Beth and I rewatched this the other night in honor of her Shashi Week 2009 (everyone should have his or her own week, I think, at least once a year). To be honest, Beth rewatched it; I thought I had seen it before, but if so all memory of it had been crowded out by something else—Dara Singh trivia maybe, who knows? I can’t see how I wouldn’t remember it though. It’s a really really good movie.
To use Beth’s turn of phrase, it is completely proto-masala in that it has a family separated by circumstance and all the attendant near-misses, filmi irony, etc. along with fabulous sixties (and occasionally fifties) style. The screenplay choreographs the events as smoothly as the film’s title would imply; and what a cast! Balraj Sahni, Achala Sachdev, Raaj Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Shashi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore, Sadhana, Shashikala, Madan Puri. Wah! At least I retained memory of the songs, since they are composed by one of my favorite (underrated) music directors, Ravi, with lyrics by Sahir; they are just gorgeous.
I particularly love the title music. It illustrates the movie’s theme vividly: the tides of time and fate washing over us, carrying us along in their flow, and I think it’s just hypnotic. I’ve put it here so you can hear it too if you want to (it ends somewhat abruptly—it segued nicely into the opening scene of the film but I lack the skills to make it segue nicely into silence).
The story opens as Lala Kedarnath (Balraj Sahni) opens a carpet store that has been his dream.
He’s chosen his three sons’ birthday—all born on the same day—as the auspicious date for the opening, and in the evening the family including his wife Laxmi (Achala Sachdev) gather their friends and neighbors home for a celebration. We are treated to a lovely song: “Aye Meri Zora Jabeen” and the atmosphere is festive indeed!
Alas! destiny is about to turn cruel. That night a massive earthquake strikes the town, and Kedarnath’s home is destroyed and his family torn apart.
The special effects are both cheesy and effective! Laxmi manages to hang onto the baby, while Kedarnath is knocked unconscious and disappears under the rubble, and the two older brothers are separated in the chaos. The middle son is found and adopted by a wealthy but childless couple, and the oldest is sent to an orphanage run by the nastiest piece of work to be found outside of a Dickens novel, Jeevan.
Laxmi is told by witnesses that her husband was felled by an iron beam, and she now thinks he is dead. But Kedarnath is bandaged up at a hospital and goes in search of his family. He discovers that his eldest son was at the orphanage, but has run away due to the abuse he suffered at the hands of Jeevan. In a despair-fueled rage, he attacks Jeevan and kills him, and is sent to prison.
Meanwhile, the eldest boy Raja grows up to be Raaj Kumar, a suave and successful thief by night and successful businessman by day. One night the police chase him to his own house, and inform him that a thief has escaped with a diamond necklace stolen from a wealthy judge named Mittal (Manmohan Krishna).
Is Jagdish Raj always a police inspector? Raja feels bad on hearing that it was meant as a birthday gift for Mittal’s daughter Meena (Sadhana), and he shows up at her birthday party to return it to her with quite the inventive explanation for how it came into his possession.
They are grateful to him, and he is smitten by Meena’s beauty. Sadhana looks gorgeous in this film; she reminded me very much of Audrey Hepburn, in fact. Mittal gets a phone call from his good friend Mr. Khanna, whose son Ravi (Sunil Dutt) has just graduated from law school. He is coming to Bombay and will stay with the Mittals while he looks for a job.
Ravi of course is Kedarnath’s middle son, and the Khannas his post-earthquake adoptive parents. They have since had a daughter too, named Renu (Sharmila Tagore).
The baby of Kedarnath’s family, Vijay (Shashi Kapoor) lives with Laxmi, who cries every year on his birthday.
You can tell by his expression that he’s heard this woeful narrative before. Either that, or it was take number one hundred and something. In any case, Vijay is about to graduate from college—education provided by Ma’s hard work and sacrifice over the years.
Kedarnath, still in prison, celebrates the day his sons were all born by giving out laddoos in the prison yard.
I’ll tell you, this film gave me a whole new appreciation for Balraj Sahni—not that I wasn’t a fan already, but oh my! He was so unbelievably sweet in this film. Except for the strangling Jeevan thing, but Jeevan deserved it. His expressions spoke volumes that words just never would, and squish squish squish went my dil.
At the Mittals’ home, Meena is anticipating Ravi’s imminent arrival with great joy. She sings the lovely “Kaun Aaya” and is unbelievably lovely herself. So is their home decor!
Raja comes to see her: he clearly feels at home there now, and is just as clearly in love with Meena. Who can really blame him? Word of this has even reached Raja’s “mentor” Mr. Chinoy: I am thrilled to see Rehman as the wealthy kingpin. He is upset with Raja for giving the diamond necklace back.
Madan Puri has a small role as Chinoy’s henchman Balbir. How I love Madan Puri.
When Ravi arrives, it’s quickly apparent to Raja that there is something going on between him and Meena, although he finds himself getting along with Ravi too—they are brothers after all, even if they don’t know it. Yet. Meanwhile back in Delhi, Renu is pursuing her classmate Vijay. And who can blame her? He’s initially reluctant because of the vast differences in their backgrounds, but of course he gives in eventually. And who can blame him?
We are treated to another fantastic song in the form of a class outing: “Din Hai Bahaar Ke” complete with my beloved Indian version of the Twist. College in 1960’s India always looks like such fun!
But Laxmi is seriously ill, and Vijay needs to take her to Bombay for treatment. Renu tells him that she and her father are going there too, since her brother is now living there. Poor Vijay seems a bit damaged from growing up with the sorrowing Laxmi.
So now all three brothers, their beloveds, and Ma are converging upon Bombay, and some of them are already acquainted with each other. Kedarnath has finally been released from prison and is determined to track down his family. Will time and fate bring them all together again? Will they recognize each other? Will Renu and Vijay find happiness, or will their different backgrounds tear them apart? Will Raja be able to win Meena’s love away from Ravi? Can he ever escape the clutches of the criminal Chinoy?
Watch Waqt to find out, and for a ripping good story, wonderful performances, unbelievably good songs, and eye-candy everywhere you look. It’s a rare film that brings all the important elements together perfectly, and this is one of them—kudos to director Yash Chopra. This is one that I’ll watch again and again, especially if my memory of it is erased by B-movie trivia again and again!
And janam din mubarek ho, Shashiji.