Ujala (1959)

I watched this film because it stars Shammi Kapoor. Also, perhaps, because the cast had Kumkum in it—a very good dancer and a not-bad actress, and sadly underrated. Some of the songs I’d heard were hummable. And Mala Sinha (even though she’s beginning to pall on me after a series of awful Mala Sinha-starrers I’ve seen recently) is still bearable. I thought I could deal with Raj Kumar.
What I hadn’t bargained for was an erratic screenplay, some awful acting, and much irritating shrieking and sobbing on the part of Leela Chitnis. But Shammi Kapoor keeps me going through it all.

Shammi Kapoor in Ujala

The story, now. It’s about Ramu (Shammi Kapoor), who’s piss-poor (you wouldn’t know it to look at him) and plies a cart, towing cargo to and fro. He has a whimpery, overwrought mother (Leela Chitnis) and a brood of very tiny siblings—the only one who’s anywhere near Ramu’s age is Sandhya (Ratna). Ramu, though poor, is ever-cheerful and very generous.

Ramu, his mother and siblings

Ramu’s childhood friend, and now the local goon, Kalu (Raj Kumar) keeps trying to tempt Ramu into joining his gang, but Ramu resists.

Kalu and Ramu

One day, however, tragedy strikes. Ramu’s little sister Munni is badly injured in a car accident, and Ramu doesn’t have the money to pay for an operation. He refuses Kalu’s offer of `tainted’ money, and goes off to beg his landlord for a loan—which the man agrees to, provided Sandhya marries him. Horrified, Ramu runs off, back to his family, to find Munni dead. Ramu doesn’t even have the money to buy wood to get Munni cremated, and ends up giving his wooden cart to the man at the cremation ground, to use as a pyre.

Ramu gives up his cart for Munni's pyre

Ramu’s thoroughly disillusioned by now, and goes off to throw in his lot with Kalu and his hoodlums: Bholu (Dhumal) is the main goon. Ramu also meets Kalu’s girlfriend, the lovely Kammo (Kumkum: she’s introduced in a nice song, Tera jalwa jisne dekha woh tera ho gaya). Kalu appears a little disenchanted with his life; he spews some half-baked philosophy about how he doesn’t like what he’s doing, etc—but this doesn’t really lead anywhere in the film.

Tera jalwa jisne dekha...

With the advance Kalu’s bestowed on him, Ramu goes off to buy a bracelet for his girlfriend, a milkmaid called Chhabeeli (Mala Sinha). She’s a silly creature, lisping “Ram kasam!” after every two words, but Ramu doesn’t seem to mind.

Ramu and Chhabeeli

One rainy evening, Kalu has an altercation with Chandu, a gang member. Chandu’s pocketed part of the loot to buy a trinket for his girl; a disapproving Kalu slaps him in front of everybody. Chandu’s livid, but backs down for the time being while Kalu gathers his gang and goes off to pick the pocket of a wealthy man emerging from a cinema hall.

Chandu, Ramu and Kalu get ready to pick a pocket or two

Chandu, smarting for revenge, informs the police, and they arrest Kalu and Bholu. Ramu escapes by the skin of his teeth, and heads home. Chhabeeli meets him and pleads with him to leave Kalu’s gang. This scene—with the last drops of the rain still dripping, Chhabeeli clinging to Ramu—is one of the few that are poignant. Much more so than all the shrieking of Ramu’s mother. She has lately been indulging in rather a lot of this, by the way—because the landlord has been pestering them for the last four months’ rent, which amounts to Rs 14.

Ramu's mother badgers him

Chhabeeli’s words have an effect on Ramu. The next day, he heads for the railway station and works as a coolie all day long. By the end of the day, he’s only accumulated Rs 4. He then goes to Kalu to borrow Rs 10, and to tell Kalu that he’s getting out of the gang. Kalu promises Ramu the money, if Ramu will only come with him on one last job. He needs Chandu for the job too, so he tells Ramu to go fetch Chandu.

Kalu gives Ramu and Bholu their orders

When Chandu arrives, he has a fight with Kalu and gets killed. Kalu—a persuasive guy—convinces Ramu that since Ramu was the one who’d gone to fetch Chandu, everybody will think Ramu killed Chandu. Ramu should keep mum about this, and hope and pray the police won’t find out. Ramu is scared enough (or plain dumb; I don’t know) to believe Kalu.

Kalu frightens the wits out of Ramu

Chhabeeli, who seems to have a considerable fan following, introduces Ramu to the owner of a knife-making factory. She bullies the man into giving Ramu a job. Ramu begins work, and his sincerity and hard work soon impress the owner.

Ramu and his boss

In the meantime, Ramu’s mother and Chhabeeli (she’s a nosey parker, this one) have been busy trying to fix up Sandhya’s marriage. They find her a suitable groom (personally, I think he’s an idiot—Chhabeeli in fact says it to his face), and the engagement is fixed for after a month. Ramu asks his boss if he can draw his wages, of Rs 100, on that day. The boss is amenable, and everything is tickety-boo.
But on D-Day, while the owner and everybody else is out of the factory and Ramu is holding the fort, Kalu happens by. And, being the nasty creature he is, he pinches a carved silver knife and makes off with it, leaving Ramu to shoulder the blame.

Kalu steals a silver knife

How much worse can it get? Will Ramu ever emerge from the darkness into which he’s been unwittingly shoved? Will anybody believe that he’s actually a good man?

What I liked about this film:
Shammi Kapoor. Oh, so gorgeous.
The music, by Shankar-Jaikishan. It includes the popular Yaalla yaalla dil le gayi and the folksy Ho mora naadaan baalma na jaane ji ki baat.

What I didn’t like:
“Every time I’ve tried to be a good man, you’ve pushed me into the depths of darkness,” Ramu tells Kalu later in the film. A good starting point for a story, and something I’d liked to have seen handled better, but Ujala makes a mess of it. A poor man blunders into the underworld before realising it’s not worth it: Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420 had a similar theme, but far surpassed this. That was a simple story, well told and with few distractions. This one is a complicated tale, with too much happening that never actually led anywhere. It drags in places, rushes through others, and doesn’t quite manage to get any sort of message across. I can accept that, but it doesn’t even entertain (which in my lexicon, is bad).
The characters are badly done: Kalu, for instance, seems interesting at first glance, a man with many layers. This, however, isn’t developed at all. He simply disintegrates into just another thug. Ramu’s mother is another case in point: she fawns over Ramu one minute, wishes he hadn’t been born the next. Ramu says she gave birth to him, but never understood him. Well, I don’t much understand her.
Kumkum. Why on earth have someone as lovely and effervescent as Kumkum, if all she had to do was two dances? A waste.

Nah. Drool over Shammi Kapoor in Dil Deke Dekho or Tumsa Nahin Dekha; watch the songs of Ujala on youtube. But give the film a miss. Not worth it.

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17 thoughts on “Ujala (1959)

  1. I remember going to see this while in college. That was the time theatres still played old films as re-runs. And I just found it so oppressive. First, because Shammi Kapoor was not doing any of the things I associated him with. The story itself. Mala Sinha, whom I’ve never liked. And a terrible b/w print didn’t help either. I remember thinking the film should have been called ‘Andhera’.

  2. I’d seen this on TV as a kid – and all I remembered was that it had Shammi Kapoor in it, and the Kumkum song, Tera jalwa jisne dekha… such a disappointment to see it now and realise what it was actually all about. `Andhera’ is right.

  3. Kumkum’s dances were SO GOOD, and I like the songs, but I remember that I found it kind of slow and depressing. I’d forgotten Raaj Kumar was in it though!

    Shammi is so beautiful though. So so so so very very very beautiful.

  4. O I didnt know this was bad. I got it because I love the songs (especially Sooraj zara aa paas aa) and Shammi looks great! :-( What a waste of good money. O well, another DVD that will go unwatched…

  5. memsaab: Yes, isn’t he absolutely splendid? Shammi Kapoor was the only reason I stuck with it till the end.

    bollyviewer: Fast-forward is the key! ;-). See only the songs. BTW, Sooraj zara aa paas aa is right at the beginning of the film – a couple of minutes after it starts. So you could actually just watch that and then leave off!

  6. ohhh dear, i think i mindlessley picked this movie up thinking it was the funky ujala from the 60’s! ohhh gawsh i must avoid this now, though i can’t resist a shammi and raaj kumar!

  7. Oh, I didn’t know there was an Ujala from the 60’s too. Who was in it? (Though that’s a silly question to ask; this Ujala, after all, had Shammi Kapoor but was still ugh).

  8. I remember watching “Jhoomta Mausam mast maheena” and “Tera Jalwa Jisne dekha” on TV. These two songs are brilliant too…. Cannot recall ” Sooraj aa zara pas aa”……

    I thought Shammi Kapoor does display his Yahooitis in “Jhoomta Mausam”… cant forget the move where he shifts his “topi” on his ahead.. I saw this years and years back…

  9. I think Yahooitis was never too far when Shammi Kapoor was onscreen! After Tumsa Nahin Dekha, just about every film he acted in had a touch of absolutely looniness at some point or the other – e.g, Subhanallah haseen chehra in Kashmir ki Kali; Aajkal tere mere pyaar ke charche in Brahmachari; Aasmaan se aaya farishta in An Evening in Paris… very entertaining.

  10. can i say something… doston don’t miss that song aap kahan jaye hum by mannaday in this film. though it was in 1959 but still in this modern era… 2009… aap kissi ko kissi par pharosa nahin…… it’s TRUE

  11. I have been reading the comments on memsaabstory too. ;-) But no, I don’t remember noticing him in this. Or in Kaagaz ke Phool, for that matter. Haven’t seen Railway Platform.

  12. I remember when I was a kid there were heated debates between my elder brother and my sister about the song jhoomta mausam My brother used to say it is June ka mausam mast mahina but my sis always said how come a June ka mahina can be mast it is Jhoomta mausam Though we four brothers always suppported by elder brother on this point But years later I found that my sister was right I have only these heated debates as my memory for this film Of course the songs in that era became a cult amng the youths

    • Hehe. Yes, as children, my sister and I too ended up having various debates (not exactly quarrels) about the lyrics of certain songs. I can well imagine the confusion over “jhoomta mausam/ June ka mausam!”

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