This film has the distinction of not being listed on imdb. I’m sure there are other films like that, but the exclusion of Sunehre Kadam came as a surprise to me: it’s not as if it has an obscure cast (not that that is a criterion) or is unknown in other ways—I had heard at least one of the songs before, and I discovered what I would rate as one of Lata Mangeshkar’s most poignant songs.
More on that later; for now, a big thank you to ash, who shared this film with me. I enjoyed it!
Sunehre Kadam begins at a club, where a function is in progress. This is an annual affair, in which two-member teams, one consisting of men and the other of women, compete in a singing contest, the winners taking away a fancy silver trophy. This year, two friends, Shekhar (Rehman) and Ganjoo (Agha) win, leaving the women—the wealthy Shefali (Shashikala) and her friend Malti (Sabita Chatterjee)—pretty annoyed. So annoyed, in fact, that Shefali, in a burst of unwarranted rudeness, slaps Shekhar.
On their way home, Shefali explains that the slap was premeditated. Why? Because, as Shefali happily sings to Malti (quoting the song from the 1951 film Malhar), “Bade armaanon se rakha hai balam, teri kasam, pyaar ki duniya mein yeh pehla kadam”. Malti is sceptical about how slapping the loved one can win him over—or, indeed, can be construed as a sign of love—but Shefali insists that she is in love with Shekhar, and all she’s doing is calculated to one day make Shekhar hers. This is only the first step. (I’m recounting this otherwise inconsequential bit because that’s where the film’s title is derived from: the first step, the second step, and so on: golden steps, ‘sunehre kadam’).
Shekhar and Ganjoo soon fall on evil days. Shekhar, who works as an insurance agent, hasn’t been able to get any new customers for a while now, and Ganjoo, a salesman for a shoepolish company, is in the same boat. They’re both pretty broke, and when their landlord starts pestering them to pay up, they are forced to pawn the silver trophy. They also shift into cheaper accommodation (read derelict: the roof is missing tiles and much of the furniture is falling to bits).
As luck would have it, Shefali goes to a jeweller to get a necklace reset, and there she and Malti see the trophy, which they immediately recognise. Shefali buys it and the two girls go to Shekhar and Ganjoo’s ‘new’ house to give it back to them. Shekhar thinks Shefali’s rubbing salt in their wounds and showing off her own wealth, but the two men do take back the trophy…
… and the story is repeated, again and again. Twice more Shekhar and Ganjoo go and sell off the trophy; twice more Shefali and Malti bring it back to them. In the process, Malti and Ganjoo fall in love, and Ganjoo decides he must fix up Shefali and Shekhar as well.
Unfortunately, the third time the two men sell the trophy, Shefali has some trouble getting it back. The woman who’s bought it from the jeweller refuses to sell it; it’s a birthday present for her husband. Eventually, Shefali gets so desperate that she and Malti enter the lady’s house dressed as dancers come to perform at the birthday party. While the other guests are busy dancing, Shefali filches the trophy and she and Malti run off—after giving the chowkidar at the gate an envelope for the master of the house, containing money as compensation for the trophy.
What they don’t realise is that the chowkidar’s a crook, who pockets the money as soon as they’ve gone.
Shefali and Malti return the trophy once again to Shekhar and Ganjoo, who decide enough’s enough. Shekhar’s managed to sell a policy, so his commission will soon be coming to him. They must resist temptation and not sell the trophy again. They therefore bury it in the house of their friendly neighbourhood couple (Randhir and Tuntun)…
…but end up digging it up shortly after, because Ganjoo’s attempts to get Shekhar and Shefali together have borne fruit: Ganjoo has been sweet-talking Shefali on the phone while pretending to be Shekhar, and she has promised to come along, with Malti, on a picnic.
To pay for the picnic, the men need money (that long-awaited commission Shekhar had been expecting has been delayed), so Shekhar unearths the trophy and sells it.
With the result that when they return from a thoroughly enjoyable picnic, the police are waiting to arrest Shekhar. He’s livid at Shefali, who he thinks is actually guilty. But stoic and noble that he is, Shekhar doesn’t squeal on Shefali, and instead takes the rap himself: three months’s rigorous imprisonment. Shefali’s conscience pricks her during the hearing ; she tries to intervene and confess that she’s the one to blame, but Ganjoo stops her, saying Shefali’s name will be mud. In any case, Shekhar will be out in three months.
Now things start going downhill with a vengeance. One of Shekhar’s uncles arrives in town with the news that Shekhar’s mother is very ill and not likely to last even one night. Ganjoo goes to the jail to try and get Shekhar released just for the one night, but it’s no use: the jailer refuses. He won’t even send Shekhar under escort; Shekhar must wait till the next day, when parole will be arranged.
That night Shefali, having found out Shekhar’s family’s address, takes a doctor and drives down to the village where Shekhar’s parents live with his little brother and sister. The doctor examines Shekhar’s mother, and tells Shefali to get an injection from town. It’s already 1 AM; getting the injection and bringing it to the village will take till at least 8 AM—which, according to the doctor, will be too late. So Shefali suggests one desperate measure: they’ll take Shekhar’s mother to town.
Which they do, but by the time the servants carry the old lady into Shefali’s house and lay her down on the bed, she’s long dead. Shortly after, Shekhar—having first gone to his house in the village—blunders in and finds his mother dead. This sends him over the edge, and he slaps Shefali, just as the police arrive. It turns out that Shekhar has escaped from jail with the help of another prisoner.
Now he’s sent back in, with his sentence soon after increased to three years’ RI.
As if that wasn’t enough tragedy, Shekhar’s father now falls seriously ill, with asthma and consumption. Shefali, who’s being eaten up by guilt, gives up being the flighty socialite and takes herself off to the village to look after the old man and the children, to cook and clean and be the good pseudo bahu. But will it help? Will she be able to save Shekhar’s father? Will she be able to win over Shekhar—who, whenever Ganjoo and Malti visit him in jail, refuses to even let them mention Shefali’s name? Will the sunehre kadam that Shefali has been dreaming of reach their destination, or is this finis?
What I liked about this film:
The music, by Bulo C Rani and S Mohindra. The one song I’d heard earlier is Naazuk hoon albeli hoon; the one really good Lata song I discovered is the lovely Na baaz aaya muqaddar—very touching, and sung with great feeling.
Shashikala. I have long felt that Shashikala’s full potential wasn’t explored by too many directors. She was a fine actress, and capable of much better roles than usually came her way. This is one of the good ones. She’s good as the frivolous and frolicsome Shefali, equally good as her guilt-ridden and more serious-minded avatar.
What I didn’t like:
The occasional dragging of the first half. The last hour of the film is well scripted, brisk and without much hither-and-thither; the first half, in contrast, is mostly all fluffy songs, some unfunny comedy with Tuntun, Randhir and Agha (and a guest appearance by Johnny Whisky), and some completely pointless faff about a ghost haunting Shekhar and Ganjoo’s house. Tedious, but I’ve seen—and sat through—much worse. Fortunately, the second half (though melodramatic) compensates.
On the whole, though, I’d say this film needs to be better known. It doesn’t have very big stars in the cast, but all the main actors are good. The story is entertaining, uncomplicated and generally well scripted (barring those hiccups in the first hour) and the music is good. Worth the watch. Thank you, ash!