Dholak (1951)

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.

Shyam Sunder’s music. Hulla-gulla la-ila and Mausam aaya jai rangeen are my favourites, both very tuneful and well picturised too.

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.


42 thoughts on “Dholak (1951)

  1. My God! You were able to locate Dholak! Great. I’ve been searching for it for years, after I first saw Ek Thi Ladki where I first discovered Meena.

    How can I lay my hands on this movie? Any ideas?


    • I rented this from seventymm, the video rental company I subscribe to. But I checked this on http://www.induna.com too, and they have both the DVD as well as the VCD for sale. It’s a Friends video production, but better that than nothing! I suppose you could try and find the Indus Video production – maybe online? – since Indus have a slightly less obtrusive logo than Friends. I am certainly going to look for Indus, because I loved this so much, I’ve decided I want to buy it for myself!


    • The CD of the film Dholak ( 1951 ) was available in market. It’s one song sung by late Shamshad Begum can be included in the list of the best songs of Shamshad Begum. The music of this melodious song was composed by less known Shyam Sunder. It was picturized on Yashodhara Katju & the song goes like that :

      Mere dil me aaiye,
      meri nazar me aaiye,
      dono ghar hain aapke,
      chaahe jahan bas jaaiye.

      Other songs of the film are :

      – Halla gulla laai la , halla gulla ( if you heard in your childhood).
      – Chori chori , aag si , dil me laga kar chal diye ( sung by Sulochana Kadam).


  2. Never heard of this movie. It sounds to be such a light hearted movie. Love the irony of it that once they lose job because they are not married and then when they think they are married, they get a job with the condition of being unmarried.
    I’ll look up the songs soon!


    • Try http://www.induna.com, Sharmi. They have it, though the version they’ve got is by Friends, which I personally try to avoid because Friends’ logo is all over the screen. The version I watched is by Indus Video, which is marginally better. This one was rented, so I’ve no idea where one could buy it.


  3. Oh, I love Dholak too! And I’m glad I’m not the only one who saw similarties between it and Mr. and Mrs. Smith and other Hollywood comedies of the 40s.

    It’s such a modern film in tone and attitude, no? Though ironically, I don’t think a movie like this would get made today in India….the plot, with it’s irreverence towards the “sacred” institute of marriage would be considered too bold nowaday!:-D


    • You are right about Dholak being very modern in tone and attitude – I can’t think of many other 50’s (especially not early 50’s) films that had such a flippant attitude towards ‘important’ things like employment and parent-offspring relationships, and most vital, love and marriage. This one breezily goes about treating all of these otherwise sacrosanct Indian institutions with a charming lack of reverence! You’re also probably right that even today nobody would dare to make something that teases marriage so…. :-))


  4. It sounds a delightful film. There are very few out and out humorous films in Hindi, aren’t there? Even the light-hearted ones become serious after intermission :) I’m going to look out for this one.


    • I’ve held, for a long time, that Hindi cinema tends to look down upon comedy as perhaps below its dignity. I can almost count on my fingertips the comedies that are comedy all through – not slapstick ‘comic side plot’ style, and not the romantic drama style, that have a little bit of light-hearted fluff in the beginning. Dekh Kabira Roya, Padosan, Pyaar Kiye Jaa and now Dholak among the older films; Golmaal, Chupke-Chupke, Chashme Baddoor among the later ones… and now a few, like the delightfully dark (at times) Maalamaal Weekly. Goodness, it’s sad when a country finds it so difficult to laugh.


  5. So it really is as good as I remember it? :D Great! Now I can go buy it. I saw this years ago on DD – they had begun telecast of oldies on Thursday afternoons, sometime in the late 80s, and I discovered a lot of old Ajit and Prem Nath films there. This was the best of the lot, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Ajit after this. Never having seen any Hollywood screwball comedies back then, the similarities between them and this film did not strike me at the time. Now, of course, I wonder which Hollywood film this was “inspired” by. Long experience has taught me that if it is light-hearted and fun, without a “message” about family/duty/honor, then it is most likely a straight lift from a Hollywood film!


    • I remember watching some early Prem Nath films around that time (Naujawan is what I remember best), but somehow seemed to have missed the Ajit films – though I do recall seeing Nastik. How did I miss Dholak?!! Loved this film, every bit of it. Thank you for recommending it! :-)

      Oh, and by the way: I was reading an article on Roop K Shorey the other day, and it seems he was highly influenced by Hollywood. So you just may be right!


  6. Hulla hulla is a lovely number, i’ve always found young Ajit handsome and i remember commenting months ago either on here or somewhere else on why he never made it as a top hero???
    I see shades of Jeene ki raah in the storyline with the whole lying to get a job thing


    • Yes, the ‘lying to get a job’ thing is reminiscent of Jeene ki Raah. This one, though, is tons more fun, and there’s none of the melodrama and sadness of Jeene ki Raah here.

      I do wonder why Ajit never made it to top hero, considering he was so good looking (and not a bad actor, either). He started off opposite actresses who went on to be big stars too – Meena Kumari, Madhubala, etc. And then not too far along the way, he slipped into either B-grade films like Marine Drive and Tower House or into doing negative roles as in Naya Daur, before of course turning into undiluted villain. I wonder what was the reason behind that…


  7. Lovely!!! Finally this movie gets some publicity.

    I found the songs of this movie on youtube and fell madly in love with them. Especially “hulla gulla” and “mausam aaya hai rangeen”, though the others are pretty good too. Shyam Sunder’s music. I noticed that there was no imdb entry so I tried to get whatever info I could from the net and sent in an imdb “new film” entry. They rejected it because they apparently did not have enough info. I re-sent it with some more info and got rejected again. I stopped with that. They can be really unreasonable sometimes.

    From the songs I could make out this was a fun movie. Reading the review only vindicates this. I now need to watch this. Love Meena Shorey, love Ajit.

    Thanks, Madhu.


  8. This sounds like a lovely film. I will have to find it!

    The IMDB is like Wikipedia. People enter movies and information about them and then it is verified by the staff at the IMDB. There is a whole section on the site about submitting films and other information. I wish I had time to enter some of these films or add to incomplete credits. The IMDB is a wonderful resource and is an example of what is and can be great about the Web.


  9. Sounds like a lovely delightful movie, which unlike others in this period doesn’t take itself very seriously. Loved the portion where the magistrate found out that he is retired.

    The movie also reminded me of a similar incident with a close friend who got a job in UAE that required him to be married (why? im still puzzled). He lied that he is married, and his parents found him a match and got him married within 1 month just so he could accept the position :)


    • In this day and age, your pal was required to be married in order to get a job? My goodness. I’d thought it a flight of fancy even for a film way back in the 50’s, but now? Whew!!

      You hit the nail on the head about Dholak not taking itself seriously. That’s absolutely it! So few films like that around, isn’t it? :-(


    • I don’t think so… Ranvir Shorey was born in 1972. Roop K Shorey passed away in 1973 (at the age of 56), and I can’t find any record of him having married again after Meena Shorey left him to pursue her career in Pakistan. So there’s possibly no connection, unless through a brother or something of Roop Shorey’s.


      • Meena Shorey was Rook K Shorey’s second wife. He was already a married man with kids when Meena married him.

        However, I don’t think Ranvir Shorey is related to him. Even if he is, he can only be his grandson considering that he was born in 1972.


  10. I had read this review earlier too but wanted to comment only after watching the movie as you have praised it so much. Dholak is definitely a highly delightful watch and proved to be worth of my time. However I could not make out the reason behind titling the movie as Dholak (membranophone) as the story (or any song in the movie) has anything to do with that.


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