Anybody who comes here regularly will not be surprised that I could not resist a film called Big Pigeon. And I’m so glad I didn’t—it is oodles of fun, with a talented ensemble cast, nice RD Burman songs, and lots of laughs. And *wow* I love Rehana Sultan. What a shame she got pigeon-holed (yes pun intended, my bad) and her career fizzled. Deven Verma wrote, produced, directed and starred in this comic crime caper; the internet appears to believe that Amitabh Bachchan and Helen star in it, but Helen has just one cabaret dance and Amitabh is nowhere to be seen (nor is he credited, as imdb claims). It’s possible that he had an uncredited guest appearance but if so, it’s gone.
I didn’t miss him: Ashok Kumar, Leela Mishra, Rehana Sultan, Deven Verma, Pinchoo Kapoor and a little butterball toddler billed as “Golu (A Wonder Child)” kept me enthralled and in stitches.
Mama Rampuri (Ashok Kumar) comes from a long line of criminals, and is proud to call robbery his profession and himself the brains behind his gang. The trouble is that his plans never work out very well, and his nephew Bhola (Deven Verma) always ends up paying the price. Hapless Bhola gets no sympathy from either his Mamaji or his Ma (Leela Mishra) when he is released from his latest stint in jail and wants nothing to do with his uncle’s new plot.
How completely marvellous to have a son trying to take the straight path (he says he will sell bananas or baniyans) only to have his mother react with complete scorn! She points out with some logic that if there were no criminals the police and jailors would lose their livelihoods and professes humiliation at the thought of her beta making an honest but poor living.
So reluctant is Bhola to listen to Mamaji that Ma finally fakes a heart attack and lands up in the hospital “needing” expensive surgery. Mehmood makes a brief but funny appearance as a mechanic who poses as a doctor at Mamaji’s request, but who cannot stick to Mamaji’s script when Bhola insists on hearing details of his mother’s “illness”.
Hearing that her operation will cost 25,000 rupees, Bhola agrees to participate and even to fund the startup costs for his uncle’s new scheme. Mamaji is convinced that it cannot fail and to that end he plans to recruit some other gang members besides regulars Bhola, alcoholic blabbermouth Abdul (Keshto Mukherjee), and simpleminded Subbu (Subrato). These recruits are pole-vaulter Navin (I assume the Nikhilesh being “introduced” in this movie) and cabaret dancer Rita (Rehana Sultan); they sign on despite Mamaji’s somewhat stingy advance payment.
Their initial meeting with Mamaji supplies very few details of the plan except that Navin and Rita are to pose as husband and wife until it’s all over. Then he makes the gang take an oath which makes me giggle:
especially when it’s over and Mamaji unwraps the holy book to some consternation from his employees, pointing out that the names of people from all different faiths are printed in it:
There is still one element of his plan missing, and Mamaji goes to see Panna Tambuli (Sunder), the local paanwala. Panna informs Mamaji that an old enemy of his named Gaffur (Madan Puri) has just been released from jail and is looking to take revenge on Mamaji for putting him there in the first place. Panna has also located Mamaji’s last requirement: a baby. Someone by the name of Tiger Sando is willing to rent his son to the gang for the sum of 100 rupees a week. Mr. Sando is a lot more unprepossessing than his name implies.
The deal is done and the baby (Golu A Wonder Child) is handed over to Rita, much to her displeasure. Mamaji takes them to an apartment in a housing colony and instructs Rita and Navin to mix with the neighbors posing as a married couple and their son, visiting on holiday from Assam. He emphasizes that nobody must realize the truth or his master plan will fail, and an uneasy Rita is left with Golu and Navin.
We soon find out what exactly Mamaji’s plan is, although he hasn’t worked out the details quite yet.
Millionaire businessman Dharamdas (Pinchoo Kapoor) has a small only son whom he dotes on. Dharamdas’ respectability is only a veneer, however; he is really an underworld don with one of my favorite Villain Mantras of all time.
The subtitles for this are very bad English indeed, but I love how colorful they are. He holds a press conference at which he announces the care and security arrangements he has made for his baby boy: a round-the-clock nurse from London named Marlin (Ashoo); eight bodyguards including his most trusted lieutenant Bhuta Singh (Paul Sharma); and “four English hunting dogs” which later turn out to be eight Doberman Pinschers.
Mamaji’s plan is to bypass this formidable array of protection and exchange Golu for little Baba, thus earning a handsome ransom from wealthy Dharamdas. His gang is not so sure. Even drunken Abdul objects.
But Mamaji has a surprise weapon: Dharamdas’ trusted bodyguard Bhuta Singh is in cahoots with them!
While Bhuta and Mamaji work out details of their plan, Rita and Navin set out to meet the neighbors with almost disastrous results. Poor fat little Golu!
Golu spends a fair amount of time crying and it mostly looks pretty genuine. I worry about him. Rita struggles with her lack of maternal feelings and Navin is absolutely no help at all. But after she calms him down with a wonderful lullaby (“Chanda Mama Bole”) Rita is pretty smitten too. I love that she is allowed to be non-maternal and awkward with the baby, and that chubby little Golu is cute enough for her change of heart to be believable.
There are several other distractions, including Gaffur’s repeated (and bungled) attempts at revenge and a burgeoning love story between Rita and Navin, but eventually Bhuta Singh comes through. The nurse Marlin is in love with Dharamdas’ driver, and they often take Dharamdas’ son to a park where they can indulge in a little romance. Rita and Bhola effect the exchange of Golu for little Baba rather smoothly.
Any semblance of everything running according to plan ends here, though.
Rita misses “her” Golu and frets about his well-being, meaning she keeps calling Dharamdas (anonymously but still) for updates on Golu’s health. Tiger Sando becomes suspicious when he shows up unexpectedly and they refuse to bring his son out to see him. Abdul almost spills the beans about Bhuta Singh’s betrayal in a drunken rant, Gaffur continues to butt in and worst of all, Dharamdas refuses to cooperate. Apparently our gang has underestimated his love for his money and overestimated his affection for his little boy.
Can Mamaji and his “Big Pigeon Gang” get little Golu back safe and sound? What will Rita (or Tiger) do if they don’t? Will clever, ruthless Dharamdas eventually pay their ransom demands, or will his considerable resources enable him to track his son down on his own? Will this bunch of misfits actually pull something off for once, or is Bhola going to end up back in jail all by himself? And why is Mamaji’s red convertible called Bada Kabutar, anyway?
This film doesn’t seem to have made much of a splash and I have no idea why. The story is good fun (if peppered with holes and dragging a bit in places, mostly towards the end) and the performances and humor spot on. Only Nikhilesh was sort of bland and provided the only moment that grated on my nerves (he lectures Rita on her lack of womanly feeling and she “sees the light”); even Keshto’s drunken schtick was mostly funny. I laughed a whole lot through this one, and I can’t say that about many Hindi movies. The humor never descends into that frantic mugging which characterizes so much comedy, but remains understated and the dialogue—even with hamfisted translation—is very witty. I even rewound several scenes to watch again. The songs are good, the lullaby especially, and Helen and Rehana charm with a couple of cabaret numbers. If you want some hearty laughs and for your heartstrings to be gently tugged, this is one you should see.