Like Sujata, Chhaya is the story of a girl brought up in the house of someone she’s not related to. Like Sujata, it stars Sunil Dutt (and looking gorgeous, too!), and like Sujata, it’s got great music. Also like Sujata, it was directed by a Bengali director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee in this case.
That’s where the resemblance ends, because Mukherjee makes Chhaya a less poignant, less socially relevant film than Bimal Roy made of Sujata. Where Sujata focussed on the understated emotion of a family and a `daughter who’s not quite one’, Chhaya focuses on a mother who’s forced by circumstances to yield up her child to another.
Shyamlal (Krishan Dhawan) is poor and unemployed. He’s just been told by the doctor that though Shyamlal’s little daughter Munni has recovered from a recent illness, Shyamlal’s wife Manorama (Nirupa Roy) is `ill on the inside’ (Huh? The doctor doesn’t say what’s wrong, and we’re never enlightened either). Shyamlal, who loves Manorama deeply, tries to persuade her to take Munni and go live with her uncle in Lucknow until Shyamlal gets a job, but Manorama refuses.
Shyamlal’s luck soon turns; he finds employment, and is thrilled to bits. With his first salary, he buys fruit, medicine for Manorama, and balloons for Munni. While he’s skipping merrily home, crossing the road without a care, there’s a screech of tires and then we see the balloons lifting up into the sky. Oh dear.
Manorama has no option now but to take Munni to Lucknow.
Remember that bit in Hamlet about “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions”? Manorama gets a taste of that. The uncle’s dead and gone. The man who now lives in his house has no wish to give Manorama shelter. Passing goons ogle her. She stops lactating (that `illness on the inside’, no doubt).
Finally, Manorama becomes so desperate, she sneaks up to a grand mansion and leaves Munni on the doorstep, hoping at least her baby will get taken care of. (Isn’t this rather drastic? What if a wealthy lecher lives here? What if it’s home to a shrew who’ll make the baby scrub the floors as soon as she’s able? Hasn’t Manorama seen any Hindi films, ever?)
Anyway, luck’s on their side. The widowed and childless owner of the mansion is a wealthy seth called Jagatnarain (Nasir Hussain). He takes pity on the baby, and since he’s leaving Lucknow to live in Bombay, decides to take her along and pass her off as his own offspring. Fortunately for Manorama, when he sees her at the gate the next day, he hires her to be his new daughter’s ayah.
So Manorama goes off to Bombay with Jagatnarain and the baby, whom Jagatnarain has named Sarita. In Bombay, Jagatnarain’s long-lost cousin (Lalita Pawar) turns up along with her son Lali, begging Jagatnarain to take them under his wing—which he does, to Manorama’s disadvantage, since the old woman takes an immediate dislike to Manorama.
Jagatnarain, however, thinks highly of Manorama and insists she stay on as Sarita’s ayah. Manorama, good woman that she is (and how I hate these syrupy, self-sacrificing, tolerant types!), doesn’t bat an eyelid at the old woman’s haranguing. Instead, as the years pass, whenever Sarita (now Baby Farida) and Lali (now Mohan Choti) criticise Lali’s mother, Manorama admonishes them.
Before we know it, Sarita’s grown up (into a radiant Asha Parekh) and has been gifted a piano by her proud father. She has to learn how to play it, of course—and she also needs a tutor for her studies. An ad’s duly inserted in the newspaper, specifying that they need an old man for a tutor (this at the request of Manorama, who probably feels a young man will spend more time gawping at Sarita than teaching her. Why an old man wouldn’t, I don’t know).
Lali’s mother puts in her two cents by saying that her brother-in-law’s son Ramu, now calling himself Romeo, has just returned from abroad and can be hired to teach Sarita the piano.
A part of the advertisement, in a torn newspaper, ends up in the hands of a penniless poet, Arun Kumar (Sunil Dutt). Arun lives with two sisters (the elder, widowed one is Achla Sachdev). His nom de plume is `Raahi’, and egged on by his friend `Dard’ (Asit Sen), he decides the ad is his chance to finally get a job.
Arun arrives at Sarita’s, and since he isn’t old, she mistakes him for a piano tutor. The rigmarole gets sorted out, and all concerned feel that even though he isn’t old, he’s so obviously shareef, their darling will be in safe hands. Arun starts teaching Sarita, and soon they’re on good terms. Not in love, though, since it transpires that Sarita is besotted by the famous poet Raahi, whose poetry she adores, even though she’s never met the man.
For no particularly logical reason (except that this is a common course of action in Hindi cinema), Arun decides to dupe Sarita into believing that he and Raahi are two different people. He tells her that Raahi’s a friend of his, a fat and ugly fellow whose only saving grace is his poetry—which, says Arun, is anyway not as good as Arun’s. Sarita has read all of Raahi’s collections of poetry and is very vocal in her defence of the poet. The fact that he’s had so many books published, and they’ve all been hits, makes me wonder if Arun’s publisher’s been fiddling the books. Who’s getting the royalties?
An illusional romance blossoms between Arun/Raahi and Sarita. Sarita gets a friend of hers, who’s a sister to one of Raahi’s acquaintances, to take her to meet the poet—and Arun, who sees Sarita arrive, quickly lays down a stipulation: Raahi will talk to her but from behind a closed door. She mustn’t see his face. They sing a lovely duet (Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badhaa), and Sarita seems quite happy to be falling for a man whom I would’ve classified at least as mysterious, if not deranged.
Sarita asks Raahi—still behind the door—if he’ll respond should she write to him. He agrees, but says she must write her letters in verse. And guess whom Sarita turns to, to help her draft a poem to the poet?
To cut a long story short, Sarita’s well and truly in love with Raahi, and Arun/Raahi is certainly nuts about her. But one evening, Sarita goes to the cinema with Romeo, and sees Arun sitting there with a girl (Arun’s sister). Sarita gets mad and flounces out of the cinema, and when Arun arrives at her birthday party the next day, spurns him too, leaving him to sing the soulful Aansoo samajhke kyon mujhe. What could this mean?
[Aside: In this screen cap, the extra sitting on the far left is wearing a natty suit and tie, with chappals.]
We all know, of course, what it means, and it’s not long before all and sundry do too. And that’s when all the trouble starts, because Arun is so poor (those stolen royalties, I’m guessing) and Sarita is so rich…
What I liked about this film:
Sunil Dutt. Asha Parekh is, as always, beautiful. But this is Sunil Dutt’s film (I’m a woman, hey! And straight, may I add). He is so absolutely mind-bogglingly handsome in Chhaya: just look:
The music. There aren’t too many songs, but they’re lovely, especially Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badhaa. Okay, Mozart should probably get credit for that, but Salil Choudhary did a good adaptation. You need talent to be inspired.
What I didn’t like:
Somehow the film didn’t seem cohesive to me. The Arun-Sarita romance is sweet, despite Arun’s pretending not to be Raahi, and should (I think) have been made the focus of the film. Which it is, to some extent, but there are just too many distractions. The presence of Lali, his mother (whose motives seem utterly mysterious in places; maybe she’s just too irrevocably nasty) and the irritating Ramu-Romeo, seem unnecessary. Then there’s Achla Sachdev, usually a fairly good actress, who gets left by the wayside with only a couple of scenes to her credit.
This isn’t a bad film. It’s formula, generally light-hearted but with some sad turns that you know will turn out all right. There’s plenty of eye candy and the music’s good. But I’d have expected better from Hrishikesh Mukherjee. There was so much scope to explore the emotional relationship between Sarita and Manorama, but Chhaya doesn’t venture deep enough: there are some unsubtle dialogues, a few ham-handed scenes, but that’s it.
A word of caution:
Don’t see the T-Series version of this film. I rented the VCD, and it’s obviously been badly edited by T-Series: bits and pieces of dialogue simply disappeared in the middle of a scene, leaving me to do some smart detective work to figure out what was happening.