This film belongs to Neetu Singh: she is the central character in it, and she gives an excellent performance. Yes: it’s a film centered around a female protagonist! A rare treat indeed! Beyond that, it’s an excellent film which highlights social issues (plight of the poor, criminal reforms), has a fab retro vibe, and is just plain entertaining, by turns funny and moving.
I love this movie!
We meet Deepa (Neetu Singh) working as a maid in an affluent household. Her employers are much like some I’ve observed in India: she is not a person to them, but a commodity, and the wife tells her that if she goes home before giving her son and his friends dinner and cleaning up, she will be fired—never mind that it’s Diwali, and getting late.
The son and his friends—led by the obnoxious unbuttoned-shirt-wearing Sukhdev—begin drinking as soon as his parents go out.
Only one of them abstains and asks for a Thums-Up instead. When a couple of girls who were to join the party call and cancel, Sukhdev is furious. Enter poor Deepa, and Sukhdev sees a substitute. I see lime green vinyl chairs and a kool kitty-cat tapestry!
Sukhdev traps Deepa in a room and tries to molest her; she manages to escape and runs away. Worried that she’ll report his behavior, Sukhdev calls a relative in the police and tells him to arrest her for theft.
She’s put in jail, her protests of innocence ignored, and sentenced to six months in a remand home.
She finishes her sentence a different girl from the one who went in. Tougher, colder—and very soon, hungrier. Nobody wants to hire a girl who has been in jail. Desperate, she finally approaches Shambhu Dada (Ajit), a local criminal who runs gangs of pickpockets. Pretty soon, she is working for him as a thief.
And, inevitably, she is caught and sent back to the big house. This time, instead of pleading innocence, she defiantly admits to being a thief. Her feisty attitude intrigues Judge Sinha (Shreeram Lagoo), who is presiding. He is well known as a social activist:
He sentences her to a year in the remand home. He is the President of the home, and sees her again on a day when he gives a speech there. She is angry with another inmate who has stolen her gold earrings, which are all she has left to remind her of her late mother. When Sinha reaches home that night, he tells his wife Uma (Indrani Mukherjee) that he wants to bring Deepa to their home.
She agrees reluctantly; Deepa is equally reluctant, but also agrees. Although the family greet her graciously, she’s prickly and defensive, and their “anglicized” behavior and language doesn’t sit well with her. She and the spoiled eldest daughter Rani (Anita) hate each other on sight, but the three youngest kids—Pappu, Dolly and Subhash—who is lame and Sinha’s orphaned nephew—cheerfully make friends with her.
She also befriends Judge Sinha’s elderly mother (Leela Mishra). The judge’s eldest son, Kishore, lives in Pune and comes home only on holidays. The first week she is there, family friend Dr. Vikram Sagar (Jeetendra) stops by. He recognizes her at once as the thief who once stole his wallet from his dispensary.
He accepts her status as the new daughter in the family skeptically. And it’s not easy! By the end of the week, Mrs. Sinha has a bad headache and after another confrontation with Deepa she faints. Vikram comes to treat her, and says that she needs to stop letting petty things bother her.
He gives Deepa a lecture on ingratitude and makes her apologize.
It’s quite hilarious. Even Mrs. Sinha is laughing at the end. Neetu has such great comedic chops, she really does. And Jeetendra is a good “straight man” for her too. Anyway, at this point Judge Sinha’s eldest son Kishore (Jalal Agha) shows up to visit for a while.
Kishore feels he’s seen Deepa before but doesn’t know where. He tells her basically the same thing that Vikram had earlier: that she’s been welcomed into the family, and needs to behave like a family member. She is her own worst enemy in this fiasco, refusing to wear proper clothes, or sleep on the bed (she sleeps on a mat in the kitchen, where she is more “at home”), or to call Judge and Mrs. Sinha “Papa” and “Ma.”
Chastened, she begins to transform herself from a street thief to a daughter of the family. Tension remains with Rani, though, who has a boyfriend she’s keeping secret from her parents. Deepa knows that she meets someone and worries about her. Vikram has fallen for Deepa, and conspires with Kishore’s help to win her.
They run around some trees and declare their love for one another. Vikram’s mother (Sonia Sahni) is less than happy with this development. When Sinha’s birthday is celebrated with a party, Vikram brings his mother so she can meet Deepa. It doesn’t go well, and when it’s discovered that a pretty silver set has been gifted to Sinha by Deepa, most people in the room are suspicious—how she could afford it?— and Vikram’s mother speaks up.
Poor Deepa! Vikram storms out with his mother in hot pursuit. Judge Sinha tells Deepa that he has faith in her, and then notices something strange:
Deepa has sold her mother’s precious earrings in order to buy a nice gift for the judge. Kishore becomes emotional, and so do I *sniff*. When Sinha buys the earrings back from the jeweller, Deepa cries too and finally calls him “Papa.”
She won’t speak to Vikram, though. She’s angry that he left and feels he didn’t trust her. Finally he and Kishore get his manservant (Mohan Choti) to enact a little drama about being beaten by Vikram and fired from his job for calling her a thief. She calls up Vikram to ask him to hire his servant back…they make up, and all’s well.
But not for long! Kishore and Deepa remember where they have met before: he was at that party long ago when her life was changed forever. He flees back to Pune in shame and embarrassment, horrified. Deepa thinks he has left because he considers her presence a disgrace. She is heartbroken. Then Shambhu Dada shows up again. He blackmails Deepa into stealing from the Sinhas by threatening to expose a scandalous secret about Rani!
No, not that booty. What will she do? Can she steal from the family she has come to love? What has Rani been up to? Will Kishore be able to forgive himself for not helping her on that fateful evening? Can Vikram’s mother ever accept her? Can she ever find true happiness, or is she destined to always be a chorni?
Watch the film to find out. It’s really lovely! And watch out for Helen!