Once upon a time, there was a writer.
No: it wasn’t Dharmendra, and it certainly wasn’t Nanda (old Hindi cinema, at least, doesn’t seem to believe women capable of writing anything more complex than a love letter, if that).
This writer was someone quite different, and one day (I’m guessing) decided that it was time to show the world what he was capable of. So, with a producer and a director, the writer went into action, and what resulted was Akashdeep. Looking at the film, I’m assuming this was somewhat of a collaborative effort. A “how about this?” and a “don’t you think it would be a good idea—?” sort of film.
Something like this…?
Producer (henceforth, P): Ashok Kumar, Nanda, Dharmendra, Nimmi. Those are the big names I’m going to rope in.
Writer (W): Ashok Kumar? Oh, good! The wise, seasoned man of the world whom others look up to. The man who’s having problems with his personal life and his professional life and his sister and his brother and… oh, okay. Sorry. I’ll tell it from the start, right? We have this alcoholic, see? He’s a good man, though.
Director (D; interrupting): Ashok Kumar? Alcoholic? Don’t you mean Dilip Kumar? After all, Devdas, Daag—
P: We can’t afford Dilip Kumar. And who’ll be the male lead, pray, if he’s in the cast?
W: Will you two shut up? Listen to me. No, we need someone else. A good character actor—how about Tarun Bose? He’ll be the drunk. He’s set up a teashop which his little son Madhukar manages, with the help of a servant.
P: Let’s have Keshto Mukherjee as the servant, right? I like him; such a great comedian.
W: Yes, but… the servant doesn’t have any funny lines. And he’s there in only two very brief scenes.
D: Doesn’t matter. I like Keshto Mukherjee too.
W: Anyway, what happens is that this drunk’s elder son Shankar drops out of school so that he can look after the family. There’s a mother, and there’s a little sister called Ruma. In his spare time, Shankar goes about doing good deeds for which he gets bashed up by random people who disagree with him.
P: You know, that teenager who’ll play Shankar looks a bit like Dharmendra. Especially around the mouth. Good bit of casting, I think. (smirks)
D (simpers): Yes, isn’t it?
W (glares): Shankar’s father dies, and then the mother cops it too, so Shankar ends up as the head of the household. He works hard and is ambitious, so by the time he’s grown up, he’s acquired shops and companies, and he’s now—
D & P (in chorus): Dharmendra!!!
W: Of course not! Dharmendra’s a spring chicken, and not the main character in this story. No, he’s Ashok Kumar.
P (mutters to D): So what was the big deal in having someone looking like Dharmendra play the teenaged Shankar?
W: Okay, let’s move on. Shankar is busy becoming a potentate, even against the wishes of his wise old uncle, his mamaji. We’ll have Moni Chatterjee play the mamaji. One day, Shankar goes to meet Mr Sinha, from whom he wants to buy an ailing textile mill.
D: Why is it ailing? And if it’s ailing, why does he want to buy it?
W: Will you stop interrupting?! Why he wants to buy it doesn’t matter. What matters is that while he’s at Mr Sinha’s house, he meets Mr Sinha’s beautiful daughter Baani. That’ll be Nimmi.
P: But she’s in silks and whatnot, in this big, wealthy house. That’s not Nimmi! Nimmi fits tragedy, not luxury. Are you sure you don’t want someone else here? Maybe Shyama?
W (smugly): Hah! But all that luxury is illusion, you see. Baani’s pretty life is all a sham. She’s mute, and so even her name—‘sound’—is a mockery. One day, Shankar realises that she’s mute, so he asks her father for her hand in marriage.
W: So they get married—
D: You mean they fall in love?
W: Why? Do you want them to? Look, let’s just have her sing a romantic song, and leave it at that—
D: Sing? How’ll she sing? She’s mute.
P (interrupting): Let’s get a move on. We can have her put an LP on and lip-synch to that. How’s that? Genius, no?
W: Okay, back to work. Meanwhile, Shankar’s younger brother Madhukar has grown up. He’s Mehmood—
D: Great! Now we’ll have some humour. How about giving him a funny accent, huh? Or he can speak in different dialects.
W: Sure. He can speak good staid khadi boli at times, and Bambaiyya at others. And we can have his wife Sheila be a Hyderabadi, so she’ll speak Hindi Hyderabadi style. Let’s have Shubha Khote as Sheila, shall we? She can be good and screechy too.
W: Back to the story, now. Shankar is mad at him because Madhukar—let’s call him Madhu—because Madhu is so unambitious. Shankar keeps offering Madhu jobs in his companies and his stores, but Madhu keeps refusing. Shankar disapproves of him so much they don’t even live in the same house. Shankar lives in a big mansion while Madhu lives in the old house beside the teashop, which he still runs with the help of that old servant.
D: What’s his name? Ramu?
W: Of course! What did you expect it to be? François? Haha!
D: And what happened to the sister?
W: Ruma? That’ll be Nanda. She’s been away all this while—
W: Stop being fastidious! Does it matter? Shimla. Anyway, she’s come back, and because she wants to pull a prank on Madhu, she dresses as a Pathan, so that Madhu, who’s come to receive her at the airport, doesn’t recognise her.
P: Heheheh! That’s funny. Genius, man, genius. This ‘women disguised as men’ thing always works. And she looks so convincing, I’m not surprised Madhu doesn’t see through the disguise.
W: And neither does Tarun. That’s Dharmendra. This guy is the secretary of the trade union at the textile mill that Shankar had bought from Mr Sinha. One day Tarun meets Ruma while she’s pretending to be a Pathan, and they become pals.
D: Why does she go on pretending to be a Pathan?
W: Why must you go on picking holes in the story? Does it matter why she pretends to be a Pathan? Maybe she’s a repressed cross-dresser and it surfaces now and then.
P (placatingly): It doesn’t matter, really. Let her be a Pathan. But we can’t afford too many Pathan suits, okay? So she’ll always wear the same one.
W: Now may I get on with the plot? Tarun goes to meet—
P: Hey, wait. I was thinking, maybe we could have some more disguises as well. Peps up the story.
W: I’ve thought of that. Dharmendra can be disguised as a sadhu, and then Mehmood can be disguised as a Sufi.
D: But what for?
P: We’ll figure that out later. Let’s get on with the story!
W: Right. Now one day Tarun goes to meet Shankar at his house, and meets Ruma in her lovely feminine form, and they fall in love with each other immediately.
W: And then, Shankar meets Tarun and they exchange some heated words. Tarun is a sort of leader of the trade union, no? Shankar is very impressed with Tarun.
D: Why should he be? I mean, if Tarun’s been hurling abuses at him—
W (annoyed): Why must you question everything? Let it be. He’s impressed. That’s it.
W: Now, then. Tarun and his trade union leaders meet at Madhu’s tea shop, where they discuss their plans. Another person at the textile mill is Desai—that’ll be Rashid Khan—and he’s a slimy character who’s constantly trying to put down Tarun.
P: Ignore him, writer bhaiya. Go on.
W (with a meaningful sniff): And Tarun has his own problems. His father—that’s Shivraj—has delusions of wealth. He’s keeps imagining he’s got huge sums in the bank.
W: Tarun and the other trade unionists stage shows, dances and the like, to gather money for their cause.
P: Oh, good! Now we can have Mehmood in drag, and we can use all the hit songs of the past 10 years in a parody.
D (plaintively, and ignored by the other two): But what connection does that have to the plot?
P: Oh, by the way: what happened to Baani? You said she’d be plagued by tragedy. You got her married happily to a wealthy man; now what?
W (rubbing his hands in glee): Just you see. She gets pregnant now.
P: Huh? That’s tragedy?
W: Of course, when you take into account that there’s tragedy all around her. Shankar is estranged from Madhu, and now Tarun and his trade unionists are causing Shankar sleepless nights—
D: But I thought Shankar liked Tarun?
W: Of course he does. Or did. Or whatever. Not always. Don’t you remember, I told you about Desai? He’s been needling Shankar at all the meetings of the board of directors. Every time Shankar tries to do something for the workers—like give them housing near the mill, or raise their wages—Desai obstructs him.
D: Why? I thought he was for the workers. If he’s for the workers, he should be happy!
W (losing his temper): Stop saying why!!! How do I know why? Maybe he doesn’t like Shankar’s face! Maybe it’s pure cussedness! But he does it!
D: But if it’s Desai who’s obstructing Shankar, why does Shankar hate Tarun?
P: Listen, guys. Let’s get back on track. What about Baani? How’re you getting tragedy into her life?
W: Oh. Ah, yes. Well, you see, with all this turmoil, one day Shankar also discovers that Ruma loves Tarun, and there’s a big showdown and Ruma gets upset and Shankar gets upset… and then Baani gets upset and falls down.
P: Ohhh! Miscarriage?
W (with satisfaction): No, not this time. That happens when she falls down a flight of stairs a second time. Then she has a miscarriage, and she’s told she can never bear a child again.
P: Shouldn’t there be a mother figure here to be comforting her at this stage?
W: Hmm. Yes, good point. Maybe the time-honoured good Christian? Oh, I remember: Baani has this maid called Philomena, who speaks awful Hindi but is really saintly. She’ll be the one patting Baani’s head now.
D (perking up): I know! Achla Sachdev. She’ll be perfect for it!
P (beaming): Splendid! Now everything’s in place. There’s strife and angst and turmoil all around, and everybody hates everybody else or has misunderstood everybody else. And we have some comedy, and we have disguises, and we have romance. This is going to be one helluva hit, guys!
The writer, director and producer of Akashdeep, by the way, was Phani Majumdar. The screenplay was written by Navendu Ghosh. If you see these names in the credits for other films, you might just beware.
What I liked about this film:
The music, by Chitragupt. I saw the film because of Mujhe dard-e-dil ka pata na thha, but discovered that it also has two other songs that I like a lot but didn’t know were from Akashdeep: Mile toh phir jhuke nahin nazar wohi pyaar ki and Dil ka diya jaalake gaya.
Nanda and Dharmendra. Eye candy!
What I didn’t like:
The plot—or what there was of it. This is a terribly muddled and incoherent film, with too many characters, too many plot elements and too many events that have little or nothing to do with the story. Every few minutes, there’s something that leads nowhere: Tarun’s loony father, Baani’s miscarriage and subsequent yearning for a child; Ruma’s constant dressing up as a Pathan… actually, now that I think of it, each of those could have been built up into an interesting enough film of its own. Together, it’s just one bewildering mishmash that is best avoided.