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!