Continuing the Hinglish reviews with 3 more M films and the solitary N film. This finishes 33 of the 50 films that I hope to review.
The period around 1970 saw a lot of agitations and student movements. Bengal faced deathly strife, in Hyderabad we had colleges disrupted and serious campus unrest, In Europe in 1968, Prague faced upheavals, and Paris faced unprecedented violence.
Mere Apne (1971) tries to capture the mood of the times. The big message is that students were not, per se, violent or evil. It was just a lot of powerful energy having nowhere to go. Politicians would exploit this discontent unless a sage and a compassionate force intervened.
That unlikely force would be a naive but caring naani-ma. Meena Kumari (MK) playing naani-ma looks markedly different. Her hair is all white now, and the sensuality in the voice is replaced by a quiver.
The film opens with MK as a buddi in the gaon, reflecting nostalgically on her past. Her husband, Deven Varma, appeared impatient and rude but, deep down, he was a good man who cared for his country. Inevitably he got gunned down in some violent encounter with British soldiers and, thereafter MK’s life was enveloped by utter nothingness. She had her mango garden with good fruit, but that didn’t dispel her life’s gloom.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Ramesh Deo (RD) pops in, pretending to be a nephew. He takes MK to town, and, with his wife Sumita Sanyal (SS), briefly seems to promise her a better life. It isn’t to be. They really wanted a phukat baby-sitter and cook and very soon the pretense of calling MK a chachi wears off.
MK sees through the ruse, her pride is hurt, and she walks out to live with, and bring cheer into the life of, two orphaned children. But these are troubled times. Strikes and agitations disrupt college and the students are on their way to becoming, what Marxists would call, lumpen proletariat. There are two gangs of mastaans, one led by Vinod Khanna (VK) and the other by Shatrughan Sinha (SS). The young men are intrinsically decent but, with nothing else to do, they constantly fight the streets for pride and hegemony.
MK is seeing all this and tries to become the voice of sanity and hope. VK’s gang embraces her more, but SS’s gang also has youth who benefited from her kindness. VK pours out his grief at the loss of his beloved Yogita Bali who is married off to a ‘more worthy’ human. “I can’t believe it”, MK responds and she’s right. VK looks breathtakingly handsome and Yogita was foolish to spurn him for someone who turned out to be a ridiculous nincompoop.
Sadly, elections are round the corner. Rival politicians (Asit Sen and Mehmood) use these rival gangs to create mayhem and violence. MK bravely rushes out to intervene in what looks like the ultimate VK-SS duel. A bullet goes off and it pierces MK’s heart. Numbed by grief, the gangs stop battle. There is hope that this death will lead to a better and more peaceful tomorrow.
This was Gulzar’s first film as director and he shows glimpses of real class. Sadly it was MK’s last film; she died just months after Mere Apne was released. Salil Chowdhury’s music is very good. Haal chaal thik thak hai has an unusual Kishore-Mukesh duet which introduces VK’s gang. Then there’s Lata’s roz akeli doubtlessly inspired by the Nazrul geet also sung by S D Burman.
Mr X in Bombay
In Mr X in Bombay (1964), Kishore Kumar (KK) is supposed to be a poet. He walks into a drama company office looking staid and serious with a shawl, a jhola, and a chhaata.
The company boss is impressed and promptly offers him a job. You wonder why because KK’s lips only sport a benign smile and aren’t spouting fiery or mellifluous verse.
KK is soon introduced to the lead actress who looks like someone well past 70 with many wrinkles and many missing teeth. You sing and she’ll dance, he’s told.
“Me, and sing for an old hag … you must be out of your mind … I’ve got level ..”, KK protests.
To no one’s surprise, the buddi metamorphoses into a young and radiant dancer Kum Kum (KK2). Seeing the nubile dancer, the poet finally bursts into song.
KK2 is actually the daughter of a rich and eccentric professor. The professor is clever: he concocts a potion that can make humans jump up and down ad infinitum. If I can make a man go up and down, I can surely also make a car go up and down, the prof argues with uncanny rigor and exemplary logic. Soon enough he successfully demonstrates the vertical take-off and landing of a car.
But the prof’s best invention is a goli that makes people invisible. He’s looking for a bakra to try out his goli, but, till he finds a volunteer, he’s left the bottle with golis on a side table.
When she isn’t dancing, KK2 has the demeanor of a haughty princess. She and her friends even play a prank on KK that briefly leaves the poor poet saddened and deflated. And, yet, when the evil Madan Puri (MP) barks at her she slithers into submission like a docile puppy. Even the professor is most ill at ease with MP. There is a dark secret constraining the father and daughter.
Slowly KK2 warms up to KK. Love is in the air. When MP gets to know of this, he orders KK2 to tell KK that she doesn’t love him. The hapless prof too nods acquiescence. KK2 therefore tells KK: I-don’t-love-you-now-please-buzz-off.
A shattered KK walks out in grief picking up the bottle of golis as he leaves. After singing a soulful song depicting extreme distress, KK swallows the first goli. The goli makes him disappear, although he wrongly believes that his body is dead and it is only his troubled atma that’s still living. For half the film thereafter, you don’t see KK; you only see his chhaata.
This is the fun part of the movie. The invisible KK enjoys himself romancing KK2, bashing up MP if he feels like it, and prowling the streets with uninhibited freedom. Everyone thinks KK’s bhoot has returned, and, in the film’s only philosophical muse, KK declares that life is better when you are a mere bhoot.
When the professor can’t find the missing goli bottle, he correctly surmises what’s happened. In five minutes of frenetic experimentation in the lab, he concocts the anti-invisibility brew and goli. It’s now great fun: first goli to become invisible, then its anti-goli to become visible. Just keep toggling!
A happy prof also invites KK and KK2 to go on a fun jaunt upstairs in his car. It’s most enjoyable. KK blows the trumpet and horn with relish and the lovers sing a song in the skies.
When the song ends, KK asks KK2 why MP terrorizes them like that. KK2 spills the secret: MP was actually the prof’s assistant, and saw a student dying in one of the experiments. “He’s blackmailing us from that day!”
It takes very little time for KK to resolve the dilemma, especially after he discovers that the student never died, and MP was hiding him in his basement. All’s well in the end, with MP doomed to live the rest of his life jumping up and down after he is fooled into swallowing the wrong goli. One wishes though that some of the other LP tunes in the film could’ve attained a greater height.
For the first 15 minutes or so I had no clue what was going on in Munimji (1955). There was Nirupa Roy (NR), without a wrinkle on her face, trying to pass off as the mother of Dev Anand (DA) and Pran (P). She also had white hair; the sort that you might get when you roll in Brownian motion on a bed of atta.
Then the story began to slowly unfold …
There’s a virile creep named Ramlal who seduces NR, makes her pregnant, then marries another woman (we’ll call her W2) and makes her pregnant too!
Sadly, W2 dies after delivering a boy (who’ll grow up to be DA). Ramlal’s good friend, Captain Suresh, offers his condolences and says “Don’t worry. My daughter, if and when she’s born, will marry your baby boy!”
At exactly this moment, NR steps in, holding her boy, who is also Ramlal’s (illegitimate) boy (he’ll grow up to be P). NR is hoping that Ramlal will marry her now that W2 is dead. But Ramlal throws NR out calling her neech and giri hui.
Desperate circumstances can bring on desperate intelligence. Keen to give her illegitimate beta a good life, NR sneaks into Ramlal’s bedroom, picks up his legitimate beta (future DA), plants his illegitimate beta (future P) and is about to walk off when Ramlal wakes up. Just as he’s about to reverse the switch, a cobra slithers down from the ceiling, stings Ramlal and kills him.
So NR is in deeper trouble, now holding two baby boys! Luckily, Captain Suresh proves to be gallant, and hires NR as his house maid. Because of NR’s switch, it is P who enjoys the rich boy’s privileges, and DA becomes the little not-rich boy.
Soon P, like his dead baap, starts calling NR neech and giri hui. But NR doesn’t mind because he’s her khoon. DA is warm and caring, but NR treats him like dirt. I’ve rarely seen a more awful mother’s role in Hindi films.
We are left with a ménage à quatre: the Captain, NR, P (estate manager) and DA (his clumsy disguised munimji). And then the Captain’s daughter Nalini Jaywant (NJ) breezes in. Because she’s foreign-returned she can drive fast cars, and swim effortlessly in the river (but not in a swimsuit because this is a 1955 film).
Now things start getting complicated. DA briefly steps out of his disguise to give a different twist to his life’s journey, NJ falls for him, and pleads to see just one nazar of DA. But NR doesn’t like it one bit, and orders DA to back away because NJ is to marry P.
Eventually things go completely haywire. The town is terrorized by the dreaded dacoit Kala Ghoda, who is revealed to be P. All NR’s love for P now evaporates and, like the original Mother India, she too shoots him dead. Then NR herself drops dead in grief, clearing the way for DA to marry NJ (exactly as the Captain had originally promised)
You wish all this had happened sooner. But the film is still bearable because of DA’s suave charm and NJ’s stylish looks. I don’t think the S D Burman composed melodies are likely to stay in my memory for too long, even though both Sahir and Shailendra contributed songs. The story is written by Nasir Hussain, and you’ll see this plot recur again and again in his future films.
[Nirupa Roy was 24, Nalini Jaywant was 29, Dev Anand was 31 and Pran was 35 when this film was released. The music director Madan Mohan also plays a small role as Nalini Jaywant’s brother]
He’s handsome, he’s a fiery socialist, he can write with fervor, and he’s determined to end all the evils of capitalism in less than 150 minutes.
That’s a tall order even for Dharmendra (D). His dilemma is compounded because his adversary is a suave and capable businessman like Pran (P). If we see the P of Naya Zamana (1971) wearing our 2019 lens, we’d see a formidable magnate taking good decisions, working very hard, growing new businesses, and staying wonderfully networked.
Of course today’s P wouldn’t sneer contemptuously at his poor factory workers or send a bulldozer in broad daylight to raze down a slum – especially when it is inhabited by D himself. And even if his wife had the best Nirav Modi diamonds, she wouldn’t flaunt them today with such obscenity and make a caricature of herself.
P’s sister, Hema Malini (HM), herself starts off the film wearing big diamond earrings and driving around in big cars. But then she meets D, and, soon thereafter, reads the manuscript of his book Naya Zamana. HM is completely transformed after reading the book; she stops wearing expensive clothes and dazzling jewelry and starts wearing simple cotton saris. This changed wardrobe makes HM look even prettier … she was that angelic and bewitching in 1971!
The film is chiefly P vs D. In the first half P wins the battle, cleverly using D to advance his business interests by getting him to write his speeches and throwing him a few crumbs to satiate his socialist appetite. But then P makes the mistake of earning D’s wrath by passing off Naya Zamana as his own book, and HM makes the mistake of turning too socialist: imagine dancing in the rain in a slum.
The last straw is when HM gifts away the zameen of the slum, where P plans to build a plush hotel. Even as everyone has assembled to celebrate this gift, P pulls the trigger by getting his loyal chamcha Jankidas to set D’s slum on fire. The fire consumes D’s mother and gets D to flare his nostrils as he goes out to seek revenge.
At this point the plot goes out of control, and its subtle and polished undercurrent disappears. Ashok Kumar (AK) makes a late appearance as P and HM’s baap, but even he appears bewildered, changing his point of view so often that you wonder how he could grow such a formidable business empire. And it isn’t just AK: Mehmood, as P’s bil, and Aruna Irani, as D’s sister, are generally wasted; they were lovers those days and probably had a rollicking time away from the lights.
In the end, P goes to jail, AK continues to look bewildered, and socialism doesn’t quite win. But D wins HM, and that was a winsome and delightful compensation. Old man Burman glows briefly, especially when Lata sings for him, but he at best gets an honorable A grade.