Shivdasani). Geeta is priceless. Bambi has lost her little purebred dog Jackie and is feeling the kind of despair that I’d feel if I lost track of my little purebred Gemma. Her dialogue delivery is so perfectly hilarious that I have to give you a listen to her opening line (Marilyn Monroe, anyone?):
She and Gullu sprinkle their conversation liberally with quaint English throughout (Gullu’s father chastises him, saying “Speak in Hindi!”) and it’s just too funny. IS Johar and Geeta also seem like they are having an enormous amount of fun with their roles!
In any case, Gullu sends Charlie to find Jackie, which he quickly does, bringing him back to Bambi. On another side note, I wonder if IS Johar is trying to insert any other social commentary given subsequent canine plot developments—Charlie is obviously a male dog, and Gullu asks Bambi pointedly if her dog is male or female. She replies equally pointedly that Jackie is male too.
Rai Bahadur gives Gullu some money for his help, although he tries to refuse it, and he and Bambi leave with Jackie—who whines sadly at being forced to leave his new buddy.
Bambi changes her tune pretty quickly when Jackie falls ill (we even get a spurious veterinary diagnosis in this movie!). The doctor asks if Jackie has been playing with any other dog lately.
OMG! Jackie IS gay! Well, maybe that isn’t the intent…but I’d like to think that it is. Gullu, having been insulted by Bambi, is not inclined to help her out by bringing Charlie to see Jackie, but he is mollified when she throws a party in honor of Charlie. It’s an excellent occasion for a lovely song too, “Nazar Yeh Teri Tikha”—Gullu and Bambi each imagine themselves in the dancers’ places.
As the days pass hanging out with the dogs, Bambi discovers that simple Gullu is not the fool people assume him to be based on his appearance. He’s naive, but he’s not stupid. And he finds Bambi absolutely lovely (well look at her!) when she drops her pretensions and is just herself. They get lost one day on a walk in the forest (never a good idea!) and end up at a nightclub/jail/den hidden there. It belongs to a famous criminal mastermind named Jung Bahadur—and Jung is a dead ringer for Gullu, in appearance if not temperament.
Jung Bahadur’s moll is Rita (woo-hoo! it’s Helen!). She is dangerously jealous of anyone he looks at, and he loves it. He is also fond of disguises. He leaves shortly before Gullu and Bambi wander in hoping to find shelter. Everyone assumes that Jung Bahadur is back, in disguise, including Helen—who performs a dagger dance (“Dekha Na Jaaye Socha Na Jaaye”) while looking daggers at poor Bambi.
Bambi leaves in a huff thinking that Gullu has been deceiving her and is really Jung Bahadur. He follows her and finally convinces her that it’s all a mistake. They admit their love for each other and all’s well, except that they are still lost. Bambi’s father has meanwhile gone to Gullu’s house to find out where his daughter is. The fathers set out to find their kids, and are predictably upset when they find them sleeping soundly next to each other. They become really furious with each other after Rai Bahadur insults Gullu.
Poor Bambi and Gullu are forced apart by their angry fathers. Rai Bahadur wants Bambi to marry the son of one of his close friends whom Bambi dislikes with good reason. He’s spineless and dumb and doesn’t do anything without his Daddy’s approval. She defends Gullu to her own Daddy, but he forbids Bambi to see Gullu again.
Gullu too is heartbroken and it doesn’t do his self-esteem any good either. (I love the pinups on his wall.)
Then one day as he is walking the streets with Charlie again, two CID officers spot him and think he is Jung Bahadur in disguise. They drag him into the police station, where he finally manages to convince everyone that he’s simple Gullu and not a master criminal. The superintendent apologizes for their mistake; Gullu accepts the apology with his usual self-deprecating good grace.
But the superintendent wants to take advantage of their identical appearance. His idea is that the police will arrest Jung Bahadur, and groom Gullu to take his place. Gullu is horrified.
The police get their way when Bambi makes an appearance; she is apparently a social worker at the jail there. She convinces Gullu that if he helps nab Jung Bahadur he’ll be famous and her father will let them get married (of course, he might be dead too, but nobody seems worried about that except Gullu himself). He can’t deny Bambi anything, though, and agrees. His training begins:
and I am thrilled to see handsome young Feroz Khan as the card shark/cigarette trickster/boxer in charge of it!
Can sweet, innocent Gullu pull the switch off? Are Jung Bahadur’s men that dumb? Or lethal moll Rita? Here’s a hint:
Noooo! Can this wild plan possibly succeed? Will Gullu survive to marry Bambi? Are Jackie and Charlie in love, or just buddies? (Okay, that’s never answered, truthfully.) I will tell you this: there is a chase scene at the end which is worthy of Buster Keaton. I thought I might never stop laughing.
There is plenty of wacky and hilarious fun in this film, and really good songs. My favorite is the cracktastic “Babalu O Babalu”:
IS Johar is great as both Gullu and Jung Bahadur, two completely different characters. He’s not a handsome man, but he’s got plenty of charm even when he’s feeling sorry for himself. And Geeta Bali—oh how funny she is. She sparkles in her many dances—and everytime she’s onscreen. And the dogs, they are so cute! (Charlie the third-class dog is way better looking than his English counterpart Jackie.) How can any of this NOT be good? B-grade movie my foot!
ps: For more trusty animals in Hindi cinema, see Todd’s ongoing series at D4K called Animalympics. Anipals, zindabad!
pps: I am sad to report that there is a second (probable) Helen song that was edited out of the DVD (“Main Machis Ki Teelee Chamakeelee”) which is completely fab too. *Damn you Eros!*