Parwana (1971)

parwanaThe tagline on the DVD cover caught my eye first: “A Murder Plan That Forced Indian Railways To Change Their Train Timing!” I am not sure that Indian Railways actually did worry that much about murders galore being unleashed on the Indian public, but it was enough to attract me. The film stars a very young Amitabh Bachchan, Yogita Bali, Navin Nischol and Shatrughan Sinha, and is directed by Jyoti Swaroop, who directed two of my favorite films (Padosan and Chorni). It was billed as a thriller of sorts, although there is no effort made to disguise “whodunit”—it’s marginally more of a “howdunit”.

It is a very stylish and nicely-paced production, however, and showcases the soon-to-be overwhelming charisma of its anti-hero Bachchan to great effect (especially compared to milquetoast-y “hero” Navin Nischol).

Kumar Sen (Amitabh) is an artist befriended by elderly Ashok Varma (Om Prakash) and his beautiful niece Asha (Yogeeta Bali). Kumar has long nursed an unspoken (to Asha anyway) love for her, but Varma is a “modern” guy who feels that Asha should choose her own husband, and he has said as much to Kumar whenever the painfully shy Kumar brings up the subject of marriage to Asha.

parwana_uptoher

Our first intimation that Kumar may be creepier than he appears on the surface (besides his obvious belief that Asha is Varma’s property to do with what he will) comes quickly, when he sends an anonymous telegram to Asha—on vacation in Ooty—telling her that her uncle is very ill and she needs to return home immediately. She rushes home to find Mr. Varma in perfectly good health, and Kumar ready and waiting to escort her to a friend’s engagement party (and though he comes to the airport to watch her disembark, he doesn’t meet her or give her a ride home).

parwana_creepy

Asha treats Kumar like a brother, and drags him away from the party in order to talk to him about something obviously important. She has promised her uncle that he could choose her husband (they seem to have had a complete communication breakdown on this point) and she wants Kumar’s help: she has fallen in love and needs her uncle to understand.

She narrates her new romance to Kumar via flashback to the previous few weeks.

parwana_laxmi

At a dance competition in Bangalore, Asha wins the top prize of a two-week trip to Ooty courtesy of the wealthy Singh family who owns a tea estate there. She beats out Kamla Singh (Laxmi Chhaya, who of course in my humble opinion is always the clear winner of everything) and a joke is made about how Kamla has always kept the prize in the family until now, rendering it sort of pointless but never mind.

In any case, Kamla’s mother Sarita (Lalita Pawar), Kamla herself, and brother Rajesh (Navin Nischol) are thrilled to have someone new to bestow it on; and Rajesh is obviously smitten with Asha. His mischievous sister is happy to egg things on.

parwana_laxmi2

It is such a delight to have Laxmi onscreen here, although sadly she isn’t used much through the rest of the film. She and Sarita happily conspire to push Rajesh and Asha together, until Kumar’s machinations draw the blossoming romance to an abrupt (albeit temporary) close.

As her story ends, Asha seems oblivious to Kumar’s distress at her confession (he puffs away furiously on one cigarette after another while pacing back and forth in front of her). But his shy silence finally broken, Kumar shows her his vast collection of Asha-inspired pieces and tells her about his own affection (to put it mildly) for her. He is quite the Renaissance artist! but I think it’s…yes, creepy.

parwana_stillcreepy

While I might have simply run screaming, Asha calmly tries to let him down easy and seems convinced that she has done so. I am not so sure. When Rajesh sends a proposal of marriage to Uncleji, Varma accepts it with delight as he knows it will make Asha happy (he has spotted Rajesh’s photograph in her room). Poor Kumar isn’t helped by the fact that Asha herself falls sadly short in the empathy department.

parwana_cruel

Although he initially tries, Kumar cannot accept Rajesh’s entry into Asha’s life and heart, especially after Rajesh arrives to continue his wooing in person and is greeted with open arms by all. Brooding and miserable, Kumar goes to Varma once more to beg for Asha’s hand, and when Varma refuses, saying gently that Asha must decide, Kumar threatens him.

Now angry, Varma throws him out of the house; Kumar takes refuge in a nightclub where Helen dancing with two extremely be-ruffled men (one of them my beloved Oscar looking like a blue Big Bird) fails utterly to soothe him.

parwana_helenoscar

This is not improved by Rajesh and Asha’s appearance there too, where their cuddling makes Kumar’s already sour mood even worse.

Kumar now obviously has gained a new sense of purpose, and begins laying the groundwork for his plot. First he lets his neighbor know that he’s going to Calcutta by train; then he writes Varma a letter and has a pilot friend agree to mail it from Bangalore (as a “prank”); he contrives anonymously to make a late evening appointment between Rajesh and a fictitious tea agent so he’ll be alone in his office; and he buys an airline ticket. The film is not subtle about letting us in on the victim of his plan, either.

parwana_plan_portent

That afternoon, Kumar is driven by his neighbor’s chauffeur to the Victoria train station, who watches as he boards a sleeper car bound for Calcutta and the train pulls away. Rajesh tells Asha that he will meet her at her friend Shakuntala’s wedding that evening after his meeting with the tea estate agent at his office.

But that night Varma’s neighbor and friend Mr. Ghosh (Asit Sen) hears a frantic Rajesh calling Varma’s name and hurries across the hall to find Varma dead in his office. Rajesh tells him that he is there because Kumar called to say Varma had had a heart attack and he, Rajesh, needed to get over there.

parwana_guilt

Upon investigation, however, the police discover that Varma was strangled to death, and that Kumar was on the train to Calcutta at the time of the murder and his supposed phone call to Rajesh. He is met at the Howrah station by the Calcutta police, and “reluctantly” tells them that Varma had received bad news about Rajesh’s character (the letter from Bangalore) and had been having second thoughts about Asha’s marriage and had sent Rajesh a letter saying so.

Faced with what looks like the obvious, the police arrest Rajesh for Varma’s murder after a letter is delivered to him, in Varma’s handwriting, accusing him of being a horrible person and telling him that he will not allow the wedding to go forward. The only problem—which nobody ever mentions—is that this letter is delivered to Rajesh seconds before the police show up at his door, and he hands it over to them unopened and unread! If this is his motive, he must have been prescient. Plus, Varma had asked his buddy Mr. Ghosh to investigate the allegations he had received in the letter from Bangalore, and Ghosh says nothing about it or the mysterious “confirmation” Varma supposedly received from someone else.

Khair. I am thrilled to see Abhi Bhattacharya as a police inspector and Shatrughan Sinha as the gleefully courtroom-scenery-chewing prosecutor.

parwana_evidence

Despite it being her uncle’s handwriting, Asha knows that Rajesh is not guilty and stands by him as the trial begins. How did Kumar pull this frame-up off? He was on the train when it left the station in Bombay and arrived in Calcutta. And how will he react when he realizes that Asha is undeterred and still loves Rajesh, and believes in him?

Of course the title refers to the proverbial (and often sung- and written-about) moth that is drawn to a flame, leading to a disastrous ending for the moth…at one point in the story, Kumar actually holds his hand over an open flame to prove how much he loves Asha.

As I said, this is not so much a whodunit mystery as it is a suspenseful howdunit—and will it ever be solved properly? I found it quite entertaining and engaging, and the visuals help a lot in that regard. The period style is of course a favorite of mine (look at these outfits!):

parwana_ishtyle

and Swaroop and his cameraman use interesting camera angles and shadows to highlight both the tension between people and Kumar’s own internal suffering (oh, and my very favorite home decor staple appears too):

parwana_ishtyle2

The acting is competent from everyone except Shotgun (but his overacting is quite entertaining in itself, it being him); and as I said, Amitabh is compelling as the brooding artist choosing the wrong path despite himself. He is just a couple of years short of becoming the breathtaking hero he was destined to be, but his charisma and acting abilities shine through his youth and relative inexperience.

There are worse ways to kill a couple of hours on a rainy day than this!

parwana_bigb

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32 Comments to “Parwana (1971)”

  1. Yeah, the tagline for this movie had me interested as well, although I doubt the veracity of it.

  2. Ooh, another Memsaab review!. I’m quite fond of the songs in this one, especially (or should that be naturally?) the Helen number, but my predominant memory of Parwana is early Amitabh biting his lips to convey angst. They grow-up so quickly. :-D

    Aside – Have you seen/reviewed “Gehri Chaal”? Another fun outing by proto-Amitabh.

  3. Echoing Shalini here, another Memsaab review! They come too far apart, really.

    Amit was so young and earnest here. :) As well as perfectly villainous.

  4. I saw this movie when in 1970 when it was freshly minted, and was hugely entertained. The whole ‘howdunit’ still boggles my mind. I was so happy when Johnny Gaddar raised a salute to this movie.

    The music by Madan Mohan was so lilting and catchy. I remember helping Raja and Tom do the lyrics of the Laxmi Chhaya song. I forget the Helen number completely. Need to refresh my memory.

    • Yes, I didn’t really say much about the music but it was unexpectedly charming, although I could have done with one or two fewer love songs between Navin and Yogeeta :D

  5. Parwana was one of those earlier movies of Amitabh which had good music and performances and a good film .It is quite unfortunate if the film did not do so well.

  6. I knew that this movie was a flop and that sent Amitabh Bachchan’s career further into tailspin, before getting rescued by “Zanjeer”(1973). The fact that this movie flopped was known to me, the fact that it was an entertaining movie worth watching was not known to me. Or may be it has become watchable now, with the benefit of hindsight. In any case, this review is making me watch this movie.

    The music of this song was its major highlight. Movie flopped and that affected Madan Mohan of course, since most of his movies, despite stellar music in them tended to flop. The songs of this movie are great. One party song, picturised on Amitabh Bachchan and Yogita Bali (whose still is there in the review- fourth one from last) has become my favourite song from this movie.

    Another Memsaab review of a movie- I was pleasantly surprised to see this review and I quite enjoyed it. One can find new things to look at in a movie when it is reviewed by you. Here is hoping that we will have a few more movies reviewed by you in the days to come. It is always good to be magically teleported back to the era when I was just about 9- 10 years old. :)

    • YES, that song where Yogeeta is playing a prank on her friend by wearing a burka and Amitabh is in disguise is wonderful. I did like the music, although I could have done with one or two fewer love songs that interrupted the story :) Laxmi AND Helen, though—what a treat.

  7. Hi. Discovered this blog today when googling for images of Tarun Bose and Surekha Pandit (The ‘Dheere dheere machal’ lady though I guess you know already). Firstly, thanks for the wonderful series on Tarun Bose. I’ve always loved him. Secondly, thanks for the blog!! I am a PhD student and I’ve survived my PhD in firang-land mostly thanks to the Hindi movies available on Youtube :) So I guess I’ve ended up watching hundreds of movies too. Though I am saving ‘Parvana’ for a rainy day which in PhD life is yet-another-‘bad-writing’-day ;) I think I’ll be “hanging out” with you a lot now that I’ve found you. More power to you. And happy viewing.

    PS: all the comments on young Amitabh remind me of young Shammi (with Nalini Jaywant) before he had developed his particular image and mannerisms…’balle o balle’!

  8. Hi I am from pakistan just love your blog.Thank you for your efforts .

  9. I had heard a radio show n this film a long ago which mentioned that a man Big B argues with is none other than a young Mahesh Bhatt who would become a respected director in the 80s.

    If you can find this scene, please upload a screencap for extra trivia value to this well-written review.

  10. Ahh! I remember watching this movie when I was in school, that would be like some more than 20 years back. I don’t remember the ‘how’ part of it, but, I remember I loved it.
    Being an absolute fan of old Hindi film, even though they were stuffed with the intruding naach-ganas, I love your blog.

  11. Yes, Thsi was one of my fav 70s murder mysteries..given whet they were.. Johnny Gaddar did a tribute to it where in a cop asks Neil Nitin Mukesh ” parwana dekha kya?” regarding the modus operandi of the crime. Well one song By Kishore da here is an evergreen hit for his fans , : simti si sharmai si”.. Exceellent moody number this : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CNGtGhYiBY

  12. My favorite song in this movie is Jis Din Se Maine.

  13. Another movie which had excellent music from an old timer in the 70s was C Ramachandra’s ROOTHA NA KARO

  14. Namaskar ma’am, i m an equal fan of hindi movies as you…and i just love your reviews…perhaps i am the youngest on this blog and only 23 still i prefer the movies of bygone era more than the movies of today.it is sad that those kind of movies are rarely made today..ma’am even though there are a lot of favorites yet the movie i like the most is the burning train(1981)..it is a kind of movie where i felt as if everyone who watches the movie is also travelling alongside the characters..and when i read your review it was a huge joy…ma’am i wish u post more of movies of those golden decades of hindi cinema..thank u.

  15. Hi Memsaab
    Really like your passion for Bollywood movies. However I do have a suggestion (and I may not be the first one on this-so forgive me) but your tagline says “I watch old hindi films so you don’t have to” However-you never reveal the ending, so it falls short of the promise-because how else would you know what happens without watching the movie? May I suggest adding the ending, maybe clickable so that anyone that wants to know what happened clicks on the link and finds out, while others that prefer no spoilers, don’t find out?

    Meanwhile-your passion is very inspiring….
    Arun

  16. LOL as if any of the endings are unpredictable,and those that do have a tangled web,give an explanation that is too corny to watch,like in Gumnaam.

  17. love your site which is a labour of love. you may find this 71 flick – Man Mandir – interesting. it boasts of a stellar cast – Sanjeev Kumar Waheeda Rahman, Sudesh Kumar, David Abraham, Aruna Irani, Rakesh Roshan, Mehmood. one of the songs portrayed by Mehmood and Aruna Irani is classic 70s hindi film music – rocking fast-paced and hilarious (Mehmood after all) number that would fit in any dancefloor jukebox – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9r16lyNb3Q

  18. So the dope(kumar)would stoop to such levels for a broad!,it’s lucky for him that jaya is so mild.You’re right he’s a creep who cultivates tawdry pusillanimity.

  19. Excellent re-telling of parwana story.
    I saw the movie in 1975, and was amazed,
    And mesmerized as kid.

  20. @Memsaab, where have you been? I used to stalk your website to read entertaining reviews. Please post more frequently. Its been about half a year.

  21. Hmmm, After looking at how many movies you have seen, I don’t know if you have any more to see especially from the 60s/70s. However, try watching some of the new movies. Bollywood has been making movies with a more progressive outlook. For example Karan Johar’s production Kapoor and Sons, has a gay angle in it. There are quite a few feminist movies too. The music however, has sadly gone for a toss.

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