Agra Road (1957)

I should have smelt something fishy when I saw this:

That looks like Ravindra Dave was doing all his unemployed relatives a favour. Or, more ominous, he’d cut corners and employed people whom he could bully into accepting fees in kind—Diwali dinners hosted at the Ravindra Dave home?
Two hours down the line, and I am certain that Ravindra Dave didn’t really have the money to have been making a full-length film. A short, perhaps; but not this.

Look what happened.

First, the equipment seems to be second-hand. Several scenes, especially in the second half of the film, have strange smudges of black wandering across part of the frame, as if a little cloud of insects had alighted on the camera. Perhaps the cameraman had gone to sleep and didn’t notice, but those black specks (large specks!) move about across the frame for up to a minute at a time. Really insects, or some inherent defect in the camera? For the sake of all those Daves, I hope this is merely damage to the reel over the half century since this film was made.

And then this. The climax of the film takes place in a theatre, which has a distinctive door:

A couple of scenes down the line, there’s a scene in a hospital, where our man Vijay Anand is pacing about in front of a door that looks familiar. (Don’t miss the vase of flowers beside the door).

One set doubling for several settings?

Then, there is the sad fact that after a somewhat promising start, the story of Agra Road goes all over the place. I’m guessing again, now: was the writer Om Dogra not paid because of budget cuts? Did an uncredited Dave take over, with not the slightest idea of how to do a screenplay? Or did Om Dogra, unpaid and embittered, stick around but have his revenge by going berserk with the story?

But, to give you an idea of what the story is all about:
Seth Dhanraj (?) is a wealthy man who lives in Agra with two daughters—Sarita (Shakila) and Seema (Nanda), and a servant (Dhumal). Sarita is in love with Sunil (Vijay Anand), the son of a friend of Seth Dhanraj’s. Sunil and Sarita’s love is universally acknowledged and accepted; in fact, their fathers have now decided that their offspring can get married soon.

Before that can happen, though, a disagreement crops up. Sarita’s father insists that after the wedding, Sunil stay on as a gharjamaai (a son-in-law who lives with his in-laws, rather than taking his wife to stay with his parents). Sunil’s father puts his foot down; a gharjamaai is a bit of a wimp, in his opinion.
The two old men have a tiff over this point, and Sarita’s father reminds Sunil’s father of a long-ago debt—a loan that Sunil’s father had taken from Seth Dhanraj and has not yet cleared. Clear that debt or face the consequences, an angry Seth Dhanraj says.

So the two fathers fall out, but Sarita and Sunil continue to meet each other on the sly. I really love the chemistry between these two: they’re not merely romantic, but very affectionate, and good friends.
One evening, Sarita is surreptitiously chatting in the garden with Sunil when her father arrives, and standing at the door—from where he can just about see a man with Sarita—asks whom she’s talking to. Sarita panics (Dad is unlikely to be pleased that she’s meeting Sunil on the sly), and blurts out that it’s a lawyer. Seth Dhanraj has been meaning to prosecute Sunil’s father for the outstanding debt, and has asked his clerk to find a lawyer.

In his hurry to make his escape, Sunil slips and falls, muddying his face and mussing up his hair; Seth Dhanraj’s clerk, who comes out too, also falls and loses his spectacles, which Sunil quickly dons himself. He and Sarita assume that Seth Dhanraj won’t be able to recognise Sunil, now bespectacled, messy-haired and dark (I think anybody who can’t tell the difference between a muddy face and brownface must have terrible eyesight). All goes well; Seth Dhanraj is very pleased with this new lawyer, who soon seems to spend all his time at Seth Dhanraj’s house.

In the meantime, Sarita’s younger sister Seema befriends a teenaged orphan, Bholu (? Satish Vyas?), whom she wants to paint a picture of. The painting—out on a hill, with Bholu playing his flute—proceeds happily until one day, when Seema nearly steps off the hill. Bholu, rushing to stop her, knocks over her painting, which annoys Seema no end; she hasn’t realised that Bholu, by his swift action, has actually saved her life. She loses her temper and slaps Bholu. So hard, that Bholu tumbles off the hill, is badly injured, and loses his voice as a result.

Now Seema is very contrite, and wheedles Seth Dhanraj into paying for Bholu’s treatment. When he’s recovered from his injuries (even though his voice is gone forever), she insists that Bholu come and live with them. So Bholu is informally adopted by Seth Dhanraj, and goes to live with Sarita, Seema and their father.

Back to the Sarita-Sunil saga. Seth Dhanraj, it turns out, was never fooled by Sunil’s masquerade as the lawyer. He has been pulling the wool over his daughter’s and her lover’s eyes all this while, and now very benevolently tells them so. He also says that he’s happy to not have Sunil as a gharjamaai, and he will equally happily forgive the debt that Sunil’s father owes him. Life’s too short to bear grudges.
If only he knew just how short his life’s going to be.

Now another character appears: Niranjan (Amarnath), Seth Dhanraj’s nephew. This man is a crook of the worst sort, and constantly fawning over Seth Dhanraj. Unknown to his uncle and his cousins, Niranjan is deeply in debt, and his main aim in coming to visit them is to steal money from Seth Dhanraj’s safe. This he attempts to do one night, but is caught red-handed by Seth Dhanraj—whom Niranjan immediately stabs to death. When Seema, who hears the sound of the scuffle, emerges from her room, Niranjan bashes her on the head, felling her too.

And, to hide his crime, he takes both bodies off to the Yamuna and pitches them into the river.
The next morning, Sarita (who knew Seema and their father had been planning a boat ride early that day) doesn’t start getting worried till the afternoon. Then, fretful, she phones the police, and they are finally able to find Seth Dhanraj’s body. The general consensus is that he’s drowned in a boating accident. Seema isn’t found (is any heroine/supporting actress/other female ever really drowned in a Hindi film?), except by two men who see her unconscious by the shore.

They rescue her, but oh, disaster! They’re evil men, who tie her up in their den while they play cards, drink and leer at a dancer. What they don’t know is that one of the taporis (Bhagwan) who’s visiting the den is actually Mr Khanna, a policeman in disguise. He knocks out all the villains, rescues Seema, and takes her back to Seth Dhanraj’s house…

…where there is now no Sarita to be found.
Niranjan, you see, has realised (with some help from Seth Dhanraj’s clerk, who is in cahoots with Niranjan) that with the Seth and Seema dead, Sarita is now heir to Seth Dhanraj’s millions. If Sarita were to die too, Niranjan—sole surviving member of the family—would become the heir. So Sarita must be bumped off, and where better to do that than in big, bad Bombay? (I don’t see why one can’t murder people in Agra—Niranjan seems pretty adept at it, but anyway).
Since Sarita won’t accompany Niranjan to Bombay on any pretext, he comes up with a convoluted, Woh Kaun Thi?-ish plan: he dons Seth Dhanraj’s clothes, and uses his cane to project shadows of himself onto the wall of Sarita’s room, his voice disguised to sound like her father’s, as he hollowly begs her to come to him.

In just one ‘haunting’ Sarita goes more or less berserk and thinks her father is summoning her. Sunil and Niranjan call for a doctor, who promptly recommends a change of scene. And Niranjan has the perfect solution: Sarita (and Sunil, to help keep her company) must come with Niranjan to Bombay. Where Sarita hopes to get well, and Niranjan hopes to murder her…

To see whether he succeeds, watch Agra Road. On the other hand, since almost no heroine from a classic Hindi film (with the exception of Vimmi in Humraaz) ever gets killed, spare yourself the trouble.

What I liked about this film:

The music. Roshan scores some lovely tunes for this film. My favourites are the delightful Unse rippy-tippy ho gayi (Geeta Dutt and Rafi, the latter yodelling as well as he sings) and O mister o mister, which sounds strangely familiar to me—I have a feeling it’s inspired from a Western tune. Can anyone recognise it? (Addendum: much thanks to kenjn60, who identified this as Woman (U-huh) by Rosemary Clooney and Jose Ferrer. Yes! O mister o mister is very obviously the same tune. Looks like Roshan didn’t get paid much either for this score…).

Shakila and Vijay Anand, as Sarita and Sunil. I love their interactions in the first half of the film: there’s an easy camaraderie and affection between their characters that is a pleasant change from the usual Hindi film couple. Very sweet! And they look good too.

What I didn’t like:

All that I’ve listed in the first few paragraphs of this post. Even if I restrained myself from nitpicking, this is not a great film. Not even a good one. It might have been better with a little more attention to detail, and with more intelligent scripting. Perhaps if the audience hadn’t been let on to the fact that Niranjan was the villain—from almost the moment he appears—this would have been a tolerably good suspense film. As such, it’s just a tedious tale, with the only suspense being when and how Sarita, Sunil, Mr Khanna etc will discover the truth behind Niranjan’s facade. And there are just too many mysterious motives, illogical turns, pointless actions and holes in the plot to make this a believable crime story anyway.

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49 thoughts on “Agra Road (1957)

  1. You are so right, the first part sounds so lovely. i love films with mistaken identities however silly they are.
    And love Shakila and Nanda. I’m sure you got the film because of Nanda.
    Lots of Daves spoil a film it seems!

    • Actually, I got the film because of Shakila! ;-) – which was just as well, because her character was relatively bearable compared to the character poor Nanda ended up playing! Seema was so silly and weepy most of the time that it really got on my nerves. Not a good Nanda showcase.

  2. Having seen only one other film by Ravindra Dave, it appears that this is probably how he generally does things i.e., bungles a promising premise. I am talking of his Raaz (1967) with Rajesh Khanna, Babita, and IS Johar. It too had lovely, lovely music by Ravi but too much of it, must’ve had 10 songs or so! Gebruss did a delightful bit on it some time back.

    http://antarrasramblings.blogspot.com/2009/08/raaz-1967.html

    To come back to ‘Agra Road’, Nanda and Goldie Anand look SO young and cute :-)

  3. Sorry, ‘Raaz’s’ music was by Kalyanji Anandji, not Ravi. Some really lovely numbers and one that would fit right into your Mukesh post :-) It’s ‘Dil sambhale sambhalta nahin’.

    • It’s been quite a while since I watched Raaz, but that link to Antarra’s review of it refreshed (if you can call it that!) my memory of it… and I realised that even there, one knows the villain from the beginning of the film. Of course, the fact that there is some suspense about Kumar – is he, is he not a reincarnation of another man – but that seems to be all I recall of the film. Oh, and the songs. I love them! :-)

  4. Oh my dear the whole thing sounds great! ANd Vijay looks so young and sweet. I think you are absolutely right about what must have befallen the screenplay- its a total gem! Great review- thanks

  5. “Or did Om Dogra, unpaid and embittered, stick around but have his revenge by going berserk with the story?”

    That’s what I’m going to go with :D Hilarious!

    • He doesn’t seem to have done much writing, at any rate! The only films with which Om Dogra’s credited on imdb are Burmah Road and Do Ustad (not even Agra Road). Perhaps not to many film-makers were willing to take the chance of having him turn vengeful on them… ;-)

  6. It can’t have been that low-budget a film. Because Shakeela was a big actress. Maybe poor Ravindra Dave had to pay all his money for the actors, and had none left over for Dogra. As is commonly the case even these days. :)

    I did see that scene with Nanda and Bholu and the next scene at the hospital on cable, but didn’t stick around to watching it.

    But Shakeela and Vijay Anand do look good together, don’t they?

    • Yes, Shakila and Vijay Anand look gorgeous together! And their interactions – except in the second half of the film, when ‘misunderstandings’ arise – are very sweet too.

      Looks like Roshan didn’t get paid much either. As kenjn60 figured out, O mister o mister is an ‘inspired’ song – very inspired and with very little changed from the original! Shakila probably got most of Ravindra Dave’s paisa, as you suggest. ;-)

  7. One movie less for me to watch. :D Thanks for the warning!

    Or did Om Dogra, unpaid and embittered, stick around but have his revenge by going berserk with the story?” Aah… revenge of the writer is by far the best explanation for “the curse of the second half” that strikes more movies than it spares.

    • I noticed that Om Dogra is also the person who scripted Do Ustad – which you reviewed and said was pretty entertaining! So I’m assuming it wasn’t a case of lack of talent, just sheer vengeance! ;-)

  8. LOL! It looks like the credits for my student film. (Which when it was shown at our festival, the credits did get a laugh – only two people in the cast weren’t related to me!)

    • Heh!! :-D And how much multitasking did you do?

      That reminds me of Mehmood’s character in Pyaar Kiye Jaa: he was the producer, director, hero, and music director of his film. Until the Shashi Kapoor character was hired, also the script writer and lyricist.

      • I wrote, directed, produced, photographed, edited and chose the music, which I edited. I can’t act so the world was saved from that. ;)

        I’ll have to look for Pyaar Kiye Jaa. It sounds like I could identify with that!

        As far as Agra Road is concerned, it sounds like the people involved *really* wanted to make a film even though they couldn’t afford to. And although the results aren’t always stellar, I have to admire the spirit behind it. Sort of like Ed Wood. :) And, much better films with bigger budgets have fallen victim to “the curse of the second half.”

        I never made a film longer than 15 minutes. It’s easier to avoid the curse that way. ;)

        • Brava, Suzanne! I am very impressed. Really.

          And yes, thinking over it, I do agree that one should laud the spirit behind a lot of these low budget films that got made in the 50’s and 60’s: even if they weren’t technically brilliant, even if they didn’t always make sense, and even if the audience got some unintentional laughs out of the film, it didn’t really matter, eventually. At least one was entertained!

          My main problem with Agra Road is that the story is so not quite there. Some good plotting, and this could’ve been a very decent thriller. Anyway – at least the music is good and the lead pair is easy on the eyes! :-)

  9. Regarding the ‘Mister O Mister” song, the melody is almost identical to a song from the early fifties which ran “woman, o woman, o what can she be? Whatever she is, she’s ne-ce-ssa-ry!” I don’t know who sang it, and I suspect that too is adapted from some older song.

    • Kenjn60, thank you sooooo much! I was certain I’d had that tune before, but couldn’t for the life of me remember which song it was. Thanks ever much – I’m correcting that in the review right now.

      For everybody who’d like to listen to it, here’s the link on youtube:

    • Well, I have come across much worse films (till date, my all-time ‘bad suspense’ film is Black Cat, which wasn’t even redeemed by the presence of Balraj Sahni and Minoo Mumtaz)… but Agra Road is a close second. :-)

  10. One can be thankful that the hero wasn’t a Dave :-D.

    LOL @suzanne’s credits for the student film. :-D

    This is a fun review dustedoff, though I think the mosquito things are due to old print as I have seen similar things on prints of some other films.

  11. “… till date, my all-time ‘bad suspense’ film is Black Cat… ”

    Have you reviewed it? If not, can you please, please, please review it ;-)

    I love reading funny reviews of bad films… Please?

    • I’d rented the VCD from seventymm a year or so back, but after watching it, I couldn’t summon up the stamina to write a review of it! Since then, however, I’ve seen some more pretty horrid films because of which my tolerance levels have gone up. ;-) Will rent it again and review it, never fear!

  12. I myself notice similar names in too many films, bollywood sure knows how to keep it in the family. Sooraj Barjatya’s or the Barjatya’s films usually have different barjatya’s handling different things. You know i usually forget Vimi is the first filmi only Heroine to die before the climax

    • I think the only Barjatya films I’ve seen are Hum Saath-Saath Hain (which I found highly irritating) and Vivaah (slightly less irritating). He has a thing for families, no? Even the stories of his films centre around big obnoxiously happy families. I wonder if that’s got something to do with all his films being made by the Barjatyas handling just about every aspect of the film’s production…

    • Vijay Anand and Shakila, certainly. They’re worth it. Nanda… not much, even though otherwise I like her a lot. Here she’s a little too young (she’s billed as ‘Baby Nanda’, by the way), somewhat screechy and weepy and not even endearing in that chulbuli sort of way.

  13. Haha, this movie was a family affair. Dave family was not the only such family, of course. Ramse brothers are the most well known family of relatives who tended to make Hindi movies in 1970s. And they made quite a few horrible horror movies with all the ramse brothers adding their mite.

  14. I have come in late.That was some observation dustedoff about the Daves. There were countless films in the late fifties and sixties which initially showed a lot of promise only to taper off into an unholy mess.You are right about the shortage of funds. I remember hearing those days about some film or the other, “Oh the producer did not have money so a particular scene or scenes could not be shot.”

    • “There were countless films in the late fifties and sixties which initially showed a lot of promise only to taper off into an unholy mess.”

      So, so right, Shilpi! What Greta refers to as the ‘curse of the second half’!! It’s so sad, when you are so completely absorbed in a film, and then the second half lets you down so badly. :-(

  15. >:O

    GOLDIE AND SHAKILA! I never knew he acted in this. (I only remember 1957 for Nau Do Gyarah) Maybe I have to check it out… but all the Daves were so funny, I was ROFLing. The story seems a little all-over-the-place, though. Maybe it would’ve been better if Goldie himself directed and wrote it? :P

    • @bombaynoir: And I will echo Stuart and say, “You only remember 1957 for Nau Do Gyaarah? Not even for Paying Guest? ;-)

      @Stuart: an important thing you must consider here: bombaynoir is nuts about Dev Anand.

    • I was tempted to add that, but Goldie only directed Nau Do Gyarah. He didn’t do anything with Paying Guest. (Oh, but if you’re talking about Dev’s films, there’s Paying Guest, Baarish, umm… and Dushman. Yeah. :P)

      @Stuart: The first thing that comes to mind is Nau Do Gyarah. :PPP I think I watched too much of it!

      • Yes, I was thinking Dev Anand, not Vijay Anand. I haven’t seen Dushman yet, but Baarish isn’t one of my favourites – and while Paying Guest has fabulous songs – and Nutan and Dev Anand are great together, the end is terribly contrived. So, among the Dev Anand starrers of 1957, Nau Do Gyarah wins by a long shot for me!

        • Yeah, I haven’t seen Dushman or Baarish either (but I can tell from the poster that his outfit from Khoya Khoya Chand, it’s there too. :P) I love the first bit of Paying Guest – the way he tries to romance her is pretty cute and funny, but the ending courtroom drama was a total WTF moment for me. Especially when Dev goes hunting for clues and looks… stunned. O_O I love Nau Do Gyarah, because everything is so good about it! I don’t think many people could walk and chew gum at 22, let alone direct a film as good as Nau Do Gyarah!

              • Wow. Now I have to go look at Khoya khoya chaand again.

                Incidentally, in my family, we always associate that song with my mum saying, “Why on earth is Dev Anand running around swinging his arms like a gorilla?” My sister was a teenager then, I was perhaps 11 or so, but even now – more than 25 years later – we burst out laughing at the mere mention of the song. :-)

                And, mind you: my mum does like Dev Anand a lot!

                • Go go go! :D

                  Well, in my family, no one exactly likes Dev. My grandma does, but, not as much as me! :P And my father just doesn’t watch Hindi films. The first time I saw the video, I WTF-ed out. And nooo, it wasn’t a gorilla walk! I like to run about like him sometimes and once it drew laughs from my schoolmates. ;)

  16. Bholu is played by Satish Vyas. Tufan Aur Diya was a debue film for Satish Vyas, Nanda in lead roles with Rajendra Kumar following. The film was produced & directed by V. Shantaram.

  17. In my opinion,Shakila was really beautiful,smart,slim and tall heroine of yesteryears. She was a true muslim pathani beauty.I liked her all ADAS with clear voice and expressions.As far as her look in concerned, she was miles ahead of Madhubala,Meenakumari,Nutan and even Nanda.I have watched her older movies like Guest House, Tower house,Reshmi Rumal,Chalis Din and Chubis Ghante. of course China-town,Even in last Ustadonke ustad she looked very beautiful. We look just at her face not at other things at all Her screen presence is extremely cheerful and attractive. that is all.

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