What IS it about Raaj Kumar? What? His acting is theatrical, he is not very handsome really (and was apparently quite weird in real life) and yet I love to watch him onscreen. Not in a “look at that godawful wig!” kind of way either, but in a “he is strangely interesting, I cannot look away” kind of way. Throw in Pran (speaking of godawful wigs), a very handsome in-his-prime Rajesh Khanna and a Helen song, and I’m in! This movie is very “masala” with its separated twins, scheming villains (Pran!), a truncated wedding, glorification of the poor and downtrodden, and plenty of Nahiiin Face. I would not call it a good movie exactly, but it is pretty solidly entertaining.
Mala Sinha plays twins Lalita and Laxmi, who are separated at birth when their poverty-stricken parents give Laxmi away to a distant relative to bring up as his own. Judging from their expressions (especially the one on the right!), these babies are completely clued in to the storyline. I shouldn’t laugh at their obvious distress, but I can’t help myself. They screech and wail right into the credits. Baby Nahiiin Face, doubled!
I suppose if they were boys the poor man may have felt more blessed and kept them both. But who knows? Incidentally, my grandfather was the youngest of nine children and he was sent off to live with relatives since his parents were too poor to support all of them. See? Life really IS like a Hindi movie!
Laxmi grows up in an idyllic Himalayan location and falls in love with Raja Babu (Raaj Kumar), a somewhat eccentric heir to a fortune who likes to wander around the countryside dressed as a villager, repairing farm machinery and singing. He lives alone, since his mother died; he is estranged from his wealthy business magnate father.
Laxmi’s adoptive father disapproves when Raja Babu approaches him for Laxmi’s hand in marriage. He thinks that they are too poor and not worthy of Raja Babu, and that their honor will be ruined if Laxmi marries Raja. This logic mostly escapes me, and apparently Laxmi also, because she runs away from home and marries Raja in a simple ceremony (or as simple as an Indian wedding ever gets, anyway).
Cut to Laxmi’s sister Lalita, who has been brought up by their real parents. It’s her wedding day too and her father is struggling to borrow money for dowry. When he fails, the groom and his father stomp off in anger—but in a total “Arrrggghhh” moment, Lalita’s father happily accepts a total stranger who comes along and offers to marry her instead.
Jeevanand (Abhi Bhattacharya) isn’t kidding when he says he’s not worthy. Halfway through the ceremony police sirens wail, and he flees.
Ha! What can Lalita’s father really say except: “Uhh…what did he do?” The police are cryptic in that regard though, and take their leave, disappointed that Jeevanand has escaped them once again. Lalita’s father expires from the shock of it all after reminding Lalita and her Ma that society shuns the poor.
The humanity! The wedding fire becomes a funeral pyre.
Lalita vows to remove the stigma of poverty (I’m quoting the subtitles here) and to that end becomes a wildly successful and famous dancing girl (in about five minutes). Hooray!
Meanwhile, Raja Babu’s avaricious cousin Pran Bahadur (Pran!) tells Raja’s estranged father about Raja’s marriage to Laxmi. Needless to say, the old guy is less than thrilled to hear that his daughter-in-law is a poor village girl.
Raja and Laxmi have had a baby boy (billed in the credits hilariously as Tiny Star Babla) and are living a life of quiet contentment. Not for long!
Raja’s father calls him to Bombay, and Pran visits Laxmi and her father in his absence. Raja tells his father to stuff it, basically, when his father threatens to disown him, and returns home—but alas! Pran has done his work well in the interim. He has told Laxmi and her father that Raja has died in an accident, and that Raja’s furious father wants to kill Laxmi and her son. More Baby Nahiiin Face.
Laxmi and her father take Munna and flee. Raja returns home to find his wife and son gone. Sad, sad, sad. Four years pass, and his father dies—and despite his threats, leaves everything to Raja—except the paltry sum of one crore, which is left to Pran.
Laxmi’s father shows up at her real mother’s house with Munna (Bunty! My Bunty!) and tells her what has happened to poor Laxmi and her little son.
He has bad news for her (and for me!).
He is old and ill, and leaves Munna in his grandmother’s care. She writes to Lalita—still making lots of money as a dancer in the city—asking her to come home.
Raja now discovers that Laxmi had left him because she thought he was dead, and he begins to get an inkling that his cousin Pran is possibly not the supportive and caring relative that he’d thought him to be. Pran is furious at being left (mostly) out of his uncle’s will, and he’s blowing up what he did inherit on drinking and other types of debauchery. You know what that means when Helen is in the credits!
She performs the lively and energetic “Dil Ka Lena Dena” with Raaj Kumar. It’s oodles of fun fun fun! How I love her.
Raja lets Pran know in that bristling-hackles kind of way that men do, that he knows what Pran has done to him. On his way home from the club, Raja is attacked—but someone comes to his rescue! And that same someone, Rajan (Rajesh Khanna), afterwards refuses any kind of reward for saving Raja’s life, saying that one only needs as much as he can eat.
Rajendranath is introduced at this point as Rajan’s nephew (!) in a thankfully very limited Comic Side Plot, although I’m always happy to see him.
Rajan needs a job, and has decided to go to Coorg in search of one. Coincidentally, Coorg is where Lalita’s mother lives, and Lalita is heading home to help her care for little Munna; and Coorg is also where Raja Babu decides to begin his search for Laxmi while managing his father’s business, which is headquartered there.
All three end up on the same train, Rajan and Raja in the same compartment, where they happily renew their acquaintance.
At one station, Rajan gets off to get some food and almost misses the train—running, he manages to get on board in Lalita’s compartment. Mistaking him for staff bringing her food she had ordered, she thinks his attitude impertinent and begins quarreling with him. He lets her eat his food, and leaves her at the next station, where she discovers her mistake.
Meanwhile, Raja Babu has thought of a plan:
He asks Rajan to take his place as Raj Bahadur while he makes his way to Coorg from the next stop, searching for Laxmi in the villages along the way. Rajan agrees, and meets Lalita again when they finally arrive in Coorg (a song commences, with some nice yodeling by Kishore).
It doesn’t take them long to fall in love, although Rajan is now posing as Raja Babu and cannot tell Lalita the truth. Lalita’s Ma tells her about her twin sister Laxmi, and Munna happily accepts Lalita as his mother. Meanwhile, the real Raja Babu is wandering the countryside looking for Laxmi while selling caged birds, and he unknowingly befriends little Munna as well.
Lalita and her Ma are in disagreement on a major point though: Ma considers Lalita married, despite her groom’s disappearance halfway through the wedding. Women participating in their own forms of oppression (or their daughter’s, as the case may be) is a real annoyance for me. What kind of mother would wish this kind of thing on her daughter?
Happily, Lalita herself pushes back: she considers herself still single and thus eligible to marry. And when she tells Rajan about her ill-fated wedding, he agrees with her and still wants to marry her.
But when Ma discovers Lalita’s suitor’s identity, she has a trump card. Ma knows something Lalita and Rajan don’t: Raja Babu is married! When Lalita confronts Rajan with this information, he keeps silent out of loyalty to his friend and Lalita’s heart is broken into chhoti chhoti pieces. And in Bombay, Pran has not given up on his plan to kill Raja Babu.
What will happen when the real Raja Babu finally arrives in Coorg? Will he survive his murderous cousin’s plotting? Will Rajan survive it?! Will he and Lalita ever be able to marry? What has happened to the criminal she originally “married”? Is Laxmi really dead? Will Raja Babu discover that his new friend Munna is really his son? Here’s a hint (in honor of Karan Bali’s comment below):
There is a LOT of plot in this film, such as it is. It’s very contrived and even nonsensical in places; but the cast and pretty locations make it fun to watch. I haven’t seen that much of Mala Sinha, and what I have seen hasn’t ever left much of an impression, but I love her feisty Lalita here. She has good chemistry with both Raaj Kumar and Rajesh Khanna, and the two men are cute together too—their bromance is kind of sweet and funny. Pran is his usual capable self (his villainous “tic” in this one is flicking his lit cigarette in and out of his mouth) as well. I adore him when he’s all drunk and debauched!
If you are a fan of the actors involved (or want to see more of them), you could do worse than Maryada.