My sister and I were discussing, with much fondness, my father’s love for classic Hindi cinema. When my parents bought a DVD player, I offered to look out for old films that I could buy for them. “Any particular favourites you’d like me to buy you?” I asked. Papa’s list included Sangdil, Daag, Anari, Ratan, Andaaz, Albela, Sone ki Chidiya and a bunch of other films—all of them selected mainly because they had superb music.
And I am very much my Papa’s daughter. It takes just one good song for me to rent a film (I may not go so far as to buy it, though). I’ve done it with Akashdeep, and I’ve done it again with Bhai Bahen. Here, fortunately, I was a little luckier. Even though the best thing about it is the lovely Saare jahaan se achha, Bhai Bahen is, overall, an interesting and rather offbeat little film.
The bhai—the brother—of the title is Ramu (Daisy Irani). Ramu is an orphan who lives on the pavement with his pet mongrel Shera, and makes ends meet by doing odd jobs: fetching taxis for rich people who can’t be bothered with hailing one for themselves, or (more often) selling lollipops outside a local school.
While selling lollipops, Ramu has made friends with rich girl Soni (Baby Naaz). When the film opens, Soni and her mother Geeta (Nishi Kohli) are at a temple. Soni is praying for a baby brother, when they run into Ramu, who’s also at the temple. Soni introduces Ramu to her mother, and the mother is impressed with Ramu (frankly, I find the kid a sanctimonious little brat: his prayers, droned out in a high voice for all to hear, are all about how God should keep him on the straight and narrow).
Ramu’s bête noir is the nasty Jaggu (? No idea who this actor is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the only film he ever worked in. He delivers his lines as if he were reading them off a page, and he has all the expressiveness of a lamppost). Jaggu collects hafta from the boys who live on the pavement—including Ramu. One night, while Jaggu and an accomplice are trying to break into a house, Shera raises the alarm and Jaggu’s accomplice is nabbed by the police. This makes Jaggu even madder at Ramu.
Meanwhile, Soni has been chatting with her mother (nice to see a filmi mum who’s young and pretty, and a good friend of her child’s). Geeta suggests that if Soni’s so keen on a brother, she should tie a rakhi around a little boy’s wrist come Rakshabandhan, and he’ll then be her brother. Soni thinks it’s a grand idea, too, and she decides—though secretly—whom she’s going to choose to be her brother.
The next time Soni sees Ramu selling lollipops, she collars him and breaks the news. Ramu’s very flattered and touched, of course, but gets a bit of a shock when he realises that he will be expected to give Soni a gift on the occasion. Soni tries, sweetly, to tell him that he needn’t gift her anything, but this pint-sized kid has enough self-respect to insist that he will buy her something.
And he does find something in a window display: a frock that he thinks will be perfect for Soni.
The shopkeeper, when asked, informs Ramu that the frock costs Rs 7.50. Ramu can’t even begin to imagine that amount. But since he’s made up his mind to buy the frock for Soni, he decides to save. Not much time is left for Rakshabandhan, so poor Ramu ends up going hungry, saving even the 2 annas he spends on channas for his dinner. Fortunately for him, Shera barges in on a street performance (Anwar Hussain and the lovely Bela Bose in a cameo) and steals the limelight, so that spectators reward him with food that he shares with Ramu.
The evil Jaggu chooses this moment to pick on Ramu again, and takes away whatever Ramu’s been able to save. Initially tearful, Ramu hauls up his socks and plunges into a round of doing whatever he can to earn the 7.50. He cleans utensils in people’s homes, sells lollipops, and fetches and carries (even when the object he’s carrying is about double his own size):
Meanwhile, what of Soni? Her father, Rai Kedarnath (Rehman) owns race horses, and one day takes Soni to visit the stables. Here, Soni gets to meet old friends Johnny (Johnny Walker) and Mr X (a white horse). Johnny’s a groom, but has been pestering Rai Sahib to let him be Mr X’s jockey in the upcoming race. Today, finally, Rai Sahib agrees: Johnny will ride Mr X.
In between romancing his girlfriend Julie (Shammi)…
… and looking after Mr X, Johnny also finds the time to one day rescue Ramu from a belligerent Jaggu, who’s again been trying to browbeat the poor little kid into yielding up whatever he’s managed to save.
Unknown to Ramu and Soni and Johnny and Rai Sahib, sinister plots are being hatched near at hand. The nasty Jeevan (G P Sippy, the director, himself? I’m not sure, though I’ve heard he played the villain) is trying to get rich, even (and especially) if it’s at the cost of Rai Sahib. His henchmen (henchpeople?) include the cigarette-smoking vamp Lily Greene (Nilofer) and a cross-eyed man who rivals Jaggu when it comes to awful dialogue delivery.
Jeevan’s been bribing Rai Sahib’s jockey all this while to lose. Now that Johnny’s the jockey, Jeevan sends a man with Rs 1,000 to buy off Johnny too. Johnny, fortunately for Rai Sahib, is the very picture of loyalty: he decides he will not hold Mr X back.
He is also, it turns out, pretty stupid. He takes the money from Jeevan’s man, and promises that Mr X won’t win. What the baddies will do when he does win, is something Johnny hasn’t thought of.
Ramu, in the meantime, has against all odds, succeeded in scraping together Rs 7.50. Just as he’s getting ready to go and buy the frock for Soni, disaster strikes. Krishna, one of Ramu’s pavement-dwelling friends, has been ill for a long time, and now dies. None of the other boys has any money to contribute for Krishna’s cremation, and Jaggu (who does have the money) uses emotional blackmail to get Ramu to give up his Rs 7.50 for Krishna’s funeral.
Ramu is back where he started: broke.
Is Ramu finally able to buy Soni a gift? And where do Jeevan & Co, Johnny and Mr X, and Soni’s parents fit into the scheme of things? What effect will they and their actions have on Ramu’s attempts to be a good bhai to his bahen?
What I liked about this film:
Saare jahaan se achcha. Though the title of the song is from the poem by Iqbal, the lyrics of the film song (by Jan Nisar Akhtar) are different, yet equally patriotic—and N Dutta’s music is superb. The film has some other good songs too, including the very peppy Beta dar mat (Johnny Walker and Rafi at their best!) and the gentle Mere nadeem mere humsafar udaas na ho.
What I didn’t like:
A lot of the acting. Jaggu, of course, is a pain in the neck, but so are most of the other children, including Daisy Irani. I’ve nothing against Daisy (in fact, I rather like her in a lot of her films), but here she gets irritating after a while. Part of the problem lies in that Ramu’s character is not at all child-like. He’s basically a little adult (and a not very likeable one at that), who’s always spouting good and trying to lead an exemplary life. When a child’s signature tune is In ujle mahalon ke tale, hum gandi galiyon mein pale (“In the shade of these glittering palaces, we have been brought up in dirty alleys”), you can guess what the child’s outlook on life is. Where one would expect a child to cry or give up, Ramu smiles bravely and sings a song. Nauseating.
Also, I’ve always been of the opinion that at least the main characters in a film must be well acted out. (Yes, in a perfect world, the acting would be overall good, but it isn’t a perfect world). In Bhai Bahen, the protagonist is indisputably Ramu. Ramu should’ve been much better etched, and played perhaps by an older child who could act better.
Still, Bhai Bahen isn’t bad. And if you’ve got sick of the usual romances, it might just be the breath of fresh air you need.