Dulhan Ek Raat Ki (1967)

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From the title, I suspected this might be a sad film. Then I discovered it was based on Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” and knew it would be. I haven’t read “Tess” since high school but I vividly remember that it doesn’t end happily. Unless you enjoy tragedy, which I don’t. But—I thought there might be some hope that a Hindi film would give it a less dark twist, being as that happy endings are more their hallmark, especially in the 1960’s. I also needed to get the Dharmendra-Nutan-Rehman bad taste from Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya out of my mouth!

I will say that the print of this film was apparently in bad shape. Several scenes were abruptly cut, and the beginning especially was jerky and difficult sometimes to watch. But the songs were subtitled—I can forgive a lot when that happens—and the movie engrossing. It could have been marred by hackneyed stereotypes (Victorian literature and Hindi cinema have many “morals” in common!) but it isn’t, largely on the strength of excellent performances by Dharmendra and Nutan especially and a good screenplay by director D.D. Kashyap.

Ashok (Dharmendra) and Nirmala (Nutan) meet on a railway platform in Dehradun, and then consequently in town as well, and are attracted to each other. Nirmala discovers that her mother (Leela Chitnis) has mortgaged their house to pay for her education, so she gets a job as nurse to a wealthy blind woman (Mumtaz Begum). This woman has a son Ranjit (Rehman) who is also very attracted to Nirmala. She knows it, but does her best to keep him at arm’s length.

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Then Ashok gets a job out of town. When he tells Nirmala, he gives her a bracelet and promises to come back for her soon. But after a party at her employer’s home—against her better judgment—she accepts a ride with Ranjit and he rapes her.

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It is a very effective scene. The tension in the car, her attempts to escape when she realizes Ranjit’s intentions, and the culminating attack are chilling. The bracelet from Ashok is lost and she is left on the cold ground. And the scenes that follow showing Nirmala’s devastation are equally moving.

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When she finds out that she is pregnant, her mother takes her out of town, where she gives birth to a still-born child.

Meanwhile, Ashok’s father has arranged his marriage with the daughter of a colleague. Ashok’s friend Bansi (Johnny Walker) sabotages the marriage when the girl comes to visit (in a very funny scene) by insinuating that Ashok is an inveterate gambler. This enrages his father, and when Ashok says that he has promised another girl he would marry her, his father retorts that he has promised his friend. Which of them should then keep his promise?

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At his response, Ashok’s father gets up and leaves without another word.

When Nirmala and her mother return home, Nirmala gets a letter from two of her school friends. They are working in Mussoorie at a school, and think Nirmala can get a job teaching there too. She goes there and gets the job at the school. Her friends ask where she has been, and tell her that Ashok went to her house looking for her several times. Ashok is living in a camp in Mussoorie, working as an engineer. The girls and Bansi conspire to reunite them. Ashok is overjoyed to see Nirmala, but of course she has changed. He asks her to marry him; she refuses at first, then says that she will give him her answer in a week and throws herself into his arms, weeping.

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It’s heart-wrenching. After some thought, she writes him a letter explaining all that has happened in the past year, leaves it at his camp, and goes home to her mother. Her mother scolds her for telling him everything, but she says that she couldn’t live with him in a lie. When he shows up at her door on Sunday, and says that she owes him an answer Nirmala thinks that he has read her letter and forgiven her, and she agrees happily to marry him.

Bansi disguises himself as an astrologer and goes to Ashok’s parents, hoping to trick them into agreeing to come for his wedding (I just love Johnny Walker). The ruse fails, however, and Ashok’s father refuses. Ashok and Nirmala get married and go to stay in a hotel on their wedding night. They (and we) are treated to a Helen dance (with Laxmi Chhaya!), but the song’s lyrics are ominous.

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As the newlyweds are about to go to bed, the hotel proprietor knocks on the door and hands Ashok a letter from Bansi. It’s about their new house and Nirmala wants to read it; but it also contains her letter, which Bansi found under the carpet when he was packing up the camp. Nirmala is horrified, but gives the letter to Ashok. He reads it and walks away from her, stunned. When she follows him and pleads innocence, he agrees that she is innocent but that she is no longer the same Nirmala he worshipped and alienated his father for; he asks her why she didn’t leave the job as soon as she suspected Ranjit’s intentions.

She leaves and goes home to her mother, hoping that he will come and get her—but he doesn’t. Back at Ashok’s, Bansi confronts him:

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Ashok agrees again that she is innocent of wrongdoing, but he says he is suffering too and is only human, not God. Although this should all piss me off, it doesn’t—it’s done so realistically and is still so relevant, that it just makes me sad.

As weeks pass into months, Nirmala decides to leave her mother’s since the neighbors are all gossiping about her prolonged stay. She goes to Nainital where she gets a job as a governess to a man with seven children. She enjoys the children and her new employer is good to her, but she still longs for Ashok. Her new employer’s brother-in-law and niece arrive for a visit, and Nirmala soon realizes that they are Ashok’s father and sister.

Ashok’s sister befriends Nirmala, not knowing that she is her bhabhi. Then one day as Nirmala is out walking, she hears a holy man over the loudspeakers outside a mosque. His words move her, and she goes in to meet him and get his blessing.

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It’s Ranjit! She flees, but he follows her home and tells her that he is reformed; that after his mother died (she understood very well what kind of man he was) he wandered the world for a bit, and found God, and repented all his sins. Nirmala tells him bitterly that she doesn’t believe him and tells him to leave. A few days later he shows up again. He has transformed himself again from a guru to Ranjit. He tells her that after seeing her, he could not get her out of his mind, and that she is right—his sins are too great for him to be a man of God. He wants to live with her and take care of her. She angrily rejects him, but he keeps visiting.

Back at his home again, Ashok’s father has become very ill, and calls for Ashok to come see him. At the house, Ashok sees a photograph of Nirmala which his sister had brought with her from Nainital as a memento of their friendship. He tells her that Nirmala is his wife and explains why they are not together. His sister and father convince him (pretty easily) to go get her and bring her home. He sets off for Nainital.

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What will happen next? Will he find Nirmala? Will Ranjit still be there? If you’ve read “Tess” you will probably know the answers; although to my delight the ending was not quite as dark as the book’s, even if I wouldn’t call it happy. Still, there’s enough ambiguity so that I can pretend. And the main point is—it’s a really good film. My faith in Dharmendra-Nutan-Rehman is fully restored!

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20 Comments to “Dulhan Ek Raat Ki (1967)”

  1. I definitely need to find a copy of this- I have recently fallen in love with rehman :D
    Besides, Dharmendra and Nutun’s good looks are just such pure joy to watch always!

  2. Excellent blog. Keep it up.

  3. Rehman is not a very nice guy in this film :-) But yes Dharmendra and Nutan are beautiful. And it is a really well done film.

    Thank you, Sundar, please keep visiting!

  4. I wish I could borrow your brain for this film. Despite my liking for the cast and love for the music, “Dulhan Ek Raat Ki” just couldn’t overcome my dislike of the “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” story.:-( Wish I felt differently.

  5. No, I hate Tess too…but the film is really well done and didn’t seem at least to me as dark.

    Great cast :) But keep your own brain, I have a feeling it is much superior to mine!

  6. Oh i wish u had elaborated more on the music.
    Madan Mohan gave such fabulous songs like Sapno mein agar mere aa jao and Maine rang li aaj chunariya and Kai din se jee hai bekal ae dil ki lagi ab le chal. As also, Ek haseen shaam ko.

    PS – Prem Granth (Madhuri Dixit, Rishi) had similar storyline. I guess same novel is the source.

    • I don’t remember the music that well at this point, although I’m sure I liked it well enough. Sorry! :-) I should watch the film again and pay more attention to the music this time.

  7. Hi Greta,
    I have finally gotten round to seeing “Dulhan ek raat ki”, after having been introduced to it some time ago by your nice review! So I’m here to extend my thanks that you saw it and your review made me want to see it for myself.
    If you check the blog, you’ll notice that I borrowed a sentence from your text, towards the end, where you hope the drama might be less tragic… perhaps. But this is my point: no, the movie is no less tragic than Thomas Hardy’s Tess, because nothing leads us to hope that “the one-night bride” is going to live longer. If the Indian director had wanted to imply anything else, he wouldn’t have called the film so. And there are cues towards the end that suggest Nirmala knows her fate.

    Nevertheless the movie does contain some comic relief and narrative inventiveness which distinguish it from Hardy’s novel.

    I wonder if Roman Polanski had seen it before making his own rendition.

    OK, well, off to bed now!
    bye.

    • I am ever optimistic that tragedy can be averted, even though it hardly ever is :D

      I’m glad you liked it; I probably won’t ever watch it again, but it was definitely worth seeing.

      • Strange, isn’t it? In one movie (Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya – 1966) Dharmendra gives up Nutan for Rehman and in this she is molested by Rehman. What kind of casting is this?

  8. Memsaab, just read this review since yves had dug it up. I’m always on the lookout for good Dharmendra movies or even passable ones(Rakhwala which i saw yesterday was not as bad as I feared and I’m willing to lower the bar with Dharam.) so it’s good to know this one is watchable. I’ve also liked the songs on youtube.
    My other question is, was Ashok a default name for Dharmendra in the 60s. Some director first casts him then decides to write the script and uses that placeholder name Ashok (for the good guy). There are at least 10 movies in that time period when he was Ashok.

  9. Sophy, Dharm’s role in Dulhan is only passable, and I for one am still waiting for a movie where he will shrug off that slightly prim attitude of “the good guy”, and act to the full! Do you know of such?

    • Hi, there are many movies like Aankhen, Lalkar, Phool Aur Patthar, Yakeen, Aaya Saawan Jhoom Ke and above all SATYAKAM. Sorry, I could remember these only.

  10. @yves – there are quite a few movies where Dharmendra has not played “the good guy”. In the 60s, check out “Aayi Milan Ki Bela” (1964), “Mera Qasoor Kya hai” (1964) and Yakeen (1969). In the 70s, he’s been through “Yaadon Ki Baaraat” (1973). In the 80s, he’s had plenty of those “Krodhi” (1981), “Sitamgar” (1984), “Karishma Kudrat Ka” (1985), “Begaana”, (1986) and “Shehzaade” (1989).

  11. Thanks Shashi for these references. I have Yaadon ki baarat in my DVD box, I’ll definitely watch it one of these days.
    Well, this does reassure me anyway, because it so happens I hadn’t seen Dharmendra in any nasty roles yet. But does he manage to give his full more in bad guy’s roles?

    • Hi, if you are looking for bad roles of Dharam ji then you can watch Ayee Milan Ki Bela (his only role, to date, as a villain).

  12. @yves – The closest that he comes to playing a bad guy to the hilt is in Karishma Kudrat Kaa (1985) and Sitamgar (1984). The remaining are all something like he’s just indifferent to goodness.

    From these roles, I can bet that he could have had a very successful villainous career as well. He just moulds into any character effectively.

  13. Memsaab,
    I am in league with you on this…Dulhan Ek Raat Ki (A Bride for A Night) is a really beautiful film…too bad not much had been done to preserve it in tip-top condition…
    …in your entry you have highlighted the stellar performances of Nutan, Dharmendra and Rehman, and I agee with you every step of the way…Nutan is, as always, near-perfect; I mean, I simply LOVE her histrionic abilities…however, I would also like to add a little about the film’s music…Madan Mohan did a really good job composing the songs for this film, although a tune or two sound slightly recycled…nevertheless, the music really deserves mention, because it’s just so beautiful…
    …unfortunately, upon its release circa 1966/1967, theatre owners had to stop screening Dulhan Ek Raat Ki in less than 3 days because it was faring so badly ie nobody wanted to watch it perhaps because of its black and white format in an age where bright-as-candy-wrapper colour was the rage…the film may have been a commercial flop due to several other reasons yet to be explored apart from its B&W format, but still, it is a cinematic masterpiece in its own right…you cannot imagine how glad I am when I read your generally positive reviews on this film…turns out I’m not alone…cheers…

  14. Another film where Dharmendra was the villain was “Qayamat” which was adapted from an English movie. It also starred Poonam Dhillon, Smita Patil and Shatrughan Sinha. Another Hindi movie was also made on the same subject – it starred Shraddha Verma, Suresh Oberoi and Deepti Naval. Can’t recollect the name of this movie.

    Nutan and Dharmendra weren’t as successful as a pair (except for Bandhini) where Dharmendra’s was more of a special appearance as much as his pairing with her sister Tanuja Devi.

    The late 60’s were the last few years of actor Rehman as after Guru Dutt, no other film maker was willing to exploit his talent. His last days were spent in penury.

  15. Dharmendra was a zombied hunk and so was Joy Mukherjee,and they were perfect jockeys for the maestro ‘rafi’.Ek haseen shaam ko dil mera or Door bahut mat jaana le ke karar hamara or In baharon me akele na firo raah me kaali ghata,are sheer poetries rendered by rafi asha,thanks to the dummy stars.After all you don’t watch videos after a time and you don’t expect mega stars like devanand shammi kapoor rajendra kumar jeetendra rajesh khanna to be anything but prosaic in their songs.It is jockeys like dharmendra and joy mukherjee that have been of immense usefulness for the poetry loving audiophiles,and of course,rafi and asha would have become redundant if these zombies had not fronted for the delightful meaningless poetry,for unless it is meaningless it’s not poetry.

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