Here we have another relatively obscure film which does not deserve to be abandoned to the unprofessional shenanigans of Ultra, although it isn’t any masterpiece for sure. But stars Shashi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore are young and gorgeous, as is the exotic setting (Kenya, complete with Masai warriors and lovely wildlife footage). They are backed up by the *extreme* cuteness of Laxmi Chhaya—who dances several times too—and the blessed presence of stalwarts Madan Puri, Rajendranath, Nirupa Roy, and Jayant. It is of course not subtitled and much of the angst went over my head (not necessarily a bad thing); but I loved the travelogue eye-candy of the first half and giggled through the melodramatic soap-opera quality of the second half, complete with crazed camera angles and abundant overuse of the zoom lens, Emoting Shashi, and strident musical effects.
Even the African and gora extras get in on the action, albeit with their trademark lack of enthusiasm.
Anyway, the plot is the least of my concerns when there is so much to delight in. Any plot details that I do give may or may not be accurate and in fact I may have made the whole thing up wholesale, but also maybe my version is better than the original (maybe not).
I do know for sure that we open with Shashi driving a convertible, Rajendranath riding shotgun and reading Mad magazine; they are listening to “I Love Paris in the Springtime” and Shashi uses both hands to comb his hair while still speeding along, which seems to me not only dangerous but also pointless. They are Raj Kumar (Shashi) and his best buddy Tom Genda (Rajendranath), and they are headed for the Nairobi airport to meet a singer named Lata Devi (ha ha!) and her manager Pran Mehta (Madan Puri).
Raj is furious when he discovers that Mehta has brought along not Lata Devi (whom he says is sick) but an unknown singer named Sangeeta Thakur (Sharmila Tagore) and her dancer friend Laxmi (Laxmi Chhaya).
I must say that this film is a complete Shashi Showcase: he is by turns petulant, haughty, charming, despairing—and always, always cosmopolitan (except for one abhorrent scene which I’ll get to). And he gets to speak English a lot, always a plus with Shashi.
Raj stomps off back to the hotel and cancels the show scheduled for that night. People are expecting the famous Lata Devi, not some unknown upstart! But Sangeeta comes to plead with him and explains (this is probably completely wrong, but if I’d written the story this is how it would go) that Lata Devi isn’t sick, but that Mehta is trying to help her get her career started and she needs to pay for her mother’s medications. Raj’s heart melts, especially after he gets a good long look at the beautiful Sangeeta (those eyelashes sweep down and then back up), and the show is on.
The audience at the East African National Theater is pretty pissed off at Lata Devi’s no-show, but Sangeeta’s beautiful singing (“Sunaate Hain Sitaare Raat”—Asha Bhosle sings the songs) wins them over. The music in this was written by Daan Singh (lyrics by Anand Bakshi)—Ultra’s vcd cover incorrectly credits him with direction, and S. Sukhdev with the music, but they have it backwards (idiots). I hadn’t heard of Daan Singh before (he just passed away in June, apparently), but I liked the music in this a whole lot.
Also, the film was written by Prayag Raj (I always think of him as “The great Prayag Raj” being as that he’s responsible for some of my all-time favorite movies) and he is listed as one of the actors in the credits (as he often is). I am wondering if he plays the Ustad responsible for Sangeeta’s songs, also traveling with Mehta (ETA: he does). At the end of this song there is a hilarious little interlude where he begins to follow Raj out onto the stage to acknowledge the applause, and Raj turns around and pushes him in the chest, back into the wings.
I digress (a common side-effect for me of no subtitles).
Raj is thrilled with the response, and clearly pretty smitten with the lovely Sangeeta. She is quickly the toast of Nairobi and is feted with a hilarious strip-tease type performance by one “Caron Leslie” and “Jerry”, who prances and postures behind her in a red satin devil suit. Shashi apparently was quite enamored himself of the actress Leslie Caron, and even danced with her once at a Berlin film festival—I’m guessing this is a tribute of sorts to her, although Miss Caron might not see it that way.
As she strips down to a furry white bikini and shakes her moneymakers, Sangeeta gets more and more embarrassed—as a good Hindustani ladki should—while everyone else is delighted. But seeing her friend’s discomfiture, Laxmi comes to the rescue and takes over the dance floor.
Oh Laxmi! How I adore you. And so does my friend Tom, who has un-defaced and uploaded the whole thing for your delectation. Seriously you need to watch this.
Raj now sets out to woo the shy Sangeeta, but there is a big obstacle (and not just in beehive hairdo form). His wealthy and domineering father Rai Sahab (Jayant) wants him to marry Rani (Azra), the daughter of his best friend (Raj Mehra). Rani wants to marry Raj too, and she’s quickly aware of his attraction to Sangeeta (after he sings another lovely song on a touristy outing with them: “Yeh Tumhare Raaste”).
Rani’s first move is to warn Sangeeta off in classic “He’s mine!” fashion; but when it’s obvious that Raj himself is feeling mutinous about her possessiveness she goes running to his father, who assures her that she has nothing to worry about.
Sangeeta at least has taken Rani’s words to heart (plus manager Mehta, who doesn’t want to lose his new meal ticket, also weighs in on Rani’s behalf), and she stops speaking to Raj. This is excuse enough for two more Laxmi dances, hooray! Girl just loves to dance (and thanks again to Tom). I love the meta-lip-synching going on in the first one: Laxmi lip-synching for Sharmila lip-synching for Asha B.
So much Laxmi goodness!
But eventually, with Laxmi and Tom’s help (Tom—Genda—is now also wooing Laxmi in his bumbling CSP manner) the two manage to find some time alone together in the African wilderness.
Love blossoms, because nothing spells romance quite like a cheetah feeding on a bloody carcass.
While Raj and Sangeeta are dancing with Masai warriors and going on safari, Rani is fuming and complaining to Rai Sahab about his son’s behavior. Rai Sahab asks Raj about his relationship with Sangeeta in front of Rani; Raj explains that Sangeeta is the singer for the shows he is producing and he has to spend time with her as part of his job. Raj is clearly intimidated by his father (Shashi’s facial expressions are priceless), and he escapes with relief as Rai Sahab tells Rani that she is “a fool”. I almost feel sorry for her, but not quite.
He’s not fooled for long. Rai Sahab and Rani overhear Sangeeta telling Raj that she doesn’t want to return to India—and Raj is overjoyed. Hmmph!
Rai Sahab’s opportunity to sabotage his wayward son’s romance comes soon after. Raj and Tom have entered a three day car rally through the rainy-season mud of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania—and Raj crashes the car near the end.
He is badly hurt (Tom is okay). As he lies unconscious in surgery, Sangeeta runs dramatically through the streets of Nairobi to the hospital. I sense that Happy Happy Fun Time in Africa is at an end, and I am right. Rai Sahab and Rani are already at the hospital, and Rai Sahab has a long and dramatic conversation with Sangeeta in which he finally persuades her to give up Raj (although I have no idea what his leverage is, besides the usual “sacrifice yourself for his family izzat” etc.). She returns to India with Laxmi and Mehta, heart-broken but noble, while Raj recovers from his injuries. Rai Sahab tells Raj that Sangeeta has gone, but not why, of course.
At Raj’s birthday party, Rai Sahab announces his engagement to Rani.
The DRAAAAA-MAAAAAA! Time to get the earplugs out: this music popped up *every ten minutes* during the second half, I kid you not.
(Manorama and my friend Ted Lyons get to witness the party goings-on in person!)
Will Raj be able to defy his father? Will he even want to, given that Sangeeta didn’t show up when he was hospitalized and went home? Will Sangeeta faithfully honor her promise to Rai Sahab to stay away from Raj? Will she gain fame and fortune in India as she did in Nairobi? What will Mehta do in order to hang onto her?
I’ll tell you one thing: it really pisses me off when Raj hits Sangeeta so hard that one of her earrings breaks. What kind of message is that, movie makers? Grrrr.
It impedes my ability to wholeheartedly love this movie, although the rest of it is good Mills and Boon soapy fun. It seems strange too, coming from the same people who give us this gem at the very end! I laughed out loud.
Anyway, there’s always Laxmi to fall back on. She makes almost as many cute faces as Shashi does, and she doesn’t hit anybody.