At last! I have seen a film where I liked Biswajeet! He suits his role here perfectly, and the movie is good fun despite nothing really new story-wise. The music is wonderful, by Hemant Kumar, and it co-stars the lovely Rajshree, the ever-elegant Durga Khote, baby-faced Mumtaz and PRAN. It also illustrates the value of a good director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee. He takes the somewhat hackneyed fairy-tale plot and lifts it up a notch by getting good performances out of his actors (keeping some of them *cough* Mehmood *cough* under better control than is often the case) and keeping everything moving along at a good pace (he edited the film too). Plus, the locations in Jaipur and the Amber Fort add authenticity and are beautifully photographed, which is a visual treat.
Biswajeet plays Manu, a simple and sweet village boy who inherits a kingdom when his grandfather dies. Maharajah Kiran Singh leaves a will stating that he forgives his daughter for marrying a court singer against his wishes—which resulted in her banishment—and asks that her son be found and crowned king within a month. The king’s great-nephew (son of his late younger brother) Kunwar Pratap Singh (Pran) will otherwise inherit (uh-oh). Kiran Singh further stipulates that his sister Ranimaa (Durga Khote) be given the final say in decisions made by the king, whoever he may be.
Ranimaa is clearly pleased at the prospect of finding her grandson; Kunwar Pratap Singh is…not so much.
Ranimaa sends her Prime Minister to get the new heir; years ago when her niece was banished, she kept track of her whereabouts. The unsuspecting heir is meanwhile enjoying himself thoroughly during his village Holi celebrations with a really fun song called “Bam Babam Bam Bam”—how can that not be good?
Manu’s mother and father both died when he was a year old, and he has been raised by the village priest. He doesn’t want to become king of the place where his parents suffered such ill-treatment, but the priest and the Prime Minister insist that it’s his duty to go and serve the people there. Manu seems ill-equipped to deal with nasty Kunwar; he is self-effacing, simple and sweet—hardly the type to win any battle against Pran!
Ranimaa welcomes him gladly, and he is overcome with emotion on seeing a portrait of his mother—he has no memory of what she had looked like. Then Ranimaa calls for his manservant, Bahadur Singh: Mehmood! I groan…this was the era of Too Much Mehmood, but I am pleasantly surprised throughout the rest of the film when the CSP is kept at a bearable level, and Mehmood is integrated nicely into the main plot. He starts off by assuming that the unimpressive Manu is a servant from the village, a funny scene. When he realizes his mistake, Manu laughs and offers him his hand.
An egalitarian king! He’s going to need a friend or two! And he has one in Bahadur Singh, who is not fooled at all by Kunwar Pratap Singh’s calm demeanor. (Bahadur is also kept busy in the CSP romancing the lovely Mumtaz, who plays palace servant Albeli, behind the back of her lecherous brother-in-law Asit Sen.)
Kunwar Pratap Singh keeps a watchful eye on the new king as he is crowned and begins training—reluctantly—in sword-fighting.
I love the locales—on my first trip to India I went to the Amber Fort and Jaipur, and it’s fun to see it all again in this.
Manu is better at the statesmanship side of things than he is at fighting, working hard into the evenings. He grows increasingly restless though—he’s not used to the confinement of the palace, and longs to roam free. Ranimaa gives him permission to take the royal boat for daily outings, although Bahadur Singh is given strict instructions to keep an eye on him. Manu shows some gumption here finally—he insists that Bahadur hand over his clothes to him, which gives Mehmood a chance at the campy double-entendres he loves so much.
Manu skips off into the forest dressed as a servant of the king, and hears a woman singing. Another lovely song follows, as he follows the voice. It’s pretty (and very scantily-clad) Bijli (Rajshree), daughter of the local tribal chief.
So intent is Manu on following her that he steps off the edge of a cliff (he’s a nice guy, but not the brightest bulb in the circuit). She rescues him by fashioning a rope out of her clothes (!) but when she gets a good look at him, she’s horrified.
It turns out that the king’s soldiers (under the command of Kunwar Pratap Singh) have been making the villagers in this forest miserable: burning fields, raping the girls. She marches him back to her village and introduces him (he gives his name as Badal) to her father (Kamal Kapoor), who sums him up pretty quickly as a nice fellow and gives him a job to do in the palace.
Mumtaz and Mehmood get a very cute song to sing in the midst of all this. I love the chorus!
And Mumu is so young and pretty!
Anyway, Manu’s “spying” does not go well. He reports accurately enough that the new king has no designs on the village harvest, but of course he hasn’t taken his cousin Kunwar’s badmash tendencies into account. Soldiers attack the village while he is there one day, and although he manages to save Bijli from harm (despite his obvious lack of real dishoom-dishoom skills) her father and the other villagers are not happy with him.
He may not have much in the way of physical strength, but Manu has moral courage to spare. He accepts Bijli’s father’s wrath as being just—if the king is unaware, he says, then he is as guilty as the soldiers.
He calls Kunwar Pratap Singh out in front of the entire court and fires him on the spot! Kunwar—who up until now hasn’t seen Manu as much of a threat to his own power—is furious.
When Manu goes to Ranimaa and tells her he wants to help the people of Parwatipur forest, he’s in for another surprise: Ranimaa hates Bijli’s people!
This unfortunate fact is never explained, sadly; but we’ll assume it’s one of those manly fighting issues that our king Manu has no patience (or aptitude) for. But Kunwar has discovered his cousin’s secret forays, and his love for the beautiful Bijli—and he’s about to subject them both to some wicked one’s harmful attack!
Can Manu save his Bijli and her people from evil Kunwar? Can he save himself, more to the point?! Mehmood and Mumtaz come to the fore at the end to help him, which is kind of fun; and Biswajeet is well-suited for his role as an unassuming, peace-loving king who is easily mistaken for a coward, but isn’t. It’s not a film that breaks any rules or new ground (except that I liked Biswajeet in it), but it’s good solid timepass with really wonderful songs. And Mumtaz. And Pran!