Mrs. Beige has been staying with me for a few days and bless her, she always enjoys watching a Hindi movie. (Well, not always.) We watched Seeta Aur Geeta the other night and at the end she pronounced it “Shakespearean” which I realized was bilkul correct. That made me think of this film, a marvellous adaptation by Gulzar of the Bard’s “Comedy of Errors” which I’ve owned for a long time but never watched all the way through. It, too, features twins who are mistaken for each other (in this case two sets of them) with hilarious consequences. The performances are deftly handled, and the script witty and well-paced (I could have done without most of the songs though).
Raj Tilak (Utpal Dutt) and his wife (Shammi) are the parents of identical twin sons whom Raj Tilak has named Ashok. His thinking seems to run along the lines of “Since we can’t tell them apart anyway, let’s just call them by the same name to make everything easier” although it occurs to me that dressing the twins differently might help with that. Khair.
The Tilaks are on their way to a holiday aboard a ship (NOOOOO!) and stop for a rest. They are told that another set of identical twin boys has been abandoned at a nearby temple, and decide to adopt them and bring them up as servants for their own sons. Tilak names these two Bahadur.
Naturally there is a storm at sea and the ship breaks apart, separating Tilak and his wife, who each end up with one Ashok and one Bahadur. (For clarity’s sake I am going to call the twins A1 and A2, and B1 and B2.) Years pass, and Ashok 1 and Bahadur 1 (Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma) are brought up in the city of Dinakpur by Gangaprasad, whose munshi took in the boys after Raj Tilak died. Gangaprasad has two daughters named Sudha (Moushumi Chatterjee) and Tanu (Deepti Naval). A1 has married Sudha, and B1 a maidservant by the name of Prema (Aruna Irani). B1 and Prema keep house for Ashok 1, Sudha and the unmarried Tanu.
Sudha and A1 quarrel a fair amount, mostly because Sudha is a fairly suspicious woman (I am never quite clear on whether her suspicions are correct) who thinks A1 is having an affair with a woman named Alka.
Now we meet Ashok 2 and his servant Bahadur 2, who are traveling to Dinakpur with 1 lakh rupees for an agricultural business transaction. They have grown up with Mrs. Raj Tilak, who survived the wreck with them and is still alive. A2 has a vivid and overactive imagination, fuelled by his love for pulp fiction. B2 is as stoic and loyal as his twin, with an additional fondness for bhang (subtitled “dope”).
A2’s natural paranoia is made even worse by the large amount of money he is carrying. When they disembark at Dinakpur and are instantly “recognized” by first the station master and then the local taxi driver (Ram Mohan), he decides that they must be part of a gang after his 1 lakh.
Sudha has asked A1 to buy her a pretty diamond necklace. A1 has dutifully ordered one for her from jeweller Chedilal (CS Dubey), but his goldsmith Mansoor (Yunus Parvez) is taking his sweet time making it. Sudha is getting impatient and accuses him of giving it to Alka instead. Sweet Tanu plays peacemaker.
Across town at the Imperial Hotel, A2 locks up his money in the cupboard with strict instructions for B2 to stay in the room to guard it (he’s only allowed to open the door when A2 returns and sings “Preetam aan milo” from Mr. & Mrs. 55—a strange choice, but hilarious) and sets off to conduct his business transaction.
The beleaguered A1 stops at the jeweller’s to inquire once more about the necklace. Chedilal tells him that the diamond merchant who supplied the stones for it wants his money; A1 says he’ll pay when he gets the necklace, and is assured that it will be ready that evening.
A2 meets with the owner of an estate outside of town and takes the local bus back in after the meeting. He gets off the bus at the town market, where B1 is doing the grocery shopping for Prema. B1 sees him and goes over to talk to him, surprised when A2 lights up a cigarette (A1 is a snuff man and doesn’t smoke). A2 is equally astonished to see Bahadur, who is supposed to be at the hotel watching over his money. They talk at cross-purposes for a while, then go their separate ways: a furious A2 to see if his 1 lakh is safe and B1 home to tell Prema that A1 has apparently gone insane and is smoking and denying that he is married.
Prema convinces Bahadur to tell Sudha what happened; predictably enough, Sudha is distraught and convinced that her marriage is ruined. Tanu tries to calm her and orders a reluctant B1 to go and find Ashok; she has a concert that evening and doesn’t want it ruined by the household’s domestic issues. She tells him to start at Alka’s since he hasn’t showed up for lunch and has probably gone there to eat.
But since A1 is still in his office sulking about his morning fight with Sudha, Alka (Padma Chavan) hasn’t seen him. Bahadur tells her about Ashok’s behavior in the market and she is shocked; I find it a little sad that it’s the smoking which surprises her, not the slapping. He also tells her about the fight between A1 and Sudha, so Alka suggests he check next at the jeweller’s.
At Chedilal’s, the diamond merchant Ganeshilal (TP Jain) is pestering the jeweller for his money. Chedilal tells him to come the next morning to collect it, since A1 will be picking up the necklace that evening and paying for it. When B1 arrives he tells Chedilal, too, about the incident at the market—with a little embellishment.
Chedilal tells B1 to check A1’s office since he’s not expecting to see Ashok until 9 pm that evening for the necklace.
Evening comes, and with it Tanu’s concert (as befits her demure, bespectacled persona, it is Carnatic-inspired music—sadly, no cabaret). She is surprised to see Ashok and Bahadur arrive, not realizing that they are A2 and B2. She almost drops her microphone when A2 lights up a cigarette.
After the concert she sends someone to take them backstage, but A2 refuses, sending a tip instead. She tracks him down, angry, and their argument escalates as they each become more and more confused about what the other is talking about. The local chief of police, Inspector Sinha (Colonel Raj K Kapoor) intervenes and forces A2 to accompany Sudha home in his jeep, with a confused B2 following in the taxi. Sudha is relieved to see her husband, but he is horrified when she takes him up to “their” bedroom.
The taxi driver drops B2 off at A1’s house as well. Bewildered, he decides to try out A2’s “code song”—and is even more confused when Prema ushers him in happily, and puts him to work grinding paste for the evening’s pakoras (subbed as “fries”).
Upstairs, A2 is trying to fend off Sudha, who is trying unsuccessfully to ply him with alcohol (A1 likes his drink) and who shocks him with several pieces of news.
He is further dumbfounded when B2 appears with a plate of pakoras. B2 ignores A2’s frantic questions about his impending fatherhood, and informs A2 in a whisper that he has put bhang in the pakoras so he should not eat them, but feed them to Sudha and Tanu.
Meanwhile A1 and B1 are waiting at the jeweller’s for the necklace to be finished.
A2 is no match for A1’s determined wife and finally takes a drink…and then another…and then another. When Sudha passes out from the effects of the pakoras, A2 makes his way drunkenly to Tanu’s room and offers her the rest of them. She pops one in his mouth and the two of them (by now A2 has had way too much alcohol anyway) finish them off, despite Tanu’s insistence that they taste funny. I am struck by A2’s philosophical response. Words to live by, people.
Downstairs B2 has fed Prema into a drugged sleep, and he goes upstairs to look for A2. Unable to find him, he wanders back downstairs and decides to join the others in bhang-land. He’s halfway there when A1 and B1 return home, having given up on getting the necklace that night. Chedilal has assured A1 that he will deliver the necklace to him first thing in the morning at home. But the house is locked up, and when B2 hears them knocking he figures it’s “the gang” responsible for all the crazy behavior of the town inhabitants (he and A2 still think a gang is after their 1 lakh rupees). To scare them off, he barks like a dog, thus confusing A1 and B1 and incidentally sending my own Gilda into a frenzy. Eventually they give up and decide to go and sleep at Alka’s house.
Early the next morning A2 and B2 wake up, and after B2 manages to retrieve the house keys from unconscious Prema’s bosom they make their escape. Convinced that the whole town is crazy and/or after their money, they decide to leave—but before he can get back to the hotel, A2 is confronted by Mansoor the goldsmith, who insists on delivering the necklace to him as promised.
Waking up at Alka’s, A1 sends B1 home for fresh clothes and curses his stubborn (as he sees it) wife as he gets ready to go to Chedilal’s for the necklace.
What will happen when he finds out “he” already has it? What will A2 do with it? Will he take it with him as he and B2 leave town? What will Sudha do when she discovers where her husband spent the previous night? Will they all end up in a nut house together? Or in divorce court?
If you haven’t seen this film, do. In roles which could have been painfully overdone, Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma are perfectly and hilariously understated as the frustrated Ashoks and hapless Bahadurs. The rest of the cast is wonderful too: Moushumi Chatterjee’s brittle Sudha has a charm which makes you root for her, and Deepti Naval is perfect as the bookish but sweetly solicitous younger sister. The screenplay is well done, with the mixups and ensuing confusions plausibly handled, and containing moments of wonderful and humorous insight into human foibles—just as Shakespeare intended.