At a run time of almost three hours, this film is about two hours too long. This can be blamed on two things: Mehmood, and the fact that it’s crammed with every melodramatic cliche in Hindi film history. In point of fact, Mehmood should be credited as the main star of the film, with Shammi as his co-star and sidekick. Not only is entirely too much time spent on the irritating—and predictable—CSP (Shubha Khote as Mehmood’s love interest, with of course Dhumal as her father and the rather startling spectacle of Leela Mishra in a brown wig as her mother), but he figures in the main plot far more than Shammi does too. His character reminds me of the animals in Manmohan Desai films; he is smarter than all the humans combined, and loyal and true to a fault—and he is everywhere. Additionally, we are treated to all these various plot points: communal harmony, the bhai-bahen rishtaa, the rape-suicide trope, blindness, bad western-influenced girls turned into good sari-clad ones, bromantic pyare-dost, the saving of an atheist’s soul, and much, much more!
Why would anyone sit through this even once, you ask—let alone several times? Shammi, my friends, Shammi. Plus the initial sparkle of a rifle-wielding and stylish Babita, the joy of Lalita Pawar as identical twins, and Shankar-Jaikishan’s songs, which are lots of fun.
It starts out promisingly enough, too, with grandmother Sarojini Devi (Lalita Pawar) offering up compliments to penniless Ashok (Shammi Kapoor).
Sarojini wants his help in reforming her three wayward granddaughters: Anju and Manju, who have gotten involved with unsuitable (and unsavory) men, and Asha (Babita), who hates men as a result of her mother’s disastrous marriage. Sarojini wants all three girls to marry men of her choice, so Ashok’s task is to break up Anju’s and Manju’s relationships and convince Asha that marriage is a good thing.
Initially Ashok refuses her offer of employment, but he has a blind sister Rupa (Jayanthi) at home whom he loves dearly. He blames himself for her blindness (not sure why—a childhood prank gone awry?). He receives news that she has a chance at getting her sight restored by a foreign-returned eye surgeon, but the cost of the operation is prohibitive.
Remembering that Sarojini had offered him any amount of money he wants, Ashok goes off to tell her he’s changed his mind. On his way, he meets Mahesh (Mehmood), who is wooing Sheela (Shubha Khote). Her parents are divorced as a result of their different backgrounds, and each wants Sheela to marry a boy only of his (Maharashtrian) and her (Sindhi) community. Poor Mahesh is neither, and this is a source of great sorrow (and would-be comedy). The only good thing I can say about this tired tired tired CSP is that Leela Mishra has a very different role than her usual granny type.
That is kind of fun, but not enough fun to make up for the fact that it goes on and on and on and on. Mahesh bonds with Ashok when Ashok tries to help him out (by singing a song about communal harmony, “Gangaa Meri Maa Ka Naam”). It turns out in the first of many, many, many coincidences in this story that Mahesh is also Sarojini Devi’s chauffeur.
He explains what Ashok is up against. Anju’s boyfriend is an erstwhile “Prince”:
Heh. Asha, the eldest, is a real live wire. We meet her at the local police station, where she has marched a lineup of bloodied and battered “roadside Romeos” to be punished by the local inspector (Jagdish Raj).
She claims that they all crashed into a buffalo as they ran away from her, and that’s why they are injured. Clearly frightened, they chorus their agreement. It’s very cute. Plus, I am totally enthralled by her outfit: she’s wearing what I wouldn’t even call hip-huggers—more crotch-huggers, with a wide white belt and orange sweater. Madly stylish! Ashok, peering in the station window, appears to think so too.
Sarojini Devi is glad to see him, and explains why she is opposed to love marriages. Her identical twin sister Sarita eloped years before with a very unsuitable and debauched man, and she doesn’t want to see her granddaughters in the same boat.
Ashok gets to work quickly, aided by the loyal Mahesh—who pops up everywhere. I begin to use the FF button judiciously. Manju’s boyfriend (Manmohan) plans to blackmail her into marriage (why, when she is already in love with him, is never clear), and Anju’s faux Prince is coaxing her into helping him out financially since his assets are all tied up in an alleged court case.
Older sister Asha doesn’t care for her siblings’ tastes much either, and is doing her best to subvert their relationships too.
I love her “Hee Haw” braids! Her efforts in this direction put her squarely in Ashok’s path, and they become acquainted when she shoots at one of her sisters’ beaus and Ashok pretends to be hit instead. An elaborate hoax to woo her follows, and more antics and interruptions from Mehmood. My favorite part of this is the beautiful “Janam Janam Ka Saath Hai” which would probably be on the list (if I ever made one) of my favorite Shammi songs.
It’s closely followed by a night club song (“Kisko Pyar Karoon”), where Shammi gives us his trademark best, flinging himself with abandon around the room. He starts the song off by saying into a phone: “Hello my love, my dove, my pigeon, my cactus plant!” I am reminded that he said that same phrase on the day I visited him back in March as well, and it was hilarious. He didn’t say it to me, but as punctuation for a story he was telling; still, I almost fainted with delight.
In the course of making Asha fall for him, he falls for her too, and after he rescues her sisters from their respective suitors they approve of him too. All three girls become obedient and sweet to their grandmother, and wear only Indian clothes. I think we are supposed to approve of this transformation, but it only makes me sad. I miss the crotch-huggers and go-go boots! There is another lovely song for Asha and Ashok, though—“Rangat Teri Surat”—a very sweet and romantic duet which makes me melt into a puddle (it doesn’t hurt that it’s a rain song, too).
The CSP is still endlessly interrupting the proceedings, which does give Shammi the chance to disguise himself (as a Sindhi) and Mehmood to dress as a woman.
The fun and games are about to come to an end, though. Sarojini has a trusted estate manager whose nephew Pran (Pran) is returning from abroad, and whom she wants Asha to marry. “Returning from abroad” in this case means being released from a long spell in prison.
Nephew and uncle are plotting to get their hands on Sarojini’s estate—not the decent work jailer Murad is hoping for!
At the same time, Ashok and Asha are caught romancing by Sarojini (in a nod to Shammi’s Yahoo! persona, which Babita seems to enjoy hugely):
and she is not happy at all. Ashok is too poor to marry her granddaughter! She tells Asha that she had hired him, and asks him how much money he wants in order to go away. He chooses this point in time to remember poor blind Rupa, takes the 15000 rupees from Sarojini, and departs, breaking Asha’s heart into little chhoti pieces.
At home, Rupa makes the mistake of trusting none other than just-freed Pran to give her a ride home in a rainstorm. He tricks her into the locking the door with him still inside, and rapes her. It’s quite dreadful and very sad. Afterwards, she clearly has no option but to kill herself.
Ashok arrives home to find her gone—and puts two and two together from the evidence he finds at the scene (discarded bottle of liquor, broken bangles, mussed-up bed). Someone tells him that Rupa was seen going towards the river, and Ashok finds the torn end of her sari caught in a branch on the shore.
Now the film descends into that over-the-top melodrama that drives me insane. Rupa has been rescued from the river and taken to a hospital. The doctor (Rehman) says that he can restore Rupa’s vision, and that the woman who rescued her wants to pay for it. The angel of mercy is…Sarojini Devi?!
Ashok sees Sarojini elsewhere the next day, and flings the 15000 rupees back in her face. Of course, it isn’t Sarojini—the woman who has rescued Rupa, and whom Ashok has mistaken for Sarojini, is in fact her twin sister Sarita.
She pays for Rupa’s sight to be restored, but she is no angel! When Rupa has recovered, Sarita forces her to come with her to the brothel that she and her husband (Madan Puri) operate; they plan to recoup their investment and more by forcing Rupa into a life of prostitution.
Meanwhile, Sarojini Devi has annouced Asha’s engagement to her manager’s newly “returned” nephew, Pran. Asha, crushed by Ashok’s betrayal, doesn’t put up much of a fight and agrees to marry him.
What will happen next? There’s still an hour of melodrama and coincidences and twists and turns to come! Will Ashok discover that Rupa isn’t dead? Will she be able to escape the brothel? Will Asha marry the evil rapist Pran? Will the Comic Side Plot ever end? Why is there so much Mehmood? (My theory is that Shammi disappeared—possibly to get remarried?—in the middle of making this film.)
There are a few more goodies, chief among them Aruna Irani’s excellent cabaret number (“Aankhon Mein Aankhen”) in a nightclub resplendent with dangerously low-hanging chandeliers.
But really there’s only one reason to watch this film at all: Shammi.
Shammi, Shammi, Shammi!
How I adore him. Just in case you didn’t know.