I have long been meaning to watch this Raj Khosla film again. I saw it a few years ago but remembered little about it except one Sadhana dance which is spectacular: “Jhumka Gira Re Bareilly Ki Bazaar Mein” and a vague feeling that it was pretty good. And it is pretty good—really good in fact! I was riveted and (thanks to my dismal memory) not completely sure I had the mystery figured out until the very end. The performances from Sunil Dutt and Sadhana are wonderful, and the competently plotted story moves along briskly with tension building ever so gradually: the direction and editing are masterful. It’s also beautifully photographed and just chock-full of pretty, especially the locations in Udaipur (and Sunil and Sadhana!). Any quibbles I have are minor: the end is a bit flat after the marvellous buildup, and I got tired of the title song after the umpteenth time hearing it—pretty as it is—but that’s about it.
We begin with tragedy. Geeta (Sadhana), the beloved wife of Thakur Rakesh Singh (Sunil Dutt), is taken ill suddenly while he is abroad furthering his law career.
Rakesh returns just in time for her to die in his arms, and his grief knows no bounds. He stops eating or meeting anyone outside the house, and spends his days listening to a melancholy tune she used to sing (the aforementioned title song) in front of her garlanded portrait. He is lifted from this lethargy finally by a visit from Inspector Daljit (Anwar Hussain), who brings a strange story about a girl who looks exactly like his deceased Geeta.
In a police encounter with some dacoits, a girl accompanying them has been arrested and accused by local villagers of helping the dacoits loot their village by distracting the population with a song and dance (I call it the “earring Bareilly marketplace” song, and I love it).
The girl, identified as Raina, has a different story to tell though. She insists that she is the Thakur’s wife Geeta, not a dacoit. The whole area knows that Geeta has just died and been cremated, but Daljit needs Rakesh to verify that she is not Geeta in court, where she will be tried as a bandit.
He takes Rakesh and his mother (Ratnamala) and the household servants (Dhumal, Mukri, Kumud Bole) to the jail to see her. They are astonished at the likeness.
Raina is not fooled by two men which Daljit sends in to see her posing as Rakesh, and when Rakesh himself enters the room she rushes to him joyfully. Rakesh himself though is both stunned and horrified: he backs away and rejects her vehemently. After all, Geeta did die right in front of him! He returns home to his memories (and the song “Nainon Mein Badra Chhaye”) as she pleads with his mother and the servants, who also turn away from her.
As her trial begins, the dacoits she is accused of colluding with, led by Suryavar Singh (Prem Chopra), discuss her and the fact that the Thakur has refused to recognize her as his wife.
In court, the prosecutor (KN Singh) presents the witnesses who have seen her with Suryavar Singh’s dacoits, and then she is asked for her testimony. She is adamant about her innocence and that she is Geeta, the Thakur’s wife.
When told that she can appoint a lawyer for herself, she says she needs only one:
I love Sadhana in this. She is decidedly de-glamorized (except in flashbacks as Geeta) and very convincing as a woman who wants the court—and Rakesh—to believe her story. Since Rakesh is a prime witness for the prosecution, he clearly cannot act as her lawyer and she refuses any other representation. She also says she has only one witness in her defense: Rakesh, again. He is called to court to testify.
I am a huge fan of Sunil Dutt too—I think he made some amazing films in his lifetime. But he could *occasionally* be accused of chewing up the scenery and spitting it out in chhoti chhoti pieces. As Rakesh, though, he is great. It can’t have been an easy role to play: grief-stricken husband haunted by memories of a woman who to all appearances is now standing before him, although he knows that according to all logic it cannot really be her. He nails it.
As the trial continues and the woman on the stand reminds him of things that only Geeta could know, he struggles to find explanations for how this accused dacoit could be so familiar with such events. At home (he lives in the Lake Palace, lucky man!) the strain of the daily courtroom events takes its toll and his loved ones worry as he sinks ever further into sorrow and confusion (and I grow weary of “Mera Saaya Saath Hoga”).
Flashbacks of their happy marriage acquaint us with the woman Geeta was, while her testimony under Rakesh’s cross-examining acquaints us with the woman claiming to be her now.
Is she the same person? If she is, who is the Geeta who died in front of her husband and friends? If not, what game is she playing? Who is she to Suryavar Singh, a man determined to get her back?
I’m not telling! You’ll have to watch it to find out, and if you haven’t yet you will be glad you did. The lead pair have lovely chemistry:
and even the CSP is funny and not at all over done—just the right touch to occasionally relieve the tension and sadness.
Madan Mohan’s music is pretty if not amazing (except for the dance I mentioned above, which is just fab), and the performances, direction, photography, almost everything is just right. See it, do!