I really wanted to like this movie—Faryal as a heroine! The Shash as her hero! Lalita Pawar! Pran!—but I was forced to ponder these things instead:
- Why is Faryal the heroine so much less likable than Faryal the vamp?
- Is it possible for Prithviraj Kapoor’s sons to pull off being “poor”? (no)
- How many wimpy roles did Shashi play in the Sixties anyway?
- Is it better to ignore psychological issues than to completely eff them up?
- Is there anything funnier than absolutely literal subtitles?
- Is Lalita Pawar Awesome No Matter What? (yes)
- Is Pran the Most Suave Villain Ever? (yes again)
- Have I really seen two movies in a row where Lots of Mehmood wasn’t Too Much?
*Sigh* So much goodness squandered on a story full of trite saccharine platitudes (if you are rich, be kind to the poor; they are people too!) which descends finally into that melodrama I so dread, where the females in the story are either blamed or worshipped and lose any bit of individuality and humanity they might have had.
Faryal plays Seema, the daughter of a woman who owns a large building (chawl) in Bombay. Everybody calls her “Ma” with good reason, because she looks the other way when rent is due and spends her own money to help out her tenants who need it. This doesn’t go down well with Seema, who chafes at the restrictions on her own spending this causes—Ma herself never has much to spare thanks to her generosity.
We meet Seema at a picnic with a gaggle of her sahelis, who are planning a charity event and tease Seema about her lack of funds. Her reaction pretty much establishes that I am not going to like her much, because she stomps off in a huff and continues to pout even when her friends apologize. She takes the train home alone and barefoot (dogs have run off with her shoes while she was feeling sorry for herself), and meets shoe salesman Rajan (Shashi Kapoor). He has been trying without any luck to find a place to live in Bombay.
Sparks are struck, at least in theory—I’m not feeling any chemistry between these two and sadly never do.
Ma is under pressure from a wealthy developer named Bihari (Pran) to sell the chawl, but continues to refuse even as Bihari offers more and more money. She knows that he will kick out the tenants who need a home most: disabled Murari (David), unemployed Manglu (?) and his family, and others.When Rajan shows up looking for the flat Seema promised, Ma is happy to have a tenant who can pay (she gives his advance rent to Manglu, whose child has a high fever) and shows him to his room. To his surprise, he has roommates:
the butler from Gumnaam rotiwala Chandu (Mehmood) and milkman Rammurthy (a very funny Kanhaiyalal).
Chandu and Rammurthy tease Rajan about his angrezi habits (like brushing his teeth twice a day and telling them to “shut up!”), but after a few days they are all three fast friends. Chandu and Rammurthy work hard, but are as thoughtful and generous as Ma and Rajan respects them for it.
Seema, though, continues to pity herself. She apparently fails to see the difference between wanting something and needing it, although I wonder how much sacrificing she has done over her life, forced to always share her mother’s love and generosity with the less fortunate. What a great subject that conflict could be for a plot thread; but there is never any whisper that Seema’s grudges might be somewhat legitimate (wanting to be a priority for once), and not rooted in what they are presented as (greed).
Rajan becomes acquainted with all the denizens of the chawl, and pitches in as well to help them out—like telling Murari and his daughter Radha (Madhavi), who exist on alms, that he himself has no family and wants to eat “at home” with them.
Sweet, na? Like a sugary blunt instrument to the head I might also add, were I an uncharitable person myself.
Seema continues her petulant whining, and I have no clue why Rajan continues to romance her or why her mother doesn’t lose all patience with her. I should add at this point that Seema is in a different sari in every scene, fully accessorized with what seems to be plenty of jewelry and so my minor spark of sympathy for her has been extinguished, taking with it any hope of me actually wanting things to turn out well for her and my ability to root for her relationship with Rajan.
It is also fast killing any interest in the film, only kept alive now by Shashi Cuteness and Ma and all her tenants (biradari!). I perk up though when Bihari, frustrated by Ma’s continued refusal to sell, decides to go and live there himself. His nefarious plan is to befriend Seema (his man Hiralal has informed him that she is the weak link) and finagle a deal out of her. I can see that it’s going to be relatively easy for the wily Bihari to manipulate weak and silly Seema.
She rents the room to him and he brings a boatload of furnishings and other stuff along with laborers to carry it all and moves in, accompanied by the sarcastic commentary of Rammurthy and Chandu. When Ma sees all his belongings, she is upset that Seema has given him the room but it’s too late. She takes the 200 rupees Bihari gave Seema as an advance and lends it to tongawala Biku (Nana Palsikar) for a new horse (his last one having fallen victim to a reckless rich man and his car).
Bihari throws a house-warming party to which he invites only Seema (and through her, Rajan) and Ma (she declines). This rudeness doesn’t sit well with Chandu and Rammurthy, and they talk Rajan into having their own party on the same rooftop where Bihari’s is now in full swing.
Guess who else is invited to Bihari’s bash? Edwina and her friends, that’s who. They are the best dancers and musicians in town, after all, and doubtless the most fun too.
Bihari is very angry, especially when the shawl’s inhabitants hijack his party with a rousing song, “Tum Jo Ho So Lekin Khunda To Nahin” (most of Chitragupta’s songs in this seem fairly run-of-the-mill to me, but this one is fun, along with a Holi number starring Madhumati). Seema is embarrassed and apologizes to Bihari; he sets out in earnest to charm her and win her trust.
Will Seema—who has never evinced any sort of compassion at all—choose Bihari and luxury over Rajan and poverty? (Why he would care is still beyond me.) Will Ma and her tenants find themselves out on the street or is Ma’s will stronger than her daughter’s?
The biggest problem for me with this movie is the disconnect between the Seema whom Rajan sees and loves, and the Seema I see. She is one-dimensional, and how much better this film would have been if she had had some shades of gray and we had been allowed to see her as a real person and not a villainess—just as Ma’s character would have been more interesting as less of a saint and more of a mother who failed her daughter in some ways. I had high hopes for Faryal, but Seema wasn’t well written and she had a lot more confidence as a vamp in later years. There was genuine wit on occasion, mostly thanks to Mehmood and Kanhaiyalal, and the message at the film’s heart isn’t one I would ever quibble with. Lalita is her best “Mrs. D’Souza” here and that’s never a bad thing. Plus Helen has a song, which leads me to the last question I have:
- IS THIS A THING?
By which I mean I have seen these little dancing people inside this liquor bottle so many times. Is it something that was produced by a liquor company? Was it a widely available design in India? Or was it a one-off created by some enterprising and imaginative prop person, repurposed whenever it was found lying around in some godown?
I NEED TO KNOW. Because if I am going to scour Chor Bazaar for it (and I am), I want to know what my odds of finding it are.