And besides that ‘one snake charmer, one bandit’ (and not a single snake, mind you)—there’s also one pretty lady, a nasty patricidal king, a ghost (who appears for all of one very short scene) and a trio of comic courtiers who go bananas trying to differentiate between their crown prince and an impostor. There’s also, to add to the fun, a variety of disguises. And a decent enough score by Usha Khanna, including the depressing hit song Hum tumse judaa hoke.
If Hum tumse judaa hoke had been the only thing I knew about Ek Sapera Ek Lutera, I’d probably never have watched the film—the song’s so dismal, no film it was part of could’ve been at all happy. I saw Ek Sapera Ek Lutera because I was under the impression that it starred the vivacious Mumtaz—and I will see almost anything that features Mumtaz.
I am sad to say that I was wrong about Mumtaz; she wasn’t in this. And, I am relieved and very happy to be able to say that despite Hum tumse judaa hoke, this is an entertaining, fast-paced, rather mad, rather fun film.
It starts off with what would be considered good news: a queen (Mumtaz Begum; that’s the Mumtaz in Ek Sapera Ek Lutera) tells her husband that she’s pregnant. Finally! After 250 years, in a dynasty that never has heirs! (The dynasty’s carried on by adopting heirs all this while) She’s delirious with joy, but the king looks as if someone hit him on the back of the head with a sandbag.
In a quick flashback, we (not the queen) are made privy to a secret. Years ago, this king had stabbed his own father to grab the throne. The dying king had cursed his son, saying that someday, his son would kill him.
Back in the present, the king’s guessing that with the queen now in the family way, his chickens will soon come home to roost. So, to get a head start, he sends for the midwife and has a chat with her.
The plot the king hatches is that the midwife will find a newborn boy whom she will use to replace the king’s own child, when it is born. That way, the queen will accept the baby as her own, while the king (who will have taken his own child—and disposed of it) won’t need to fear being at some stage killed by his own offspring.
The midwife is reluctant to be party to all this sinfulness, but is finally bullied and bribed. She arranges for a village woman’s infant to be smuggled into the palace.
But when the queen gives birth, she has twins!
The midwife does some quick thinking, and figures out that at least one royal child can be saved. The village woman’s son can be returned; but one of the little princes can be left beside the queen, who emerges from an exhausted faint to be greeted with the news that she’s borne a bonny baby.
The other prince is given by the midwife to the king with the news that the village woman’s child has been handed over to the queen, and this child is the real prince.
The king, evil father that he is, wraps his baby up in a basket and leaves it in the forest.
That night, there’s a fierce storm, and roaring waters wash the basket down to a river, where two women find it the next day. These are Indu (Indira Bansal), the wife of the village choudhary; and Bindu (Tuntun), the wife of a snake charmer. Both Indu and Bindu long to be mothers and are so desperate to have the baby for themselves that they grab it and indulge in some unladylike fisticuffs. Bindu emerges triumphant and takes the baby away to her home…
…where she and her husband name him Mohan and bring him up as their own.
Many years pass and Mohan (now Feroz Khan) has grown up and is in love with Radha (Kumkum), the daughter of Indu and the choudhary. Radha loves Mohan, but her mother Indu is dead set against Radha having anything to do with the man, whom she regards as a wastrel. Indu’s husband, the choudhary (Rashid Khan), tries to convince Radha that she should be a good and obedient girl and listen to her mother.
Mohan’s bosom buddy Badloo Ram (Sunder) has been given the task of finding a groom for Radha. Though he tries to fix up a match between Mohan and Radha, it fizzles out because Indu won’t have it. Finally, after some subterfuge, a bit of arm-twisting and emotional blackmail, Radha ends up engaged to the son of a creditor of the choudhary’s.
When Badloo gives Mohan the news that his beloved is going to marry someone else, Mohan does what any self-respecting Hindi film hero should do: he dons a disguise. Dressed as an old tattooist, he goes to Indu’s house, saying that he’s come to tattoo Radha for her wedding (I didn’t know this: the three dots tattooed on a woman’s chin are called godna or gudna, and are a symbol of marriage). Left alone with Radha, Mohan takes off his fake moochh and shows her who he is. Much elation ensues, and Radha confesses that she’d been planning to kill herself before the wedding.
Mohan instructs Radha to come and meet him outside the village later that day…
… and everybody in this film being so luckless, Radha reaches before he does. Whom should she run into but the dissolute prince Vijay Pratap Singh, whom of course she mistakes for darling Mohan? Vijay Pratap Singh, womaniser that he is, soon guesses that the ‘Mohan’ this girl addresses him as looks exactly like Vijay Pratap Singh. So, if the prince pretends to be Mohan, he’ll get the girl.
Without further ado, he pulls Radha onto his horse and they gallop away into the night.
A villager happens to have seen the episode, and goes rushing off to tell the choudhary that Mohan and Radha have eloped. The choudhary and the rest of the villagers—including Mohan’s foster father, who’s very upset at Mohan’s scandalous behaviour—chase after Mohan and beat him up. A puzzled Mohan denies that he ran off with Radha (he admits he’d told her to meet him, but says he didn’t mean to elope with her; no, he was going to come to the choudhary and ask for Radha’s hand).
The long and the short of it is that the villagers finally let Mohan go, and he sets off to search for Radha. His wanderings bring him to Sundergarh (Vijay Pratap’s principality), where some of the locals mistake him for their prince…
…who is trying to cajole Radha into marrying him. He has confessed to her that he isn’t her Mohan, but he’s richer, more powerful, and more of a dude than that stupid snake charmer, and she’d be much better off as his princess, so why not?—but Radha isn’t listening. Finally, Vijay Pratap gets so sick of the girl’s obstinacy, he orders his courtiers to go fetch a sage who can clear Radha’s mind and heart of this silly fascination for Mohan.
The courtiers are discussing this as they walk along, and don’t realise that a passerby—Mohan—is eavesdropping. He disguises himself as a sadhu of sorts and is taken to Vijay Pratap Singh and Radha. The prince, much impressed by the sadhu, requests him to work his magic on Radha, and the sadhu agrees. As soon as he’s alone with Radha, he reveals himself as Mohan, and they work out a plan to free Radha of Vijay Pratap Singh.
This plan consists of dosing Vijay Pratap Singh with much wine (while Radha shimmies and sings), but they haven’t taken one thing into consideration: Vijay Pratap Singh is very canny. He figures out what’s happening, and turns the tables. His soldiers arrest Mohan and take him deep into the desert, where they fling him down into a large (very large; it seems to stretch forever) hole. Here, Mohan becomes conscious, only to find himself in the company of a strange female ghost…
…while above ground, poor Radha, pursued by the lecherous and tenacious Vijay Pratap Singh, falls off a balcony, is concussed, and loses her memory.
So who gets the girl? Who’s the ghost? Will Mohan ever get to know he’s actually a prince? And what about that long-ago curse about the king being killed by his own son? Much happens in Ek Sapera Ek Lutera. Not all of it is strictly coherent, but it’s fun, and the pace doesn’t slacken. Plus you get to see two Feroz Khans for the price of one. Not bad.
What I liked about this film:
It’s entertaining in a likeable fantasy-land way, with pretty costumes and ornate palaces, much fighting (swords and single sticks), desertscapes—including a daring escape on a camel—and much racing hither and thither, disguises, coincidences and other stuff that doesn’t happen in lives as mundane as my own.
The music is hummable enough. Hum tumse judaa hoke is the best-known of the songs, but the others are good too. The title song, in particular, is nice, and Uthaao jaam chalo dono saath-saath piyein deserves to be better known among the drinking songs!
And Sunder, though he doesn’t make a very believable cross-dresser, is very funny masquerading as a gardening-maid called Gulabi:
What I didn’t like:
If I were going to be nitpicking, I’d say Ek Sapera Ek Lutera is frivolous, and there are holes in the plot. But I don’t mind frivolity, and I can live with the holes in the plot, simply because this is such a generally enjoyable film.
But yes, I haven’t yet been able to figure out the need for that ghost. She was superfluous. Completely.