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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What I didn’t like:
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.