Akeli Mat Jaiyo (‘Don’t Go Alone’—specifically addressed to a female) is, if nothing else, very aptly titled. Because if you gallivant where you’re not supposed to, you run the risk of being pursued by a moron whose best friend is a ventriloquist’s dummy. You may end up betrothed to somebody whose family includes a father with a loony sense of humour. Worst of all, you may have to stake your all on saving the ‘life’ of that ventriloquist’s dummy. So yes, akeli mat jaiyo. No way.
The film begins in the Taramati Girl’s [sic] Hostel, where Seema (Meena Kumari) is the favourite of the warden, simply because she’s so good and sweet and hardworking (she spends her time making dolls for sale). All the other girls in the hostel are wicked creatures who spend their evenings dating men and asking Seema to put in a word for them with the warden: “Dolly has gone out and will be late back.” Beats me why the warden, if she doesn’t approve of these late nights out, hasn’t evicted the girls yet.
Seema’s feisty friend Shobha (Minoo Mumtaz) doesn’t like Seema acting as a message office. She tries to dissuade Seema by telling her that the other girls laugh behind her back, but Seema doesn’t care.
Eventually Shobha takes matters into her own hands and pretends there’s a phone call for Seema. All the other girls jump to the conclusion that it’s from some man (um. Why?). Seema plays along, and with Shobha’s help, tells the other girls that she’s going for dinner to the Astoria Hotel with her boyfriend, who’s a colonel.
The other girls are impressed that Seema finally seems to be getting a life of her own, but they refuse to be fobbed off so easily. They insist on tagging along to the Astoria Hotel and getting a peek at Seema’s beau. Our heroine is pretty distressed, but spotting a man (Rajendra Kumar) in a colonel’s uniform (what luck!) hovering around in the lobby, she goes to him and explains her predicament. He introduces himself as Yuvraj Amardeep, and agrees to help.
So Seema spends the evening dining with the man (whom she addresses as “Colonel”) and while Shobha—who’s a dancer at the Astoria—slithers and shimmers in the background, these two indulge in some harmless flirtation. Seema’s friends willingly believe that this is Seema’s ‘fancy’ (yes, that’s what he says he is, though Seema refers to him as her fiancé).
But the fancy won’t be shaken off so easily. He insists on accompanying Seema back to the hostel, and in the hearing of her friends, arranges to meet her the next day. Seema is understandably annoyed—this is an obvious case of pakdoing a pauncha when an ungli was offered [explanation: that’s a Hindi proverb which literally translates into someone grabbing the cuff of a salwar when a toe is offered. In essence, grabbing more than was offered].
With all her friends looking on, Seema agrees in order to save face. The next day, much against her wishes, she goes off with the fancy.
The fancy now tells her that he’s in town only for three days. He’d like to spend that time with her—he won’t pester her after that, but just for this little while? Please? Surprisingly for someone who’s all along given the impression of being pretty straitlaced, Seema agrees. Yes, she’ll spend most of the next three days with the fancy, provided he doesn’t come back into her life after that. Unusually progressive for 1960’s India.
Anyway, Seema and the fancy spend the next 72 hours enjoying themselves (mainly singing love songs. Why would anyone sing love songs to someone they were only philandering with? And both seem pretty earnest about the emotions expressed in the songs).
When he’s not singing songs with Seema, the fancy has long and involved (and utterly irritating) conversations with his best friend, a ventriloquist’s dummy called Jack (billed as ‘Doll Crazy’. Really).
One evening, while Seema and her fancy are dining at a restaurant, a pesky reporter comes by and takes a photograph of theirs, promising to publish the news that Yuvraj Amardeep has finally got engaged. Seema shows a bit of spirit and manages to whip the film reel out of the man’s camera…
…But he gets the better of them and surreptitiously takes another shot, which is duly published the next day. Suddenly everyone’s talking about the betrothal of Yuvraj Amardeep and Seema. Seema is livid at the fancy, who she thinks has leaked this news to the press. To make matters worse, Seema’s father turns up, wanting to know all about it.
And in the wake of this announcement, the fancy, in his room at the Astoria, also receives two unexpected guests.
These are the aides de camp, the ADCs of the real Yuvraj Amardeep, the Crown Prince of Shyamnagar. In the garbled conversation that ensues, much is revealed. You have to pay lots of attention here, because all of this is revealed in about two minutes’ worth of dialogue.
This is how it goes:
1. The fancy (whose name, it now transpires, is Rajinder) has been impersonating the Yuvraj
2. … because he was told by these ADCs that the Yuvraj was leading such a debauched life he had to be hidden away from his mother—who would have been mortified—and his place taken by a more upright version
3. Masquerading as the Yuvraj, Rajinder’s also going to receive a valuable necklace that had been ordered by the real Yuvraj, said necklace to instantly revert to the crooked ADCs;
4. To egg Rajinder on to obey them, these two thugs have kidnapped his mother.
For some strange reason (never divulged), the ADCs seem to think that the betrothal just announced has let the cat out of the bag. They want Rajinder to hurry up and take the necklace from the jeweller, and so they go off to fetch the jeweller.
While they’re away, Rajinder gets another jolt: the man he’s impersonating turns up with his ADC (Agha). It emerges he’s no debauch after all, and is miffed that Rajinder’s been going around pretending to be him.
There’s confusion confounded, and it’s never quite clear where the Yuvraj has been languishing all this while. If Rajinder has been posing as the Yuvraj for the queen’s benefit, then it seems logical to assume that he’s been with the queen, posing as her son. If that’s the case, then where does the Yuvraj fit in? And why had Rajinder initially agreed to hand over the necklace to the ADCs?
Whoever wrote the script doesn’t bother with such niggling details, however. There’s more coming and going to and from the hotel room.
Next is Seema, who arrives to tell the Yuvraj that she’s had to tell her father the two of them are betrothed, otherwise what will her father think? The Yuvraj, who’s already besotted by Seema, agrees to the charade provided Seema comes with him to Shyamnagar for a month. There’ll be a scandal if it turns out the engagement never happened; so come home for a month, and after that we’ll dissolve the engagement (won’t that be a scandal?)
Seema agrees on the condition that Shobha accompanies her.
Next in line are the villainous ADCs, who bring the jeweller and the precious necklace. The Yuvraj, pretending to be Rajinder pretending to be the Yuvraj (this is getting very convoluted), receives it. After the ADCs have escorted the jeweller out, he (the Yuvraj) gets another visitor: Seema’s father, who’s come to confirm that Seema is actually engaged to a prince. They part on the best of terms, with Daddy showering blessings on his future son-in-law…
… who now goes to Rajinder, sulking in the next room. Here, the Yuvraj flings the necklace at Rajinder and tells him to go give it to the ADCs and get his mother released. But there’s a catch: in exchange for the necklace (ergo, his mother’s life), Rajinder will have to give up Seema.
After much distressed thought, Rajinder—like a good son—chooses Mum. He takes the necklace and leaves to give it to the ADCs (who, by the way, are never heard of again, proving that crime does pay).
And the Yuvraj goes back to Shyamnagar with Seema and Shobha. They are greeted with much fanfare by the Yuvraj’s father (no idea who this actor is; but his role, of a half-deaf king with an abysmal sense of humour, is painful) and his mother (Ruby Myers). Everybody’s delighted at the thought of the upcoming wedding.
But Seema herself, though she secretly loves the man, can’t figure out what’s wrong with him—her fancy is behaving strangely, and can’t remember the words to the love songs they’d sung to each other. (Really. I’m not joking).
Will he recall the words? Will she realise that this Yuvraj isn’t the Yuvraj she’d willy-nilly fallen for? What happens to Rajinder? Who gets the girl? Does anything eventually make sense?
What I liked about this film:
The music. It’s by Madan Mohan, and is very, very nice. My favourite is Thodi der ke liya mere ho jaao (the loveliness of that song prompted me to rent this film. I’ll never learn). Other good songs include the wonderful Yeh toh kaho kaun ho tum and Raste mein do anjaane.
Oh, and Meena Kumari looks very pretty in places.
What I didn’t like:
It’s just so utterly nonsensical in an irritating way. I don’t mind farce (I love Dekh Kabira Roya!), but this one tries so hard to be drama/romance/intrigue/awful comedy. The characters are terrible—the heroine, for one, can’t seem to remember whether or not she wants to marry the hero; the hero is a spineless wimp one moment and a clown the next; and the brief whiff of intrigue, with the crooked ADCs and the glittery necklace, has little relevance in the larger scheme of things. And the number of loose ends could have been used to make a fringe for one of those ghastly lamps in the Astoria’s rooms. Ugh.
For a while after having watched Akeli Mat Jaiyo, I kept pondering over why someone like Meena Kumari would have acted in such a loser of a film. After giving it much thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that she needed a break after Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (which had been released the previous year). After a stellar performance in that, with what must have drained her physically and emotionally, she probably needed a role in which she could sleepwalk her way through the film.
Come to think of it, that’s what everybody seems to have done here. Especially whoever wrote it.
Avoid like the plague.