I am very happy that this was not the first Chetan Anand film I saw, because it then may well have been my last, robbing me of films I really love (notably Aakhri Khat and Taxi Driver, but also Haqeeqat, Aandhiyan and Kudrat). I have only ever seen Priya Rajvansh in Kudrat and Haqeeqat, and although I liked her fine in both of those I gathered from comments that her reputation as an actress is…well. Let’s just say I understand those comments perfectly now. She pretty much single-handedly destroys this film with her nails-on-a-chalkboard performance. I have never been so irritated by someone’s voice and demeanor in my whole life.
Having said that, I will also add that even without her I would have found Hanste Zakhm disappointing. The story had potential to be path-breaking—I loved the beginning, and it could have developed into something truly thoughtful and interesting; but instead it took the safe (ie ultra-conservative) road and fell flat on its face.
There are some bright spots (literally—sometimes everything appears to have been dipped in some sort of LSD bath and the colors are lurid, to say the least) (and hooray for Paro and Achala Sachdev partying it up in a hotel nightclub).
I actually liked Navin Nischol’s character mostly too, and he and his band of merry taxi-driver pals are a breath of fresh air. The clothing and sets are full of Seventies flair; Balraj Sahni, Sapru and Nadira are great; Madan Mohan’s music is lovely; and I was thrilled to see Kamal Kapoor and KN Singh in cameo roles as wealthy sleazebags patronizing the prostitute heroine.
As for the prostitute heroine!
*SPOILERS AND RANT*
How refreshing and truly revolutionary this character could have been if a) she weren’t played by Priya and b) she weren’t killed off at the end. I know that love is blind, but seriously what was Chetan Anand thinking, making Priya his muse? From her first line to her last, in a stilted little girl voice, she makes Baywatch’s Pamela Anderson look like Oscar material. In the right hands (Mumtaz? Sharmila?), Chanda could have been a great character: wounded, cynical, rebellious. For instance, Chanda has beautifully written dialogues when Mahendru goes to plead with her to give up Somesh, but Priya’s delivery destroys any impact they might have had. A good actress may have even redeemed the abysmal ending somewhat. Maybe.
Let me also say right now that anyone who wants to jump in and defend the unnecessary death of Chanda (please!) save your breath. The message sent in movie after movie by killing off “unchaste” female characters who must pay for their sins just infuriates me. Even if the point is that Mahendru is punished for judging her (ie a fundamentally decent man deprived by his own prejudices of his longed-for daughter when he at last meets her again), it isn’t a point supported well enough earlier to make it meaningful at the end. How much better a message it would have been had she been allowed to find happiness and survive the bad things which happened to her through no fault of her own. Arghhh.
*END SPOILERS AND RANT*
As I said, I was sucked in at the start. Police Superintendent Dinanath Mahendru (Balraj Sahni) dotes on his little girl Meena, who has befriended another little girl named Rekha at school. At Meena’s insistence, Mahendru asks Rekha’s mother (Achala Sachdev) if Rekha can come with them on a short school break, and she agrees.
Rekha’s mother is a prostitute called Heera Bai, forced into the business by her “mother” and uncle Kundan (a gleefully evil Jeevan).
When Kundan attempts to sell Rekha into an early (very early!) start in the racket too, Heera Bai tries to kill him but accidentally kills her mother instead and is arrested. In jail, she begs a surprised and horrified Mahendru to take care of her little girl. Kundan, meanwhile, sends men to kidnap Rekha, but they mistakenly make off with Meena instead.
Kundan calls Mahendru and tells him the he will exchange Meena for either Rekha or 50,000 Rs cash. To his credit (I guess, if you give credit to people doing something they should do anyway), Mahendru chooses to keep Rekha safe and borrow the cash from his close friend, bank manager Banwari (DK Sapru).
Banwari gives him the money with no questions asked. As Mahendru is paying off Kundan, an unwitting but enterprising Meena makes her escape—and Mahendru is left with no cash and no daughter. Poor Meena is caught by Kundan’s men again soon after, and this time he sells her off into prostitution.
Mahendru is stripped of his position as Bombay’s Superintendent (for dealing with Kundan without bringing the police in) and sent to Pune to start his career over at a desk job. Bereft of his own daughter, he adopts Rekha.
Years pass, and when Heera Bai is finally released from prison she comes looking for her daughter. Mahendru convinces her that it’s best for Rekha (Suman Sikand—any relation to Pran?) to remain his daughter.
He has worked his way back up through the ranks of the police, and is thrilled when an insurance policy conveniently matures, enabling him to repay Banwari the 50,000 Rs he had borrowed, and get Rekha married off.
Meanwhile Meena is now called Chanda (Priya Rajvansh). She has been raised by Madame (an as-gleefully-evil-as-Jeevan Nadira) and groomed as a reluctant prostitute who commands a high price from wealthy and influential men. Chanda longs to escape her life, and wants nothing more than to be respectable and to get a good ordinary job. Madame keeps Chanda’s rebellion (unintentionally hilariously) in check with the aid of this hulking man, whom Chanda fears like some people fear heights or snakes.
All he has to do is loom in front of her, and Priya descends into fits of shrieking and over-acting (and I giggle).
Madame drags Chanda to the races to meet a debauched Prince (Kamal Kapoor).
There, Chanda catches the eye of wealthy and dashing young Somesh (Navin Nischol) too. I might add here too another complaint (why not, while I’m on a roll?): Navin’s voice. It sounds like he was dubbed at about twice the speed of normal, making him sound like Alvin the Chipmunk. Very annoying. Oh, and this guy I am trying to identify appears in a walk-on cameo typical of him in hundreds of movies. I need to know who he is!
Moving on. Chanda leaves with Madame and the Prince, but Somesh is smitten. He is the only son of Banwari, who dislikes his gambling habits and refusal to settle into a job at the bank although his Ma (Paro) dotes on him. Both parents think he just needs to get married; when Mahendru—newly transferred to Bombay as the reinstated Superintendent—pays them a visit to repay his debt and introduces Rekha to them, all agree that a match between Rekha and Somesh is a great idea.
Well, all agree except Somesh who is not consulted; to celebrate everyone goes to spend an evening at this crazy nightclub.
The “action” includes Chanda grooving with the Prince, and Somesh (who dances like a chicken, arms flapping awkwardly like wings) is thrilled to see her. It is also too much fun to see Kamal Kapoor giving the dance floor his all:
When the Prince dies later that evening of a heart attack nobody should be surprised. In a panic, Chanda runs to the hotel lobby for help just as Somesh and his party are leaving.
At the police station, Chanda is defiantly truthful about her profession. Waiting outside, Somesh gives her a lift back to Madame’s and professes his love to her but she rejects him again. This doesn’t stop him from telling Banwari at home that he will not marry Rekha, and I am pleased that he has the decency to tell Rekha the news himself too.
She is hurt because, you know: the mere mention of a possible marriage with Somesh is enough to inspire her lifelong devotion and fidelity to him despite the fact that she’s spent all of five minutes with him, and for most of those he was ogling another girl.
I know it’s 1973 India, but still: my grandmother in the 1920s would not have been that much of a sheep, and I suspect (given what I’ve seen of Hindi cinema’s earliest decades) that Rekha’s grandmother might not have been either.
Banwari throws Somesh out of the house, and we get some relief from all the trauma-drama-o-rama when he settles in with a bunch of taxiwallahs, led by Brahmswaroop (V Gopal) and his useful, mountainous stomach.
Now that is what I call making the best of a bad situation!
Someone (maybe me) ought to do a study of the ginormous bellies (Ram Avtar, Asit Sen, Moolchand, etc.) and fat ladies (Tun Tun, Indira Bansal, etc.) of Hindi cinema and how they are used
to carry forth the narrative as comic relief.
Heh. I mean, that doesn’t even look REAL.
Anyway, driving his taxi, Somesh continues to woo Chanda and although he strikes me mostly as stalker-ish:
she is charmed and succumbs to his proposal of marriage. She leaves Madame and moves in with him (!) at the taxiwallah colony, where she is welcomed. I am charmed when she takes over the taxi driving and Somesh stays home and cooks.
Meanwhile, Kundan is still around, and he and his gang of smugglers have gotten into the drug business. I love this visual (quintessential Jeevan, na?). The cinematography and art direction in this film are its best points, really.
On a side note, it’s too bad that whoever was feeding V Gopal didn’t share some of it with Macmohan (who plays Kundan’s henchman Braganza):
Another of his henchmen leaves a suitcase full of valuable charas cigars in the back of one of the taxis, putting Kundan on the wrong side of an “international” client named Michael who has already paid him for them. When the taxi drivers smoke the funny cigars and get publicly wasted, it also leads Mahendru to Somesh’s new home, and he facilitates a reunion between Somesh and his parents.
But will they be able to accept Chanda as their daughter-in-law? (No.) Will she discover her real father’s identity, and he that she is his long-lost Meena? (Eventually.) Will Kundan discover it too, and use it to his advantage? (Of course.) Will the crescendo of screeching and wailing as it all comes together get on my last good nerve? (Yes.)
Well. At least I can say I’ve seen this now, although I can’t say I much liked it. Considering he had already made some very innovative movies by this time, I am disappointed at whatever (or whoever) made Chetan Anand come up with this—the censor board? public opinion? his adoration of Priya? He may have had good intentions, I don’t know; and therein lies the problem. I just don’t know what he meant to say, but the end product is insufferable. Khair. Nobody is perfect, and I am still glad the man made the other films that I have seen. Just watch one of them instead of this one, truly.