If you are in the mood for a cleverly plotted swashbuckler a la mode indienne, reach for this one. The dialogues are written by Abrar Alvi, always a good sign, and the screenplay by Javar Sitaraman; the story is intricate, entertaining and witty. If Rajendra Kumar and Ajit are a *little* too old to be playing men in their twenties, it doesn’t really matter and they look just fine opposite Vijayanthimala. She is beautiful, even sharing lots of scenes with the younger and equally gorgeous Mumtaz, and she shows us all once again that GIRL CAN DANCE. Amazing. Shankar Jaikishan’s music is catchy and pretty, and the host of supporting character actors all seem to be having fun—Jagirdar especially, as the dacoit Ram Singh. Plus, a loyal horse and clever elephant companions: what’s not to love, really?
Maharaj Vikram Singh (David) rewards his Senapati Sangram Singh (Niranjan Sharma) with a crown and kingdom of his own after Sangram Singh saves his life on the battlefield. They seal their friendship with a promise that Vikram Singh’s newborn daughter Anuradha will marry Sangram Singh’s son Pratap when they come of age. Vikram Singh also gives Sangram Singh a valuable heirloom necklace, which Sangram Singh puts around the neck of his young son—a bad idea, in my opinion, especially since the Rajkumar is an active kid who gets into trouble a lot according to his mother (Lalita Pawar).
And indeed, as he is playing with his tutor Ram Singh later, the necklace falls off and is found by a maidservant who keeps it. When the necklace can’t be found, Sangram Singh accuses Ram Singh of stealing it, and punishes him severely (a whipping followed by something done with a pair of red-hot pokers that isn’t shown and that I don’t want to think about).
I don’t think much of Sangram Singh’s ability to give the benefit of the doubt to those very dear to him, and neither does Ram Singh. He is sent home in disgrace to his own young son and daughter, who will now be branded the children of a thief.
He takes to the hills with them to live outside of society, and swears vengeance against Sangram Singh. Sangram Singh in the meantime discovers his mistake and in remorse sends for Ram Singh—but it’s too late. The inexorable wheels of retribution have started turning.
Ram Singh now does not even spare his own son from his plotting: he burns his son Suraj in exactly the same place as Pratap’s burn scar, and four years later sends an old woman with Suraj to the palace to take the missing Rajkumar’s place. Maharaja Sangram Singh and his wife are rather easily convinced by the evidence of the burn scar and the clothes that Pratap was wearing when he went missing, and they embrace him joyfully.
Back at his den, Ram Singh kills the old woman to keep her chup and vows to make the real Pratap—now called Suraj—into a dacoit. I laugh and laugh at his tatty old stuffed cat, which looks like it was pilfered from a dusty old museum in decline.
But a villain must have a stuffed cat to decorate his lodgings!
Ram Singh’s little daughter Geeta (Neetu Singh) is confused by her brother’s new name. Neetu is the cutest little girl EVER, so plump and pretty, with a long glossy braid. Darling!
This is a lot of plot already, and our second generation is still in childhood! But now-Suraj grows up to be Rajendra Kumar and a very successful Robin Hood-type, and now-Pratap grows up with his doting royal parents to be Ajit—and a royal nightmare for the local girls. He has a cage in the form of a stagecoach which he routinely fills with village belles. It reminds me of the Childcatcher’s carriage in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Suraj rescues a bunch of them one day with the help of his friend Bhola (Johnny Walker) and his tireless and loyal elephant Heera (he also has a white horse aptly named Bahadur).
Pratap’s shenanigans have not endeared him to his subjects, and his father Sangram Singh is tired of all the complaints he hears about his son’s behavior. He decides not to crown Pratap during the upcoming 25th anniversary celebrations of his own reign, and the Maharani encourages him to get Pratap married to Rajkumari Anuradha, who has grown up to be Vijayanthimala.
Anuradha herself is a feisty and intelligent girl, who chafes at the restrictions of her royal life and who rules her doting father with a velvet-gloved iron fist. She has no intention of marrying Pratap Singh, despite Vikram Singh’s assurances that Pratap is a handsome and intelligent man.
She agrees to go to Sangram Singh’s festivities, but insists that she go alone except for her maid Kalavati (Mumtaz). Poor Kalavati! On the way, Anuradha makes her switch places with her so that she can have a little freedom and assess the worth of her betrothed by finding out what the common people really think of him (smart girl!). Of course she also meets bandit Suraj, who saves her at a local fair from being kidnapped by Pratap Singh’s men.
They fall in love through various plot twists and several lovely songs (my favorites: “Chehra Pe Giri” and “Dekho Mera Dil Machal Gaya”), although Suraj continues to think that Anuradha is a simple maid while Anuradha discovers that he’s a thief. Kalavati continues to pose as Anuradha—much against her better judgment—as her mistress enjoys her newfound freedom and love:
Meanwhile, Ram Singh plots to further his revenge, using Suraj as a pawn.
And nasty prince Pratap falls hard too for Anuradha’s charms, and since she is a mere “maid” thinks nothing of kidnapping and coercion as a means of getting her to cooperate. I laugh out loud at his response when one of his men (Keshav Rana) exclaims over the “princess’s” beauty:
Dialogues like this, well-choreographed sword-play—Vijayanthimala gets a turn at it, and she’s good!—sweet romance, beautiful songs, and breathtaking dancing in a story that constantly surprises and entertains make this one of the best of its kind. Even the CSP isn’t too bad, featuring Johnny Walker opposite Mumtaz’s sister Malika along with Mukri, Agha and a buffalo.
Plus, as is usual with these palace intrigues, every frame contains some sort of eye candy that I WANT.
Fabulous jewels, ginormous turbans, silk chiffon veils and sequins galore:
Even Rajendra’s unfortunate Garanimals-inspired outfit here would come in handy on Halloween:
as would these delightful horse-costume thingies, which I ADORE:
And who couldn’t use a huge comfy hammock made entirely out of flowers? (I also want the elephant, although I don’t know where I would put it.)
Where is the warehouse where these things are stored, where?! And the dacoit (Ranjeet—are you listening?) to loot it for me?
See Suraj. Just see it. Look up the songs online. That is all.