The best thing about this movie is that stars Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari don’t stab their own eyes out or cry through the whole thing (in fact they don’t cry at all!). It is a real treat to see them laughing and carefree even in a very silly story. Unfortunately much more screen time and emphasis is given to what amounts to the Comic Main Plot, in which a new-to-the-area police inspector (Raj Mehra) tries vainly to get the incredibly dumb head constable Motilal (Om Prakash) to help him solve the many serious (robbery and murder) crimes which have taken place in his locality. These crimes are blamed on two supposed dacoits, Chander and Azaad, whose identities remain mysterious to the police; they are not even sure that Chander and Azaad aren’t the same man.
Motilal’s main schtick is that he has two wives and nine children and is lazy, incompetent and stupid. His relationship with his new Inspector seems to take up about two-thirds of the movie, leaving no room for development of the romance between hero and heroine or a plot that makes any sense. I like Om Prakash and Raj Mehra and all, but it seems like a huge waste of two of the biggest stars of the time!
Shobha (Meena) lives with her adoptive parents Charandas (Bipin Gupta) and Shanta (Achala Sachdev, looking way too young to be Meena’s mother!), who took her in as a child when her widowed father died. Their own son Kumar went missing afterwards, a fact which still of course pains them deeply.
They love Shobha dearly and to their great credit do not want her to marry a wealthy local man who has offered for her, Sunder (Pran). Sunder is—as they suspect—a very bad man and the instigator behind the activities of dacoit Chander (S Nazir), whose spit-curl sideburns and mouche I find adorable.
A small thing like approval from the parents and the bride is not going to stop a man like Sunder from getting married, and he sends Chander off to kidnap Shobha.
In the meantime, Motilal has introduced his new boss to another wealthy but also respected denizen named Khan Sahab (Dilip Kumar). Dilip apparently won a Best Actor award for this movie, which I can only attribute to the numerous disguises that he dons in it since he really doesn’t have that much else to do.
That night, Chander’s men abduct Shobha. As they carry her through the forest they are set upon by another band of outlaws whose purpose is to rescue Shobha. She is assured by their elderly leader (Dilip again) that he will return her home to her parents as soon as it is safe to do so.
He invites her to stay for a few days at his house across the hills and they trek for what seems like hours through forest and vale, interrupted once by stock footage of a leopard and a boar fighting, which only distresses me and doesn’t serve any purpose at all to the plot. I assume that the producer spent a lot of money on such footage (there is more of it later with a tiger fighting a bear) and was determined to use it no matter what.
Anyway, after a very convoluted trip involving an Aladdin’s cave type of stone entrance and a gondola ride propelled by wrestlers, Shobha and her guide arrive at a palace of sorts, where she is introduced to the old man’s aunt Paro and her daughters.
Chanda (Sai) and Gopi (Subbalaxmi) are responsible for two extremely fun dances (the music in this is by C Ramchandra) with a southern flavor (I think this is a remake of a South Indian film). Shobha is surprised when a handsome young man (yup, Dilip) appears and turns out to be the “elderly” man who rescued her.
She is appalled to realize that he is the infamous Azaad, although he reassures her that he and his men only steal from criminals like Chander. And it’s not long (because we have to fit in endless repetitive footage of Raj Mehra telling Om Prakash to shut up, from which I am sparing you) before the two are in love and singing up a storm. Shobha is finally convinced of Azaad’s goodness when he does escort her home, thwarting another kidnapping attempt by Chander and Sunder in the process.
But Azaad is still considered a criminal by everyone else, including Charandas and Shanta. Sunder is not a man to give up so easily either (and Pran’s ability to blow smoke rings is always entertaining).
With the police in this town as inept as they are, does Azaad have any chance of proving his innocence? Who is Khan Sahab? Can Shobha convince her disapproving parents to let her marry a suspected dacoit? Will they ever find their son Kumar?
As much as I love to see Dilip not tormenting himself, and beautiful Meena with this lightness of spirit, I can’t say I really loved this movie. It is certainly watchable, but expectations should be set for a largely unamusing police “comedy” rather than the swashbuckling romance I hoped for; I used the fast-forward button a lot. The songs are pretty but I wouldn’t have minded fewer of them too (may I say though that I am always happy to see a qawwali with Balam!).
Between the time spent running around trees and on quarrelsome policewallahs there is little left over for meaningful character or plot development and it’s a pity.