I am a pretty big fan of director-producer-writer-actor Arjun Hingorani’s work. His listing on imdb is probably incomplete, but the films he made that I’ve seen (four of them now), I have really enjoyed despite some issues. Those issues are very small in the face of his laboriously tangled—but coherent—storylines, stylish camera work, fabulous music, and the people he loves to cast: Dharmendra, Ashoo, Hiralal, Shetty, Jankidas, Keshav Rana and more. I also appreciate his penchant for casting himself in his films, not always in a heroic light but always in a terrible wig. In essence, his movies are solidly entertaining and a real delight to sit through if you are willing to overlook a certain glossing-over of logic and moderate level of preachy melodrama (which I am).
This one begins with a man named Premchand (Ajit) taking his small daughter to meet his late wife’s father (Murad). His father-in-law had not approved of his daughter’s choice and had disowned her; but nearing death he has repented and wants to make his granddaughter the heir to his fortune.
Premchand, though, has a secret: his real daughter has died and the granddaughter inheriting Murad’s wealth is a substitute. Somehow a man named Karamchand Singh (Arjun Hingorani) has discovered this subterfuge, and has documents proving it. He blackmails Premchand for 10,000 rupees a month to keep quiet. I love these camera angles!
We watch Premchand handing over wads of rupees as little Rekha grows up to be big Rekha (Rekha!), inheriting all of her “grandfather’s” wealth when he passes away. Her best friend is Chanda (Jayshree T), who is being wooed by a waaay-too-old-for-her Gopuram (Rajendranath). This is the CSP, and his main schtick besides romancing young Chanda is his hearing aid, always falling out of and dangling below his ear, rendering him deaf. That is all I am going to say about the CSP.
Gopuram has been “adopted” by the Sharma family, consisting of Ma Lakshmi (Sulochana Latkar), father (Abhi Bhattacharya), sister Meena (Rajni Gupta?), little brother Ramesh (?) and oldest son Ajit (Dharmendra), who is Gopuram’s best friend.
Ajit and his father have a little secret too: they are cat burglars and very successful ones at that, able to crack open the most difficult (imported) types of safes. But one fateful night the (rather more wily than is usual in Hindi films) police finally catch up with them. There is a loooooooonnnnnng chase sequence with lots of DNCI and a dazzling staircase that looks like a trippy blue eye, and it ends in disaster. To escape the net, Ajit drives his neon-yellow jeep through a department store window, injuring his father (who has health issues to begin with). He gets them both home, but as his father lies bleeding, the police burst in (I’m thinking that a neon-yellow jeep is not the best choice for a getaway vehicle).
Papaji dies after gasping out a request for forgiveness from Lakshmi; Ajit’s silence as the police point their guns at him confirms that what they are saying is true and much wailing of shehnais and gnashing of teeth ensues. Lakshmi breaks her bangles over her husband’s bloody hand and Ajit is led away in handcuffs. He is sentenced to two years imprisonment, while at home Lakshmi forces Meena and Ramesh to pack up the bare essentials and move out. Faithful old servant Gopal (Hiralal) wants to come with them, but Lakshmi refuses.
Destiny or personal choice? is always my question in such situations. Anyway, I am glad to see that at least she lets the family Alsatian come along and doesn’t just abandon him like so many people do all too often. Gopuram comes with them too, and they walk along miserably accompanied by the title tune (and more wailing shehnais, such a gloomy instrument!) as Ajit breaks rocks in a quarry. Oh the humanity! The massive self-pity!
Lakshmi retains her anger at Ajit as the months go by, although Meena still ties a rakhi on him through the cell bars. Meena is the most annoying character in this film, a weepy little goody-two-shoes, and I want to slap her sometimes, but I am glad she visits poor Ajit. And when Ajit gets out early for good behavior and goes home with his sad repentant puppy-dog eyes, Ma melts like an ice cube on the footpaths of Bombay. She’s a goner even before he vows to Bhagwan that he’ll go straight.
Peace and harmony restored, Ajit goes out in search of a job. He has a college degree, but due to his honesty about his former dishonesty he fails to find employment. Dejected, he passes a wrestling competition and for a 200 rupee prize gets in the ring with Hercules. I love him but I have to say that Dharam looks like a skinny little girl next to Hercules, although I can never be sad when he strips down to his chaddies. He somewhat improbably wins the match and the 200 rupees, which is a good thing because it is raksha bandhan again. He buys a school case for Ramesh and a sari for Meena and returns home.
But Ramesh finds a huge amount of money in his case, which is identical to one someone sets down on the same counter at the sari shop.
There is a card in the case along with all the money, and Ajit promises to return the money to its rightful owner—who is Premchand. Remember Premchand? (There has been a lot of drama since we last saw him.)
Meanwhile, at the beach Rekha and Chanda are being girly girls and talking about boys and marriage, and we are treated to a very catchy little song. I love that thing on Jayshree’s head, although it seems inappropriate for beach wear. Unless that beach is in Siberia. On their return to Rekha’s house, Rekha bumps into Dharmendra and knocks him down outside the gate. She is smitten on sight, and really who can blame her?
I cannot. Premchand is impressed by Ajit’s honesty, and gives him a job (to Rekha’s great delight) with a nice salary. Ajit returns home to Ma with the good news, and alarmingly suffers what he calls “a dizzy spell”.
These are the moments I live for, people.
Fortunately he recovers quickly, and life resumes. Rekha takes advice from Chanda (Jayshree T is hilarious in this role, and she and Rekha are great together as BFFs) and quickly endears herself to Ajit’s family and finally to Ajit himself, culminating in a truly awesome song (“Arre Rafta Rafta Dekho Aankh Meri Ladki Hai“—a Kishore classic if ever there was one). Premchand treats him kindly and approves Rekha and Ajit’s engagement, so you know something terribly wrong is about to happen–and it does. Ajit has another “dizzy spell” at work (pretty much exactly the same as above) and Premchand makes him go to the doctor (Bharat Bhushan).
This being an Indian movie, Ajit instructs the doctor to keep chup about his condition and sets about destroying Rekha’s love for him and confidence in her own judgement. He shows up “drunk and disorderly” at her birthday party (also their engagement party), and pays a local woman (Ashoo) to crash the party with her son pretending to be his wife.
Dharam should know!
Naturally, Premchand is enraged and fires him on the spot while poor Rekha’s heart is broken into chhote chhote pieces. While I don’t ascribe AT ALL to this whole “I won’t tell you the truth for your own good” kind of thing (I’m looking at you Aah), it thankfully doesn’t remain the focus of our story for long.
Ajit goes to see Premchand the next day and confides the truth to him. They are interrupted by Karamchand, Premchand’s blackmailer—Premchand has been paying him all these years, but is running short of money because his company is not doing so well.
Premchand now confides in Ajit, and tells him about his long-ago scheme to ingratiate himself with his rich father-in-law. He asks Ajit to help him by breaking into Karamchand’s safe and retrieving the documents incriminating him, and the money that he has paid out in blackmail. He will share it with Ajit, making him a wealthy man. Ajit is reluctant at first: he doesn’t want to break his promise and his mother’s heart (not that his oft-mentioned blood cancer isn’t going to do that anyway). But his sister Meena’s marriage is arranged, and her fiance’s family want 20,000 rupees as dowry. Ajit, knowing that he has limited time left, agrees to help Premchand.
He has a look through binoculars at Karamchand’s expensive English Jackson & Jackson safe and recognizes his old servant Gopal Uncle working now for Karamchand.
Premchand gives him some chloroform to render Karamchand unconscious, and things go according to plan—except for a brief gratuitous interlude whereby a “friend” wearing Star Trek makeup and little else visits Karamchand while Ajit hides behind a couch. It manages to be both painfully sleazy and hilarious, thanks to Dharmendra’s horrified expressions and Arjun Hingorani’s complete (albeit inadvertent) lack of anything resembling seduction skills. Seriously, it’s awkward.
It’s a relief when she goes away and Ajit renders Karamchand senseless. He cracks open the safe and steals everything inside, and leaves—running into a neighbor on the way out. But oh no! after he’s gone, someone else enters Karamchand’s room and smothers him with a pillow!
It doesn’t take long for the (rather more wily than is usual in Hindi films) police to finger Ajit for Karamchand’s murder, and he is arrested and sentenced to hang.
Will he be able to prove his innocence in a country whose (filmi) justice system discards things like evidence, witnesses and lack of motive? Will the blood cancer get him before the rope? Will poor Rekha and Ajit’s now-disillusioned family ever find out the truth?
There are many twists and turns to come, but I’ll tell you what to look for: Shetty in white lace, and the Sharma family dog.
He looks a little old and scrawny, isn’t credited, and at one point is surrounded by cat pictures—but he’s awesome.