After the hideous Dulhan, you might think that I would run screaming towards the present for solace rather than further back into the past. But this film was too tempting, with its catchy and familiar songs (“Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon” being justifiably the best known), its array of character and comic actors, and the extremely handsome and personable Shyam beckoning. Also, I just really never learn. And I was mostly nicely entertained by what began as a sort of Marx Brothers-type film with lots of sight gags and silly situations, and evolved into an intriguing story with an interesting romantic tangle—all punctuated by the joie de vivre of truly fantastic musical numbers (C Ramchandra). The only flaw is that the dvd didn’t stop working before the end. I could have really lived without the last twenty minutes or so.
Our story begins in a small village, celebrating with one of its denizens named Chaudhury when he is blessed with a son after having six daughters. (A very young Rajendra Kumar delivers the news!)
Cuckoo performs the wonderful “O Gore Gore Mukhde” which might be my favorite song from this, although the Rangoon song is right up there too. Well, and several others. So never mind about the favorite part. It’s an excellent song, though.
An astrologer happens along and reads the baby’s palm, predicting a lucky and prosperous future for little Raja:
who grows up to be Yakub—and a traffic constable (which makes me laugh out loud).
Happy-go-lucky Raja is distracted one day by a song and dance (“Duniya Ko Pyaare”) featuring a beautiful girl named Rani (Nigar Sultana) and her father, who sell some sort of “medicinal” tonic to the crowd which gathers. Raja is instantly smitten by Rani and forgets to return to his post, resulting in a car crash and his suspension from the force for a year.
Being the sole earner in his family, with six sisters and aging parents to support, Raja needs to find another job. He soon encounters Rani again, and they decide to team up and take to the stage (after encounters with a very young Ram Avtar and Raj Mehra—this film is chock-full of early appearances!).
As a side note—the voice track for the conversation where they agree to find stage work together has apparently been lost, because the dvd shows them talking with music overlaid instead of dialogue; it’s a better solution than just cutting the scene altogether, and kudos to fIENDS for that.
To that end, they seek out the proprietor (to say the least) of a local theater company, Natharam Gope (Gope).
Gope is a big blowhard with a crush on the company’s leading lady, Miss Jalwa (the beautiful Mohana). Miss Jalwa is not much of an actress, which makes for some very funny scenes. Gope doesn’t have much use for Raja and Rani, and they quickly improvise by crashing the stage as the curtain goes up. Luckily, Rani’s sweet voice and Raja’s antics are a big crowd-pleaser, and they are hired.
Raja is sure that Rani returns his feelings—although he has not expressed them to her—and promises his Ma and sisters that he’ll be bringing a bride home for them soon.
We are treated to some of the troupe’s performances, most notably the aforementioned “Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon”—a song which is just too fabulous to be missed. Gope completely cracks me up, and C Ramchandra and Shamshad Begum’s vocals are perfect for the picturization on Gope and Nigar Sultana too. And I have to give props to fIENDS again (I know! It’s killing me!!!) for subtitling the songs in this, the lyrics are just so witty too.
Raja and Rani assimilate well into Gope’s company, and Raja falls ever more deeply in love with her. Lots of fat jokes are made at Gope’s expense, and they are so very silly that I giggle helplessly.
But Rani is about to meet Shyam (Shyam), the wealthy son of a jagirdar father. Shyam sets out to charm Rani on a bet with his best friend (Randhir), and she gives him short shrift.
In his book “Stars from Another Sky” Saadat Hasan Manto devotes an entire chapter to his close friend Shyam in the wake of his tragically early death in 1951 during the filming of Shabistan (Shyam was killed after being thrown by a horse). Shyam personifies the type of “old Hollywood” star along the lines of Errol Flynn and John Barrymore, and was apparently very like that in real life too. Manto describes him as a fun-loving, open-hearted ladies’ man, who despite his adoration for his wife Taji (they had a turbulent but passionate relationship) had a bit of a roving eye. According to Manto too, Shyam and Nigar Sultana had a “thing” going for some time (several years before this was made) and remained on good terms—it shows in this as they share sparkling chemistry and an obvious comfort level with one another.
Anyway, Rani is disdainful of the flirtatious Shyam and gives him a tight slap into the bargain which he cheerily reminds her about later that evening from the front row of the audience.
The song being performed now is “Pyar Ke Jahan Ki Nirali” picturized on Rani and Miss Jalwa, and I am struck by how very pretty Mohana is too.
Now a bit more determined and serious, Shyam continues to pursue Rani with protestations of love—but she is wary, although also charmed.
Shyam decides to use a trick to entice her and goes home to get some money out of his wealthy father. His father though is fed up with Shyam’s irresponsible ways and refuses to give him any money. This is clearly an old argument, and we also discover that his father wants him to marry his ward Poornima (Purnima). I instantly despise Poornima, who is a whiny, clingy and miserable creature moping around after Shyam.
She lends Shyam the money he needs, not realizing that he’s planning to use it to attract another woman.
So now we have the lovely and vivacious Rani, who is beginning to have feelings for the happy-go-lucky but irresponsible Shyam—who is engaged to a girl who is irritating beyond belief; and sweet devoted Raja, who is hopelessly in love with Rani and has no idea that he has a rival.
Shyam takes the money from Poornima and sets himself up in one of his father’s houses which has been standing vacant for some time. He disguises himself as an older wealthy jagirdar along the lines of his own father, and hires Gope’s theater troupe to come and entertain on the occasion of his “son’s” birthday (buddy Randhir is posing as his son).
Meanwhile, the gardener rats out Shyam to his father, who confronts Poornima about the money she has given his wayward son and sets off to put a stop to the whole charade. And we are treated to another lively and fabulous tune, “Namaste Namaste.”
There are a lot of songs in this movie, so thank goodness they are so wonderful!
Afterwards, Shyam reveals his true identity to Rani, who has been regretting that she let him go earlier, and they declare their love for each other. Shyam is truly serious about his feelings now and for a few brief moments they are blissfully happy.
But Shyam’s father soon arrives, and he is furious at the events unfolding.
Plus Raja finally cottons on to the fact that Rani loves someone else, which breaks his heart. Both he and Shyam’s father refuse to believe that fickle Shyam has actually fallen in love with Rani.
Even Gope objects—he doesn’t want to lose his star performer! And whiny Poornima is not going to give up on her childhood love Shyam so easily either, and she sets out to lay the guilt on thick.
Shyam tries to let Poornima down gently:
but she’s a persistent little bugger.
Can our beautiful lovers overcome the obstacles of guilt, class differences, parental objections and attempted suicide? Will Shyam’s steadfast refusal to abandon his Rani in the face of all of this be rewarded?
*MAJOR SPOILER ALERT*
Right up until the end I had no idea which way this story would go—I was seriously biting my nails in suspense. Many lovely things combined to give me hope: Shyam’s loyalty to Rani, her father’s defense of her. (“Go Bapu!” I scribbled on my notepad.)
Raja himself is magnanimous though broken-hearted—once he realizes that Shyam is sincere, he is willing to accept that he has lost in the game of love. He understands that true love sometimes means letting go. That is sacrifice which actually matters!
In a nutshell, the dreadful Poornima guilts Rani into letting Shyam go and getting them married instead—Rani dresses Poornima in her bridal gown and tells Shyam that Poornima truly loves him. Well, obviously she does: she sings lots of sad songs in his hearing; refuses to listen to him when he tells her he doesn’t return her feelings and that he loves Rani; throws herself in front of Rani’s car when he leaves; and slaps Rani and calls her a witch when she takes Poornima in and has her treated with care. Massive, massive *eye-roll*. After sticking Shyam with Poornima, Rani goes to find Raja and they are united.
The major flaw in this ending is that Poornima is so very, very, very unlikable. Petulant, childish, ungenerous in spirit—how on earth is it okay that the lovely Shyam gets stuck with her?! I’m okay with Raja and Rani ending up together—Raja truly does understand the meaning of love and it’s not hard to believe that he will make Rani happy once she gets over Shyam. And if Poornima had been a much better and less one-dimensional character, more worthy of Shyam, it could have worked too.
But as it is: poor, poor Shyam! With this Poornima at his side, he can look forward to nothing but a life full of misery and manipulation. And seriously, he does not deserve that.
It makes whatever messages about love the film might have contained completely inarticulate, contradictory and pointless. Arggghhh.
*END SPOILERS (except for some in the comments!)*
Watch it for the songs, gorgeous Shyam (or Nigar and Mohana, depending on your point of view), and the antics of Gope and Yakub. Just turn it off half an hour before the actual ending and make up your own version. It’ll be a much better movie that way.
Okay. I’ll stop now.