I was initially undecided about whether I should expend any energy on writing a review for this film. It wasn’t great—not even good, really. On the other hand, it wasn’t a pain to sit through and offered no unintentional hilarity of the Leader brand. Instead, it was a meandering, sometimes pointless film with little development of characters and indifferent screenplay.
Why then this review? Simply because this was the first film of a charmingly gawkish youth who went on to become one of Hindi cinema’s biggest stars—and one of my favourite actors.
Panchu (Balraj Sahni) is a card sharp who is almost constantly broke (something tells me his skills as a card sharp need honing). He sleeps on the pavement beside his two bosom buddies, Choti (Mohan Choti) and Ashok (Dharmendra, billed in his debut as Dharmender). Choti sells newspapers and brings any unsold papers for them to use as a mattress. Ashok spends his day atop stilts, selling Cavanders cigarettes.
One day, peeking into a stationary bus, Ashok makes friends with Sonu Mangeshkar (Kumkum), who’s got into trouble for travelling without a ticket. Ashok takes her under his wing and by the end of their brief walk down the street (Sonu having been forced off the bus by the conductor), they’re good friends. Sonu invites him over for breakfast the next day.
Panchu and Choti are delighted at their friend’s blossoming romance and decide to help him along by procuring a suit for him. Panchu bribes a local laundrywallah to ‘lend’ them a suit so Ashok can look smart for his date.
What Sonu’s omitted to mention is that the address she’s given him is that of the house where she’s employed as a maid. And Ashok, who comes in through the back door, doesn’t realise it until the daughter of the house barges into the kitchen and catches him stuffing his face with jam sandwiches.
While Ashok and Sonu’s romance is getting off to a rocky start thanks to all this deception, Panchu is having problems of his own—of a monetary nature. He hasn’t paid the school fees of his little brother Shiri (B Anoop, billed as a `child discovery’) for the past two months. Panchu’s very protective of Shiri and insists that Shiri study so he can grow up to be a `big man’. (Maybe emulating Ashok on his stilts will be useful?)
Now Shiri’s teacher (Jankidas) is getting nasty about the unpaid fees and has threatened to expel Shiri if the money isn’t paid up.
Shiri is offering up fervent prayers, begging God for the money, when the local hooker Prema (Usha Kiron) overhears him. She’s very fond of Shiri, so gives him the money, telling him it’s a loan.
But Panchu, when he discovers where Shiri has obtained the money, grabs it and flings it back in Prema’s face. He has no use for this tainted money, he says. Prema, to his surprise, is sassy and not at all cowed by him. Panchu is nonplussed, but other than shoving the money into her hand, can’t think of anything to do.
Shiri therefore gets thrown out of school. Fortunately, he meets up with an ex-classmate, who now works during the day hawking odds and ends on the local trains, and studies in the night school. This seems like a worthwhile way to make ends meet, so Shiri, at his friend’s invitation, and with some help from him, joins the trade too.
And so the film meanders on. Ashok and Sonu are soon deeply in love, and a well-timed win of Rs 500 in the lottery allows our friends, along with Sonu, to buy snazzy clothes and dine out in a smart restaurant. This being the sort of film it is, there’s a silly digression here when the restaurant’s `imported’ dancer Yolanda doesn’t turn up, so the manager asks Sonu and gang to act as substitutes. The song and dance that follows is good, but does little to take the story further.
Panchu falls foul of a bunch of thugs who decide that it’s time they deprived Panchu of the Rs 100 that he’s saved up (out of that 500) for Shiri to buy new clothes and return to school. The men wheedle him into a few games of cards (poker? not sure), and also get him drunk. Before he knows what’s happened, Panchu’s lost his Rs 100.
He doesn’t lose his sang froid, however, and goes careening about the street singing Haan gunaah kiya hai. He’s soon arrested for disturbing the peace and is dragged off to the lockup at the police station.
A distraught Shiri goes to Prema for help, and she pays for Panchu to be bailed out.
Once he’s back in circulation, Panchu thanks Ashok and Choti, who’re quick to disillusion him: they didn’t get him out, Prema did. And Panchu should be thanking her well and proper.
So Panchu goes, reluctantly, to thank Prema, and ends up being enchanted by her sweetness.
Meanwhile, one day, Ashok comes to the rescue of Shiri when he’s being clobbered by the neighbourhood boys. Ashok punches a goon who’s encouraging the boys to thrash Shiri—and is noticed by a passing man (Hari Shivdasani), who owns a gymnasium and sponsors boxers. He’s very impressed with Ashok and offers to make a boxer out of him.
(This man, by the way, is the master of the household where Sonu works, but oddly enough, the film doesn’t use this coincidence to greater effect). Ashok mulls over the idea, then accepts.
Ashok is pleasantly surprised when he discovers the perks of the job. The boss gives him an advance on his earnings, plus a posh three-room flat, where all of them move in and begin to live happily ever after. Panchu has by now married Prema, and has turned over a new leaf: he doesn’t cheat at cards anymore and has become a respectable chowkidar. Everything’s homey and happy; all that’s needed is for Ashok to get hitched to Sonu.
But Sonu’s received a telegram that her father, in Goa, is ill. She sets off on the boat to Goa, and the Indian public transport system being what it is, the boat capsizes with all hands on deck.
Ashok is inconsolable, and from then on the film goes into a downward spiral like few I’ve seen before.
What I liked about this film:
The music, by Kalyanji-Anandji (assisted by Laxmikant-Pyarelal). The mournful Mujhko is raat ki tanhaayi mein aawaaz na do is arguably the best, but there are others, lesser-known but fine songs, as well.
Balraj Sahni, Dharmendra and Mohan Choti. I especially like the few scenes where Panchu, Choti and Ashok appear together on the footpath, poverty-stricken but not particularly perturbed about it. Balraj Sahni and Dharmendra, in particular, are good together—a sign of things to come? They went on to co-star in a number of other films, as colleagues (Haqeeqat), brothers (Shaadi), even father and son (Aaye Din Bahaar Ke, Izzat).
What I didn’t like:
The utter pointlessness of most of the film. The bulk of the film consists of episodes in the lives of the main characters, and that too episodes which do little to either help the story move ahead, or make the characters more interesting. The characters are too stilted (yes, even those who aren’t Ashok!) and the story’s really pretty boring. Almost as if someone drew up a list of characters—three footpath-dwelling friends, one hooker, one maid, one local goon and one wealthy boxing fanatic. Four lyricists and four composers were then asked to create eight songs. Lastly, someone was asked to weave these songs together, with one or more of the main characters in each.
Why?! Dharmendra deserved a better launching pad.