Though I usually restrict this blog to films up to about 1970, I occasionally make exceptions for films that have a 60’s feel to them—Fiddler on the Roof, for instance. And this one, which despite the bell bottoms, the unbelievably gaudy outfits of the supporting cast and the horrendous decor, has a definitely 60’s feel about it. Another reason (and one which I’m not ashamed to admit is probably the main reason) that I’ve decided to make an exception for Ek Nari Ek Brahmachari is that it stars the lovely and vivacious Mumtaz, one of my very favourite actresses.
The first half hour or so of the film is irritating and seemingly pretty pointless. It’s set in a college where the battle of the sexes seems to reign supreme. Most of the men (who—if they’re basically nice—wear skin tight trousers and chest-hugging shirts, or—if they’re the hippy variety—wear psychedelic kurtas with yellow, pink or azure bell bottoms) spend their time ogling the girls or passing snide remarks. The girls, thankfully, aren’t the cringing sort and give back as good as they get.
One person who tries to stay out of these shenanigans is the professed brahmachari (a man who’s taken a vow of celibacy), Mohan Choudhary (Jeetendra). Mohan lives in the college hostel, and spends much of his time praying to Hanuman and Shri Ramakrishna Paramhans to help uphold his vow. When he isn’t doing that, Mohan’s admonishing his male classmates to look upon all girls as their sisters.
His pals aren’t listening, but one of Mohan’s classmates, Neena (Mumtaz) is, and she’s quite won over by his nobleness, thus defeating the entire purpose of that nobleness—Mohan certainly doesn’t want any girl mooning over him.
Mohan’s best friend Jugal (Jagdeep, in what is my favourite role of this delightful actor) has, however, decided that enough’s enough. It’s time Mohan got hitched. So, aided and abetted by his girlfriend Mala (Aruna Irani), Jugal sets out to get Mohan and Neena together. This consists of switching their packages when both Mohan and Neena happen to shop at the same store, so that Mohan ends up with Neena’s package and she ends up with his.
I can’t see that this ploy is very effective: both Mohan and Neena open their packages in the company of friends, and are equally embarrassed at what emerges. Neena ends up coming to Mohan’s room to return his package, but he boots her out soon after, so there’s nothing in the way of a budding romance here.
In the meantime, we get a glimpse into life in Mohan’s home. His father Rai Sahib Surajbhan Choudhary (Sohrab Modi) is a domineering paterfamilias who holds sway at home, bossing his wife Rajlakshmi (Durga Khote) and plotting to get Mohan married. As part of his latest attempts to get Mohan married, Rai Sahib sends for Mohan—who refuses to accede. He won’t marry, he’s a brahmachari.
There is also some indication of Rai Sahib’s unbending pride at this stage. When the prospective bride’s father sends a messenger to say they won’t be able to bring the girl over for Mohan to see her, and instead can Mohan come over, Rai Sahib throws a fit and says this isn’t done, and the wedding’s off. Huh? All I can surmise from this scene is that Rai Sahib’s a bully and a stickler for what he thinks is right.
At any rate, Mohan is thankful the proposed wedding has been nipped in the bud, and he rushes back to college. Back in college, his classmates inform him that all of them are off for a picnic. It’ll be great fun, so Mohan agrees to go along too.
Here some more convoluted and seemingly pointless stuff happens. Jugal decides to play a prank on his girl Mala by stealing her handbag. Unfortunately, he gets mixed up and steals Neena’s handbag, thinking it’s Mala’s. He hides it in a bed roll in the tent he’s sharing with Mohan…
…and Mohan, coming into the empty tent for a comfortable read, opens the bed roll and is scandalised to find a woman’s handbag in it. He pitches the bag out of the tent, into a nearby river. The current carries it away swiftly, so that by the time Jugal discovers his mistake (by eavesdropping on a conversation between Mala and a distraught Neena) the handbag’s far, far away, well and truly lost.
Jugal’s also heard Neena telling the warden (Ruby Myers) about the disappearance of her handbag. It contained Rs 25, she says, along with a gold chain that her grandfather had given her years ago. It’s the chain Neena’s most upset about.
Jugal confesses all to Mohan, who is very remorseful at the thought of having thrown away Neena’s handbag. He must make amends, but won’t spill the beans about Jugal’s role in the affair.
So Mohan goes off to talk to Neena, who is very forgiving about it all. Mohan promises that he’ll get another gold chain made for Neena. In the meantime, will she please accept his gold chain (with a pendant cameo of Ramakrishna Paramhans)? Neena initially refuses, but finally accepts it and puts it around her neck.
While Mohan and Neena are walking back to rejoin the rest of their classmates, a couple of the more idiotic lot fling a fake snake towards Neena—who squeals and grabs Mohan. This is all a setup, of course, and another classmate is ready with a camera to take a very incriminating photo of the brahmachari and the belle.
The scene now switches to Mohan’s home, where Rai Sahib’s oldest friend (Mukri) has come to ask for Mohan’s hand in marriage for his daughter—who happens to be Mala, Mohan’s classmate, Jugal’s girlfriend, and Neena’s friend-cum-roommate. Rai Sahib is amenable to the match, and promises to go look up Mala whenever he next visits Mohan’s college.
Rai Sahib hasn’t realised that Mala shares a room with another girl; so when he enters the hostel room and meets a pretty girl who’s very polite and sweet, he assumes she’s Mala, and is thoroughly approving. The sudden arrival of a somewhat less appealing Mala shatters his illusions, and he’s distinctly miffed at the thought that this girl may well become his bahu.
What’s worse, on his way out of the college, Rai Sahib runs into a bunch of Mohan’s unprincipled pals, who’re brandishing those incriminating photos of Mohan and Neena in each other’s arms. That’s the last straw; Rai Sahib decides his son must marry before he sows any more wild oats.
With Rai Sahib gone back home, plotting the brahmachari’s downfall, Mohan’s friends decide it’s time to help along Mohan and Neena’s nonexistent romance a bit. They write a love letter to Neena, forging Mohan’s signature at the end, and then get a lot of vicarious pleasure out of spying on Neena while she’s reading the letter and swiftly falling in love with Mohan.
Unfortunately for Neena, though, her romance is short-lived; when she goes to Mohan’s room to say thank you for the letter and to assure him that his love is reciprocated in full… he raves and rants at her. Doesn’t the dumb girl realise he’s a brahmachari? He didn’t write any letter to her, he isn’t in love with her, and he has no desire to have anything to do with her.
Neena is hurt and annoyed, but just as she’s getting ready to leave Mohan’s room, she notices a photograph lying on his table. It’s a photograph of a young man (Shatrughan Sinha), and when Neena asks Mohan who this is, he tells her it’s his elder brother. Why? Does she now want to weave her spell on him? Neena, the epitome of the woman scorned, flounces out of his room, vowing that one day she’ll come to Mohan’s home as his bride.
And sure enough, sometime later, with college over and Mohan away in Calcutta on work, Neena arrives at his house with a baby in her arms. To Rai Sahib and Rajlakshmi—both flabbergasted—she reveals that she is their bahu, and that the baby is their grandchild.
But is it? Neena swears by all that’s holy that the child is their grandchild, and she refuses to budge from that stance, not even when a panicking Mohan rushes home to confront her and try to expose her lies for what they are. She has his love letter; she wears his chain around her neck; Rai Sahib has seen a photo of her in Mohan’s arms. She is Mohan’s wife, his parents think… but what about the baby? Where’s this kid turned up from? Who is he?
What I liked about this film:
Mumtaz. I so like her, effervescent and lively and oh so pretty. And a good actress too (though Ek Nari Ek Brahmachari doesn’t really give her much scope for showing off her skills as an actress).
Jagdeep and Aruna Irani. As Jugal and Mala, they’re one of the most endearing supporting couples I’ve seen in Hindi cinema. Funny, affectionate, loads of fun—and their love story, as they try to get married and then keep body and soul together as an impoverished young couple, is as much a part of the film as the main storyline.
What I didn’t like:
The decor, of course. And the costumes of much of the supporting cast. And the very last frame, which is hard to beat when it comes to sheer corniness. But, most of all, the badly scripted first half of the film. This meanders into unnecessary scenes, pointless dialogue and action, and more stuff that irritated me and nearly made me give up. Thank heavens I persevered—the second half is much more fun.
Not one of the best romantic comedies to come out of Bollywood, but entertaining enough. Just be patient through the first half.