My guardian angel in charge of film viewing seems to think I’m in serious need of improvement. Which is probably why I’m finding myself subjected to a series of films centred round the difference between good women and bad women. That Touch of Mink tried to touch on it in a humorous way; Bhabhi was more blunt (are sledge hammers blunt?); and Hariyali aur Raasta, though not quite as in-your-face as Bhabhi, had very much the same message: good women choose honour, family and home over all else.
The film begins on a Calcutta-Darjeeling train, in which little Shobhna (Baby Farida) is travelling with her father Shivnath (Manmohan Krishna) to Darjeeling to meet Shivnath’s friend Ramakant. Shivnath tells Shobhna Ramakant’s son Shankar, who’s about Shobhna’s age, will be a good companion for her. I can sense childhood love blooming.
Unfortunately, when Shivnath arrives, it’s to find Ramakant (no idea who this actor is) on the verge of death from a heart attack. With his dying gasp, Ramakant begs Shivnath to look after Shankar and to ensure that when he grows up, Shankar marries Rita, the daughter of a mutual friend of Shivnath’s and Ramakant’s. After Ramakant’s died and his will has been read, it’s discovered that Shivnath has been made the trustee of Ramakant’s sizeable fortune, most of it in the tea estates that Ramakant—and now Shankar—own. The lawyer persuades Shivnath to shift to Darjeeling and look after the estates.
Shobhna and Shankar, meanwhile, have become good friends and spend their time scratching their names on a tomb-like monument in the vicinity (the Archaeological Survey of India is obviously sleeping on the job). This thoroughly reprehensible graffiti goes on for years, until—as adults, and still scratching away merrily at the monument—Shankar (Manoj Kumar) and Shobhna (Mala Sinha) express their love for each other.
What with Shobhna and Shankar’s constant mooning, everybody in Darjeeling seems to be aware of their love story. Everybody, that is, except Shivnath himself, who’s too busy being the conscientious and loyal trustee. He refuses to accept a bonus from Shankar (“I am only doing my duty,”), and even deliberately comes in the way of a truck that’s trying to smuggle out a few thousand rupees’ worth of tea from the estate. The insider responsible for the theft is the manager, Joseph Mahendersingh Bahadur (Om Prakash), who’ll do anything for liquor.
Joseph’s sweet, good wife Mary (? Another person I don’t recognise) hates her husband’s alcoholism and what it’s reduced him to. Joseph keeps promising Mary he’ll reform, but never gets around to it.
Though Mary approves of the Shobhna-Shankar romance, Joseph is disdainful. He soon spreads a rumour that Shivnath wants Shobhna to marry Shankar so that father and daughter can get their hands on Shankar’s wealth. Shivnath suddenly wakes up to the truth. He raves at Shobhna and chastises her for falling for Shankar. Then—as an afterthought—he tells her that Shankar has been more or less betrothed to Rita all this while. Little late in the day, methinks. And Shankar hasn’t been told either. Shivnath, in my opinion, is a self-righteous twit who needs to be shoved off the nearest cliff.
But (though he repeatedly admits he should’ve revealed the Shankar-Rita betrothal earlier) Shivnath doesn’t give way. Instead, he whisks Shobhna off on the train to Calcutta to remove her from the path of temptation. As invariably happens on train rides in Hindi cinema, the train has an accident and falls into a river. Shobhna goes missing, and both Shivnath and Shankar (who arrives, distraught) give her up as dead.
Shobhna has, however, been rescued by a pair of boatmen (thank heavens for this tribe: what would Hindi cinema do without them?). They row her downstream to Calcutta, where they leave her to wander about, depressed and suicidal. She almost gets run over by a doctor, who takes her to hospital to bandage her up. Shobhna tells him her name’s Kamla, and when he tells her she’s now well enough to go home, begs him to let her stay on in the hospital and become a nurse.
So Shobhna becomes a nurse, and one day, when the doctor has an urgent operation to perform, even agrees to go in his stead to a wedding for which he’d been invited. There, she gets a shock: her father, Shivnath, is receiving guests; and the newlyweds are—Shankar and his foreign-returned modern miss of a wife, Rita (Shashikala). Shankar, convinced that his true love is dead, has allowed himself to be bullied and emotionally blackmailed into getting married. Shobhna chickens out and hightails it before anybody can recognise her.
But fate has more in store for the estranged pair. Time passes; Shankar and Rita live in Darjeeling, and Rita, instead of being a docile housewife, goes clubbing and spending pots of money. She’s also very rude to Shivnath, whom she regards as a servant. Eventually, there’s an almighty tiff between her and Shankar, and Rita—by now pregnant—goes off to Calcutta.
[Aside: I love that expression. Doesn’t Shashikala look delightfully furious?!]
Rita has her baby and continues to live in Calcutta, with Shankar coming to visit occasionally. Rita neglects her child (Raja, idiotically billed as `Moppet Raja’) and spends most of her time giving speeches at functions or on radio broadcasts where she talks about the duties of a good wife and mother. When she isn’t being a hypocrite, Rita spends time at the races or at parties and clubs.
Left to his own devices, Rita’s son falls down a flight of stairs and gets hurt. He lands up in hospital and is tended by (who else?) Shobhna.
And where Shankar’s son will go, his adoring father will not be far behind. So what does happen to Shobhna and Shankar? Do they—as seems inevitable—meet again? Does the neglectful Rita, only bothered about her shopping, her partying and her so-called social service, realise the error of her un-Sati Savitri ways?
What I liked about this film:
The songs. Shankar-Jaikishan’s music, and with some lovely tunes: Yeh hariyali aur yeh raasta, Ibtida-e-ishq mein hum saari raat jaage, and Teri yaad dil se bhulaane chala hoon are among the best.
Om Prakash. Even though he’s (as always) comical—and unscrupulous—the scene where Joseph Mahendersingh Bahadur comes to his senses and realises the enormity of what he’s done is very good. Om Prakash is at his best here, in a scene that’s highly emotional yet touching.
Manoj Kumar and Mala Sinha, in the first, happy, half of the film. They look good together when they’re smiling.
And the landscape’s lovely—I wish this film had been in colour!
What I didn’t like:
The story and the characters. It’s all very predictable and stereotyped. The girl who’s spent five years studying abroad is an extravagant harpy, sharp-tongued and mean, neglecting her home and child and husband; the good girl is Indian-born and bred, long-suffering and smiling through most of it. She won’t say a word to the father who’s ruined her life by keeping mum all these years. She won’t even come right out and talk it over with the man she loves. Instead, she lets her dolt of a father sneak her away quietly. What a wimp.
But it’s the father—Shivnath—who really gets my goat. He makes a big drama out of his loyalty to Shankar, uses emotional blackmail expertly, and puts honour before the happiness of his own flesh and blood. Now where have I heard that before?
Not as painful as Bhabhi, but still: not a film you’d want to see for a few laughs.