Much as I do not like like Dev Anand in his post-60’s avatar (the too-black hair, the bandanna and the cap don’t make him look any younger; they just bash home the fact that he’s aging most disgracefully)—I do like him in a lot of the films he did in the 50’s and early 60’s. There are some great suspense films here (CID, Baat ek Raat ki, Kaala Paani, Jewel Thief) and some great drama/thriller/romance/whatever (Jaal, Hum Dono, Paying Guest, Solvaan Saal, Guide, the very unusual Ferry)—and this, a simple story of a thief who finds himself impersonating the long-lost son of a village zamindar.
Babu (Dev Anand) has just emerged from jail after serving four months for robbery. He gets a warm welcome from old buddy and fellow crook Balli (Jagdish Raj, Hindi cinema’s most frequent player of policeman roles, here playing on the other side of the law). Balli takes Babu to their old hideout, where he briefs Babu about an upcoming bank heist: Babu will have to play a wealthy man and win the bank’s trust.
To help Babu play the role, Balli hands him the keys to a car that will be his for the duration of the job. Attached to the key ring is a ring that Babu finds intriguing. When he asks Balli whose ring it is, Balli becomes depressed and tells Babu that it is his, Balli’s, ring, his only keepsake from 20 years ago. It turns out that when Balli was 5 years old, he got separated from his parents; he has no idea where they live or who they are. The ring is his only connection to them.
Emerging from the hideout, Babu runs into another old friend: a police inspector called Shyam (Manohar Deepak), who’s been tailing Babu since he got out of jail. Babu and Shyam go back a long time. As Shyam tells a havildar, they were very close friends in school. One day, as a prank, they stole something and were caught. Shyam’s rich father managed to get him freed; but Babu, because he was poor, ended up branded a thief for life. Now Shyam tries to persuade Babu to give up his lawlessness, but Babu’s too bitter and cynical to listen.
Shyam’s pleas eventually do have an effect, and when Babu next meets Balli, he announces that he’s getting out. He’s sick of this life, and wants to go straight.
Balli and the other members of the gang are suspicious; and Balli’s suspicions change to certainty when, shortly after, the police nab the entire gang. Balli is convinced Babu squealed. So, since he’s been released on bail, Balli goes after Babu and confronts him.
Babu tries desperately to get Balli to let go of him, but to no avail. There’s a tussle, Babu hits out at Balli—and Balli dies of concussion, right there at Babu’s feet.
Babu does what comes first to his mind: he flees. From Bombay, past Jhansi, Agra, Delhi, Pathankot… to Jogindernagar, where he finally gets off the train and looks about for some refuge. At Jogindernagar, he meets the huqqa-gurgling, shrewd-eyed Bhagat (Rashid Khan), who offers to share his food with Babu.
Babu, willy-nilly, (Bhagat isn’t an especially endearing character) falls in with Bhagat, drinking tea with him and trying to while away his time. Bhagat, in his turn, soon realises that Babu goes out of his way to avoid policemen. It’s obvious to one as watchful as Bhagat that Babu has a past that the police may well want to know more about—and which Babu may want to hide.
In the night, Bhagat takes Babu onto the hillside and points out a village on the opposite hill—or, more specifically, points out a certain house in the village. That house, he says, is the home of the wealthiest zamindar in the village, a man whose only son, Kundan, was lost 20 years ago when he was 5 years old. The family has been pining for its lost scion ever since. If Babu were to present himself as Kundan, he would be welcomed with open arms (and an equally open safe, full of money and jewellery).
Babu, though he’d made such a hoo-ha about leaving a life of crime etc, is not averse to the idea. Bhagat says he knows the family inside out, and will be able to tutor Babu in all that a child of 5 would have known about his parents, his home and his family.
So, a few days later, a letter written by ‘Kundan’ arrives at the home of Kundan’s father, Shahji (Nasir Hussain). Shahji’s munim, whom everybody addresses as Mamaji (Dhumal), Shahji, and Shahji’s blind wife Rukmini (Achla Sachdev) are beside themselves with joy. That Kundan, darling, long-lost Kundan, should finally be coming home!
And when Babu arrives, the joy on the part of the parents is almost overwhelming. So much, in fact, that Kundan finds himself touched by the love of Rukmini, who embraces him and wishes she could have her eyesight back for just long enough to be able to feast her eyes on him.
The next family member whom Babu must contend with is Kundan’s sister Maya (Suchitra Sen). She’s curious about his past, and he gives her a cock-and-bull story about a mendicant who’d taken care of him for a few years, making him a beggar before he, Kundan, ran away. Babu manages to satisfy Maya’s curiosity for the time being, but she disturbs him: she’s just too breathtakingly beautiful for him to be able to reconcile to the notion that she’s supposed to be his sister. This is where, as the days pass, problems begin to arise. Kundan cannot think of Maya as a sister; he subtly tries to show her that he admires her beauty and that he has deep feelings for her—and Maya, of course, is not quite sure whether she’s imagining things, or whether this strange brother of hers really isn’t a brother after all.
So the story goes on, with Maya becoming increasingly uncomfortable, suspicious (and perhaps attracted?)… and Bhagat, who turns up like the proverbial bad penny, putting pressure on Babu to hurry up and empty Shahji’s safe. But the Babu who had agreed to Bhagat’s plan isn’t the Shahji who has been fed jalebis by a doting mother who remembers every bit of her son’s brief childhood. He is, even against his will, becoming a part of this family, enough to speak up against Shahji when he arranges Maya’s wedding, and enough to tell Bhagat to his face that he loves Maya.
And far away, in Bombay, Inspector Shyam receives news that Babu had been spotted at Delhi Railway Station.
How will it all work out? Will Babu’s unsavoury past catch up with him? What if the real Kundan turns up? And even if he doesn’t—will Shahji, Rukmini and Maya be ready to accept Babu instead of Kundan?
Do watch if you can get hold of this one. It does have all the usual elements of the 50’s and 60’s crime-social dramas, but it’s skilfully made, well constructed and sensitive.
What I liked about this film:
A lot. As I mentioned, it’s very well made. The story is simple and isn’t replete with twists and turns; instead, it focuses on character development. The growing relationship between Babu and Maya, for example, is well paced: there’s none of the sudden revelation of love that so many films fall prey to. Babu sees Maya and is attracted to her, but they grow closer only as time goes by, and it happens only gradually that she realises his feelings towards her are romantic, not brotherly. And throughout the film, there’s a lot that’s left unsaid, especially between Maya and Babu.
The music, by S D Burman. My favourites are Dekhne mein bhola hai and Deewana mastaana hua dil, but there are others too that are lovely: Chal ri sajni ab kya soche and Saathi na koi manzil, for example.
The direction, the cinematography, the angles, the frames: fabulous! Raj Khosla (one of my favourite directors) is especially brilliant here. Well done, Mr Khosla; very well done.
Suchitra Sen. Ah, so, so beautiful. Even if for nothing else, you should watch Bombai ka Babu to see her; she’s exquisite.
What I didn’t like:
Nothing very much that I can think of, really. Except that in the scene where Bhagat first persuades Babu to act as Kundan, it seems as if Babu agrees because he wants to do this job, not because Bhagat is threatening to inform the police of Babu’s whereabouts if Babu doesn’t co-operate.
But then, that may have been the whole point of the thing. It doesn’t quite make sense, unfortunately, because just a couple of scenes before this, Babu had been vowing never to turn to crime again.