This is not a very good film. In fact, many might flat-out call it a bad one. But I was entertained thoroughly by the sheer power of Ashok Kumar’s awesome performance, an Abundance Of Helen, and the gaudy spectacle of Pradeep Kumar’s makeup (he wears more of it even than the ladies). Plus, a (way too) short appearance by my favorite band, Ted Lyons & His Cubs in the seventh film that I know about, so far. And with Helen, too—a first! I’m always happy to see them and hear their bahut achcha cha cha tunes. And so I found it easy to put up with the predictable plot, the dreary Pradeep-Padmini pairing, the day/night continuity issues, horrible editing (apparently a five year old was given responsibility) and so on. It is, when all is said and done, Dadamoni’s movie, and he is great in it.
He plays Gopal, a cheerfully unrepentant criminal who has spent the past few years behind bars as Prisoner No. 16. We meet him on a rainy night (sometimes day) as the transport vehicle transferring him and others to a different jail meets with an accident. Hilariously, the other prisoners stay put in a very docile manner until the police arrive—but not Gopal.
He flees through the thick forest, and is shot in the leg the next morning by the estate owner Shekhar (Pradeep Kumar) who appears to have never been taught that you shouldn’t shoot at something you can’t actually see. In any case, Shekhar takes him home and bandages him up. Shekhar lives with his servant Guloo (Jagdeep—unlike many people, I love Jagdeep, and he’s got great chemistry with Dadamoni in this film) and a cute young boy he has adopted who is dumb (Master Khaliq). When Gopal inquires gently about the mistress of the house, Shekhar orders him brusquely to leave as soon as he’s better. Guloo explains:
Shekhar’s timber estate is vast, and Gopal quickly realizes that it’s as good a place to hide out as any. He cooks up his own story about hating women to get back in Shekhar’s graces, and it works like a charm. Shekhar invites him to stay as long as he likes, and Gopal settles into the guest house.
Now along comes lovely Renu (Padmini). She sings as she drives along (Chitragupta’s music in this is very nice), until she gets stuck when her car stalls in a flooding river. Drenched, she makes her way to a house but finds nobody home. Here she makes a decision which I might not have, given that the house is obviously occupied—fire burning in the fireplace, lights on, comfortable furniture. She takes off her wet sari and goes to sleep in a comfortable bed she finds upstairs. Naturally, it’s Shekhar’s house, and Shekhar’s bed.
How very Mills & Boon! He orders her out, angrily—even though it’s still raining hard, and the middle of the night (sometimes day). Gopal, hearing the commotion, intervenes. Renu’s haughty attitude catches his interest when she tells him angrily that she could buy him if she wanted. She sounds, he says, like she is:
Gopal sneaks her into his guest house to stay the night and gets her to confide in him. She’s running away from a distasteful marriage that her stepmother has arranged, and is the daughter of a very wealthy man indeed, named Jeevanlal. She wants to find her own life partner, she says.
Gopal, thinking he might be able to ransom her back to her father, tells her to stay hidden from Shekhar. Unfortunately, Shekhar spots her the next morning (she doesn’t make much of an attempt to stay hidden) and boots her off the estate, to Gopal’s chagrin. In more Mills & Boon action, though, shikar Shekhar saves her from a prowling tiger and brings an unconscious Renu back to the estate—but only temporarily.
The editing through here is so choppy that it’s almost impossible to follow what’s going on—very frustrating. It may be attributed to poor original film quality or the five-year-old I talked about, it’s hard to tell. In any case, Renu and Shekhar continue to clash: he keeps kicking her out and then has to take her back, thanks to Gopal and Guloo’s plotting. Gopal—initially trying to keep her there for his own gain—sees the sparks between them, and having begun to like them both, decides to bring them together. He wisely starts with Renu.
(Loves animals he isn’t shooting is the unspoken caveat here.) Once Renu is on board, she begins to pursue Shekhar with that singlemindedness of purpose we are all familiar with in Hindi cinema. His last remnants of resistance dissolve when she “saves” an injured Shekhar from a troop of marauding elephants.
This whole episode is so unconvincing and badly done that I scribble on my notepad: “she saves him (or the lack of actual danger does)”—and this is also where the story in general really begins to go downhill. Once in love, Renu and Shekhar have no chemistry at all. I don’t blame either Padmini or Pradeep Kumar for this—it’s just a lackluster combination, I think. Individually they are okay. Plus, the plot gets dumber (and the script lazier) from here too.
But thank goodness—Helen also enters at this point, in a flashback, as Shekhar tells Renu the reason behind his hatred of women.
I am thrilled to see Helen shimmying in front of Ted Lyons & His Cubs. Thrilled!
It’s sadly a very short little interlude, but better than no Ted Lyons at all! And it’s followed by this beauty:
With Helen (almost) always comes over-the-top opulence, and how can that not work out in our favor? Shekhar tells Renu that he discovered after he married her that Kamini had married him for his money, and was in cahoots with her lover (Anwar Hussain) to bilk him of his fortune. Broken-hearted, he banished Kamini from the house and its fab wall decorations:
AND his life, and hit the bottle (Vat 69, of course). A few weeks later, Kamini’s father told Shekhar that she had died in an auto accident with her lover (whew!).
Back in the present, Renu shows herself to be very understanding, and they pledge their love to each other and get married (despite the arrival of Renu’s stepmother and father, and said stepmother’s attempts to interfere—which are quickly shut down by her father and everyone else).
Nahiiiin face from Tun Tun—what a treat! Of course Gopal is invited to the wedding at Renu’s house in the city, but can’t go for fear of being caught. This causes him some regretful reflection (Guloo has long since discovered his secret, but kept it quiet).
Renu and Shekhar’s wedded happiness doesn’t even last one night.
Oh that blue eyeshadow: fine on Helen, not so much on Pradeep. Kamini is not dead, and neither is her lover, and they both want more money out of Shekhar. He naturally doesn’t do the smart thing and tell Renu about it, which would have made many things much easier; but it enables us to get another hour out of gorgeous Helen, including a great song (“Kitni Hai Albeli”) which she sings at Shekhar and unsuspecting Renu’s wedding reception.
What will happen? Will she and Anwar Hussain ruin Shekhar’s home and happiness? Will Gopal be caught by the police? Will he reform?
I loved the relationship between Gopal and Guloo in this—the two of them were far more interesting and funny than the lead pair. I could have happily just hung out with them the whole time. Ashok Kumar gave a tour de force performance (it won him the Filmfare Supporting Actor award, but honestly it should have been a Lead Actor award). He is amazing—his portrayal of a bad guy finding his good side is subtle and entirely believable. If you are a fan of his then this is a must-see just for him alone. There are plenty of other goodies, too; just don’t expect much by way of plot or technical competence and you should be contented. I was!