This is maybe not the post I should choose to write in memory of Rajesh Khanna, but it happened to already be under construction and he was so charming in the film…so why not? One shouldn’t defy kismat.
I loved this lunatic movie. It cannot by any stretch be called either well-written or even wildly original, but it is solidly entertaining if you like this sort of thing (illogical melodrama) which I do. Infants are switched at birth for nefarious purposes and spirited away for good ones; one of the villains is a bitter hunchback; we have con artists conning each other, a mute illiterate downtrodden mother trying to communicate a terrible secret (and failing) for years and years and years, divine intervention at moments of sheer despair, and the Rainbow Splendor of Disco—a mishmash that makes this one hard to forget. Laxmikant Pyarelal’s music is good fun, and I love the cast, too: even the completely age-inappropriate Rajesh Khanna-Tina Munim pairing works, maybe because Tina’s character is so worldly-wise that she doesn’t seem young. Plus Rajesh seems to be enjoying himself thoroughly, as he should, and is very handsome indeed.
Om Shivpuri plays the evil and resentful Bihari, a hunchback whose dissolute father sold off all his ancestral property to the current Thakur Virendra Singh’s father to fund his gambling and drinking. Bihari is unable to reconcile his family’s lost wealth to his present circumstance as a servant in the household. When he and his wife Shanti (Indrani Mukherjee) have a baby boy on the same day as the Thakur’s wife (Purnima) he switches the babies at night so that his own son will grow up with his “rightful” inheritance (apparently all babies *do* look alike, because neither mother notices).
Unfortunately Virendra Singh catches him leaving the house, and Bihari kills him to keep him quiet.
As the two boys grow up, Bihari’s son Kumar becomes spoiled and arrogant as the widowed Thakurain and Bihari dote on him; little Kishan, the true heir, is brought up by a loving Shanti but mistreated by his “father” Bihari. One day when Kishan stops Kumar from hitting poor downtrodden Shanti, he is chastised by the Thakurain and Bihari.
Bihari decides to rid himself of this unwanted not-his-son and makes plans to send Kishan off to the city and an uncle who lives there. This distresses Shanti unutterably, and that evening while in his cups Bihari tells her that Kishan isn’t her son anyway so what does she care that he’s gone now? Oops. He sobers up at her reaction and strangles her into permanent silence—but not death, oh no, Indrani is never that lucky!! I have to say that the treatment meted out to this poor woman is dreadful throughout and I have analyzed it in all its gory symbolic glory.
Distressed that his mother is no longer talking to him, Kishan vows never to return and is packed off to Bombay where his “uncle” (Rajan Haksar in a godawful wig) is a Dickensian Fagin type making money off boys he has taught to pickpocket. Kishan reluctantly learns to steal proficiently and one day sees an old man (Nazir Hussain) blamed for a theft Kishan has committed. The old man is arrested, leaving his little girl Mary alone and sobbing (seriously? the police wouldn’t take her with them?).
Kishan comforts her and shares his food (it has to be “fifty-fifty” she says), but he loses track of her when he has to flee from the police.
The credits roll as he grows up to be Rajesh Khanna, a debonair jewel thief. We catch up with him at a fancy hotel, where he has his eye on the jewels belonging to a visiting dignitary. He steals her diamond necklace successfully, but encounters another thief in the form of a dancer in the hotel nightclub who lifts his wallet (to his grudging admiration).
She is a practiced and feisty con artist, and she soon runs afoul of Kishan again. And guess what?
Yup, she is none other than the grown-up Mary (Tina Munim) whose father had been jailed in Kishan’s stead when he was a boy. He is momentarily startled, but decides she can’t possibly be the same girl and stomps off. She is trying to come up with money for the rent on the house she shares with her elderly father, now in a wheelchair, before the landlord kicks them out.
Kishan, meantime, has kept in touch with his poor mute mother who still cleans house for the Thakurain. She reads Kishan’s letters to Shanti with some envy, which makes Shanti moan like a crazy person and frantically point. She’s never successful in getting her meaning across, but it is pretty entertaining.
Adult Kumar (Ranjeet!) has not unpredictably grown up no different than he was as a child; a spoiled, lazy, and arrogant brat who takes everything he has for granted. Someone (not me) should do a study on the effects of “nature versus nurture” in switched babies in Hindi cinema. It would be an interesting Master’s thesis or something and there is plenty of fodder out there.
And also, poor Shanti is still being hideously abused by her husband.
Salt in the wound:
Kumar is rapidly spending his way through his “father’s” money as his “mother” and real father continue to indulge him. He takes off for Bombay and its gambling and nightclubs, not knowing that Shanti has stowed away in his back seat hoping to find Kishan in the big city. It doesn’t take long before Kishan and Kumar are at the same table playing cards under a mirrored disco ball, although they don’t recognize each other. Kumar is of course cheating, being Ranjeet, but Kishan outwits him and wins all the money he took from his mother.
Outside, Shanti spots Kishan but sees Kumar coming out behind him and has to hide her face as Kishan drives off. Then the belabored woman sees Bihari—he has somehow found her; she runs and is rescued by Mary.
Even when she’s only being talked about, there are bars! Mary continues to torment Kishan by interfering in all his plots and routinely getting the best of him.
Shanti finally tracks Kishan down as he is praying for a small house where he can move with her; but suddenly even her ability to moan deserts her as she is grabbed by Bihari and bundled back home (and pushed into the fire) without Kishan seeing or hearing a thing. She manages to tear off her mangalsutra and leave it there, but seriously: she is the most put-upon wife and mother EVER.
Kishan finds her mangalsutra, decides she must be in trouble (again, not sure how he reaches that conclusion) and to her great joy, goes to see her. He is shocked to find her in such bad condition and weirdly seems to still not understand that she is mute. I mean, it’s strange and everything to have your mother suddenly stop talking, but don’t you think her moaning and crazed gesticulating should be a clue? Repeatedly asking her to say something when she clearly can’t, and threatening to kill yourself if she doesn’t, is really not the way to go about things.
When he does finally understand, I can only guffaw at all the Nahiiin! Face (this movie is a veritable gold mine for the NFG) and the statue of Justice’s scales swinging in the wind.
Kumar appears, whistling genially, in the middle of this tamasha. When he sees Maa crying, he slaps her (because, you know, he’s Ranjeet and she’s Indrani Mukherjee) and Kishan thrashes him. The Thakurain arrives on the scene and scolds him; Kishan dramatically announces that he’s leaving and taking his mother with him. About time too!
Back in Bombay, Mary—now in possession of a million-crore diamond necklace and a car belonging to the royal family of Chandpur, thanks mostly to Kishan—has decided on her next scam, and it’s a doozy. Wearing a somewhat unprepossessing tiara, she crashes the Chandpur car into the Holiday Inn and pretends to have amnesia. The staff at the hotel (Jankidas et al) assume that obviously she is the Princess of Chandpur, which is just what she wanted.
The Ranimaa of Chandpur (Anita Guha) has been searching for her daughter, the Rajkumari Ratna, taken as a baby by a loyal servant named Tiwari (Jairaj) to the Maharajah. Unbeknownst to Ranimaa, her late husband had given the baby to Tiwari just before being murdered by the not-so-loyal Diwanji Shamsher Singh (Kader Khan), who still serves Ranimaa. How Mary and her gang found out about all this, I don’t know, but she manages to get her photo taken at just the right moment with an unwitting Tiwari. In the meantime, Kishan has found out from a source in the hotel that she is there.
He comes to the hotel and pretends to be her fiance (a trick she had pulled on him earlier), and the proceedings are briefly interrupted by this bit of lunacy (not that I am complaining):
During the song, Kishan manages to steal back the necklace that she had stolen from him (after he stole it from Johnny Whiskey). But in the pouch with the diamonds is a photograph of Mary with her father—and Kishan instantly recognizes him. In the meantime, her father is getting pushed around and knocked out of his wheelchair by the landlord and his goons.
Kishan gives them all a satisfyingly good thrashing and tells a grateful Nazir that he owes an old debt, and to tell Mary that “fifty-fifty” was there. Mary in the meantime with the help of her gang (an unfortunately irritating Jagdeep and Mushtaq Merchant) has sent a ransom note to Chandpur for her return. Shamsher Singh brings the money to them, but also tracks down poor Tiwari. He elicits the information that Tiwari had dropped the baby Rajkumari over a bridge into a river as he was fleeing from Chandpur from him, and then kills him.
Game up, Mary agrees to partner with Shamsher Singh posing as Rajkumari Ratna, and goes with him to Chandpur where she is welcomed with open arms by Ranimaa.
Kumar and Bihari are there too: it happens that long ago when the Rajkumari was born, Thakur Virendra Singh and the Maharajah—who were fast friends—agreed that baby Ratna should grow up to marry Virendra’s son Kumar.
Will Mary be able to deceive Ranimaa and get herself crowned as planned? Or is she in over her head with nasty Shamsher Singh? What is in the treasury that Shamsher Singh is willing to kill for? Will Shanti ever be able to tell anybody the truth about who her real son is, and the real son of Virendra Singh? Will Kishan and Mary fall in love? Or will Mary accept Kumar as her husband? And where IS Rajkumari Ratna? Did she really die in the river (nobody EVER dies in the river in Indian movies)?
I know this post has gone on and on…but this is a movie that keeps on giving, trust me, and there is lots of it left. Whether you want what it’s offering is of course up to you—but I loved it, and I loved handsome charming twinkly Rajesh (and his sparkling chemistry with Tina) in it the most of all…yes, even more than Ranjeet. He may be gone from this world, but he will never be forgotten.