This is an absolutely charming, quintessentially 1960s film with a cast of stalwarts and the ever-charming and delicious Shashi at his “aw-shucks” best. The story centers around two Muslim families, which makes for lovely fashions for Nirupa Roy and Manorama who play the matriarchs of each. Nanda is styling, too! The only (minor) disappointment for me was the music by Madan Mohan; it was nice enough—and picturized well—but didn’t make much of an impression. What makes the movie memorable though is the strong ensemble cast, who all contribute humor, believability and warmth to a plot which moves briskly along.
Om Prakash plays an ambitious village barber who wins a lottery and uses his new-found wealth to restyle himself as the Nawab Ajmutullah Khan and shift his family—son Anwar (Shashi Kapoor) and “Begum” (Manorama)—to a palatial mansion in Delhi. Since his ambitions have also prompted him to educate his son well, Anwar settles into their new lifestyle easily, but the poor Begum does not. To the Nawab’s chagrin, she insists on keeping company with “low-class” singers, and chews paan just as she always did—she sees no reason to pretend to be anyone other than who she is.
The Nawab’s next-door neighbors are an old and cultured Delhi family: Khan Bahadur (Balraj Sahni), his wife (Nirupa Roy) and their daughter Nishad (Nanda), who has just returned from studying in England. Khan Bahadur is very proud of his lineage and prestige, and prides himself on his modern ways; his more traditional Begum is not as pleased at how much freedom he allows Nishad.
One of my favorite things in this film is how the two very different ladies of each house both cling to their own traditions culturally, but embrace the notion that all people are the same regardless of class or caste. They have small quarrels with their family members, but it’s the men—clinging to pride and ideas of superiority—who cause the real problems for their children, despite their obvious love for them.
Anyway, the Nawab uses Anwar’s birthday as an excuse for a party in order to meet and mingle with his new neighbors. Khan Bahadur attends reluctantly at the urging of his wife. Another of Delhi’s Nawabs attends also: his name is Shaukat (Manmohan) and he is wooing Nishad. It’s also an excuse for some entertainment in the form of a Madhumati-Bela Bose dance:
Since the party is exclusively attended by men, Anwar doesn’t meet Nishad until later, when they almost crash into each other—literally.
She and Shaukat are headed for their Sports Club—also Anwar’s destination. He runs into his friend Dr. Rana (Anwar Hussain), who introduces them, although it doesn’t go well.
She flounces away without speaking to him, although he just laughs. Oh, confident Shashi! At home, her mother is discussing Nishad’s relationship with Shaukat with Khan Bahadur: she instinctively doesn’t like Shaukat, and with good reason.
Beneath his veneer of sophistication and wealth, he is debauched and in debt up to his eyeballs—and those same eyeballs are fixed on Nishad as the answer to his money problems. He has engaged the same wizened little matchmaker, Mir (Lohan) as the Nawab has for Anwar’s marriage. Mir is a funny little character: unscrupulous and toothless, he plays one man against the others, and collects money from all of them. His beautiful embroidered chikan kurtas are stylish, too.
Begum Manorama is taking (and failing) English lessons from her tutor Miss Paul (Shashikala). Manorama is hilarious—it’s fun to see her doing comedy—and I am thrilled as always to see the lovely Shashikala.
Meanwhile, Anwar and Nishad make up after he saves her from a fall, and they begin to spend a lot of time together. The Nawab is thrilled at the thought of a match between them, and Khan Bahadur (having decided that his neighbors are not so bad) is perfectly happy at the thought too. Nishad’s mother decides it’s time to meet Begum Amutullah Khan—a disaster clearly in the making.
The visit doesn’t go well—Begum Amutullah is rude to Begum Khan Bahadur (I just love to say Begum: Begum Begum Begum!). It doesn’t much matter though, because Nishad’s mother wants to marry her off to her nephew Shibbu, and Anwar’s mother has promised Anwar to her niece Lajoo (ah, inbreeding—a long and happy tradition).
And as Anwar falls more deeply in love with Nishad (their romance is heart-stoppingly sweet sometimes!):
he begins to feel bad about deceiving her and her family about his background.
It doesn’t help matters when Nishad’s cousin Shibbu (Rajendranath) arrives to press his suit (with the help of Mir, naturally), although Nishad does her best to discourage him.
Anwar’s tentative attempts to find out Nishad’s real feelings are too subtle for her to really take seriously.
As the days pass, though, he becomes quieter and more withdrawn; and even under the weight of her tremendous beehive, she notices that something is wrong.
When the two of them are elected to represent their Sports Club at the Simla Sports Festival, Anwar hesitates to go. He doesn’t want to spoil her reputation, and is beginning to feel that he can’t marry her after all. He tells his father that he wants to tell Khan Bahadur and Nishad the truth.
Dad brings out the age-old manipulative guilt trip weapon, and has a mild heart attack to hammer it home. Anwar finally confides in Dr. Rana, who has simple advice: don’t tell her. This is an interesting scene, because it feels like the good doctor is giving Anwar bad advice for all the right reasons; he points out that Anwar is educated and a good human being, and if that doesn’t make him worthy of Nishad then what will? Why rock the boat, after all?
He also offers this keen insight into the Nawab’s mind (how I adore Hindi film psychology’s ability to state the obvious):
He convinces Anwar to keep chhup for the time being, and with their fathers’ blessings (although Nishad’s mother disapproves) Anwar and Nishad go off to Simla (with Rana as their benign chaperone) and frolic happily in the snow wearing pretty sweaters and pom-pommed hats. At home, Khan Bahadur and the Nawab agree on their marriage—but scheming Mir overhears the Begum talking about her brother and her niece, Anwar’s “fiancee.” He tells Shaukat to find the Begum’s brother and bring him to Delhi.
In Simla, Anwar receives a telegram telling him of his now official engagement to Nishad, and his feelings of guilt return. Nishad senses his withdrawal again and finally breaks down. You go, girl! Don’t suffer in silence!
Can Anwar tell Nishad the truth? Will she still feel the same? What about Shaukat’s machinations with the Begum’s brother, and what about Shibbu? Can Nishad’s proud father accept a son-in-law whose father was a barber?
Watch to find out, and also because it’s sweet, funny, romantic and filled with characters who are interesting and real.
Also watch for the sumptuously opulent dresses and dupattas on lovely Nirupa! She looks stunning in this film.
And finally, if you haven’t already done it, head over to Beth’s madlib post about this movie, featuring lots more screencaps!