We all know about the “Curse of the Second Half” which afflicts many films. I am happy that this one avoids that, but sad to say that it suffers instead from the “Curse of the Last Half Hour Or So” and devolves into melodrama and idiocy not befitting an otherwise really good film.
It is dominated by Nana Palsikar’s fine performance as Bholanath, an elderly man who has never lost his capacity for optimism despite a life of hardship and poverty. He has pinned all his hopes on his son Ram (Rajesh Khanna), whom he has educated against all odds. The conflicted father-son relationship is portrayed poignantly and believably by both actors. Jal Mistry won a Filmfare Award for his gorgeous cinematography (the art director should have too), and RD Burman’s music is a joy.
Ram has been educated at the cost of much sacrificing by Bholanath, but despite his college degree cannot find a job. This has naturally made him very despondent, and it doesn’t help that the other townspeople—who are somewhat jealous—mock him too.
Ram’s feelings of depression and inadequacy are not helped by father’s determined cheerfulness. His is a character completely opposite from Bhola’s, and he only feels more pressure to succeed, and more despair when he does not. It’s sad to watch father and son each trying to do the right thing for the other, and failing.
Ram’s sole source of comfort is his sweetheart since childhood, Geeta (a luminous Asha Parekh). She lives with her less-than-sympathetic aunt (Manorama) and much more sympathetic (and hen-pecked) uncle (Shivraj). We meet Geeta as she sings the lovely “Aaja Piya Tohe Pyaar Doon” to Ram one night.
Geeta’s aunt disapproves of her relationship with Ram and would like to marry her off to Ranjeet (Madan Puri), a man who is better off financially than Ram and his family, but whom Geeta dislikes. Her uncle is more supportive of them, and tries to cheer up Ram as well (with little success).
All this depressing angst is much relieved by lively cameos of the town’s life and its people, in particular the jovial (and often drunk) cycle repair shop owner Lachchu (Anwar Hussain) and his mechanic Pandu (Rajendranath).
Poor Pandu is in love with the beautiful Jaishree (Padma Khanna), who sells bananas with her mother for a living.
These little scenarios make up the Comic Side Plot, and aren’t overdone for once. Hooray for effective use of the CSP!
The town’s economy revolves around the mill, which belches forth choking black smoke all day but keeps many of the town’s people employed. It is here that Bhola has labored for 30 years, ruining his health but ensuring that his son could stay in school. In desperation finally, he takes Ram there to ask the mill manager Kapoor (Premnath) to hire Ram in an office capacity which reflects his education. Kapoor is impatient, and not tolerant of the niceties of small talk which Bhola’s generation is used to employing.
Kapoor is also unimpressed by Ram’s degree.
He tells Bhola that the mill only has a place for Ram if he’s willing to work as a daily wage earner like Bhola himself. A few weeks later—soon after Ram’s sister Champa gets engaged (another fun song)—Bhola is fired from his job. Unable to tell Gauri or his children, he continues to set off for work each morning with his tiffin, but spends the day sitting with a blind sadhu until it’s time to go home.
On Diwali, Ram and Geeta romance each other at a fair. There is another great song—in color!—as they ride a ferris wheel and dream about their lives together. It’s completely strange and out of place, but only in a good way.
Meanwhile Gauri is worrying about paying for Champa’s wedding and dowry. She accidentally finds out finally that Bhola has lost his job, but says nothing about it. Undaunted by previous failures, Bhola urges Ram to attend the engagement party of the mill owner’s son, who was a classmate of Ram’s at school although they didn’t mix, and gives him money for a gift. Ram reluctantly allows himself to be persuaded that it may be a good opportunity to meet the mill owner and ask for a job, and goes, bearing a small marble replica of the Taj Mahal.
His shabby clothes and poor offering are made fun of by the groom and his friends and he is pushed aside when manager Kapoor arrives. The party entertainment is Laxmi Chhaya and Bela Bose wearing what look like giant daisy earmuffs, and it’s a lot of fun, although Ram doesn’t much enjoy it—especially when they too laugh at him.
Hurt and humiliated, he stops at the local (illegal) bar and has his first taste of alcohol with Lachchu. When he finally gets home drunk and his father asks him if he met the mill owner, he lashes out.
Then he storms out, followed by Gauri—and as only a mother can, she castigates him for his ungrateful and selfish attitude.
It’s a wonderful scene (Sulochana shines). Ram leaves to find work in Bombay, knowing that his father has no job and someone needs to support the family. He doesn’t find work there, either (he grows a beard, though!) and finally returns home, defeated again. But this time he goes to the mill and gets a job like his father had—as a menial laborer for very poor wages indeed. He doesn’t let his family know he is back, unable to face them, and spends his evenings at the liquor joint drinking what little money he’s making away (making a very effective point about alcoholism fueled by despair).
Bhola, convinced that Ram has gotten a good job in the city and will send money home, borrows a huge sum from the moneylender (Ram Avtar) for Champa’s wedding. Lachchu “convinces” the other townspeople to keep Ram’s presence in the town and at the mill a secret from his family.
It’s Geeta’s uncle who halts Ram’s downward spiral one day, pointing out that perhaps Ram is at the mill by God’s will.
He tells Ram that the current Union leader is firmly in management’s pockets, and has done nothing for the workers in the mill. They are injured and fall sick because of mill conditions, and then let go when no longer useful (as Bhola was) with no compensation despite laws in place to protect them. He introduces Ram to a Union organizer—who has come to town with his own agenda.
Will Ram take up the fight for workers’ rights? If so, what will Kapoor and the mill owner do? What is the Union organizer’s real purpose? Can Ram ever pay off his father’s debts and make him proud? Will he be able to marry Geeta? At this point the story could have gone in several different directions, and unfortunately it chose to go off the rails. It answers the above questions, but stupidly.
Having said that, this is well worth sitting through, at least until those last dreadful thirty minutes or so. Rajesh Khanna doesn’t quite have his “Super Star” charisma and charm yet, but his acting skills are on full display. Ram is a character who could have been annoyingly morose and selfish in the wrong hands, but Rajesh imbues him with the humanity necessary to make him sympathetic. Asha Parekh doesn’t have a lot to do, but she is gorgeous (and has a feisty altercation with the fearsome Manorama!).
And finally, the plot avoids sinking too far into pathos and melodrama (until the end) thanks to the charm of the town inhabitants (a great array of character actors), and the never-say-die spirit of Bhola. Wah! Nana Palsikar!
An *almost great* effort from one of my favorite producer/director/writers, Nasir Husain.