“[Sharmilee] was actually based on a novel by Gulshan Nanda who was a sort of Hindi equivalent of Danielle Steele and Harlequin romances in 60’s and 70’s.”
When I looked up Gulshan Nanda on imdb, I discovered that he was responsible for the stories and screenplays of some of my favorite films, including Jugnu, Jheel Ke Us Paar, Ajanabee, Joshila and Kati Patang. I always was a sucker for Harlequins (how embarrassing). Anyway, it seemed like a good reason to revisit this, so here we go!
Madhavi (Asha Parekh) is being married off by her rich uncle against her will. She is in love with Kailash (Prem Chopra) who, alas, is not worthy.
He’s in love with Shabnam (Bindu) and was only pursuing Madhu for her uncle’s money. Madhu discovers this too late after she runs away from her wedding and finds him with Shabnam. Heartsick, she returns home to find her uncle dead from a heart attack or something, presumably brought on by his disgrace at her hands. Asha Parekh gives Excellent Nahiiiiiiiiin Face:
For some reason she wanders off to the train station, where an old school friend—now widowed with a little boy, Munna—is leaving for Nainital to meet her late husband’s family. Because they disapproved of the marriage, Poonam has never met them. Now that their son is dead, they have asked her to forgive them and bring their grandson to them.
She asks Madhu to come with her, and Madhu willingly agrees (I guess the dead body back at home doesn’t seem very welcoming). But the train crashes and Poonam dies after extracting a promise from her that she will take care of Munna.
When she reaches Nainital finally with Munna in tow, she gets an avaricious driver to take her to her “in-laws.” We know he’s avaricious because he licks his lips when he sees how much money she has. When she realizes that he’s not taking her in the right direction, she manages to get the attention of a driver passing the other way.
Hooray! Her hero (Rajesh Khanna) manages to save the day (and her handbag). He is a forest officer named Kamal, and since the road to Nainital is impassable because of heavy rain, he offers to take her to his home for the night. It turns out that he is a childhood friend of Shekhar’s (Poonam’s husband) and is close to his family too. He goes out later, and his manservant tells her that Kamal has taken up drinking ever since his would-be bride ditched him at their wedding.
Yup—Kamal is the groom she left at the mandap.
RD Burman wrote the music for this film, and we get one of my favorite songs now “Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai” from Kamal as he drinks the night away. He is a bitter man. I will take this opportunity to also say that Munna never seems very happy either:
In any case, Madhu/Poonam decides to escape early and hitches a ride to Diwanji’s before Kamal returns home the next morning. She is welcomed with open arms by Diwanji (Nazir Hussain) and his wife (Sulochana), who are overjoyed to have Munna with them—and filled with remorse over their treatment of Poonam.
As the days pass, her “in-laws” encourage her to get out and have some fun, and ask Kamal to escort her. He scoffs at social conventions that dictate “proper” behavior for a widow, takes her out, and makes sure she comes to his birthday party (where he sings another lovely song “Pyaar Deewane Hota Hai”).
At Madhu’s urging he stops drinking, too. And—of course—they fall in love.
But oh no. Kailash and Shabnam are about to re-enter Madhu’s life (via an exotic Bindu dance number called “Mera Naam Hai Shabnam”).
When Kailash fails to convince Madhu anew of his undying affection, he resorts to blackmail—and worse.
What will she do? Can she steal from her new family, whom she has grown to love? What will happen if they find out about her deception? How will Kamal react if he learns that she is the girl who broke his heart? What lengths will Kailash go to in order to get rich?
The film does take an enlightened (for the time) view of widow remarriage, although of course Madhu is not really a widow and she is held up as an example to other women:
For the most part, it’s a light, frothy entertainer with a satisfyingly tangled ending.
RD Burman’s songs are wonderful; besides the ones I’ve mentioned, there is a great Holi song and dance (I must spend Holi in India one of these years):
and the ever-popular “Yeh Shaam Mastani.” The story clips along at a good pace, and if you like romances especially you’ll enjoy it. The performances are solid too—and I really like the Asha-Rajesh pairing. I’m going to have to dig up their other films together!