I have been singularly lucky lately: instead of watching (as I usually end up doing) one not-so-great film after another, I’ve actually watched two absolutely delightful films within a couple of days of each other. The first was The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming. The second, Dholak, was recommended by bollyviewer. It’s not listed on imdb, but it deserves all the publicity it can get, so I’m going to be doing my bit to say what a fabulous film this is.
Starring the ‘Lara Lappa Girl’ (as she was nicknamed after the success of Ek Thi Ladki) Meena Shorey opposite a very young and handsome Ajit, Dholak was the second of the films Meena Shorey made with her producer-director husband, the ‘King of Comedy’, Roop K Shorey. They had already made Ek Thi Ladki, which had proved a big hit. This one, released two years later, and with story and dialogues written by I S Johar (who had debuted in Ek Thi Ladki) is, in my opinion, even better than the earlier film.
Dholak begins with a scene in the household of Diwan Ganpat Rai (?) and his wife (Shakuntala). From the conversation that follows, and from the arrival of first the postman and then the village landlord, a lot is revealed. Ganpat Rai, it transpires, has a daughter named Mona (Meena Shorey) who is about to finish her studies at the Shimla College. Also at the College, and about to graduate, is Mona’s childhood friend Manohar (Ajit). Manohar is the orphaned son of Ganpat Rai’s bosom buddy, so Ganpat Rai has brought Manohar up.
The postman brings a letter from Mona for her parents, and there’s much excitement and joy at the news that Mona and Manohar will soon be coming back home.
The local landlord, Rai Sahib (?), who arrives shortly after, gets to hear the news too. It emerges that Ganpat Rai had borrowed a large sum of money from Rai Sahib in order to pay for Mona’s education. Rai Sahib is magnanimous about it—according to him, there’s no hurry about paying back the debt—but Ganpat Rai assures him that they will pay him soon. All is bonhomie.
The scene switches now to Shimla, and to the college where Mona and Manohar are getting ready to graduate and go out into the big bad world. We’re treated to a wonderfully peppy number, Hulla-gulla la-ila, in which Mona and Manohar are joined by their classmates, Sheila (Yashodhara Katju) and Birju (Majnu). During the song, and in the next scene (when the results are announced, and both Sheila and Birju fail, while Mona and Manohar top the class), we get an idea of the relationships between these people.
Mona and Manohar may have been brought up together, but they’re certainly no childhood sweethearts. Good friends, yes, but friends who’re constantly pulling each other’s leg and bickering.
Manohar is being pursued by the wealthy Sheila. After she discovers she’s flunked, Sheila tells Manohar that she’s planning to set up a school for music—and would like to offer him a job there. Manohar, who’s not in the least interested in Sheila or her aspirations as a singing star (which she fondly believes herself to be), declines politely…
…and goes back to the village with Mona. They are received with much fanfare, thanks to Rai Sahib, who (in honour of the village’s ‘first graduates’) organises a little function of which the main highlight is a speech by him.
But with Mona and Manohar now settled in—and getting rejection letters from everywhere they’ve applied for jobs—Rai Sahib shows his true colours: he wants to marry Mona. And if Ganpat Rai doesn’t return the money he’d borrowed from Rai Sahib, Rai Sahib will marry Mona.
This, of course, makes Mona even more desperate to get a job soon, so that she can repay Rai Sahib. Manohar says they’ll never get jobs if they merely write applications; no, what’s needed is to visit offices and ask for jobs. He decides to go to Delhi and search out jobs for both him and Mona. Once he’s found employment, he’ll send for Mona.
Manohar comes up against one rejection after another in Delhi, but just as he’s beginning to lose hope, an opportunity comes his way.
Passing by a school, he hears a school choir singing very offkey, led by a teacher who’s not much better. Manohar jumps in through a window and takes over. The teacher, Devi (Amir Banu), is very annoyed at being upstaged, and her anger grows when the Board of Directors—summoned by her to oust Manohar—instead decides to hire Manohar as the music teacher. Devi is relegated to teaching calisthenics instead (huh? A music teacher teaching calisthenics? That’s Devi’s reaction too).
But the Board have one condition: they employ only married teachers in this school. They hope Manohar is married…? Our hero, desperate for the job, says yes.
Mona, summoned by Manohar, arrives and is also given a job as a dance-and-music teacher at the school. Manohar gives the directors a cock-and-bull story about Mona and him needing two separate rooms because there’s been a death in the family, so they can’t stay together. He’s too nervous to tell Mona that he’s trying to pass her off as his wife—
—but the way things turn out, he’s forced to confess to her. Fortunately, Mona agrees, and they continue with the charade, with more complications when everybody in the school begins to believe that Mona’s pregnant.
One day, the snoopy Devi—the ex-music teacher, now the calisthenics teacher—overhears Mona and Manohar one day and discovers that they aren’t married. Ah-ha! She goes off, threatening to tell the directors and have the young couple-who-aren’t-a-couple dismissed at once. Probably also jailed for fraud, she says.
Manohar has a solution to offer: Mona and he should go and get married at once. After all, that will serve the purpose; and he’s loved Mona since they were children. Mona agrees, so they go off to the court and get married. Mona’s a bit put out that the ‘ceremony’ is so short and there’s only one unprepossessing certificate to show for it. But the magistrate assures them that they are indeed married now.
Not realising, unfortunately, that his retirement date—which he thinks is the next day—has actually already passed. According to the gazette (which his clerk later shows him) he’s been retired for a day now, so is legally no longer a magistrate and not authorised to perform any marriages.
By the time the magistrate’s clerk informs his boss that the Mona-Manohar marriage is null and void, and rushes off to catch up with the young people and let them know—the directors have already thrown Mona and Manohar out. Devi and the ayah (Tuntun) have been deputed to hand over the couple’s belongings to them.
The magistrate’s clerk meets Mona and Manohar in a park where they are sitting on a bench and quarrelling, each blaming the other for their dismissal from the school.
They’re so annoyed that they pay no attention to the clerk, and eventually go their separate ways, vowing never to meet again, all the time unaware that they aren’t really married.
Manohar is lucky enough to soon get another job, this time in a music school run by Professor Anand (Manmohan Krishna) and his associate Krishna (Rajni?). Professor Anand and Krishna tell Manohar that they have a policy of employing only unmarried people in their school; married people have too many distractions, they feel, that stop them from devoting themselves to their work. Manohar hastily assures them that he’s a bachelor.
…which, though it gets him the job, also draws the unwanted attention of Krishna, who’s soon so besotted by Manohar that she’s dogging his footsteps and trying her best to ensnare him.
But Manohar discovers he has company in his misfortunes. Also now employed at the school, and pretending to be unmarried, and being subjected to overtures of love (in this case from Professor Anand) is Mona.
How do Mona and Manohar get out of this soup? And when—if they do—do they realise they aren’t actually married? And what happens of Rai Sahib, who’s so hell-bent on marrying Mona?
What I liked about this film:
The light-heartedness of it all. Only bits of the film are laugh-out-loud funny, but there’s a general thread of farce and humour running through it all. Dholak has a lot of little details that I found funny: the three-member board of directors of the first school where Mona and Manohar teach, for instance, have a habit of holding sudden, impromptu meetings: one of them yells “Meeting!” and all three of them go into a huddle, no matter where they happen to be at the moment. Rai Sahib’s nasal way of speaking—and his constant quoting of his long-dead father’s wishes: “Bade Rai Sahib marte waqt keh gaye thhe…” (“The old Rai Sahib, when he was dying, said…”)—is funny, but even more so when Mona and Manohar imitate him behind his back.
There is a irreverent and totally farcical touch to Dholak that sets it apart from other Hindi films; in fact, it reminded me a lot of the 30’s and 40’s Hollywood comedies—films like The Doctor Takes a Wife or Mr and Mrs Smith, for example. The humour is similar (one of the situations is also similar to what happens in Mr and Mrs Smith), and the denouement is more like what I’d expect from Hollywood than from Bollywood.
Meena Shorey and Ajit. As much—if not more—fun as Meena Shorey and Motilal. And Ajit is both gorgeous, and blessed with a flair for comedy. I wish he’d done more roles like this.
What I didn’t like:
After much thinking… nothing. I loved all of it.