After months during which this Chetan Anand film was “next” in my to-watch list, I finally got around to it. And I’m glad I did; it is compelling viewing. Having said that, I’m not sure what exactly what else to say about it. Unusual story? Check. Good cast and performances? Check. Nice music? Check. Good movie? Uhhhhhh…I think so? Maybe? In the end it felt a bit schizophrenic: it is a reincarnation story—and leads you firmly down that path—but then also drags in some token debate about reincarnation being a silly belief held by uneducated riff-raff. It also wanted to be a “serious” suspense film (and succeeded to a large degree), but was very lazy about some details (medical and legal practices, for one, and some pretty stringent suspension of disbelief requirements too).
So I spent a lot of time feeling pulled in one direction, and then nudged in another, and the whole never quite came together for me. The fact that the subtitles disappeared entirely during the climactic courtroom speech didn’t help at all either (and thank you to Suhan for sending me a synopsis!).
But: I couldn’t stop watching it, as the suspense was built very nicely, and the performances were really good, especially Vinod Khanna as a doctor who loses his love to the man she loved in a past life; and Rajesh Khanna as the man who is pulled unwillingly into a story involving him but of which he has no memory. The sets and the Simla scenery were beautiful, and the cinematography stunning, and RD Burman’s music very nice too.
We meet Chandramukhi (Hema Malini) as she travels to Simla with her parents. She had been born there, but her family moved to Bombay when she was two; she has long wanted to see her childhood home. Her first glimpse of it, though, clearly strikes an unexpected chord.
They settle in, and meet up with an old friend whose son Dr. Naresh Gupta (Vinod Khanna) is a psychiatrist. He is immediately attracted to Chandramukhi as she is to him, but she is also distracted by memories and knowledge of past events that she should not have.
Chandramukhi’s parents have rented a house from the local Nawab, Choudhury Janak Singh (Raaj Kumar). He is a widower living in a large mansion with his only daughter Karuna (Priya Rajvansh).
Karuna is a lawyer, and Janak Singh’s fondest wish is to get her married to a protege of his, Mohan Kapoor (Rajesh Khanna): he is also a lawyer and has just gotten the job as Public Prosecutor in Simla thanks to Janak Singh’s influence.
Over the next few days Karuna and Mohan become acquainted, as do Naresh and Chandramukhi. Naresh has studied psychiatry in America and plans to go back there as soon as he finds a wife. I’m a *wee bit* insulted by what he has to say when Chandramukhi asks him about marrying an American girl!
Chandramukhi though is having troubled dreams, where she is chasing a man in the mist. She also recognizes odd places and feels that she knows people when she meets them for the first time. At the local theater one night, she is so distressed by the singing of Saraswati Devi (Aruna Irani) that she gets up and leaves. Saraswati Devi herself, meeting Mohan earlier that evening, had also seemed disturbed.
There is a large tree in the forest nearby which really freaks out Chandramukhi when she sees it. The initials of a pair of lovers are carved into the trunk: Paro and Madho. She goes back to it with Naresh and they meet Mohan, Karuna and Mohan’s alcoholic school friend Pyarelal (Deven Verma). Chandramukhi feels drawn to Mohan.
And their outfits match perfectly too! Minty.
The story is interrupted at this point by a glitzy atrocity: a disco cabaret number in a nightclub, the sole purpose of which seems to be to showcase Vinod Khanna’s awful dancing. The baton-carrying leotard-clad background dancers move listlessly through the motions, and even dancing queen Hema looks like she’d rather be elsewhere. I have a love-hate relationship with Indian disco. I find the music awful, on the one hand, but on the other I really appreciate the silver go-go boots on the lead singer.
Also it is quite sparkly, which is always a plus. And the wall decorations are FAB.
But I digress. Chandramukhi tells Naresh about her strange dreams and he offers to treat her with hypnosis. I can picture all my actual psychiatrist friends—and I have quite a few—shuddering at this conflict of interest. Anyway, he puts Chandramukhi under fairly easily, basically by telling her to lie down and go to sleep.
He is amazed—and horrified—when she tells him that the year is 1945 and she is a 20 years old, the daughter of the gardener at “the haveli.” Her name is Paro, and she is engaged to a boy from a nearby village named Madho. His plan was to take her back in time, but not THAT far! He panics.
He does manage to awaken her, and things start to really happen now. He is determined to help her find out where her memories are coming from, and why they are so distressing to her. She begins to have flashbacks to her life as Paro, where she lived in the gardener’s cottage next to the Nawab’s huge mansion and was in love with Madho, who worked for the British army. They come off a bit as simpletons, which slightly annoys me; we are meant to understand that they are innocent, naive village folk. In one amusing incident they spy on a newly-married British Army officer (Tom Alter) and his bride on their wedding night.
Outside the flashbacks, when Naresh asks Mohan to help them, Mohan scoffs at the idea of them being connected in a past life. But when Chandramukhi asks for his help he cannot say no, and is gradually convinced. Soon Chandramukhi and Mohan are falling in love (poor Naresh and Karuna!). And we are drawn into that past life, where Paro and Madho’s lives became entangled with that of the Chhote Sarkar—who is now no other than Janak Singh—with disastrous results.
I won’t say any more about the plot; as I said, the film (aided by the performances of the main actors) does lay out the groundwork deliberately and skillfully builds the suspense, although the end did feel rushed.
I really liked Priya Rajvansh as Karuna—she portrayed a difficult character very believably. I thought her quite lovely.
And Raaj Kumar was a towering figure, both as a young man and as the wealthy Nawab in present times.
I only wish that closer attention had been paid to some of the details (for example, why did Paro and Madho look exactly the same in the past as in the present to us, but apparently not to those who had known them in their previous lives?) and that the script had not wrapped things up so conveniently. Easy for me to say! but then it could have been a great film instead of just an interesting one. It is well worth a watch, though!