Biradari (1966)

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┬áthan 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.

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38 Comments to “Biradari (1966)”

  1. I saw this movie months ago and still cannot be arsed to write it up despite its great cast. I think that kind of says it all, don’t you?

    I’m with you on the bottles! Want!

  2. All I can say is that Shashi looks so cute here! And if you ever find a bottle like that, can you get one for me too, please? I don’t remember hearing about this movie in those days at all, so I can only assume it sank without a trace. One of the songs, Abhi na phero nazar …, sounds soft and romantic, but I can’t remember hearing it in those days! Oh well, my memory must be playing tricks! Thanks for sitting through this and taking the pains to write about it, so I won’t be tempted to watch it, just to drool over Shashi!

  3. Pran seemed to be repititive in villain roles to me (inspite of the wigs).His best years were the 70′s.
    Pran’s roles were different in Big B’s films, like sher khan in zanjeer,the Goan character in majboor,etc.
    Is “don”(old) reviewed here? Or is it some ‘no entry’ for Amitabh’s films? btw. I am not his fan.

    • No, I haven’t reviewed Big B’s Don here, mostly because I saw it before I started the blog. I should really sit down with it again because I did love it. I do adore Pran as villain, even though I like him in the Seventies too. But he is just so deliciously charming and bad at the same time :)

  4. So many lame movies were made with wonderful material. Alas. I have seen that dancer in the bottle very often. Last spotted in Bobby. But alas, only in movies. Snow globes I have seen in real life, but not this.

  5. memsaab, if you spot some like that, buy them by the case! I want one too! I have wanted one ever since I saw it in Bobby when I was a little child. (And it breaks in Bobby too… sob!) Faryal is very pretty, and Shashi Kapoor looks delectable. And I liked Lalita Pawar and all the chawl dwellers. Apart from that, the story didn;t make me feel very empathetic toward Seema – mostly, I wanted to smack her.

    • It breaks in Bobby?! So has anyone ever seen one in a post-Bobby film? I think I have, although my memory is sadly not what it used to be…but if so, it means there was MORE THAN ONE (well, at least until the one in Bobby broke)…

  6. Till now, hadn’t heard much about this movie and your previous one “Naughty Boy”, that one was a total surprise to me. Anyway, I guess I enjoy your reviews more than I would enjoy those movies. I guess that is because of the utter lack of professionalism in the industry. Most guys came into it for the moolah I guess and picked up the craft on the way.

    • I think it’s too simplistic to say that bad movies were made because of a lack of professionalism…there are many reasons why movies fail (this one: bad script, poor direction, some poor acting). And a lot of guys from this era did a lot with not much in the way of resources or control over their output. But, like Hollywood! bad movies are often made by professionals :D

  7. pls note that Faryal and Helen would not be the legends that they are today had they chosen to stick to heroine roles ; faryal could portray a modern image due to her experience as an air hostess with Air India before joining the film industry.
    I strongly recommend the following 5 movies

    1. Prem Parbat
    2. Dastak
    3. Shankar Hussain
    4. Intezar
    5. Sajjo Rani

    I am sure you will like them

  8. I saw this not too long ago but don’t remember a thing about it . Actually, this and two other Shashi movies from the 60s – Holiday in Bombay & Yeh Dil Kissko Doon – sort of run together in my head. I think Shashi wears the same clothes in all three.:-)

    RE: Faryal as the heroine, you have seen Zindagi aur Maut, yes? Not a great movie either (though better than this one) but she gets to sing an awesome song:

  9. For a moment I thought this was the older movie by the same name. I haven’t seen that one but it has a couple of famous songs (“bhula nahin dena” and “tasveer banaata hoon”). With Ajit, Geeta Bali and Pran, the cast looks promising too. Imdb has that listed as Bara-dari (just another pronunciation). “Biradari” means “community” as in “agar tumne aisa kiya to biradari mein hamari naak kat jaayegi” (If you do a thing like this, we will lose face in the community). Literally it means “our noses will be cut in society” – I guess that’s the way this subtitler would have subtitled it. Probably more fun that way too. ;-)

    Talking of subtitles, there’s one here that’s not quite right because of confusion between “saagar” (ocean) and “saaghur” (glass of wine).
    “saaghur ko choom choom ke” has been translated as “kiss the ocean” whereas it should be “kiss the glass of wine”. Very common mistake actually. Till a few years ago, I used to get confused with “koi saagar dil ko behlaata nahin – Dil Diya Dard Liya” which would translate in the wrong sense to “no ocean brings relief to the heart” but it is actually “koi saaghur dil ko behlaata nahin”, i.e “no glass of wine brings relief to the heart”. The “gh” in Urdu is a special sound – Urdu words like “ghum” (“u” as in hum -> sorrow), “ghum” (“u” as in “you” -> lost), “ghair” -> stranger.

    Ok, massive digression here. Sorry!!!

    Back to this movie. Sounds pretty run-of-the-mill. Although with Lalita Pawar, Pran, Shashi and a “Mehmood on a leash (no disrespect intended)”, it’s certainly not a bad cast. And I absolutely LOVE that short dance sequence. :-)

    Also, if I may say so, I think I prefer Faryal in something other than a sari. I think lots of women look gorgeous in a sari but there are probably some who don’t – and I cannot help thinking Faryal is one of them. But that’s just my opinion – would like to know what others here think. :-)

    You are right about Shashi and his wimpy rules in the 60s. I remember seeing quite a few of them – some co-starring Nanda come to mind. Cannot help thinking that just like Shammi had his “release” in Tumsa Nahin Dekha, maybe Shashi had his “release” in Jab Jab Phool Khile. Most of his wimpy roles were before then, I think.

    Thanks for this review, Greta. As usual, thoroughly enjoyed reading it. :-)

    • I said “glass of wine” but I guess the word I’m looking for is “goblet”. So a more accurate translation would be “kiss the goblet”.

      • Or, in this case “beautiful bottle with music-box dancers floating inside” :) Thanks for the explanation of the different pronunciations too! Faryal is too angular for a sari, I think. She suits western clothes more. She is very SHARP—she has a wonderful dancer’s figure, but it’s better enhanced in the stylish capri pants and dresses she usually wears.

        And also, the “other” Bara-dari I covered early on here: http://memsaabstory.wordpress.com/2007/07/09/bara-dari-1955/

        :)

        • @Memsaab – This discussion about wines and goblets along with movie, makes for a heady mix :) And I do agree that while the saree does not look too bad on Faryal, western clothes suit her better.
          @Raja – The digression into the use of gh in Urdu was welcome. I’d been trying to figure out ‘koi saaghur..’ for ages till a colleague pointed out this difference.

  10. The first time I saw this film, I missed the cast and had no idea who the heroine was. She reminded me of Naina Sahu, so I thought that’s who she was (don’t ask me why I was never aware of Faryal and still do not remember seeing her anywhere else – and I do watch 60s and 70s movies!). This one is sweet, but has nothing to get you interested (except for Shashi’s cuteness), and so lands up being easily forgotten…

    And by the way, “baradari” is not just another pronunciation for “biradari”. The former refers to a pavilion/room with twelve doors (bara=12, dar=door).

    • She does look a bit like Naina Sahu, sort of cat-like. And thanks for the Hindi lesson too!!! :)

      • Exactly Greta ji, I always think Faryal flutters her eye lashes like a CAT
        (especially in Dharmatma,JewelThief,Sachcha jhutaa,Manoranjan,Rafoo Chakkar etc)
        I feel like You have read my thoughts exactly and expressed it on my behalf.

  11. The story has a sound core. Moneyed builders elbowing in is a grim reality. But as with most Hindi films, the director shies away from portraying grey shades in a character (considering the story set up, I am sure the writer is not the culprit; he must have been forced to ramp up the sweetness to diabetic levels). Also Shashi’s request to eat ‘home food’ is quite sound; eating simple fare at home is better than having lunch hawked on streets or cheap restaurants (the only alternative, considering his social strata). Their hygiene is often terrible. Of course, local residents build up resistance to stomach upsets, but it definitely takes a toll on them as well over time.

  12. The only thing I cans ay is:
    Shashi looks sooooooooooooo gooooooooooooooooooooooooooood!
    Thanks for the screen caps and the funny review!

  13. Ex Zimbo girl now a fully fledged desi – excellent blog. Thank you. To help fulfill your christmas wish, see what I found. Take the usual necessary precautions if making a purchase.
    http://panaji.olx.in/old-bottle-with-dancing-couple-inside-iid-189002193

  14. pran sahab looks too good.he’s my favorite.shashi kapoor also is looking cute.

  15. Tch tch. Surprising, and a bit sad as well, to see a memsaab writing/ saying “eff them up?”

    By the way, you write well.

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