For all the Manmohan Desai and Shammi films I’ve written up, it’s kind of criminal that I’m only now getting to one of their collaborations. Better late than never, right? And this is a much better film than their second venture together, Budtameez (1966). In fact, this is a film to which Shammi brought his acting “A” game. He is just great in it, giving a realistic and three-dimensional portrayal of a slick and charming con man who has some hard lessons to learn. Saira Banu is his love interest, and although she’s not my favorite, she is lovely to look at here and, as with Junglee, a good foil for Shammi. Mr Desai himself shows little sign of the unrestrained lunacy he was to bring to cinema in the 70s, and has directed a movie with brisk pacing, interesting characters and an entertaining—if predictable—story. The songs, by Kalyanji Anandji with the able assistance of Laxmikant Pyarelal, are just fabulous too.
Ashok (Shammi Kapoor) lives in a chawl in Bombay. He has come from his village home to try and make a better life for himself, and to send money home to his mother (Lalita Pawar), an honest and respectable woman. Finding it hard to get a job, he uses his considerable talking skills to scam his not-so-wealthy-themselves neighbors out of their hard-earned paise. His character is nicely summed up by his room decor; for example, an expensive-looking radio is just an empty shell.
An ad seeking a newspaper photographer catches his eye one day; he steals a camera and talks himself into the job. His first scoop: a photograph of wealthy Seema (Saira Banu) slapping an eve-teaser on the street. Ashok refuses to hand over the film when she demands it.
The paper (hilariously called Bhukamp, meaning earthquake) publishes her photo front and center, and circulation skyrockets. Ashok is sent by editor Varma to call on Jwala Prasad (Niranjan Sharma), the paper’s very pleased owner.
Jwala Prasad offers Ashok a raise in salary, but apparently he doesn’t actually read Bhukamp. Ashok’s good fortune is cut short when Jwala Prasad’s niece, who is the actual owner of not only the newspaper but the house they live in, turns out to be Seema—and she is not happy to have her picture on the front page.
She fires Ashok and throws him out of the house. Jwala Prasad, it turns out, is not wealthy himself but has been looking after Seema since her father—his brother—passed away, leaving her a fortune. He is being blackmailed by Ram Kumar (a very creepy Pran)—who is smitten on sight by Seema’s beauty.
He suggests that if Seema marries him, he’ll no longer need to blackmail Jwala Prasad.
Meanwhile, Seema is putting on a theater show for charity in the afternoon, but the main attraction—a dancer named Munnibai—is a no-show. Ashok (who knew about the show) turns up to lend a helping hand. I am thrilled to also see a young and baby-faced Laxmi Chhaya in a bit role.
Ashok offers to find a substitute for the ailing Munnibai, and thus is born one of my favorite Shammi songs—and qawwalis—of all times, “Chali Chali Kaisa Hawa.” Those handsome Kapoor men transform into very ugly women, indeed!
I can watch it over and over again, especially since it also features Mohan Choti in drag (he plays a tongawala friend of Ashok’s):
and Laxmi playing harmonium for Seema. How had I never noticed her in this before? (Her dancing skills are sadly not used, as they are not in Budtameez either. For shame, Manmohan!)
I find Saira B far less shrill and annoying when she’s opposite Shammi—something about his insouciance and devil-may-care quality softens her up a bit or something.
Back in her village, Ashok’s Ma asks the mailman to read her son’s latest letter to her—but he’s not much help in decoding Ashok’s new profession.
I love Lalita in this—she plays a simple, sweet, humble and honest woman, such a nice change from her usual stints as a meanie in Shammi movies! And on a side note I love the mailman’s hair sticking out from his cap. But I digress. Ashok is not *entirely* honest with her either.
Meanwhile, desperate to stop Ram Kumar’s blackmail and being harassed by creditors, Jwala Prasad lies to Seema, telling her that it was her father’s dying wish that she marry him.
She hates Kumar (hey, it’s Pran!) and decides to rid herself of him with the help of Ashok, who gets his job back too. Of course pretending to be in love quickly leads to real love, despite the awkward presence of the fuming Ram Kumar—who ends up paying for everything they do, as well. It also occasions some lovely songs:
And this creative little touch as a portent of things to come from our Masalameister Manmohan D:
Ashok has told Seema and Jwala Prasad that he is the only son of a well-off family in Calcutta, but of course that isn’t true. His poor mother is robbed one night of all the money which the other villagers had given to her for safekeeping, and they turn on her. She decides to come to Bombay to find her son (the Governor’s brother, living in the Taj Mahal hotel) and get the money from him to repay them. And of course Ram Kumar (being Pran!) is not going to give up on Seema that easily either, and he has his hold over Jwala Prasad working in his favor.
Will Ashok’s Ma find him? Will his deceptions all be uncovered? Can he be reformed? Can Seema love him as he really is? And can she go against her dead father’s wishes? Why is her uncle being blackmailed by Ram Kumar? What did he do?
I really like this film. It’s nothing earth-shattering story-wise (whoever thought that could be said of MM Desai?!), but it’s really well done. Shammi is superb—he is funny, sensitive, obnoxious and REAL; he has his good points and his flaws, like the rest of us! Saira’s Seema is sharp, intelligent and independent, and she keeps Ashok on his toes, while his charm and his love softens her a bit. They are just darling together, and their love story is what holds the film together.
There are few indications of the Manmohan Desai legacy to come, although some glimmers can be had: Shammi visits a church to give thanks for Seema’s love, and you saw the cherubs shooting arrows into Saira’s eyes! Pran gives his more than able villainous support as usual, complete with quirky mannerisms (sniffing like a cocaine addict) and a bad wig (BTW, when did Pran’s real hair disappear? this question haunts me!).
If you love Shammi, this one is a don’t miss! And if anyone can identify these two guys, do tell me who they are!
The newspaper editor:
And the camera store owner, from whom Shammi steals the camera:
Good question, Mr. Face-Without-A-Name!