Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night has inspired more than a few Hindi remakes, three of which I’ve seen: Raj Kapoor’s Chori Chori, Shammi’s Basant, Aamir Khan’s Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin. This one is now my favorite by far. The camera work and lighting is as lushly beautiful as Guru Dutt’s pictures always were; there’s no need for any color here! Add the sheer gorgeousness of (and chemistry between! and performances by!) Waheeda Rehman and Dev Anand, SD Burman’s sublime songs, and Raj Khosla’s brisk direction and it’s a classic (I like it even better than Capra’s original, and that is saying something).
Beautiful Laj (Waheeda Rehman) lives with her father, two younger sisters and younger brother. She’s in love with a sullen sort of fellow named Shyam (Jagdev).
She sings the lively “Yeh Bhi Koi Ruthne” to cheer him up, but he’s sulking in an effort to get her to run away with him—and it works. She agrees to meet him later that night to go to Ahmedabad and get married. At home, her father is planning her marriage to a “boy” recommended by a friend. In the morning he’ll fly to Bangalore to meet the boy’s mother and finalize everything, and meet his future son-in-law at the airport before he goes.
Laj overhears these plans when she arrives.
Her father asks her to wake him at 5 am so that he can catch the flight to Bangalore.
Though it clearly pains her greatly, she takes a strand of precious pearls that belonged to her mother, and sneaks out of the house to meet Shyam at the train station.
Once on the train, it soon becomes clear that Shyam has something altogether different planned. A passenger “sleeping” in the seat behind hears their conversation about the expensive necklace and perks up his ears. It’s Prannath Kashyap (Dev Anand), a newspaper reporter on the prowl for a story along with his photographer friend Gogi (Sunder). Shyam slips the necklace into a pocket and gets off the train at a stop on the pretext of getting some cigarettes. Laj waits with mounting anxiety as the train begins to pull away, until it stops suddenly when the emergency chain is pulled. Shyam is forced to get back on board, and pretends that he was about to jump on a bogie further back.
I am distracted by the guy in the middle: he’s our friend Herman Benjamin!
In any case, Pran’s reporter instincts have now been thoroughly roused and he sings a funny song which takes aim at Shyam’s obvious (to him) intentions, “Hai Apna Dil To Awara.” His insinuations are not lost on either Shyam or Laj, and they leave the compartment in anger at the next stop.
Pran takes leave of Gogi and follows them (and I have to share this screen shot—the cinematography by Dwarka Divecha is just so fine):
They board the train for Ahmedabad, where Shyam finally manages to ditch Laj, taking the pearls with him. She finally sees his true character, and gets off the train to pursue him, still followed by Pran. She trips on the tracks and is almost hit by a train, but Pran pulls her clear just in time. She’s not grateful, though; she is irritated at both his interference and his refusal to chase after Shyam.
Seeing her agitation, he finally relents enough to take her to a nearby taxi stand, where another driver agrees to take them to the main garage. There they can meet the driver who took Shyam as a passenger and find out where he went. On the way, Pran continues to tease and flirt with Laj, and she remains steadfastly irritated with him. It reminds me a lot of the cab scene from Jab We Met, only without the Legoland special effects.
While they wait at the garage for Shyam’s driver, Pran sings a hilarious song—“Yehi To Hai Woh”—about Laj, while she glowers at him and the other cab drivers gather around in amusement. It’s so very very cute! I am totally in love with this pair.
The other driver finally returns and takes them to the place he had taken Shyam earlier: a film studio.
At the studio, Shyam is reassuring an actress-dancer named Neena (Kammo) about his love for her, and he shows her the pearl necklace. She is thrilled, but he suggests they sell it to a jeweler she knows so that they can get married. Meanwhile, Pran and Laj have arrived at the studio and Pran has run into his friend Gogi who happens to be working there. He asks Gogi to keep an eye out for Shyam (whom he’d seen on the train earlier) while he takes Laj to the police.
Laj refuses to go to the police or to explain anything to him, and leaves. Pran follows her. Laj, despairing, hears the voices of her father and siblings and jumps into the river with Pran close behind her. He fishes her out of the river and she finally tells him everything. He takes her to a dhobiwala so they can get dry clothes, and we are treated to the famous curtain scene. While they change clothes on opposite sides of said curtain, Pran flirts with her some more, and this time she flirts back.
He tells Laj that he’ll help her retrieve the necklace and get her back home to her family before 5:00 am—when she is supposed to wake her father. They have several hours left in which to accomplish it all. These scenes where they finally get together are so heart-meltingly sweet. Dev Anand was such a handsome and charming man in his youth. And Waheeda…well. Who wouldn’t fall in love with her?
Back at the studio, Neena is conspiring with her jeweler friend (Bir Sakhuja) to fool Shyam. Her friend declares the pearls to be fake (sending Shyam into a tizzy) and tosses the necklace to Neena—who promptly puts it on, telling Shyam that for her, they are “real” enough.
Neena is a fabulous example of a bad girl looking after herself! I need more Kammo! She is called to the sets for her dance number; on the way she blows off the jeweler too, who naturally wants to share in her ill-gotten gains. I love his face: doesn’t he look like a Barrymore? (Thanks Madhu for coming up with the actor’s name, and Kammo’s too!)
In any case, he’s not happy—and I don’t think he’s the pushover that Shyam appears to be either! Pran and Laj arrive back at the studio and are shanghaied as extras by an assistant director, at about the same time as Gogi spots Shyam in Neena’s dressing room.
Whew! Neena is wearing the necklace, the jeweler and Pran (now wearing a huge walrus moustache) and Laj are all after it as well, and Shyam’s not out of the picture yet either. Will Pran and Laj succeed in their plan to get her home with her necklace and her family none the wiser? What about their love for each other? Laj is getting engaged the next day, and she’s learned her lesson about running away from home!
Before those questions are answered, we are treated to some Tun Tun goodness as well. She hams it up as a dancer and singer, then actually sings a short bhajan (the assistant director tells her to forget acting, that she should be a playback singer—the opposite of what happened to her in real life!):
She also rescues Laj from a lecherous opportunist:
I cannot recommend this film highly enough. If you love classic Holly- or Bollywood, you will love Solva Saal. Great acting, great direction, beautiful cinematography, a thrilling and romantic story, and gorgeous songs…it has everything (except Shammi, but that’s actually okay this time).