One of things I find so fascinating about Hindi cinema is how many people there are who had the ability to carry a film no matter how dreary the story and their co-stars. That some of these people have been almost criminally ignored, by and large, is a subject for another day. I would not have made it through this one without the sparkly and mesmerizing presence of Minoo Mumtaz. She has some support in the presence of Anwar Hussain, a spectacular Helen dance and lovely songs from Ravi; but even Kum Kum can’t overcome her sanctimonious dialogues and Nishi has the dubious honor of playing one of the most hateful female characters ever. Pradeep Kumar is the nominal hero and I will leave that to speak for itself.
The film starts out promisingly enough. I simply adore the opening title music, so much so that I’m putting it here for ambiance while you read.
Ravi was one of the first music directors to really effectively blend western beats into Hindi film music. I could cha-cha-cha to his tunes all day! Anyway.
Ratan (Pradeep Kumar) is a well-educated but unemployed man in love with Bimla (Nishi), the daughter of a very wealthy man. She begs him to elope with her after her father (Amar) fixes her marriage with someone else. Reluctantly he agrees on the condition that she come with him with none of the trappings—no jewelry, nothing—of her formerly wealthy life so that nobody will misunderstand his intentions.
They take a train to Bombay together, leaving Ratan’s ailing sister Babli in the care of faithful family retainer Shambhu Kaka (Radheshyam).
In the city, they find squalid housing and we are treated to a long sequence to pound home the message that if it weren’t for bad luck, job seeker Ratan would have no luck at all.
It goes on for so long that I begin to wonder if the “fade out-fade in” technology was a new thing for director Brij (yes, that Brij). And Bimla finds eloping with a poor man not nearly as romantic as she had thought. She writes home to her father, and on the day when Ratan finally finds a good job and comes home to celebrate with her he is met with a stunning development.
Bimla refuses to acknowledge him, and he is arrested. In court we discover further perfidy on her part—how I love the way Hindi cinema takes what is already fairly OTT melodrama and turns it up a notch!
Bimla testifies against him and he is sentenced to two years in prison, to Babli and Shambhu’s great dismay. Never have so many faces twitched in so much agony in one short courtroom scene!
Ratan is put into a cell with thief Hira (Anwar Hussain), a charming rogue who takes a liking to his new roommate. He invites Ratan to join him outside when they get sprung from the big house, but Ratan refuses his offer. Then Shambhu arrives with the devastating news that Babli has died, and a fierce hatred for all of bewafa womankind takes root in his bosom, unencumbered by the fact that beloved Babli herself was a woman.
Two years on, Hira is waiting for him on his release and after Ratan experiences the societal disapproval due an ex-con for a few minutes, he joins hands with his friend (literally and figuratively). They sing a cute little ditty about the joys of being your own man (even if that man is a criminal) called “Seedhe Saade Insaanon” which is lots of fun not least because of the background footage of Bombay as it was fifty years ago.
I perk up too, naturally, because crime and great entertainment go together, and I am not disappointed when Helen appears in a gambling den to sing a really wonderful song called “Meri Mehfil Mein Aake”; I like it so much I am linking the Youtube video against my better judgement:
Even better is that Helen is paired in the song with Anwar Hussain, a man I am always happy to see no matter what kind of rogue he is playing!
Earlier that day, Ratan had rescued a fluffy little white dog belonging to a beautiful girl named Rita (Minoo Mumtaz).
On his way home from the gambling den he is knifed by a guy he’d accused of cheating and is left for dead on the street. Rita comes along, almost hits him, stops to help and recognizes him as Lucy’s savior. She and her friend Geeta (Kum Kum) take him to the hospital, and Rita is quickly (and to me inexplicably) smitten with him. Ratan sees an opportunity to avenge himself on all women and at the same time gain a handsome profit, because Rita is the daughter of the biggest jeweller in the city (Murad).
He begins to woo her, and is soon introduced to her family including a geeky brother by the name of Kundan—whose wife is none other than betrayer Bimla!
Geeta is also like a member of the family; her father was Rita’s father’s accountant, and he adopted her when she was orphaned by her father’s death. Geeta quickly becomes suspicious of Ratan and his intentions; he is a bit too smooth-talking for her liking, and she further discovers that his friend Hira is a known criminal. Headstrong Rita—may I reiterate that Minoo is just an effervescent joy in this role—will hear no evil about her now-beloved Ratan, and Geeta decides to appeal to the conscience she is sure exists under Ratan’s suave exterior.
Ratan is attracted by her gentle demeanor and his conscience is pricked a bit by her remonstrances, but it all gets very quickly irritating for me. He stubbornly persists in his pursuit of poor Rita, who doesn’t deserve such lousy treatment, and begins to blackmail Bimla too as Geeta subjects him (and me) to preachy little homilies.
I am a fan of Kum Kum, but Geeta is so goody-goody that I wanted to slap her. All the main characters outside of Rita are poorly drawn; their behavior is often weirdly inconsistent, being driven as it is by the plot requirements. From the strong if overly melodramatic start the film disintegrates into directionless confusion. Bimla at one point warns Rita against Ratan, a scene which is enacted apparently without irony as if we should now forget what she did to him. Ratan’s persistent act as a ruthless crook is a bit unbelievable as well, especially since Hira—the “bad influence”—is himself a guy with integrity and compassion. By the time the end finally comes, motivations and characters have become so muddied that the message is lost too.
Still, it was a rare treat to see so much of the gorgeous Minoo and the songs (with subtitles!) were really nice. If you are a fan of either Minoo or Ravi, you might make it through; otherwise, it isn’t really worth it.
One last thing: Tun Tun makes a brief appearance as a friend of Hira’s who strolls by as he is arrested for robbery. When she asks where he’s going, he says “Bara ghar!” I never knew jail was called the big house in Hindi too! Heh. It made me clap my hands with glee.