Dillagi (1978)


Basu Chatterjee’s films are difficult for me to like. There: I’ve said it! They tread a fine line: even the ones that do work for me (Piya Ka Ghar, Chhoti Si Baat), despite being funny and sweet, ultimately find me getting restless. The ones that don’t work (Rajnigandha, Baaton Baaton Mein) just bore my socks off.

Dillagi had moments which made me laugh very hard (like the scene captured above where Dharmendra puts on one of Hema’s saris so that his own rain-soaked clothes can dry). It also helped that I watched it with Beth, whose witty commentary kept me entertained even when the film didn’t. It had potential, but in the end Hema’s character was so egregiously tiresome that it made me want to poke my eyes out. It also rendered Dharmendra’s pursuit of her—the essential plot point—completely unbelievable for me.

Renu (Hema Malini) is the science teacher at a girls’ college. She has such a frigid and repressed personality that her students have nicknamed her CO2 (Carbon Dioxide). The arrival of a handsome new Sanskrit teacher named Kamal (Dharmendra) sends her into a tizzy of disapproval—although he is smitten at first sight.


And herein lies the big problem: Renu is so narrow-minded and bent on squelching any “frivolity” (for example, the girls in her hostel dancing) that you can’t possibly like her. Her face is so pursed up that it looks like she exists on a diet of lemons for breakfast, lemons for lunch and lemons for dinner. She quickly becomes incredibly annoying.


Kamal on the other hand is an incurable romantic; we know this because he quotes Kalidas endlessly and carries a red rosebud around with him every minute of every day. This too becomes annoying, although he does get a number of more relaxed and cute moments—like this imagined Holi performance (great song!) with a group of dhobi-walas.


Kamal does his best to woo Renu, and despite getting slapped down time and again he perseveres. I quickly want him to give up; it seems to me that he could do better, plus their endless repetition of the same basic conversation is unbelievably BORING.

The bright moments in the film (and there are some!) come mostly from his young female students, who are amusingly susceptible to their poetry-spouting sensitive-guy literature professor. It doesn’t help that his lectures are audible to everyone in Renu’s class next door (which of course annoys her no end).


My favorite of these students is the overweight but gorgeous Charu (Preeti Ganguly—daughter of Ashok Kumar), although her crush on Kamal Babu is unfortunately played for laughs by using her weight as the catalyst for humor (I’m not a big fan of fat jokes).


Kamal tries to convince Renu to play Shakuntala opposite him in a school fund-raiser, but she indignantly refuses (plays, like dancing, are apparently not for “good” girls). This leads to one of my favorite scenes, where Renu (in the audience) fantasizes that she is Shakuntala; I love it because Dharmendra’s costume is just FAB and so is the stage scenery (trees that are painted exactly like the background foliage in Indian miniature paintings). Those are no longer just your grandmother’s pearls!


The school holidays arrive, and Renu is going to her home in Kashipur. Kamal sees her at the train station and tells her that he will be visiting his sister who lives in Kashipur as well, and that he’ll come and see her. She doesn’t allow him to see that she might welcome a visit but luckily he has a very healthy ego.

At home, Renu’s mother (Urmila Bhatt) and brother Ramesh (Asrani) thinks it’s time Renu got married, especially since Ramesh is now engaged and he’s younger than she is. He enlists the help of a photographer friend (played by the Indian version of Sonny Bono) to take some pictures for a matrimonial ad.


Renu is reluctant to go out since Kamal has written to say that he will visit her that day, but she’s bullied into it. This is another facet of Renu’s character which I can’t tolerate: she is unable to say what she wants or what’s on her mind, beats around the bush, and eventually just gives up. It gets her into trouble later, and I don’t feel sorry for her at all. I know that I’m putting my western culture onto a Hindi film but I can’t help it.

On their trip to the park, they meet an acquaintance of Ramesh named Gopal (Deven Verma). Gopal is also a college lecturer and a two-timing lech to boot. His girlfriend Shobha (Anjali Paigankar) is pestering him to get married, but he’s always got his eye on several girls. Renu does not escape his notice either—which does not escape Shobha’s notice!


Why she wants to marry a man she can’t trust escapes me, but never mind. Renu and Kamal do meet, and she thaws quickly (I guess since she isn’t guarding her students’ honor at home she can relax a bit). When they return to the college, everyone notices the difference in Renu. But meanwhile, her brother has put a matrimonial ad for her in the papers. She encourages Kamal to answer it, and when Ramesh tells her that one respondent is a college professor, she assumes that it’s Kamal and accepts the proposal.

But it isn’t Kamal; it’s lecherous Gopal! What will happen next? Well, I have to admit that by this point I simply didn’t care. But the climax does provide Dharmendra with ample opportunity to show off his comic skills, and made me laugh until my stomach hurt. If the whole film had been as entertaining as the last fifteen or twenty minutes (think Chashme Buddoor funny), I’d have loved it.


One more point: this poor film is in serious need of some restoration. Large portions of it looked like this:



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54 Comments to “Dillagi (1978)”

  1. I love this movie for exactly one reason: Dharmendra. I love it when he plays these nerdy gentlemanly roles. Awww! So cute!

    And Hema without the pancake is absolutely fab, but argh @ Renu.

  2. Dharmendra was hilarious, and *almost* made me like it. I certainly loved him in it.

    But Renu proved to be too unbearable. I think I will probably watch it again, and fast-forward through most of her, and just watch him.

  3. Yes! What she said! This movie was BORING. I am glad you bothered to get some good screen shots, though, for evidence that not absolutely every second of it was a total waste.

  4. Not every second, just most of them :-)

  5. Awww I love this movie (yup, I am a sucker for Basu Chatterji’s movies). Hema does the buttoned-up broad so well. Her Caarbon deeeoxide ki praaperties had me in splits. I thought their romance was cute too, but the end was a bit of a let down.

  6. Different strokes! It drove me insane that she could ONLY talk about caarbon deeoxide ki praaperties and nothing else! And the end is mostly what had me in splits :-D

  7. I saw this a v v long time ago, and what I do remember is the endless Kalidas quotes (?) and Preeti Ganguly- she was so adorable I heard that she lost a lot of weight, and then no one recognized her and she couldnt get any movies as a consequence! AND she married deven verma, that lecherous prof :D That’s really kinda cute :)

  8. BV, is part of the appeal seeing someone in your approximate line of work on screen? I just squealed and clapped my way through Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic’s ridonkulous museum song.

  9. shweta, I found all that out about Preeti seeing her in this :-) She was absolutely so beautiful and vibrant onscreen…but yes, I guess she lost a lot of weight and stopped getting roles. But now she runs an acting school or something in Bombay, and is married to Deven Verma (might even have been when this was filmed, not sure)…good for her!

    and yes, the Kalidas quotes were ENDLESS :-)

  10. Preeti Ganguli was married to Deven Varma! I always thought he married another of Ashok Kumar’s daughters.

    @Beth: no they dont appeal to my professional love! lol Its more that I am a lot more forgiving of snooty heroines (and Hema can be forgiven a lot when she isnt wearing a wig!). Besides, the characters are very believable – lecturers and girls’ hostels in 90s India were still pretty similar to the ones in this movie.

  11. bollyviewer: Ashok Kumar only had one daughter, and that was Preeti (in fact she was his only child, period).


  12. Really? I thought he had more kids because apparently Anuradha Patel is his granddaughter and Preeti and Deven Varma certainly dont seem old enough to have a daughter that old!

  13. Even I thought Deven Verma married the older daughter of Ashok Kumar. Preeti is his younger daughter.

    Hema is gorgeous in the screen caps you have posted memsaab (except the one with glasses on where she is reading something)

    This was an unusual Dharm Hema movie ie more serious. They were more famous for their masala movies – songs/locales/dishoom dishoom etc etc

  14. Well, that’s according to imdb, which is notoriously inaccurate sometimes, although I remember vaguely from reading his biography that he only had one child. I will check in that again. Perhaps Anuradha is adopted, or maybe Preeti and Deven are that old! They are older than I am, after all ;-)

  15. Hmm, I too was under the impression that Deven Verma was married to another daughter and not Preeti [although it wouldn’t surprise me if they were, just like in “Khatta Meetha” :-)]. I did find an article though that says he was married to her sister Rupa, and that Ashok Kumar had four children (a son and three daughters): http://www.screenindia.com/old/feb12/tele1.htm

  16. Long time since I saw this one, and yes – about the only thing I remember was that it didn’t have the usual masala of Dharmendra-Hema films. And when I saw this (as a callow teenager), any film without masala was just not worth it, so (irrespective of anything else) I guess I automatically slotted it in the `no need to see again’ category. Maybe I was right.

  17. A few days ago, we were watching bits of ‘Chhoti si baat’ and Dhanno kept asking me, when does it get funny? And the truth is, it doesn’t. Except for an odd moment here or there. I remember being very irritated by ‘Dillagi’ too, and I’m not a big fan of Hema Malini de-glam. Her forehead looks too big, and she really, really needs to dress down so much to appear de-glam. Dharam however does it beautifully. And he is funny, too.

  18. Thanks Sy for that link. Confirms my impression about Ashok Kumar having a son and 3 daughters. Interesting to know that Anuradha Patel is Bharati Jaffery’s daughter. I knew that Anuradha Patel was Ashok Kumar’s grand daughter.

  19. Oh dear, I rather like Basu Chatterjee :-) Just saw Apne Paraye recently and remembered how much. To see him take on a caper, see his “Chakravyuh” with Rajesh Khanna and Neetu. The pity of it is the last 10 minutes which goes nuts unfortunately :-D

    Though she does sound kinda sour here, Hema de-glam is v.v. lovely as done by Gulzar in Khushboo, as well as his assistant Meraj’s Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein, which imo is one of Kaka’s and her best.

  20. Sy: Thanks for the link :-) I can’t find the bio, which is not surprising at all given how books in my house pile up randomly.

    dustedoff: No masala at all, which is okay sometimes…but this was just boring.

    Banno: I liked Chhoti Si Baat, loved Ashok Kumar in it :-) He was a riot! And somehow the pacing of it was better than this, which just got stuck in an endless Hema-is-a-bitch loop. But yes, Dharmendra was hilarious in places, although I really wanted to scream “Put!Down!The!Rose!” He carried that thing everywhere!

    Anonymous: The Kumar/Mukherjee families are as endless as the Kapoors, it seems!

    Suhan: I have Apne Paraye, will give it a chance when I’m in the mood for something sloooow :-P Hema de-glam doesn’t bother me as long as her face isn’t constantly twisted up like a prune.

  21. Preeti Ganguli was a delight!

    I hear she married a south Indian movie person and that pissed off her father majorly.

    I am not one for Basu Chatterjee’s films. The fun bits are sparse on the ground. The rest is just MEH.

    Dharmendra is a better ACTOR than he got credit for. Hema Malini is just lovely. That all!

  22. LOL, I thought people would rip me to shreds! Kiran, that’s a perfect way to put it: the fun bits are sparse on the ground.

    Dharmendra is a much better (and more versatile) actor than he ever got credit for. And usually I love him with Hema.

    And I did love Preeti :-)

  23. I am pretty surprised!
    Anyways… I guess I will have to watch this one once again atleast (As i saw it when i was in my teens, with lesser understanding) to comment on the review that you’ve put up.

  24. Hrikesh M & Basu C both made sort of de-glam films, but I think the former hit the mark more often for me. BC’s were just de-glam, and never quite made it for me.

    So I had a good laugh over the Hema-prune and the rest of the review.

    Obituary’s in all the newspapers from India Today to The Telegraph all list 3 children, 1 son and 2 daughters.

  25. Yes, I think of Basu C as a Hrishikesh M wanna-be…glad my pain could result in a good laugh for you :-)

  26. LOL at the thought of Basu Chatterjee as a Hrishikesh Mukherjee wannabe. And LOLLL at ‘the Indian version of Sonny Bono’!
    I enjoyed ‘Dillagi’ although it did plod along quite a bit, especially the early part of the film, and yeah, Hema’s character was ridiculously uptight.
    And YES, the rose got to me after a while. I was like, ‘Dharam ji, put that thing down’! That was annoying.
    But the film did have its more pleasant moments – the comedy towards the end was silly but fun – Dharam is so good at comedy, and some of the college bits were really cute and sweet. And I agree – the Holi song was lovely and perked me up considerably. I enjoyed it overall, although it’ll never be one of my favourite Dharmendra films.

  27. No offenses, memsaab.. but Basu Chatterjee’s character as well as humour was more grounded and could be related to… than that of Hrishi da (I am a HUUUGE fan of both of them!)

    Completely my opinion..

  28. DG: He looked exactly like Sonny Bono at times. Dharam in the Holi song, Dharam wearing Hema’s saree and Dharam at the especially with the broken glasses just cracked me up. But that was it, bas. I have seen worse movies though for sure!

    Harsh: No offence taken, we will just have to agree to disagree on the subject of Basu C. :-) But that’s okay with me!

  29. I hope as I follow your blog in the coming days (hopefully, forever), The pact of agreeing to disagree doesnt stretch itself and remains limited to Basu Chatterjee only…

  30. Well, discussions are more interesting when there are disagreements! One thing though I will never waver from, and that is my love for Hindi cinema in general (and I have enjoyed a couple of his films, and plan to see more).


  31. Talking of Basu chatterjee, Do try Ek ruka hua Faisla & Khatta Meetha.. In mu Humble Opinion, They are two awesome pieces of work of those times…

  32. sounds to be a good mive and I love the discussions here.
    Great crowd!
    Thanks everybody!

    I think to understand hema in the movie, you have to understand the way indian women have to be, if they have to be successful/survive. It seems u can be either docile and do the proper maa-role or be like hema here or be a ‘whore’.

    I liked the shot of her face when she ‘catches’ the girls dancing. There is no scorn or anger rather a great longing to be fun-loving and care-free like them.

    And one shouldn’t forget, she lives alone in the small town there and she should build a wall like that, otherwise some men think you are an easy ‘maal’.

    I know of some unmarried women in india, who have to build up this ice-maiden image otherwise there are enough people around, who would misinterpret everything or make snide remarks or make passes at you. And if anything happens the woman is ALWAYS at fault.

    So don’t blame Hema’s character rather the society in which she is compelled to live.

    A pity, that this situation is not dealt with at all in the movies. But I think if you want to enjoy movies, you have to overlook certain things.

    But thank god, times are changing.

    Looking forward to more reviews

  33. harvey: I’m so glad you brought that up, actually, because I did think of it. I know from travelling in India myself that any kind of just basic friendliness is misinterpreted—sometimes all I do is say “Hello” and smile, and then I’m followed and harassed for the next 45 minutes! And I have to be very careful who I open my hotel room door to, because even if I’m not remotely friendly just the fact that I’m white seems to be enough to make men think I am easy. I’ve had some bad experiences with hotel workers! It’s one of my LEAST favorite things about traveling there (in fact, I don’t care to travel there by myself although elsewhere I am very intrepid and self-sufficient—it just gets to be an overwhelming hassle).

    But I wish somehow she had imbued the character with some charm…for instance, I didn’t see the longing that you did when she remonstrated with the girls for dancing; she only seemed angry—but perhaps I missed nuances because I was already irritated by then :-) I know that my western upbringing sometimes makes me less willing to accept things than I would were I Indian myself. But what can I do? :-)

  34. Very nicely pur up, Harvey! Thanks!

  35. Sorry, I guess I’m not done yet! I think I also felt very irritated because I know plenty of women who are like that HERE, not Indian but American women, who aren’t able to speak up for what they want and think that somehow because they are female their opinions are less important or less welcome. And that if they wear low-cut dresses or tight jeans then they are “inviting” trouble and deserve to be harassed or worse.

    Things are changing that way too (my teenaged nieces hopefully will not come across nearly as many women like that as I have in life), but it all takes time I guess.

    Okay, I’m climbing down from the soap box now.

  36. memsaab: changing the subject:
    Congrats on your new President: and of course Indians have already thought up a Bollywood song for him:


    I don’t think they will be playing that at the inaugural balls, although it would liven up things even more…

  37. Oh it’s a lovely song although I wish the English subtitles were obscured by the horrible TV station graphics (some things are universal).

    I am very happy today, believe me! He is an inspiring man and I said this elsewhere today already, but Barack Obama zindabad!

    I’ll be he would have it played at the inaugural balls if he could! :-)

  38. Memsaab, don’t fret – agley janam mein (in your next birth) as a desi kuddi (indian gal) – you may fall in love with Basu Da’s movies!

  39. wah:) i saw this movie when it was released and since then i never found it again neither on TV nor any dVD, dont evven know whether I will like it now, but i was looking for it for a long time and this review made me so happy, those old movies look silly now in places , but still that old romance , I still find very apealing and Dharmendra..he was the ultimate handsome hero:)

  40. o memsaab, I can imagine what you and other women have to put up with in India. Some men are really horrible machos (in the worst sense of the word) in India (and elsewhere) and they represent the malehood !!??

    But I understand your grief about women who look down upon themsleves as well. That is also a matter of upbringing or a security mechanism or something like that. But isn’t that tragic! Don’t get irritated, just wonder! ;-)

    But times, as they say, are changing :-))
    Barack Obama Zindabad! that’s great!

  41. if i may return back to hema’s character in the movie:
    I had a look at the scene again.
    Till everybody runs away, her face looks quite neutral. And then, when she blurts out her dialogues, does she really look angry. I don’t know if it was really intended that way or Hema played the role badly.
    If you want a real exhibition of facial gestures form Hema, watch Lal Patthar (with your now fav Raaj Kumar and Rakhee as well). Trained as she was in Bharat Natyam I don’t think Hema lacked any facial gestures.

    Hasn’t it happened to you, that you are confronted with something. You like it, but you act against your basic feelings just because others expect it from you? In the present case, her outburst comes after the girls run away, so the first reaction is from their side not from her. If she had disapproved so badly about their dancing, she would have blown her fuse right there in the corridor or the latest when she opens the door. One really doesn’t wait till everybody has noticed your presence to blow your top.

    On the other hand, if she had started shouting at them in the corridor itself, it wouldn’t have been a good scene.


    I agree BAsu Chat’s movies are slow.
    But exactly in this slowness lie their charm.

  42. I too did not like this movie. If I remember correctly, it was because I did not like Dharmendra wooing Hema Malini. ;) How dare he behave in such an unIndian manner ? :)

  43. Anonymous: I was kind of hoping that I might be done with all my lives ;-)

    Renu: That makes me happy, that even though I didn’t much like it you could enjoy the review and it brings back good memories!

    harvey: It doesn’t even seem to me to be a “macho” thing, just more of a completely clueless thing! A symptom of repression, in some ways, and in others a total misunderstanding of western culture (thank you Manoj Kumar). But I do what I can to give them a clue ;-) I have Lal Patthar in my to-watch stack(s) too, and I’m a great Hema fan generally—just didn’t like her in this.

    Atul: How was Dharmendra un-Indian? Do elaborate!

  44. @Memsaab

    Lal Patthar is Hema Malini’s personal favourite performance…

  45. It was a typo. The reason why I did not like the movie was that Dharmendra was constantly shown quoting Kalidas ( invariably erotic passages from Kalidas’s works). And like Hema Malini, I was a puritanican fellow those days. ;)

  46. LOL Atul! Does that mean you have become corrupted by our western ways?

  47. Or you can say that I have become reformed. ;)

  48. As always, whether one agrees or not reading your reviews are a great pleasure, memsaab, and i would like to happily agree to disagree.
    I love such middle class, slow, simple films.

    Geeta taunts Hema once with “you haven’t encountered love in spite of being beyond that age of first finding out about it, what has made you so bad tempered.”
    I guess we are supposed to accept this – a third person’s view.

    Later in the film Hema tells Dharmender that while growing up she felt so responsible for her mother and brother that she could think *only* in terms of mother/brother which prevented her from feeling ‘those’ kinds of feeling.

    To this Dharmender replied that she had not outgrown the age of feeling it, and can still do.

    She saucily asks whether he was still quoting Kalidas.

    So I don’t think that Hema’s behaviour is a standard behaviour of Indian women, but rather one in Hema’s position.

    The impression I got was that it was Dharmender seeing Hema as Shakuntala.

    Loved those lectures on quotes from Kalidas from one room interespersed with all that chemical stuff in another.

    I understood the smelling of the rose as taken from innumerable miniature paintings that abound in the North Indian art history.

    OT: Hema’s saris were gorgeous!!! She wore them so well and gracefully.
    The girls reminded me of my college days, and had to learn about carbondeeeoxide ki praaaperties. :-)
    Unfortunately there was no handsome professor around.

    • *sad* at no Dharmendra-like professor…

      It wasn’t a total loss, there were pieces of it that I enjoyed. But it’s just not something I’d watch over and over again.

  49. Does anyone of you know any details about Ashok kumar kids? I have some but not all…
    some where I read that “Today Dadamoni could count six grandchildren and eight great-grandkids.”
    I know of 3 grandkids thru Bharati, & 2 great-grandkids thru Anuradha Patel.
    does anyone know if Devan Verma & Rupa has any kids OR Arup Kumar & Nirmala has any kids ???

  50. Work contributed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee & Satyajit Rai and like minded people are really difficult to replaced! They were brilliant.

  51. i love this picture Dillagi, I can see this movie many times……………..the chemistry between Dharmendra and hemamalini is very good…..it is a light movie not like today movies in which there is only sex based love and relations.
    Love is this which is shown in this movie Dillagi between Dharmendra & Hemamalini…………
    I like this movie very very much.

  52. I love this movie..cool and soothing.. Both Dharam and Hema are beautiful in the Sakuntala stage drama, it is always delightful to watch them on the screen..I am a great fan of this jodi.

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