A man who lives in disguise, even at home with his mother! Another man who disguises himself to rob, steal and kill! Between them: a gorgeous but haughty woman whom they both want, one for love, one for money. Lurking on the sidelines: a weepy self-absorbed mother who makes every maternal blunder modern psychiatry could possibly dream up. This, my friends, is Munimji.
We first meet Kala Ghoda, a bandit terrorizing local towns with his gang while always keeping one step ahead of the police.
He is married to a dancer, Bela (Ameeta), from whom he also keeps his real identity. She distracts the townspeople by performing as Kala Ghoda and his men rob and pillage. One day the police almost catch him and succeed in wounding him before he escapes. He finally falls off his horse, and we see his face.
Cut to his photo hanging on a wall, and it’s time to meet Malti (Nirupa Roy), who is a live-in housekeeper for a local widower named Captain Suresh. The photograph is of his ward, Ratan (Pran), the son of a close friend of his, who died when Ratan was a baby. Ratan is now the manager of Suresh’s factory, and is engaged to marry his daughter Rupa who is coming home soon from a stay abroad. Malti has essentially brought up Ratan along with her own son Amar.
The captain has brought a birthday gift for Amar, but Malti is worried about Ratan’s absence, and has forgotten Amar’s birthday. Amar (Dev Anand) comes to see his mother, his feelings clearly hurt. She apologizes, sort of: Maternal Blunder #1.
Amar’s bitterness runs deep, with good reason. Flashback to childhood, where Malti is quick to defend and forgive Ratan despite his condescending ill-treatment of both her and her son.
Despite Malti’s obvious preference for Ratan, Amar has always loved and protected her. In return, this is her reaction when Ratan insults her and Amar thrashes him in her defence.
Maternal blunder #2! (I’m only counting the most egregious ones, as time and space will not allow me to list them all.)
Amar sadly takes his leave and now it’s Malti’s turn for a flashback. Years before, after she secretly married him in one of those clandestine temple weddings, Malti became pregnant by Ratan’s late father, but he rejected her in favor of another woman to whom he was also married, who also was pregnant.
The two women gave birth a day apart, but the man’s wife died in childbirth. When Malti went to him with her son, he rejected her again and in revenge she switched her son for his. When he came to get his own son back, he was bitten by a snake and died.
To ensure that her son got his just rights, she kept quiet and brought up her son—Ratan—as the legitimate son, depriving poor Amar of his rights (not to mention her motherly love). I think we’re supposed to feel sorry for her as she weeps.
But all I can think is: what a stupid bitch.
Even Captain Suresh is kinder to Amar than she is. Amar works as a clerk (“munimji”) at Suresh’s factory, and Suresh gives him the day off since it’s his birthday. Distraught over Ratan’s continued disappearance and stories of looting in the forest, Malti rushes to meet him.
It seems that Amar has Ratan figured out too! When he points out that going into the forest to look for Ratan will endanger his life too, Malti is unmoved. He sighs, and says he’ll bring Ratan back. As he sets off, she calls after him, “Son!”
All together now: Maternal Blunder #3!
In the forest, Amar has a couple of friends: an elephant and a monkey. He enlists their help.
He disguises himself as a mahout, and gets through the police blockade by pleading poverty and telling them that he needs to graze his elephant there. When he finds the wounded Kala Ghoda, he pretends to be an astrologer and unmasks him. Ratan pleads with him for help since he’s wounded and surrounded by police.
Amar toys with him a little (who can blame him?):
and then makes Ratan promise to mend his ways, and smuggles him out past the police blockade. Once home, Ratan faints from loss of blood and the doctor is called. Malti of course donates hers to save him. When he recovers, Ratan is less than grateful.
At this point, I want to smash Malti and Ratan’s heads together and do something nice for clever, unloved Amar. Also at this point, Suresh’s son Shekhar and daughter Rupa (Nalini Jaywant) arrive from England. Suresh meets them at the pier, as does Amar. Rupa looks around eagerly for Ratan.
She is dismissive of and rude to Amar, though, as befits his servant status. She drives off in her car, which breaks down, and when Amar stops to help her she takes his car and leaves him to fix hers.
He decides to teach her a lesson in humility. He discards his “munimji” outfit, revealing his actual appearance for the first time. Back then Dev Anand was some good eye candy! He drives off in hot pursuit of Rupa (I guess the car magically fixed itself).
Rupa is most upset at the sight of this unknown dashing young man at the wheel of her car, and she crashes into a tree, hurting her wrist. Even in a bad mood, Nalini Jaywant is really beautiful; she reminds me of a cross between Helena Bonham Carter (before she got married to Tim Burton and began to dress like a freak) and Vivian Leigh. Amar (he tells her his name is Raj) drives her home, singing a lively song along the way (“Jeevan Ke Safar”) and teasing her mercilessly. She is not pleased.
The next day is Ratan’s birthday and there’s a fabulous dance held to celebrate, which dramatizes the wedding of Shiva and Parvati. I am pretty sure there’s a lot of symbolism escaping me, but I love the song, which starts off “Bumm Bumm Bhole.”
It’s freaky! but only in a good way. At home, Amar is relaxing without his disguise when his mother walks in before he can put it back on. She is astounded, and asks him why, when he is so handsome, he makes himself so ugly?
He explains that since she insists they continue to live in Captain Suresh’s house (to stay close to Ratan), he has to disguise himself or Ratan in his envy would make Amar’s life more miserable than he already does. She promises him that she’ll die soon. If only she would!
Amar (as Raj) now sets about wooing Rupa as part of his plan to teach her some humility. But when he realizes that he’s actually fallen in love with her (she is Ratan’s fiancee still), he writes her to say that he’ll never contact her again. He tells her if she’s ever in trouble, she can contact him through Amar, her father’s clerk.
She summons Amar and tells him to tell Raj she is going hunting in a dangerous part of the forest. At this point the DVD skips about 5 minutes so I have no idea what happens, but it resumes with Raj and Rupa in the forest together, and some gruesome footage of a tiger fighting with an enormous python. It’s pretty grim.
I think the tiger loses too. Arggghhh. Anyway, Rupa tells Raj that she loves him. Naturally he finds it hard to stay away from her after that, and their love blossoms. Ratan isn’t stupid—he’s evil, but not stupid—and he becomes jealous. Malti, who knows that Raj and Amar are the same person, begs him to leave Rupa alone for Ratan’s sake. Maternal Blunder #4 (you thought I forgot, didn’t you?). He protests, of course.
Sigh. Maternal Blunder #5. Loving son that he is, Amar agrees sadly. So now he and Rupa are heartbroken; Ratan is still a (married) criminal and a complete jerk; and Malti is still mooning around after a son who doesn’t love her, and callously mistreating the one who does.
Are Ratan’s marriage and alter ego ever uncovered? Do Ratan and Amar find out their real status? Are Rupa and Amar/Raj reunited? Does Malti get what she deserves? You’ll have to watch to find out (or if you don’t want to you can read this).
The film isn’t as bad as I’m making it sound, in fact I quite enjoyed it. The songs by SD Burman are lots of fun, especially one where Rupa and Raj try to teach Ratan how to sing (he brays like a donkey). Dev Anand’s performance is very good: Amar/Raj’s pain at his mother’s indifference is palpable, but so are his integrity and strength. He is well worth rooting for, and it’s always a treat to have an underdog to side with.
As for Malti though, all I can say is: what a stupid bitch.