This is one of my favorite Rajesh Khanna films: his character Raja and his chemistry with Sharmila’s Rani is beyond sweet. My friend and Rajesh expert Suhan points out that it’s possibly the only film they made where they actually get to spend time together being young and in love instead of being painfully separated and only reunited in old age! RD Burman’s music is lovely, the performances are strong (with some fun guest appearances); the story is interesting and nicely paced with lots of humor, and the characters beautifully etched. If you are in the mood for some sweet romance and stylish seventies fun, this is a well-made and non-taxing movie to settle in with.
It does begin on a grim note, in black and white, as we are introduced to little boy Raja who is ill. His fretting mother (Indrani Mukherjee) is forced to go to her wealthy employer (?) to ask for money for his treatment. Her unscrupulous boss will give her money on one condition—she must become his mistress.
Desperate, she agrees to meet him that night and little Raja gets his medicine. Sadly, though, she decides that she can’t go through with her agreement and takes the only way out she can think of—leaving her poor little son in better health, but orphaned. The logic of this escapes me, but I guess desperation and logic often part ways.
A little guy who is forced to bring himself up doesn’t have many options either, and he quickly takes to stealing. He grows up to be a professional chor although not a competent one (a somewhat endearing characteristic, actually). He is continually caught and put in jail, and the Jailor has despaired that Raja will ever mend his ways. He does have oodles of charm and his own code of principles, though.
He fences his stolen goods through Lalaji (Asit Sen) (and may I say that Rajesh does an excellent impersonation in a scene with him of Asit Sen’s unique speaking voice, which clearly amuses both of them no end) and has a best friend in Tony (VK Sharma), with whom he shares an old abandoned boxcar as a home. Tony works off and on as a conman and pickpocket, but has an obvious problem with alcohol and a fondness for a girl named Mary from Goa who sends him love letters. Raja supports them with his thieving, but disapproves of Tony’s drinking.
At night he prowls the neighborhoods of Bombay—this gives little vignettes of city life which are very cute, as when he breaks into the home of an unhappy woman named Anita (Farida Jalal) whose philandering husband (Sujit Kumar) neglects her. She has taken a potent sleeping draught and passed out; Raja helps himself to it as well and falls asleep next to her, enraging her husband when he finally comes home drunk.
He is chased one night into a house decorated for a wedding, where he finds a note alongside the groom’s wedding outfit. The groom has fled his arranged marriage, and as the priest and the groom’s parents (Iftekhar and Dulari) call for their son to come and get married the police also arrive. Cornered, Raja dons the flower-bedecked turban and gold sherwani and marries the poor unsuspecting bride as the police search the house.
The bride, Nirmala (Sharmila Tagore), is an orphan brought up by her uncle (Uma Dutt) and aunt (Praveen Paul), who consider her a burden. She begs Raja (still thinking him to be Suresh, her intended) not to leave her but he escapes down a back fire exit, leaving Suresh’s note and clothing behind along with his sad new wife.
Despite these herculean efforts at going undetected, Raja is caught by the police that same evening and sent back to jail.
More tragedy strikes that night when the real Suresh is killed in an accident. Still unaware that she was actually married to someone else, Nirmala is kicked out of the house by Suresh’s parents and sent home to her aunt and uncle, who also want nothing more to do with her. Alone, frightened, and on the street, she is also left with very few choices. Accompanied by what I will always call “The Eye Song” (its actual name is “Phir Ankh Se Ansoo”) with its starkly symbolic…well, eyes, and sundry sharp objects to poke them with, Nirmala wanders the bylanes and ends up in a kotha clutching a pair of ghunghroos.
Six months pass, and Raja is let out of jail. Feeling guilty, he goes to the house where he had accidentally gotten married and is told by the neighbors of Suresh’s death and that the family no longer live there. Then he discovers that his boxcar home is now inhabited by strangers—Tony has sold it while Raja was in the Big House.
With nothing much else to do, he goes back to stealing—and lands up in Nirmala’s house, where she is now a full-fledged nautch girl calling herself Ranibai.
When one of her customers, Govardhan Das (Raj Mehra), becomes a little too forward for her liking Raja rescues her and throws Govardhan out. They flirt a little and he chastises her gently for her profession—but she tells him she has to survive. Police sirens come closer and he takes his leave—and Rani covers for him when they come looking for Raja.
Raja hits the jackpot soon after when he robs a home where there is some very nice jewelry lying around.
This is so so cute—he touches her face and as she turns in her sleep (although how she can sleep on those sheets befuddles me) he murmurs “You are something special.” Melt, melt, melt! He steals all her jewelry, but leaves a nice note in lipstick on her mirror.
He finally tracks his pal Tony down, and wheedles/blackmails a place for them to live out of Lalaji. To celebrate their reunion and new home, he takes Tony to see beautiful Rani, whom he has been unable to forget. She dances for them despite it being her day off (she fasts and worships once a week like a good girl).
It is pretty evident that as smitten as Raja is, so is Rani—albeit with some reasonable misgivings.
Ramesh Pant wrote the dialogues for this movie, and they are most excellent.
Even with this Cake Wreck of a subtitle:
They make a pact to each give up their current “profession” in order to build an honest and respectable life together.
But will society let them? Rani has some wealthy and influential customers who would rather keep her to themselves, and Raja’s reputation as a thief is widespread. Can these two outcasts find happiness together? And will they ever find out that they are already married?
You will really want them to, unless your heart is a lot blacker and stickier than mine! This is a very simple and straightforward story with messages I can mostly get on board with, done with finesse. Beautiful Kumari Naaz shows up later and so does “this guy”—anyone know what his name is? I feel certain I should know, but I can’t come up with it.