Beti (1969)

There are some things I have very little patience with while I’m watching a film. Weepiness, for instance. Precocious children for another. Endless bhajans (unless the bhajan in question happens to be of the calibre of Allah tero naam or Man tadpat hari darshan). Mindless self-sacrificing which can’t possibly benefit anyone.
And much more. Beti, unfortunately, has all of these in ample doses. I saw it primarily because I like the lead pair (Nanda is an old favourite, and I haven’t given up on Sanjay Khan, despite the lamentable Ek Phool Do Maali). And when a film lists Rajendranath, Shyama and Asit Sen in its cast, one can hope for lots of entertainment.

Or so I thought.

Sanjay Khan and Nanda in Beti

Mr Verma (Kishore Sahu) is a widower with two children: toddler Munna (Master Rippy) and Munna’s elder sister Sudha (Baby Sarika). Sudha is pint-sized herself, but seems to think herself in loco parentis for Munna. She looks after him, sings lullabies to Munna à la their mother (Kamini Kaushal, who appears briefly to sing a song but is otherwise seen only in a photograph), and even looks after her father. She sits up for Mr Verma to come home, then serves him dinner and tells him to eat; she’ll eat later. Ugh.

Sudha `looking after' Mr Verma

In fact, idiot child that she is, she decides to cook for her father, and this results in a serious accident in which Sudha’s foot is badly burnt. The local vaid (Asit Sen) who treats Sudha encourages Mr Verma to remarry so that the children may have a mother. Mr Verma ends up marrying Kamla (Shyama), who turns out to be the archetypal stepmother. She makes Sudha do all the housework, thrashes her when the kid messes up, and is generally a nasty character.

Kamla makes life miserable for Sudha and Munna

There’s more misery on the way. Munna, who’s old enough to talk coherently but apparently hasn’t been told he shouldn’t climb into the well, drowns. Sudha is inconsolable; Mr Verma tries his best to comfort her. Kamla, on the other hand, tells Sudha she’s got to pull her weight and do the housework even as she studies. And so, in between scrubbing floors, washing clothes and cooking, Sudha grows up. She (now Nanda) is a secretary in an office, and one day meets a young man called Rajesh (Sanjay Khan) who nearly runs her over.

Sudha meets Rajesh after he almost runs her over

Although they exchange some snide remarks, Sudha and Rajesh secretly think rather highly of each other.
When Sudha gets home, Kamla gives her the news that the offspring of the man who brought up Kamla are visiting, and will now be staying with them. These are Baanke (no idea who this actor is) and his sister Jyoti (Shabnam). The vaid’s son Deepak (Rajendranath), who’s passing by, comes in to say hello and falls for Jyoti. This becomes the basis for an unfunny but thankfully brief comic side plot.

Deepak falls for Jyoti at first glance

Mr Verma also has news for Sudha: he’s on the verge of arranging a marriage for her. He doesn’t tell her the name of the prospective groom, but says they—Sudha and Mr Verma—will go the next morning to his home. The groom won’t be home, but his parents will look her over.
The next day, in her future in-laws’ home, Sudha takes advantage of a moment of solitude and sneaks a peek at what she thinks is the photo of her groom-to-be. It’s Rajesh! Yippee!
What this simple-minded soul doesn’t realise is that Rajesh is the best friend of Sudhir, the man Sudha is being lined up to marry.

Sudha sees Rajesh's photo in Sudhir's house

Sudhir’s father asks Mr Verma for a dowry of Rs 40,000; and Mr Verma, for the sake of his daughter’s happiness, agrees even though he can’t afford it. The marriage is fixed and Sudha is formally engaged—all without having met her groom.
In the meantime, Rajesh has been pining for the lovely girl he nearly ran over, and when one of Sudha’s colleagues sells him a ticket to a charity show organised by Sudha, he goes along in the hope of meeting Sudha—and does. Sudha, thinking Rajesh is her fiancé, is happy to see him, and agrees to come on a date. They’re soon deeply in love.

Sudha and Rajesh fall in love

One day, Rajesh’s mother (Sulochana Latkar) tells him she’s found a bride for him and that he is now engaged—also without having seen the girl in question. Rajesh is rattled by this revelation, and tries to argue with his mother, but to no avail. When he tells Sudha, she giggles and lets him know that she is the girl mommy found for him.

Sudha tells Rajesh she's his fiancee

So, blissfully unaware of the gathering storm clouds, this happy pair goes on with their lives, singing and scampering in the gardens. Meanwhile, Mr Verma tells Kamla that he’s sold off their house to obtain the money for Sudha’s wedding. Kamla is (justifiably, I think) outraged, but he refuses to budge: it’s his daughter’s happiness at stake. How the daughter will be happy with her father reduced to living on the pavement is beyond me.

Mr Verma tells Kamla he's sold off the house

Then, just a couple of days before the wedding, Sudha sees the name of her groom on the wedding card and gets a shock. (Yes, well. I can’t believe that nobody so far has even accidentally mentioned Sudhir’s name in her hearing, or anything).
Sudha’s father asks her what’s wrong. Sudha tells him, after (as is so common in Hindi cinema) making a friend out to be the protagonist in the story. Should the friend go with love, or with her family’s honour? Family, asserts Mr Verma. Love is ephemeral; the family’s honour is everything.

Mr Verma tells Sudha that family honour is everything

Rajesh—as a result of a chance conversation with his mother—has discovered that Sudha isn’t his fiancée. When he next meets her, she tells him of her decision to marry Sudhir. Devastated, Rajesh leaves town.
At Sudha’s wedding, just before the pheras are to start, Sudhir’s father demands the Rs 40,000 Mr Verma had pledged.
Mr Verma goes to get the money, and finds it gone. When he assures Sudhir’s father that he’ll give the money after the wedding, the greedy old curmudgeon refuses. Sudha shows a burst of spirit and tells her father to stop pleading. She orders Sudhir’s father out, and the entire baraat takes itself off.

Sudha tells Sudhir's father off

Mr Verma suffers a stroke and is paralysed. Kamla isn’t really bothered, and soon enough, Sudha realises she’s the only one who cares for Mr Verma.
What’s more, Sudha discovers that Kamla had stolen the 40,000. Now that Mr Verma’s paralysed, Baanke too starts showing his true colours and tries to molest Sudha.

Kamla and Baanke victimise Sudha

Sudha decides it’ll be best for her father if she takes him away, never mind if she has barely any money. She manages to find them a grubby little room to stay in and spends her last few rupees buying food for her father.

Sudha and Mr Verma in their hovel

In the interim, Rajesh learns that Sudhir’s wedding got called off. Realising this means Sudha is still unmarried (this guy obviously hasn’t seen films like Ghunghat or Preet Na Jaane Reet, both of which had heroes leaping into marry the jilted bride), he heads home to find Sudha. She’s gone, of course, and even at his own home, his parents make it clear they don’t like the idea of him marrying someone who was left at the altar (mandap?), so to say. Rajesh has a tiff with his father (Raj Mehra) and storms out of the house.

Rajesh leaves home after a quarrel

Life has become torturous for Sudha and Mr Verma. She spends her day searching for a job; he spends it wondering whether Sudha will be reduced to begging. Finally, certain he’s a burden on his daughter, Mr Verma goes off in his wheelchair all by himself one night. When Sudha wakes, he’s gone, and she—having found his shawl by the roadside—is convinced he’s dead. Alone, jobless and hungry, Sudha is at the end of her tether. She climbs up to a temple to pray, begging God to let her die.

Sudha begs God to let her die

What happens to Sudha next? Do the baddies get their just desserts? Do Rajesh and Sudha ever meet again? Is Mr Verma still alive? This is standard Bollywood fare, so it’s pretty predictable. If you’ve seen enough Hindi cinema, you’ll probably be able to guess at least some of what happens.

What I liked about this film:
This requires some thinking, because I can’t really recall anything I liked, except perhaps Baby Sarika. She was cute as a kid, and her acting wasn’t bad—in fact, she’s one of the most likeable child actors I’ve seen in the 60’s.
And yes, Nanda and Sanjay Khan do look very nice together when they’re smiling.

Nanda and Sanjay Khan in Beti

What I didn’t like:
Lots!
The music, for one. I’m a fan of 50’s and 60’s music, and generally think that most films made during this period had at least one good song. The songs in Beti (scored by Sonik Omi) are utterly forgettable.
The story. There is just too much self-sacrificing going on here. I was brought up to think that you loved your family, but that worked both ways: if you loved your folks, they loved you back and wouldn’t want you to kill yourself or harm yourself for their happiness. Beti seems to suggest, what with Sudha sacrificing love for honour, then Mr Verma giving it up for Sudha (and other sacrifices as the film progresses) that you should give up all for your family, without actually finding out from them what they would want.

Okay, getting off my soap box now. But with one last comment: this one is, while perhaps not as awful as Ek Phool Do Maali, a close second. It’s very weepy (Nanda turns on the waterworks about an hour into it and then cries intermittently through the rest of the film), and there’s just too much melodrama in it. Avoid.

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18 thoughts on “Beti (1969)

  1. Oh Lord! I will gladly strangle that kid. In a perfect world [real or reel, doesn’t matter], children should be invisible. I remember cringing throughout Dosti, even though the lead actors were playing adolescents in the film.

    I normally switch off the TV the moment a cute, self-sacrificing, doesn’t-see-where-he-is-going kid appears on screen. Sole exceptions being Taare Zameen Par, ET, and the little girl who played Jasmeet in Hare Rama Hare Krishna. And I want to choke Dakota Fanning.

    Sorry for that rant. But I had to say it.

    • adaptation R.K. Narayan’s Swamy and Friends by Shankar Nag is an exception where a child is a child and not an exaggerated aadarsh baccha

        • This post was written a long time back; since then, I’ve come across some other well-depicted children in cinema. Probably my favourite in old Hindi cinema is Sachin in Majhli Didi, who (despite being in a sorry plight) is depicted very naturally. Loved that movie.

          And yes, Swami and his gang are delightful. Well-written stories, and well adapted to TV too.

  2. That’s it! Blow of your steam Sabrina!

    *There are some things I have very little patience with while I’m watching a film. Weepiness, for instance. Precocious children for another. Endless bhajans. Mindless self-sacrificing which can’t possibly benefit anyone.*

    Agree with you on all the points

    I can’t believe that Shyama is such a bad step mother, after all she lets Nanda blow hundreds for her hair dos. ;-)

    I think, in the late 60s with Meena Kumari becoming fat and totally unreliable (alcohol problems), they found an alternative in Nanda.
    And she since she was so used to playing the self sacrificing beti or bahen, she just went ahead with it. The only challenging role she got was in Ittefaq.
    Poor Nanda!
    Her only mother roles in Ahista Ahista, Prem Rog brought more variety for her.

    I like her because she supported Shashi Kapoor’s career so much. And he thanks her in every possible interview for that.

    Since I grew up watching these dreadful step mothers, I spent half of my childhood in eternal fear of my mother’s death and the other half in fear of landing in a boarding school.

    BTW I like Sanjay Khan too. He doesn’t come across as so much of a show off like his brother Feroz.
    Somewhere I read that the lady in the song “jaane kahan mera jigar gaya ji” opposite Johnny Walker is Sanjay Khan’s wife. Is that possible?

    Thanks for the review and digging up this film.

    I foyu want to dig up a Nanda film, why not try Chhalia (1973)? It has atleast good songs from R D Burman.

  3. Sabrina: Oh, I agree with you so completely. Children like that seem to be a dime a dozen in Hindi films, and they’re always a pain in the ***. Why can’t children be children in films, and not little adults?! BTW, one kid I thought really likeable was Minnie in Kabuliwala – sweet, but in a childlike manner. And she behaved like a child.

    harvey: Yes, Nanda did do a lot of films with Shashi Kapoor, didn’t she? And I wish she’d done more offbeat films like Ittefaq – somehow that weepiness gets on my nerves! Another film of hers I like is Joroo ka Ghulam, with Rajesh Khanna: nice and light-hearted.

    I’m so glad I’ve found someone else who likes Sanjay Khan! I prefer him to Feroze Khan, and just wish he’d done more films. And no, the actress in “Jaane kahaan mera jigar gaya ji” is Yasmin, who married the cameraman (an Englishman, or so I’ve heard) who filmed that song! Sanjay Khan’s wife is Zarine Katrak, who acted the part of Rajendranath’s girlfriend in Tere Ghar ke Saamne.

  4. I love Nanda! And am just getting started on Sanjay, although so far I find him kind of bland…

    This sounds perfectly dreadful though. I will AVOID YAAR :)

  5. Yes, wasn’t Nanda lovely? I just wish she didn’t get so many of these tearful roles… and Sanjay Khan, though he doesn’t have the joie de vivre of someone like Shammi Kapoor, was handsome enough and had some good songs filmed on him. Have you seen Abhilasha – also with Sanjay Khan and Nanda? It has one of my favourite Rafi songs, Wadian mera daaman raaste meri baahein, in which Sanjay Khan is to die for :-)

  6. This sounds like the kind of movie that used to ruin our Sunday evenings back in DoorDarshan days! That said, I’d rather see Nanda in weepy roles (she is so good at it – waaaay better than Meena Kumari) than in her “vivacious”-mode (like in Jab Jab Phool Khile). Sanjay Khan looks pretty handsome and I agree with Harvey, he certainly doesnt come across as a big show-off like his brother and unlike the latter he didnt make soft-porny movies, either. Hmmm… I need to see one of his good movies again – maybe Abhilasha that I have fond memories of.

    Baanke looks like actor Shyam Kumar who turned up as villain in a lot of 60s and 70s movies and was also in Dulari.

  7. I remember seeing Abhilasha on TV long back, and would love to see it again – but can’t seem to find it on DVD or even VCD.

    And yes, I did think it was Shyam Kumar (in fact, I’d actually written Shyam Kumar down as the actor, until I went back and had a look at the film’s credits – but it doesn’t list Shyam Kumar). Considering everyone (even people with miniscule roles) are listed, I ended up thinking this was just someone who looked uncannily like Shyam Kumar!

  8. I have not seen Abhilasha but I too love the songs (esp. the Asha Bhosle song “Munne Mera Aa”…it’s so pretty. Shall look for it.

    Is Baanke the guy in the striped suit? in the 12th screen cap down? He doesn’t look like Shyam Kumar to me, but I could be completely wrong too :)

    • Arre, Sharmi, even Sanjay Khan can’t save this one… it’s awful. Please, please avoid! (and this is from someone who’s as much a Sanjay Khan fan as you are!)

      P.S. One Sanjay Khan film I would recommend is Dillagi, with Mala Sinha. It’s not bad, though Sanjay Khan’s side kick was a pain. The lead pair look awesome, and their romance is quite lovely in parts – and unusually non-melodramatic most of the time.

  9. Heh heh. I came here only because I saw a comment on this post on your sidebar. This is one of your reviews that I haven’t read before. I think I will watch this when I’m feeling particularly like punishing myself. :)

    • If you really feel masochistic, Anu, don’t watch this, watch Parivaar instead, the one starring Nanda, Jeetendra and Om Prakash. Beti is a walk in the park compared to that one. :-)

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