Garam Dharam in shorts! Mehmood in a loin cloth (and a skimpy one at that)! A feisty heroine who doesn’t want to get married! What’s not to love? (Okay, besides for Mehmood in a skimpy loin cloth. Nobody needs to see that.)
This is “Taming of the Shrew” with retro charm, pretty people, and lovely songs by OP Nayyar. I liked it especially for the heroine who sticks up for herself, although of course societal norms win at the end: all girls really want to get married, even if they don’t know it. What else is there for them? But she puts up a good fight, and the chemistry between Rajshree and Dharmendra is sweet if not crackling. Able support from a host of reliable character actors, and a gang of college students twisting away just add to the fun.
Neeta (Rajshree, and she’s gorgeous in this) is the daughter of the owner of a coal mine named RN Sharma (Badri Prasad). Sharma and Neeta have a combative relationship at best.
His lawyer and close friend Sinha (Nazir Hussain) is the father that Sharma has never been to Neeta, since her mother died giving birth to her. I think that last point is supposed to be a surprise when it’s finally revealed, but anybody who has ever watched a movie can figure it out immediately, so I’m not counting it as a spoiler of any kind.
Neeta surrounds herself with friends and lavishes her Daddy’s money on picnics and parties with them. After she leaves one such picnic in a bit of a huff, she meets Amar (Dharmendra) in the forest. He is instantly smitten by her beauty and romances her with a cute song “Tumhari Mulaqat Se” (it’s especially cute when he carries her little handbag for her).
Despite all this, she is patently unimpressed. We find out why when her father asks her if she’s considered a question he had put to her earlier.
I guess growing up with a man who has never gotten over the death of his wife and has made your life miserable as a result would sour you on the whole institution. She is adamant, to her father’s disgust. Her friends have come with her to tour the mine, and she takes them down below ground. It turns out that Amar the handsome singing forest guy is a supervisor in her father’s mine, and he’s pleased to see her again (he rescues her when she wanders a bit too close to a blasting site—so very Mills & Boon!).
Neeta tells Sinha that Amar saved her life (she overstates it just a wee bit) and Sinha calls him into his office to give him a reward—which Amar refuses.
Sinha is impressed!
Ha! Nothing is better than his looks, Mr. Sinha. Nothing.
The CSP gets truly underway at this point. There is still Entirely Too Much of Mehmood, in more ways than one:
but Chand Usmani is paired with him, and a cute little child actor named “Sweety Dutt” is part of it too. It’s a little different from the usual run-of-the-mill CSP, and more bearable than most. Enough said!
Neeta’s birthday is coinciding with Diwali (mine does too sometimes!) and she throws a big party, to which she has invited Sinha but not her father. Sinha needles Sharma about this a bit. Sharma is not healthy—he clutches at his heart and calls for a whiskey and soda, and lights up a cigarette. His doctor (Anand Saroop Kumar, the co-producer, with his brother, of the film) arrives to give him one of those magical Hindi film injections, but actually admits that it’s not likely to do much good.
Sharma decides that he will accompany Sinha to Neeta’s birthday party, which is in full swing at home. She is amazed to see him, and there is a sweet scene of reconciliation and forgiveness (she hand-feeds him cake) before the two men retire to a quieter room to talk.
Alas! It is also the last. As Neeta’s party rages on in splendid shimmy-and-shake fashion (seriously, it rages) with streamers and balloons everywhere!:
Sharma has a final and fatal heart attack and dies, clutching a photograph of Neeta’s mother.
Unfortunately, he continues to torment poor Neeta through his will (well, to be fair, probably only Neeta and I see it that way): he has stipulated that unless she marries within three months of his death, she will not inherit his wealth. Sinha tries to point out that her father has done her a favor, but I’m with her on this one!
Sinha pretends to be sympathetic, and calms her by saying he will try to find a legal loophole although he has no intention of doing so. Although Sinha loves her like a daughter and wants to do right by her, he believes that she can only be happy if she’s married. Of course, in 1966 almost everyone in the world thought that way; it doesn’t upset me as a plot point, but it does make me reflect on how different my life might have been had I been born twenty years earlier!
Neeta, thinking he will help her, lets the weeks go by until there are only a few days to go before she either has to be married or lose her fortune. Sinha returns from his coincidental three-month “business trip” to tell her that she has no choice: she either has to marry, or get used to poverty. Frantic, she says that she will marry any “Prince, Romeo or Victor” and then get a divorce. Sinha’s son Vicky (Deven Verma)—who is like a brother to her—points out that not only is she very rich, but also very pretty.
In the meantime, there has been a murder at the coal mine over a dispute about money. Poor Amar, in the wrong place at the wrong time (and in a country where police investigations are apparently lame at best), has been arrested and convicted for the killing and is sentenced to hang. Neeta arrives at the office of another mining company lawyer soon after he has met with some of of Amar’s co-workers about the case. When she begs him for his help with her father’s will, he has a brilliant idea: marry a death-row inmate!
Amar is predictably a bit scornful at first.
But he agrees to marry her on the condition that they give a large sum of money to the murder victim’s now-destitute widow and tell her that he is innocent. Neeta and Amar get married (those same incompetent policemen let him—a death row prisoner—out of jail for the day so that he can go to the registrar’s office with her) and Neeta triumphantly delivers her marriage certificate to Sinha. He is pleased until Vicky informs him that she has married someone on death row; when Vicky shows him the newspaper photo of Amar, he is stunned.
Remembering Amar’s refusal to take payment for saving Neeta in the mine, Sinha does in about two seconds what the police were unable or unwilling to do: he finds the real culprit.
When Sinha phones Neeta to tell her that the inheritance is all hers, she celebrates with another picnic and a great song, “Mehfil Mein Dilwalon”—I love it. There is even Twisting up in the trees (and the really skinny guy to the right of center looks suspiciously like my pal Pompadour Man)!
When she gets home from this outdoor extravaganza, she is shocked—and not at all pleased—to find her new husband there waiting for her. Amar says that it was their love that set him free, and she points out that she doesn’t love him.
This strikes me as a little hypocritical coming from Dharmendra, and she is no more impressed than I. She throws his love back in his face and him out of her house, but he meets Sinha on his way out. Sinha tells him through a flashback—and a doll—about Neeta’s lifelong neglect at the hands of her grieving father, who found refuge only in alcohol and ignored her completely. Thus was the little girl forced to suppress her natural need for love.
This must have totally tugged at the heartstrings of an audience back then (well, even now too; I myself feel a little faklempt by the end of the sad tale). Sinha begs Amar not to give up on Neeta.
Teach her, Amar! TEACH HER!!!
Can this simple son of the soil transform the life of a poor little rich girl? Will she discover that love is more powerful than wealth? Will others more interested in her fortune sabotage their marriage? Will Amar start wearing long pants now that he’s wealthy? Yes, yes, and yes (and no)!
Sometimes the dialogues towards the end, at least as subtitled, were a little regressive for my liking (even given the time period)—but that may have been the fault of the translation and not the actual lines. For some reason I got that feeling, although maybe it was just wishful thinking. Earlier it was a very “independent woman” friendly film, despite the romance novel plot. I also have to mention one more song which has long been a favorite: “Na Jaane Kyun.”
*Sigh* If you are a sucker for romance like me (not marriage, but romance!) you might really enjoy Mohabbat Zindagi Hai. As I said, Dharmendra and Rajshree are gorgeous, and there is a lot more of Mehmood in a loincloth if that floats your particular boat (anyone?)!
Ha! There seems to be a lot of that going around!