This movie is a real treat despite its occasionally heavy-handed preaching (and at least it is preaching I can agree with!). First, it has lovely music by Ravi with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi (including one of my first favorite Hindi film songs, the Rafi classic “Yeh Wadiyan Yeh Fizayen”); second, it has a young and *very sparkly* Tanuja; and third, it is set against an historic backdrop —the annexation of individual princely states by the new Indian government. It’s a film typical of star Sunil Dutt in its idealism and progressive message, and if Nanda is a little weepy for my taste in it she is balanced out by Tanuja. Ashok Kumar is the Maharajah their father, a strict and conservative man who is determined to keep his kingdom and privileged lifestyle intact.
Somehow the internet got the idea that Raaj Kumar is in it too, but he is nowhere to be seen although someone named Rajkumar appears in the lesser credits.
Balbir Singh (Dadamoni) is the king of Himmatpur—for now. He rules even his highly regimented household with an iron fist, including his four children: the eldest Hemalata (Nanda), Ashalata (Tanuja), and sons Pratap (probably Rohit? can anyone confirm?) and Rajendra (Deven Verma).
They are required to address their father as “Your Highness” like everybody else. Behind his back Ashalata shows a simmering rebellion:
but Balbir Singh is a man so intimidating even his large handsome Alsatian is cowed by a glance.
I must say one thing here about the Shameroo dvd: this is the “subtitle” for about half of the film’s run time.
The subtitler must have been either deaf—perhaps unable to hear much of what was said, this was his solution—or maybe he simply didn’t speak any English or much Hindi.
In any case it was not only supremely unhelpful and pointless, it also drove me insane.
In case I haven’t said it lately, I hate Indian dvd companies. They are probably singled-handedly the reason why Hindi cinema will never be widely watched by westerners; their products are simply too much of a flog for people accustomed to little things like quality control.
Anyway, Hemalata is wheelchair-bound due to an illness nobody has been able to diagnose, and she is—to say the least—a melancholic sort of girl.
Ironically, her misery makes her the only person in the palace unafraid of her father (nothing to lose!), but she obeys him anyway because she loves him.
There is a rabble-rousing socialist type living in Himmatpur named Randhir (Sudesh Kumar), who holds loud demonstrations against the monarchy outside the palace. This naturally raises Balbir Singh’s ire, which I bet would be even greater if also he knew that the chhoti Rajkumari sneaks out to meet Randhir, whom she loves.
Balbir Singh hires a new doctor whose reputation is renowned to cure Hemalata, who is—you guessed it!—still depressed.
Dr. Sanjay (Sunil Dutt) is not quite what the Maharaja expected: he is young, handsome, and not very impressed by tradition or palace protocol although Balbir Singh’s major-domo Ranvir Singh (?) instructs him in it thoroughly. Does anybody know this actor’s name? He is so familiar. I think I should know it but I can’t come up with it however hard I try. Maybe he is the Rajkumar of the credits? Help me!
Rajkumari Hemalata greets Sanjay sullenly. She is sick and tired of people trying to cure her.
Guess what I am sick and tired of?
Sanjay is a new-fangled psychologist type who quickly figures out that Balbir Singh’s palace is NOT a happy place to live despite its beautiful furnishings and liveried servants. Asha, Pratap and Rajendra all feel very sorry for their badi bahen although of course they aren’t allowed to show her any compassion or love. They don’t have much faith in the new doctor either initially, until he tells them that he has gotten rid of her medicines and bland diet.
It doesn’t take Sanjay long to win over Hemalata herself either.
(I didn’t say it was immediate.)
Now Balbir Singh receives a fellow Maharajah who is in search of a suitable bride. Tanuja is so delightful in this film, so adept at comedy and with an Audrey Hepburn elfin charm…she is fabulous. I think Nanda had no trouble feigning amusement in this scene.
Ghanak Singh (Agha) is a royal buffoon, insensitive and weirdly fey with a put-upon Pekinese and servant (Dhumal). When he meets Hemalata and realizes that she isn’t able to walk, he tells the story of one of his racing mares—which he had put down when she injured a leg.
He manages to infuriate Balbir Singh, who struggles mightily to retain the courteous manners he prizes, much to the delight of mischievous Ashalata. We are also treated to a lively all-female qawwali, “Kehte Hai Jisko Ishq Tabiyat Ki Baat Hai.” It is awesome.
Tragedy strikes when Balbir Singh hosts a hunting party for his royal guest; Ghanak Singh panics and shoots a villager instead of the tiger they are stalking. Randhir comes to the palace seeking justice for the murdered man’s wife and child but is ordered out of the palace grounds by Balbir Singh. Randhir uses the opportunity to rile up his fellow townspeople and Balbir Singh orders his arrest.
Asha helps him escape that night from the clutches of the police.
The Maharajah is called away for a meeting with other individual monarchs in Delhi, and his children celebrate his departure with a hilarious song, “Raja Saheb Ghar Nahin.”
Hemalata no longer wants to die either, as Sanjay propels her around outside in the fresh air in her wheelchair and they slowly fall in love.
But we know the arrogant Balbir Singh well enough by now to know that he is not going to approve of a relationship between his eldest daughter and a lowly doctor, no matter how talented and handsome. Asha’s relationship with Randhir is completely out of the question, and none of his four children have shown any ability to defy him. In Delhi, Balbir Singh is adamant that the Indian government has no right to annex his kingdom in order to create a single government and state, and the stage is set for a showdown between those who believe all men are created equal and those who believe that some are more equal than others.
Will Sanjay cure Hema and get her to walk again? Will the royal children find an escape from their suffocating golden cage? Will Randhir be imprisoned for his socialist rabble-rousing beliefs? Can Balbir Singh change his ways?
And most important of all: will we ever discover the answer to this burning question?
Despite the horrible subtitles, I enjoyed this film very much. If one or two characters are a *wee bit* annoying and a touch one-note (and by that I mean two of my favorites elsewhere, Nanda and Dadamoni) they are more than compensated for by the other characters, by the interesting and historical story and by the absolutely charming songs. This is one of my favorite Tanuja performances ever, and that is saying something because I like her in everything.
Just see it. And if you can help me with the identifications I have requested in the post…
I would very much appreciate it.
Updated to add: Shalini has very kindly clued me in to the identity of the mysterious Rajkumar. He can be seen in a song from Sautela Bhai (1962), and here is a screenshot of him (in the middle). Thanks for clearing up one issue, Shalini!