With subtitles, this film might have annoyed me, but without them it is a sublimely entertaining experience from Wadia Movietone. Undistracted by the dumb plot and self-pitying dialogues, I reveled in:
- the hirsute insanity of Nasir Hussain (he is UNABOMBER insane in this film!)
- the drink-fuelled angsty despair of artist Sajjan
- Helen’s fashions and scheming eyebrows
- Feroz Khan pretending he is Shammi! (and he is so FINE, he almost succeeds)
- Chitalkar Ramchandra’s fantastic songs
- the plump chipmunk cheeks and flowing Kashmiri outfits (and eyeliner) of Kalpana
- and the lovely scenic gardens and mountains of Kashmir itself
I must say at this point that my viewing of this film at all was facilitated by my dear friend and collector extraordinaire of the obscure in Hindi cinema, Shalini; and motivated by Mister Naidu’s discovery in it of another Ted Lyons & His Cubs song. You’ll have to dance to this one, you will!
But let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? I am instantly enchanted. Artist Ishrat (Sajjan) moons around behind some bushes looking at (and painting, without her permission—a little creepy, actually) a pretty girl (whose face we don’t see) in a mountain temple. She leaves and he is caught red-handed by her very angry father (Nasir Hussain), sporting bushy hair and fierce whiskers, jodhpurs and a BIG rifle. Ishrat’s pleas to be introduced to the unseen girl (her name is Peelu) go unrewarded: Babaji throws Ishrat off the property after shouting imprecations which include the word “pardesi” (so I assume he dislikes foreigners).
Cut now to Calcutta, and we meet Ishrat again, hired to paint a picture of someone’s backyard swimming pool. One of the people swimming in the pool jumps out at Ishrat and gives him a big wet embrace.
He is the carefree and wealthy Shyam (Feroz Khan) and we understand that these two are bosom buddies. Shyam introduces Ishrat to his girlfriend, the lovely Alka (Helen) (“She is a peach!”) and it’s clear they have met—and disliked—each other before. Ishrat tells the oblivious Shyam that he painted her portrait once, and Alka quickly pulls Shyam away back into the pool.
Later that evening, Shyam drops Alka off at home. Inside, Ishrat is waiting for her and they exchange words (I think he basically tells her to leave Shyam alone, knowing that she is only after his money). When Shyam comes back to return the handbag Alka had left in his car, Ishrat sees him coming and seizes his opportunity. Pulling Alka into his arms, he professes his love for her in front of an eavesdropping and shocked Shyam, who tiptoes away looking very like a wounded little puppy.
He seems to bounce back okay, because the next day he shows up at Ishrat’s place to tell him he is leaving the field clear for his friend. Ishrat is not there, but the servant shows him in and he spies a painting hanging on Ishrat’s wall—and instantly falls in love.
I think it’s the Worst Painting I have ever seen but Shyam gives the servant 100 rupees and takes off with it. It apparently doesn’t occur to him that maybe Ishrat doesn’t want to sell it! and indeed, Ishrat is pretty upset when he returns and finds it gone. He perks up a bit when Alka turns up and tells him that Shyam has left her a note and gone off back home.
Alka is not pleased to have lost her rich boyfriend and pouts.
Shyam, meanwhile, has reached home. Home is a large mansion which he shares with his uncle (Raj Mehra), in whose business he also on rare occasions works. I should say a word about the CSP here too (and it will be the last time I mention it): it has no bearing at all on the rest of the plot that I could see, and is a sad waste of Rajendranath and the prodigious talents of Lalita Pawar (who is slim and even pretty here, but who does nothing but shriek like a banshee and beat people with umbrellas the entire time she is onscreen). HORRIBLE!
Shyam’s uncle wants him to get married and settle down, so Shyam sets off for Kashmir to find the bride whose portrait he so cherishes—and whom it doesn’t resemble in the least—Peelu (Kalpana). Naturally he finds her almost immediately when he hears her singing with a gaggle of her friends at that same temple we had last visited with the moping Ishrat. He follows her home, where she sets her dog Tiger (billed as Dog Rover! so refreshing!) on him, as girls do to men they are attracted to. Shyam is rescued from Tiger by the appearance of her Babaji—but it may be a case of frying pan-fire.
Shyam being Feroz (and therefore endowed with generous amounts of charisma), it’s not long before he has charmed his way into Peelu’s heart and volatile Babaji’s good graces.
Feroz spends a great deal of time in this movie (especially in but not limited to the songs) channeling Shammi, and fairly successfully too. He’s the best Shammi Pretender out there, and there is a lot of competition. Shammi himself told me that he and Feroz were great friends and often laughed about Feroz being forced to imitate him in his early career.
Anyway, Shyam and Peelu are soon married with the full approval of the elders on both sides. I must say that like many heroines before her and after, marriage does Peelu no favors. As a single girl, she is feisty enough to take on even her batshit crazy father when he gets out his rifle (which is a lot):
and beautifully dressed in silky kurtas and salwars and piles of silver jewelry, although she is so heavily made up it always looks like her face is melting.
After she becomes Mrs. Shyam, she is stuck in a bunch of boring sarees and spends a great deal of time being a weepy doormat, which in combination with all the makeup…makes her look like her face is melting.
Khair. Much of her weeping and most of my continuing joy in the film stems from the re-entry of gold-digging Alka, who is surprised to find Shyam married but not in any way deterred from her goal of making him hers. Helen has three dance numbers, the cute “Samjhoge Tum Kya Bhala” and “Mere Sulagte Hue,” and the truly fabulous “Nazar Badli Zamane Ki” with Feroz. She is gorgeous too, and so very stylish, plus her face isn’t melting.
Adding to the general melodrama of the plot is the arrival of Ishrat, who is sozzled all the time like a true artist and horrified to discover that his beloved (whom he has never actually met, remember) belongs now to his bestest friend!
(There are lots of “Oh! The Humanity!!” moments for our Ishrat.)
Alka rather easily convinces Shyam that Ishrat and Peelu have had a prior relationship and (I think) compounds it by making him feel guilty for abandoning her own pure good self. Shyam behaves like a total ass: he doesn’t ask Peelu about it (although Peelu has said earlier with complete truthfulness that she never met Ishrat despite him having painted her) and whiles away his time with Alka while Peelu mopes.
Will Ishrat take advantage of his friend’s crass stupidity and whisk away his beloved?
(Remember this? So…no. Male friendship always wins over the feelings of the girl!)
*SPOILERS (including the ending) AHEAD*
True friend that he is, Ishrat sacrifices his own feelings for Peelu (which nobody but him even knows about anyway) and tackles Alka and her conniving evil ways, ending with her hissing “I hate you! I hate you!” at him most satisfyingly. His painting of Alka, by the way, is much better than his portrait of Peelu. I am sure I could come up with some sort of generalization about how it proves that art and the heart are best left separate or something but I won’t.
Peelu has meanwhile run back crying to her lunatic father:
thus putting Shyam solidly back on Babaji’s wrong side. This causes him—when Shyam comes to get his wife back—to fire off his shotgun at a mountaintop loaded with snow, causing a ginormous avalanche that appears to surprise him (what, Mountain Man? you didn’t know that would happen?!). This gives the Wadias ample opportunity to play that frantic piano music so familiar from earlier stunt films (Holly and Bolly) as they all scramble to save themselves and each other from certain death between spectacular footage of an actual avalanche and less convincing giant “boulders” which bounce around like styrofoam.
And lo, Ishrat materializes there too, triumphant from his victory over Alka. He saves Peelu and is mortally wounded in the process, but makes everything okay for everyone before he dies. Nice guy finishes last, boy gets girl he treated badly, girl gets idiot boy she wants and lunatic man survives to ply his shotgun another day: all is as it should be with the universe.
I loved it, really. If that makes me as crazy as old Babaji, then so be it.