Rewatching this film after donkey’s years, I was struck by the similarity in basics with How to Marry a Millionaire. Here too are three beautiful girls, each of whom falls in love with a man she meets—but doesn’t realise is not quite the sort of man she’d hoped to end up marrying.
That’s where the resemblance ends. Our girls, like good bharatiya naaris, aren’t mercenary gold-diggers. Which, of course, is good news for the three men whom they fall for, since their heroes aren’t exactly rolling in wealth either.
After a very brief prologue in which three new brides gush over a newly-published story about their romances, the film cuts to flashback. At the Janata Coffee House, a penniless artist Ranjeet (Daljeet) is tearing his hair out because he can’t even afford to buy rope to hang himself. While the waiter (a hilarious Sundar) is commiserating with him, another patron (Jawahar Kaul) enters. The coffee house is very crowded, and since the only table at which a chair is vacant is Ranjeet’s table, the man asks if he may sit. Shortly after, another man (Anoop Kumar) asks if he may join them too, since this is his usual table.
Since they’ve been thrown together, the three men start a conversation. It turns out that the second man is Pradeep, the owner, publisher and chief editor of a pathetic little rag called Triveni. 2,000 copies of Triveni are published every month, and only 200 copies are sold—Pradeep’s income seems to be generated mainly from the 1,800 copies he sells to the junkman.
The third man, Mohan, is a singer. He’s convinced he can put Mohammad Rafi, Talat Mehmood, Manna Dey et al to shame with his singing, but nobody’s willing to listen to him—not even his neighbours. Mohan is understandably bitter about this lack of appreciation, and also rather desperate, since they’re threatening to have him evicted and he doesn’t have anywhere else to go.
While they’re chatting, Ranjeet has been doodling. When Pradeep notices the drawing, he praises it and promises to print it in Triveni. Ranjeet is surprised and grateful, and tells Pradeep that this is nothing; the paintings stored in his little studio-cum-flat are way better. He invites Pradeep to come and have a look at them, so Pradeep goes along.
The studio and flat are tiny, and Pradeep’s a bit bemused at the subterfuge Ranjeet uses to enter. He keeps the front door locked, and gets in through the back door after pushing his arm through a window beside it and opening the door on the inside.
Inside, Ranjeet’s paintings are (as promised) quite accomplished, but Ranjeet’s in a state of constant nervousness, almost tiptoeing around and trying to make the outside world believe the apartment’s empty.
It eventually turns out that Ranjeet hasn’t paid rent for the past six months. His landlord (Shivraj), who lives in the house opposite, has been getting antsy (with reason, I think) and Ranjeet is terrified of being cornered and made to either cough up the rent or leave. Pradeep is inclined to be belligerent and thinks Ranjeet’s being very spineless about all of this. The man won’t even open the window and let in the sunlight because he fears his landlord will see him!
So Pradeep opens the window—and finds himself looking at Rekha (Anita Guha), the landlord’s daughter, at the window opposite. There’s instant chemistry here, and Rekha rushes off, bouncing and bubbling with joy, to tell her father that their tenant the artist is finally at home. A servant is sent to fetch Ranjeet, and—like Rekha—mistakes Pradeep for Ranjeet and fetches him.
Pradeep, however, clears it up with Rekha’s father. He tells him he’s Ranjeet’s friend, and that Ranjeet will eventually pay up. He follows this assurance with a long, impassioned diatribe on how people misjudge and discriminate against artists in general. In a final burst of defiance, he flings part of the rent down on the table: Rs 2 and 12 annas, all he can spare right now.
Rekha now reappears, having prettied herself up and put on a new sari. Her father, who’s woolly-headed and tends to babble, is quickly persuaded by his forceful (and by now completely besotted) daughter that not only should they forfeit the six months’ rent, their tenant should even be allowed to stay there, free of rent, for as long as he pleases.
Rekha, all dewy-eyed, escorts the young man out, and confides in him: she too is a painter, though not a master like him. She would love to see his paintings someday, please…? Pradeep tries to get a word in edgeways and tell her he’s a writer, not a painter, but Rekha cuts him off.
The next day, Ranjeet—now in high spirits—arrives at the Janata Coffee House and finds Mohan there. Mohan’s down in the dumps because his neighbours have ganged up on him and have promised to throw him out if he so much as squeaks one more note.
Ranjeet, however, has the perfect solution: Pradeep. Pradeep’s a forceful and resourceful sort, and anyway as everyone knows, the pen’s mightier than the sword. Pradeep solved Ranjeet’s problems; he’ll be able to get Mohan out of this mess too.
So they go off to the Triveni office, only to find that Pradeep’s at the press. A scruffy peon takes Ranjeet away to the press. Mohan stays behind, tinkers about a bit, and sits down on Pradeep’s chair, just as an aspiring writer-cum-poet, Kalpana (Shubha Khote) walks in. She’s downcast because she’s been sending umpteen stories through the mail but none have been printed in Triveni. Mohan assures her of his undying support (yes, love blossoms with amazing swiftness here too).
Kalpana and Mohan are getting pally with each other, when Ranjeet comes back with the news that Pradeep’s out somewhere and there’s no knowing when he’ll return. In the meantime, Ranjeet has appointed himself Mohan’s champion; he’ll see who’ll stop Mohan’s singing.
Ranjeet, therefore, drags Mohan off to Mohan’s home and forces him to sit down and start singing. This brings Mohan’s neighbours storming out of their homes, eager to throw Mohan out. They are thwarted, though—not just because Mohan has taken the precaution of locking himself and Ranjeet in, but because a new champion emerges. This is Geeta (Ameeta), a girl who’s just moved into the flat above Mohan’s, along with her mother (Praveen Paul). Mother and daughter are both very fond of music and think Mohan’s voice is sublime, so Geeta’s come to do battle on his behalf.
After sending the other neighbours about their business, Geeta knocks on Mohan’s door to let him know he can now sing on without fear of being lynched.
Since Mohan’s dived under the bed from fright, Ranjeet opens the door and comes out into the corridor to take up cudgels on Mohan’s behalf. Geeta soon assures him of her support, and by the time their conversation comes to an end, they’re pretty enamoured of each other. Geeta, of course, thinks this guy is the singer who’s so enchanted her with his voice.
Mohan, Pradeep and Ranjeet initially don’t realise that their ladies are as much in love with the supposed professions of their menfolk as with the men themselves. The shenanigans that ensue as a result of these misunderstandings—and our heroes’ desperate attempts to first convert the girls over to their own actual professions, and then to somehow keep up a pretence that’s wearing them to the bone—make up the rest of this light-hearted romp. In my opinion, a much more satisfying watch than How to Marry a Millionaire.
What I liked about this film:
All of it! Dekh Kabira Roya deserves to be listed among classic Hindi cinema’s best comedies: the situations are delightful and the entire flavour of the film, from beginning to end, is total farce. Especially brilliant is the acting of the girls—the mournful Kalpana, who quotes poetry (“Full many a gem of purest ray serene…”) when lamenting her love; the fragile Geeta, who faints at the drop of a hat; and the chirpy Rekha—all are superb: their acting’s overdone to just the point of being funny, but not hammy. And there’s a small but amusing ensemble of supporting characters—the matchmaking waiter at the Janata Coffee House; Rekha’s muddled father; and Geeta’s melodramatic mother. The pace is good, the screenplay taut and witty, and the tone never allowed to actually sag into anything approaching seriousness.
The music. Madan Mohan wrote the score for Dekh Kabira Roya, and though Ganesh Anantharaman, in Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song, deprecates Madan Mohan’s use of classical, soulful tunes for a rollicking comedy, I don’t agree. The songs are perfect for the situations, from the romantic Humse aaya na gaya and Kaun aaya mere mann ke dwaare to the cheerful Hum panchhi mastaane.
What I didn’t like:
Daljeet’s acting; he overdoes it to the point where it isn’t funny.
Little bit of trivia:
The title of the film is taken from a couplet by the poet Kabir (1440-1518 AD):
Rangi ko naarangi kahein, bane doodh ko khoya;
Chalti ko gaadi kahein, dekh Kabira roya.
The translation’s a bit tricky, because the couplet uses loads of wordplay, but I’ll give it a shot.
“They call that which is coloured a naarangi (an orange; naarangi also means ‘without colour’). Milk that is made (combined, consolidated) is called lost (khoya, the term for milk thickened to a solid, also means ‘lost’).
“They call that which moves a gaadi (a gaadi is a vehicle; gaadi also means anything that’s dug in and stands fast); seeing this, Kabir cries.”
Which, of course, is also the source for the name of the Kishore Kumar-Ashok Kumar-Anoop Kumar starrer of 1958, Chalti ka Naam Gaadi. More on that later.