Funtoosh (1956)

At a run-time of just over 1 hour and 45 minutes, significant portions of this film have been edited out (this is also obvious as you watch). It may have once been a good story, but the missing scenes rendered it a bit choppy (not as bad as Jaal, but not good either). It also felt to me like the filmmakers (Chetan and Dev Anand, director and producer respectively) thought they had something of great portent to say, but the messages sprinkled about struck me as childish and trite rather than very meaningful. And I found the portrayal of mentally ill people more than a little irritating. The mental institution in which we meet Funtoosh is a cartoon insane asylum, with inmates cackling uncontrollably and saluting each other; and the protagonist Funtoosh himself is a caricature and a badly drawn one at that. I think he is supposed to represent the “divine fool”—but he is mostly just a fool.

All in all, I was left feeling that this movie was a pompous and overblown effort, which is not to say that there was nothing to enjoy. The songs (SD Burman, with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi) are lovely and translated well enough to glimpse the poetry within anyway. And I enjoyed seeing a heroine new to me (except for a wonderful dance in 1954’s Taxi Driver), Sheila Ramani. Plus lots of KN Singh is never a bad thing, and Dev Anand is looking very handsome even if the character he plays doesn’t really suit him.

Funtoosh (Dev) is being discharged from an asylum (the “International Mental Asylum” as the entrance sign proudly declares, represented in a vaguely racist way by “Chinese” and “African” inmates) because psychiatrists there feel that he is as sane as he is going to get, and furthermore:

There is probably some truth to this, since the other inhabitants are all completely manic. It would make me more insane if I had to hang out there, for sure.

As Funtoosh takes his leave, they all line up and present him with gifts: a hat with a feather, a pair of sunglasses, a silk robe full of holes, a fountain pen, a pipe, and a ring with large gaudy fake stones. All this bounty makes Funtoosh quite a figure as he cycles out into the big bad world through the gates of the asylum.

The gifts combined with his loony good nature also make him a target of pickpockets, thieves and misunderstandings in the days that follow. First he gives the silk robe away to a philosophizing beggar in rags (Krishan Dhawan) who tells him that God gives generously to those who themselves give generously (I think this is supposed to be deeply meaningful, but I roll my eyes).

In quick succession, his bicycle and ring are stolen and his hat blows away in the wind as he chases it, singing a cute little ode to it (“Ae Meri Topi”), until it lands on the road and is crushed by a car. His sunglasses meet the same fate after he tries to return a rupee note to a girl who dropped it and she mistakes him for a roadside romeo (I don’t really blame her, he is very weird). Finally he gives away the fountain pen to a writer (Vijay Anand, credited as an assistant director) whom he encounters one evening, and who is rather more impressed than I am by Funtoosh’s Meaning Of Life 101 pronouncements.

(I forget what happens to the pipe.) Funtoosh now becomes despondent and when he runs into the beggar again, the beggar does nothing to improve his mood.

I keep waiting for Raj Kapoor in his Tramp avatar to jump out from behind a pillar, but he never does.

Anyway, in his depression Funtoosh wanders in front of an automobile which nearly hits him. The driver, Karodilal (KN Singh) yells at him and drives away. The next day, Funtoosh climbs up onto a ledge at the top of a building and attracts an enthusiastic if bloodthirsty (and in some cases entrepreneurial, selling a look through a telescope for 1 anna) crowd.

Karodilal happens upon this scene as well, and apparently (scene is missing) talks him down because the next thing we see is Funtoosh riding with him in the car, with Karodilal telling him to commit suicide in a week after living it up at his house in the meantime. He takes Funtoosh home and gives him food, clean clothes, and a room, and instructs his daughter Neelu (Sheila Ramani) to look after the new guest.

Needless to say, the lap of luxury revives Funtoosh’s spirits, and he enchants Karodilal’s friends with a lively song mocking Uparwala at a party one evening with the help of an uncredited Mehmood:

Dev does a turn in blackface too:

This also somehow enchants Neelu, who is already engaged to a wet-blanket type named Banke Bihari whom she does not like at all.

And Karodilal is not without a motive! At the end of the week, he has Funtoosh sign a life insurance policy worth one lakh and cheerfully reminds him that tomorrow he has to kill himself. Funtoosh is rather less willing now than he was, but it makes no difference to Karodilal: he is a man with large debts to pay. He does generously take Funtoosh to a nightclub to enjoy his last night on earth, where we are entertained by the lovely Kum Kum (“O Jaani Jeene Mein Kya Hai”).

The next day Karodilal drives Funtoosh to the railroad tracks, talking animatedly the whole way about what a great person Funtoosh has been but how everyone has to die someday, and repeating the poor guy’s promise to kill himself after a week of living it up at Karodilal’s expense. It’s very surreal, as I am sure it’s meant to be. He persuades Funtoosh to place his head on the track in front of an oncoming train, and Funtoosh complies unwillingly—only to have the train switch tracks at the last minute and miss him. Shaken, he asks Karodilal to grant him a little extra time and they haggle it out.

It’s really quite harrowing (and insane!). Funtoosh now sets out to romance Neelu in earnest, hoping that if she falls in love with him it will save his life. She is glad to have his company when she has to see her unwanted fiance and soon Funtoosh and Neelu really are in love, and Banke an infuriated man.

Sheila Ramani is really very beautiful too—does anyone know what ever happened to her? Her filmography on imdb is fairly short, but imdb is also notoriously unreliable on that score. She often looks to me very like Aishwarya Rai.

Besides listening to Banke’s furious complaints about Neelu’s behavior, Karodilal also has to placate his increasingly impatient creditors. Alas! Funtoosh’s month is quickly up, and despite a midnight visit to Neelu with a proposal—she sleepily tells him to wait until the next day—the morning of his next suicide attempt dawns. Again, Karodilal drives Funtoosh to the scene (this time a cliff to jump off) talking happily once again about death’s sweet charms. Funtoosh is a bit more belligerent about his wish to NOT die, but a promise is a promise and Karodilal is unrelenting.

Funtoosh holds his nose and jumps—and lands in a truck bed full of sheep fleeces.

What happens next? Who is Funtoosh, really, and what has made him go insane? And honestly speaking, who IS the insane person here, anyway? Can Karodilal be stopped from making Funtoosh kill himself? How unrelentingly selfish and greedy can one person be, anyway? Neelu is surrounded by crazy people, it seems!

Actually, from here on the movie improved quite a bit for me. Until this point the goings-on seem rather unfocused, but now become more interesting. Once Funtoosh (spoiler, sort of) recovers his sanity and his memory, the sparks begin to truly fly with Neelu. Plus, a very young Jagdish Raj enters the picture!

If all of the film had been more like the last half hour or so, I would have liked it much more. As it is, Dev Anand isn’t good at playing the fool—he is much too suave and debonair for it, and there is an uncomfortable ambiance about the entire venture of trying just a *wee bit* too hard. Sometimes the obvious is better left unsaid, and subtlety is a more suitable approach. Certainly I know the Anand brothers (especially Chetan) were capable of it, too—but we are all entitled to off days!

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62 Comments to “Funtoosh (1956)”

  1. hmm, haven’t seen this. mistook it for shreeman funtoosh which had kishore kumar and Kumkum.

    Sheila does look eerily like Aish.

    • I have that one too but haven’t watched it yet. Probably should have, instead! And yes, doesn’t she?

      • shreemaan funtoosh has a lot of famous songs (and I always had a soft corner for Kishore and Anoop brothers), but as i realized after some youtube sleuthing, Funtoosh has “dukhi mann mere”.
        Nice melody, people have hummed it as a lullaby to me. It was only when I grew up that I realized that it was a sad song.

        • The dvd cover billed the film as a comedy—it is anything but! Songs are by far the best thing about it, they are delicious :)

          I love the Kumar brothers too, but I also usually love the Anand brothers!

          • There’s another Anand Brothers’ combination of Dev Anand and elder brother Chetan Anand in ‘Kinare Kinare’ with Meena Kumari.

            Fabulous songs (as expected) and quite an engaging film.

      • Avoid Shreeman Funtoosh if you can. Weird, weird film!

    • She also looks like Kalpana Karthik (going by the youtube songs). Of course verisimilitude can be achieved by hairstyle and make-up magic.

  2. This is weird. I woke up this morning with Ae meri topi palat ke aa playing on a loop in my mental playlist! Have you been planting songs in my brain? ;-)

  3. I’d love to see a movie where ‘1 anna” has relevance. And Dev is handsome (even if he is only 5’6″!). I’m still into Dharam garam so Dev will have to wait his turn. Now I’ll go search for the songs on youtube.

    • I like to juggle my Hindi movie men :D Unless Shammi beckons, then I go running.

      Dev is very handsome indeed in this.

    • Dev is 5′ 10” IIRC.
      He’s taller than Nutan who must have been 5’7” if not more.
      They have starred opposite each other in many films.

      I’m disappointed that this film isn’t a comedy at all. :-(

      • I think it’s supposed to be a black comedy (maybe) but I didn’t find it funny except in a very few places (like Dev cycling out of the asylum in all his finery, hilarious) :) Maybe someone else would though!

      • Those biographical websites have all sorts of information. With Rajesh Khanna and Dharmendra I just took an average of all the info that came my way. Anyway 5’10” looks much more plausible.

  4. Although I like some of the songs (especially the carefree, yet romantic “woh dekhe to unki inaayat”), I never got around to watching the movie. Probably because I hadn’t heard great things about it and better movie beckoned.

    You’re right about the resemblance between Sheila Ramani and Ashwariya, though I have to say I prefer SR to Ash – her beauty is a little more “human.”

  5. I’d bought this last year, and the DVD simply packed up after one song with Sheila Ramani on a thela and Dev Anand pushing it along… and somehow, I’d been so unimpressed by the film till then, I never even went back to the DVD store to ask for a new copy. Looks like I didn’t miss much!

    Sheila Ramani was so lovely in Taxi Driver though, wasn’t she? And SDB gave her some really fabulous songs in it, too.

    • You did not miss much, although the end is better than the beginning (in a total reversal of the usual pattern :)…I love Sheila Ramani in Taxi Driver. Would love to see her in more!

  6. Yes, I think Dev is always better off playing the suave, debonair sort. I saw him in ‘Sharaabi’ and couldn’t help but laugh my butt off. He’s such a bad actor, that anything beyond being Dev-saab is too much hard work for him. :)

    But he’s adorable.

    I saw him recently, as the Chief Guest to FTII’s opening celebrations of it’s 50th year. Dev-saab was invited because he did his first film at Prabhat Studio (which is now FTII) and of course, later had a long association with it. At 87, the man held the stage for around 2 hours, jumping up and down, making sure he spoke to every single person he was felicitating, making sure that they faced the camera for the photographs, taking heckling and catcalls in his stride with good humor.

    He was awesome!

    • Oh dear. I have Sharaabi, haven’t seen it yet though. He really is best at playing himself :)

      I am v. envious that you got to see him in person. He is amazing, and I even still love him after reading his TMI autobiography!

  7. Have always wanted to see this movie but somehow never got around to seeing it. Somehow I had it down as a timepass movie. Now, after reading the review, I am not too keen on it. “Wo dekhen to unki inaayat, na dekhen to rona kya” is quite a nice song though.

    Btw, in an interview with Dev Anand, he mentioned this movie as the one which started his hat-wearing practice. Apparenty his wearing a hat in this movie became a huge hit and set the trend.

    • It’s pretty cliched, but it moves along. It’s not awful, but timepass is a good way to describe it.

      He wore several hats in this, that’s an interesting bit of trivia! :)

  8. I agree that Sheila Ramani was a lovely actress, particularly in TAXI DRIVER, which is a movie I love. Poor thing ended up in some terrible films like JUNGLE KING and RETURN OF MR. SUPERMAN so it is no wonder she left acting.

    As bad as RETURN OF MR SUPERMAN was, Sheila did make a fine Lois Lane type of character and was the only good thing about that mess of a film.

    • She can act too, unlike Aishwarya her lookalike :P

      Now I need to see those terrible films. Curse you Mike!

      • You could watch “Railway Platform” which has her in a supporting role and has the distinction of being Sunil Dutt’s first film. Decent film with great music. You get Nalini Jaywant in the lead as a bonus.

        Sheila Ramani also starred in a 60s film called “Awara Ladki.” I have it somewhere in my stash, but have never gotten around to watching it – perhaps I’ll pull it out now.:-)

  9. Omg!!!!!! i just love this this actress Sheila Ramani, at a time i had fallen in love with her and she became my dream girl. She was verrryyy beautiful and gorgeous. I first noticed her in Dev Anand and Kalpna Kartik starrer film Taxi Driver, she played the role of a bar dancer i guess. Where she had two very beautiful songs called Dil Se Milake Dil and Jeene Do Jee Lo. I started loving her from that film. She was looking so gorgeous in that film and i guess she looked gorgeous here too. Isn’t it? I thought that she appeared in just Taxi Driver, but by your very lovely reviews i came to know a lot about my dream girl. Thanks dear :)

  10. Nice review (as always), Mmesaab. And yes, I also feel that Dev Anand, limited actor that he is, is positively wooden here (wonder what Shammi could have done with the role).

    As for the song ‘Aye Meri Topi’, did you know that it was composed by (a very young) RD Burman? A prodigy, if there ever was one!

  11. I’m waiting for this one to arrive at the top of my Netflix queue. I’m rather fond of black and white Dev, and was hugely disappointed that his, as you so aptly put it, TMI autobiography, has so little about any films he made before “Guide.”

    I recently watched “Jaali Note” and it was also around two hours long–1/2 hour shorter than the release length. Since it was clearly duped from a video tape, which only run two hours, this might explain some of the DVD truncation issues.

  12. I think “Try Hard” was an actual genre of movies when Funtoosh was made which is why it smacks of it. But yes, this is terribly Raj Kapoorish. He’d probably have done a better job of it too.

    Oh, and here’s my new song, soon to be an international hit:

    “Your face is like a monkey
    And your legs are like a cock…
    Your mother is a hamster
    And your father smells of elderberries. “

    • It’s a beautiful little ditty Amrita, and I wish you all the very best with it. Perhaps Salma and Sabina Agha can sing it for you :)

      I did keep thinking that the whole thing was terribly and earnestly Raj Kapoorish. He might have made a pretty good Funtoosh actually, better than Dev anyway!

  13. Nice review. A little known fact. The tune for “Ae meri topi” was composed by RD Burman at the age of nine. It is likely the first song that the maestro composed that saw the light of day (unattributed of course).

  14. When I was about 12 my father got us this VHS claiming it was the funniest movie he had seen. Normally he has excellent taste but I believe he was tricked by nostaligia in this case.. This is not the right movie for a 12 year and 10 year old at all

  15. No, I wouldn’t characterize this film as a comedy AT ALL. Maybe he had it mixed up with something else :)

  16. It sounds to be a nice movie from your description.
    Well, theonly thing about Sheila Ramani, was tha tint he 80s she turned really fat, at least form the pictures which were to be seen in the movie magazines of that time.
    I find that there are simply too many films with Dev Anand and K. N. Singh, wher eDevv falls for the Singh’s daughter or moll or at least is in his hire. I get terribly confused by this jhamela

  17. Hey Harvey,
    That was a formula for that day! It has meaning in a class conscious society, particularly like the one in india. Wealth, status, education, power and influence seems to define a person’s existence. In that day, that was a tall order to attain for many. i am assuming it gave a dream escape to many a youth in India.
    Indian movies always target the poor in the country.. It needs an entirely different reading for the western audience who do not know of these micro cultural nuances that are based in that particular context.
    Inept editing was also noticed. I wonder why?
    AARJAY

    • I know this formula, but this happens to me particularly with Dev-K.N.Singh-Moll-Heroine films.
      Not that I don’t like them but it confuses me a lot and it is hard for my poor brain to remember, which story is which film.
      Thanks for the clarification! ;-)

    • It IS kind of a habit with Dev and KN Singh! :)

      Who really knows why it was so choppy? I tend to blame the laziness of dvd manufactuers who can’t be bothered to find either the best print available or to combine two or more incomplete prints. They just slap whatever they find onto a dvd and sell it as a complete movie.

  18. Funtoosh arrived, a Baba Digital that is 118 min (slightly longer) but the songs are not subtitled. Spoilers are impossible because the climax was so dark, I honestly could not see what happened.

    Some sources say that this film was inspired by Frank Capra’s “Meet John Doe” although the only similarities are class consciousness and a potential suicide that callous individuals wish to exploit for their own reasons; other than that, I can’t imagine why the Capra film would be considered a source.

    I agree that this seems to want to share in the Raj Kapoor holy fool jadoo, especially since Shri 420 was released just the year before…and there is even a topi song! Sheila Ramani is a very appealing heroine, I, too am sorry she wasn’t in more films. As for Dev’s very labored Raj Funtoosh, just having a character act in a “comic” fashion, doesn’t make a comedy.

    • So two different but equally crappy dvds exist for this one not-very-good movie :) How nice. I guess at least Shemaroo subtitled the songs even if they could not be bothered to try and provide most of the film itself…

  19. Funtoosh was a kind of filler film for the brothers as they sorted out their internal issues; Chetan wanted to move on to do his own thing. Sheila, though lovely (and terrific in Taxi driver) was not Dev Anand’s choice at all. Everyone was indifferent towards the film and it shows. The songs are terrific, esp Dukhi Man Mere and the Topi song which of course RD sort of composed (i.e. gave the basic tune).
    The story of this and other Dev Anand films in my forthcoming book on Nav Ketan (sorry for the plug on the site, Memsaab, but I am your fan.) :-)
    Sidharth

  20. Will certainly keep you posted. End of the year most probably.

  21. A very talented and beautiful actress SHEILA RAMANI was born in Hyderabad(Sind).She was a Muslim sindhi.The family shifted to Shimla,where she became Miss Shimla in 1952.
    Chetan Anand brought her to Bombay.Her earlier films were
    Anand math-1952
    Badnaam-1952
    V.Shantaram’s Surang-1953
    Naukari/Meenar/Mangoo/Taxi Driver-1954 etc.etc.
    In all there are 42 films to her credit.
    Sheikh Lateef,her maternal uncle,a big Producer in Pakistan,called her and she acted in the Pakistani Film Anokhi,in 1956.
    She continued acting in Bombay.She was the Heroine of India’s first Sindhi film ABANAin 1960.
    Her last known film is Maa Beta in 1962.
    After this film,it is said that she went to Pakistan to get married.No further information on her is available.

  22. Sheila Ramani lives in a small Indian town. I did track her down to interview her but her son told me she was not well at all and would not be in any position to talk. I did not want to disturb her privacy. She made a lot of effort to keep her family away from the film industry after she retired.
    Funtoosh was a fun film with great songs, but her best remembered film is Taxi Driver

  23. Great review! I have watched the songs “Woh dekhe to unki …” and “Dukhi man mere” and loved them, but I have learned one thing about these old movies – the presence of good songs does not guarantee a good movie, most of the time! Of course, there were some cases where the songs were so good that I did not mind the total absence of any kind of story, and I suppose this is one of those. I always thought that the girl in the boat was Kalpana Kartik, glad to have learned something new today (learning doesn’t stop at any age, see!).
    Of course, I may still watch the movie just to see all the various hats Dev wears here, and to see the so very young looking Jagdish Raj! He looks great in your picture.

  24. I had promised you Memsaab I will let you know about my book on Navketan. It’s finally out and has the behind the scenes story on Funtoosh and many more films.
    For anyone interested in Navketan films from Baazi onwards, here is a link that will give some more info

    http://www.harpercollins.co.in/BookDetail.asp?Book_Code=2859

    Sidharth

  25. For the moment it will only be available here but it would be great if you came down to Bombay to pick up one. we can at least get to see you!
    It will also be available on www,flipkart.com, the smaller, Indian version of Amazon which will ship it to you (with a good discount too.)

  26. Hmm, how would it be if a whole bunch of folks from here traveled to India together for the express purpose of buying this book (and doing a few other things, like the Twist, maybe, and watching bunches of old movies together? Bedlam in Bollywood?

  27. I completely disagree with your review of this movie. I think the movie has a great cast , beautiful music and very funny lines. The song by kishore and Asha on the boat is the Kishore’s best song . The story is good and the actors are brilliant. It is unfair to judge old movies’ portrayal of mental handicap by today’s standards. Chetan Anand was a serious filmmaker who was is inspired by Russian novelists such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and also American noir movies. Unlike let’s say Dara Singh, his movies don lend themselves to ironyand ridicule. Calling this movie pompous is to misread the director’s intent and message. As Hitchcock famously once said to a critic “are you criticizing the movie I made or the movie you would have liked to make” anyway, just my opinion.

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