Pyaasa, Kaagaz ke Phool and Sahib, Biwi aur Ghulam may be Guru Dutt’s classics—but this gem of a movie, in a much lighter vein and starring the inimitable Madhubala, is one of my favourites ever.
Anita Verma (Madhubala) is a somewhat silly, frothy orphan who lives with her militantly feminist aunt, Sita Devi (Lalita Pawar). Sita Devi has been lobbying to get the controversial Divorce Bill passed and is anti all men. Her attempts to mould Anita in her own likeness don’t work, however; Anita is infatuated with a tennis player, Ramesh (Al Nasir), who unfortunately for Anita, is more keen on Wimbledon than her.
At a tennis match, Anita runs into Pritam Kumar (Guru Dutt), an unemployed, down-at-heel cartoonist who survives by borrowing from his best pal, a photographer called Johnny (Johnny Walker). Pritam’s bedazzled by Anita, and tells Johnny all about it in a delightful song, Dil par hua aisa jaadu.
Anita’s 20th birthday comes up, and her long dead father’s will is read. As expected, he’s left a fortune for Anita—but on the condition that she gets married within a month of her birthday. If she doesn’t, all the money goes to charity. Anita is ecstatic at the thought of getting married, but Aunty isn’t so happy.
Determined to keep the money in the family and not let Anita squander herself on some worthless man, Sita Devi comes up with a plan: she’ll hire a husband. The wedding will be only in name, and as soon as the money’s handed over by the trustees, Anita will get a divorce.
Pritam, who’s gone to a newspaper editor for a job, is referred by the editor to Sita Devi. When he discovers what she wants, he refuses—until he sees a photograph of his prospective bride.
Pritam’s so in love with Anita, he agrees. Sita Devi says she’ll pay him Rs 250 a month. She also stipulates that he stay away from Anita after the wedding, and that he divorce her when asked to.
Meanwhile, Ramesh goes off to England, leaving a note for Anita—which reaches her through a convoluted route: Ramesh gives it to Johnny (who photographed him), who gives it to Pritam, who meets Anita at a cinema and hands it over. Much weeping and gnashing of teeth, but Pritam is tongue-tied (who wouldn’t be?! Madhubala’s gorgeous even when she’s crying).
Anita meets Pritam at the registrar (by now they’re quite chummy, and she tells him she’ll be right back after getting married!). When she discovers he’s her bridegroom, she’s very hurt because she thinks he’s married her for her money.
Along with Johnny and Johnny’s girlfriend Julie (Yasmin), Pritam meets Anita at a club. He tells her he loves her, but she doesn’t believe him. Finally, egged on (and aided) by Johnny, Pritam kidnaps Anita and drives off with her to his brother’s home. The brother isn’t there, but his wife (Kumkum) and her three toddlers are. The bhabhi unloads platitudes by the dozen on how fulfilling it is to look after home and hearth.
The kids (whom Pritam has convinced Anita is a fairy) are awestruck:
All of this softens Anita considerably, and by the time Pritam puts in another appearance, she’s feeling very kindly disposed. What follows is one of my favourite romantic songs: Udhar tum haseen ho, idhar dil jawaan hai.
Alas, the joy doesn’t last. The song’s barely finished when Sita Devi turns up with a telegram Anita sent her, saying that Pritam’s abducted her. [Aside: Plot hole here? It’s not very clear where or when Anita got the opportunity to send a cable]. Pritam’s understandably mad at Anita. He’s convinced she’s just a spoilt rich girl. There’s a tiff, and Anita goes off with Sita Devi, who begins divorce proceedings.
Even though he’s angry with her, Pritam still loves Anita. And, as far as he’s concerned, she wants a divorce. So, with Johnny’s help, he sets about manufacturing evidence against himself. It’ll almost certainly get Anita a divorce…
The end’s predictable, but the film itself is so satisfying, one doesn’t really mind!
What I liked about this film:
The chemistry between Guru Dutt and Madhubala. It sizzles in Udhar tum haseen ho, but even elsewhere in the film, there’s a sweetness and (on his part, at least) a wide-eyed wonder that’s very endearing. And yes, Guru Dutt makes a very good romantic hero: intense, but with a sense of humour.
The music, by O P Nayyar. It’s fabulous—all the way from the delightful Jaane kahaan mera jigar gaya ji to the beautifully lyrical qawwali Meri duniya lut rahi thhi aur main khamosh thha, to the soulful Geeta Dutt in Pritam aan milo. Exquisite!
The supporting cast. There’s much comedy here—Tuntun excels as Lily D’Silva, Pritam’s landlady; and the Johnny Walker-Yasmin scenes are delightful—but it doesn’t detract from the main story.
What I didn’t like:
Pritam’s bhabhi was painful. Yes, Kumkum did an okay job as a home-loving village woman, but her admonitions that a woman’s place is in her home etc were a trifle irritating. But then, this film is over fifty years old, so I can forgive an opinion which is now definitely outdated.
Little bit of trivia:
Pritam’s cartoons in Mr and Mrs 55 were drawn by the famous R K Laxman.