This movie had many things to delight me: my beloved Shammi both acting and directing (his first film as director); a veritable “Who’s Who” compendium of character actors; and a screenplay by Abrar Alvi (who wrote for such classic films as Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool, Mr & Mrs 55, and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam). It is based on (and Shammi has always credited) the Billy Wilder film Irma La Douce. The action all takes place on Manoranjan (Entertainment) Street, whose denizens are mostly pimps and kind-hearted prostitutes.
It’s a very stylish film. I loved the sets and song picturizations (songs by RD Burman)—they seem to show Vijay Anand influences, from Teesri Manzil in particular (especially the songs). The movie is also refreshingly honest about sexuality, although one of its major weaknesses is that it glosses over the pain that prostitution causes to women who are forced into it—the girls in this film seem positively happy to be prostitutes! Shammi did not direct again (only Bundal Baaz two years later), I guess because he was discouraged by the lukewarm response his films received from audiences. Too bad! I would have liked to see more from him.
Naive, pure-hearted Constable Ratan (Sanjeev Kumar) is assigned to the Manoranjan Street beat, previously held by another constable who collected his bribes from the local pimp-goondas and turned a blind eye to the goings-on. Ratan is not that sort, however, and when he figures out what is going on around him he arranges a raid on the hotel where the prostitutes take their customers.
He arrests the girls and tells their clients to go home. One particularly belligerent client argues with him, but is sent packing. On the ride in the paddywagon to the police station, the girls sing a song, “Dulhan Maike Chali” to Ratan, teasing him for his prudish and judgmental attitude. He is horrified to see that one of them is Nisha (Zeenat Aman), a sweet girl he had met earlier and thought “decent.”
Upon arrival at the station, Ratan is summoned to the police commissioner’s office. He is stunned when he recognizes his boss (Madan Puri) as that belligerent client he had told off only an hour or so earlier. He is summarily fired from his job (the girls have set him up for a bribery charge on the way there) and thrown out to wander the streets in search of a job.
Eventually he winds up at Manoranjan Street, where everyone is back in business. He goes into the Dhoop Chhaon Cafe to get something to eat and is greeted by the eponymous owner (Shammi Kapoor). Dhupu is the Greek chorus in the film: a philosopher-historian-mediator, whose cafe is the heart of the community.
While there, Ratan sees Nisha being abused by her pimp Balram (Dev Kumar). He goes to her defense, but seems inadequate to defend himself against Balram (at one point, he is thrown into a jukebox, which starts playing a sped-up version of the title song to Sanjeev Kumar’s first hit film, Khilona. I so love Hindi films’ self-referential moments). Eventually though, he manages to stuff a billiard ball into Balram’s mouth and it’s downhill from there for Balram. He is eventually knocked out by a flimsy-looking lamp. Ratan’s triumph earns him the respect of the community and a new job as Nisha’s pimp! She is overjoyed, he not so much:
Nisha won’t take no for an answer, however—she can see that he will be a lot better than Balram as her new boss. She takes him home with her, and he is charmed by her sweet, cheerful, carefree nature. It doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous either! She, in turn, is attracted by his shyness and the innate respect he shows her—it gives her a new sense of courage and self-esteem, and she bullies and teases him good-naturedly. She also seduces him!
Ratan awakes the next day with a new dilemma. He loves Nisha, but she expects to earn the money for both of them in return for his protection. She tells him that others have had her body, but only he has her heart. It doesn’t help. As Dhupu puts it:
Nisha and Dhupu tell Ratan about a Nawab who used to visit Nisha once a week and paid her Rs 500 for each visit—leaving her freedom during the rest of the week to do whatever she pleased. He stopped coming when his wife died. When a bunch of sailors arrive in the vicinity, Ratan stops Nisha from going with them. Later, he tells Nisha that he wants to marry her and “take her away from all this”…she points out that she will never be welcome in the outside world that he belongs to, and that she wants to stay on Manoranjan Street. He can’t stand the idea of her being with other men; she can’t stand the idea of being dependent on him in a world which will judge her for her past.
He goes to the cafe and, confiding his troubles to Dhupu, has an idea: if Ratan poses as a rich Nawab, and gives Nisha Rs 500 once a week, she’ll give up all other customers! He’ll borrow the Rs 500 from Dhupu, Nisha will then give it to him, Ratan, and he will give it back to Dhupu. He disguises himself with Dhupu’s help and goes off to find Nisha. He asks her where he can find a paan as sweet and soft as she is.
They go to the hotel, where he spins a tale of a cheating wife in Lucknow, and confesses to her that he is impotent. He says he just wants her company and arranges to meet her once a week for the sum of Rs 500. They play cards and talk, and Nisha is thrilled to have a new rich client (I know I missed some comedy at this point by not understanding the nuances of Urdu). After he leaves, she rushes to meet Ratan at the cafe and gives him the good news.
At this point something happened which I didn’t get, and I’m hoping one of you can clear up for me: there appears to be some sort of pun or play on the words “Goyake Chunanche” (Urdu?) which shocks Dhupu, while the rest break into a song by the same name: a lively number with Zeenat sparkling at its center (and look how beautiful Shammi’s green eyes still are)…
Given the bill for this “party” by Dhupu, Ratan realizes that he needs to make some money if Nisha isn’t going to be earning any. Dhupu tells him about a friend who needs someone to help him “train” guard dogs (by acting as their victims!) and he takes it.
He sneaks out at night to work, exhausting himself and earning many scratches and bruises. Nisha begins to wonder what he’s up to. Meanwhile, every time the “Nawab” gives her Rs 500 and she gives it to Ratan, it melts away somehow. He’s getting further into debt to Dhupu and into trouble with Nisha. When one of the other girls, Lolita, flirts with Ratan, Nisha is infuriated. Catfight! When Nisha wakes up in the middle of the night after the fight, she sings a lovely song (in the shower—verrrrrry racy) about her love for Ratan.
Unfortunately at the end of it, she discovers that he has snuck out. When he returns home in the morning, she accuses him of having an affair with Lolita and kicks him out. When he visits her later as the Nawab, she tells the Nawab that she wants him to take her home to his palace where she will live with him and make him happy. She takes him to bed and we cut to one of the most entertainingly filmed songs EVER, “Aaya Hoon Mein Tujhko Le Jaaoonga.”
It’s Helen-worthy! (but sadly she’s not in it.)
The song is a narrative of Nisha’s suspicion that she’s been betrayed by Ratan and the dilemma she’s now facing between choosing Ratan or the Nawab. Nisha inexplicably has a thick layer of self-tanner on, and Ratan/the Nawab is dressed like some gypsy-clown:
Suddenly, we have flamenco, giant musical instruments, and Christmas tree ornaments hanging everywhere!
And now (yes, this is all one song):
That IS a leopard print sombrero and poncho he is wearing.
As the song ends, Nisha and the Nawab embrace and we cut back to them in bed together.
What can Ratan do to save his love? I can’t tell you—I’m worn out from this last song extravaganza.
But this film is worth a watch for its stylish direction, interesting plot and fabulous songs—and its cameos by several of my favorite character actors (can you identify them all?):