Albela (1951)

The last time I visited my parents, my father lent me a couple of DVDs—old Hindi films (whose pa is he anyway?!) which he particularly likes. One was Ratan, which I’ve yet to see; the other was this. “Bhagwaan is hard to accept as a hero,” my father said. “But the music is C Ramchandra at his best.” I agree, on both counts. Watch Albela for C Ramchandra’s score. And yes, also for Geeta Bali at her loveliest and brightest.

Otherwise too the film isn’t bad—at least not through most of it. It is a trifle too melodramatic in places, and many of the scenes that I suppose were meant to be funny didn’t amuse me a bit. But the story is a simple one of the usual family drama genre, and there are some known faces here.
The family in question is that of Pyarelal (Bhagwaan). Pyaarelal lives with his parents (Badriprasad and Pratima Devi), his brother (?), the brother’s wife Malti (a very young and fresh-faced Dulari) and Pyarelal’s younger sister Bimla (? Bimla Kumari, as Tom Daniel tells me; better known as the actress who appears in this classic song, and this).

Bimla’s wedding has been fixed, and the paterfamilias is beginning to get worried about where the money to pay for the festivities is going to come from. He says that he has managed to save Rs 1,000; if Pyarelal and his elder brother between them contribute a further Rs 1,000, they’ll be able to pull through. Pyarelal airily assures everybody that he’ll be able to do that, and then goes off to eat his dinner and be sung to by Bimla.

Unfortunately, destiny—and Pyarelal’s passion for the theatre—plays a rude trick on them. Pyarelal is so fond of naach-gaana that he goes nearly everyday to the theatre. When he isn’t at the theatre feasting his eyes on the prima donna Asha (Geeta Bali), he’s singing and prancing about in office. And just now, when he’s getting ready to ask his boss for a loan to pay for Bimla’s wedding… bang! The boss barges in on Pyarelal’s shenanigans and, sick of Pyarelal’s constant neglect of his work, sacks him. Pyarelal is given Rs 100 in full clearance of his dues, and is told to get lost.

As if that wasn’t enough, worse news awaits him at home: his brother says that his (the brother’s) boss has refused to give him a loan. Everybody’s very despondent.
In the midst of all this sorrow, Pyarelal’s announcement that he has been kicked out of his job is the final straw on the camel’s back. Daddy throws a fit and slaps Pyarelal; Mummy tries to intervene; and it all ends with Pyarelal leaving the house and vowing that he will return only when he has become a big artiste. His mother, heartbroken at his departure, gives him her blessings but is unable to stop him from going.

Pyarelal goes to the office of the Eastern Theatrical Company, where he manages to get hold of the manager (Sundar). Also with the manager is the beauteous Asha, and Pyarelal, seeing her up close, is instantly and irredeemably besotted. His pleas to be allowed an audition, however, fall on deaf ears: the manager tells him to leave an address where they can contact him if need be.

Even though Pyarelal puts up an impromptu show on the road outside the theatre, he remains jobless.
One evening, though, fortune smiles on Pyarelal. He discovers that the house outside which he’s been sitting is that of Asha. He barges in, begging her for a job, and when she says she doesn’t have the authority—that rests with the manager—Pyarelal asks her for any employment she can give him. Anything.

Pyarelal ends up washing dishes in Asha’s home, and sings songs while he goes about doing that. Accompanying him is Chameli (?), who’s been cooking at Asha’s house for the past two years in the hope that someday she will finally be noticed and will strike it rich as an actress.

Luckily for Pyarelal, Asha hears his singing and is very impressed with his talent. She recommends him to the theatre manager, but Pyarelal’s first audition is a bit of a disaster (he is—inexplicably, since he’s a singer—asked to dance, and proves to have two left feet). Asha, however, is so convinced of Pyarelal’s potential that she decides to coach him, and before we know it, Pyarelal can shake a leg as well as any singing star. And Asha, the first time she sees him in a suit, falls in love with him. (Yes, there’s no accounting for tastes).

Meanwhile, disaster strikes Pyarelal’s family. While Pyarelal’s mother and Malti have been away at a neighbour’s (the menfolk, in any case, were out), Bimla has left the house unattended. Someone has stolen the thousand rupees that had been saved for Bimla’s wedding. Now Pyarelal’s father is shrieking at Bimla, hitting her with his walking stick, and telling her he wishes she hadn’t been born.

With the family already in such dire straits, they’re even more devastated when Bimla’s father-in-law to be (or not to be, as it turns out) arrives. When Bimla’s father reveals the state of their finances, the man calls off the wedding. Bimla’s parents try everything to persuade him: pleading with him and vowing that if he pays for the wedding now, they’ll pay him back later, as soon as they’ve saved up enough money. It doesn’t work, though, and he departs in a huff.

While Bimla’s father is busy cursing her all over again, Bimla’s mother collapses and falls so seriously ill that she has to be hospitalised. Fortunately, there is a government-run charity hospital nearby, so they don’t have to pay a paisa for her treatment. On the other hand, the hospital doesn’t seem to be too good; some time later, the mother dies.

What’s going to happen to this family? Will they be able to shake themselves free of the tragedy upon tragedy that seems to be striking them? Will Pyarelal—hopefully now on his way to becoming the artiste he’d always dreamed of being—finally make it and be able to help his family?

What I liked about this film:

C Ramchandra’s music, which is fabulous. Albela is chockfull of songs, all of them good ones. My favourites are the peppy Shola jo bhadke dil mera dhadke, Shaam dhale khidki tale, O betaji, arre o babuji, and the lilting lullaby, Dheere se aaja ri ankhiyan mein.

Geeta Bali! I realised, while I was writing this review, that I’ve never before reviewed a Geeta Bali starrer on this blog (Mujrim, perhaps, but she’s just got an item number there, not a substantial role). Albela, even though she doesn’t get the opportunity to show off her acting ability, is a good Geeta Bali showcase: she’s pretty and vivacious and lively enough to make up for a lot of the things that aren’t right with this film…

What I didn’t like:

Bhagwaan. I have never been a Bhagwaan fan, and the thought of a film that starred him as the hero didn’t exactly appeal to me. If Pyarelal had been a madcap hero, a walking cartoon all the time, it would have been okay by me. But he isn’t; he’s a romantic hero, a devoted son, dramatic and tragic and only very occasionally funny—and then too, not really. Halfway through the film, I was thoroughly sick of that curling lip, flaring nostrils and wide eyes that were supposed to be so comic. I can understand that Bhagwaan (who wrote, directed and produced Albela) wanted to star in his own film. But if he wrote it, he should have written a more believable role for himself.

Another thing that irritated me no end was the family: such a bunch of unlikeable people. Not that Albela is out of the ordinary in that respect; a lot of films from the 50’s and 60’s featured families like that, constantly hitting each other and berating each other and being thoroughly rude—besides being past masters at the art of emotional blackmail.

And the way Pyarelal treats Asha at the fag end of the film is unforgiveable. She’s a duffer too, for smiling prettily and forgiving him everything.

If only one could blot Bhagwaan and his filmi family out of Albela and replace them with someone like Ajit (and a more understanding, mature and emotionally intelligent set of parents and siblings)…

P.S. Pacifist has just reminded me that Tom Daniel had created a subtitled DVD version of Albela and made it available for anyone who’d like to watch. Richard made an announcement to this effect at the end of his post on the film. Do go check it out! (By the way, that’s what I call co-operation: Tom ‘cleaned up’ the audio and video, Ava subtitled some of the songs, Richard posted the announcement, and pacifist reminded me about it. Thank you, all)!


43 thoughts on “Albela (1951)

  1. Are you trying for sainthood? ;D Sitting through an entire film of Bhagwan Dada (he was apparently very popular in Bombay) should certainly earn you your rightful place in the house of saints!

    I LOVE the songs of this film, but one does not really have to watch the film (or the videos, for that matter) to enjoy them. And for Geeta Bali there are several other good films… Have you seen her in Farar (otherwise known as Dev Anand In Goa for some reason)? She is lovely there and one can feast one’s eyes on young and handsome Dev A.


  2. Ah, yes – I remember seeing Faraar years ago: both Dev Anand and Geeta Bali looked so good in that. Come to think of it, they made a great pair in all the films they acted in together: Jaal, Milaap (I LOVE this song!!), Faraar, Ferry, Baazi, Pocketmaar. Actually, come to think of it, Dev Anand would have made a good Pyarelal. Anyone would have made a good Pyarelal, as long as he wasn’t Bhagwaan! Yikes. I’m through with him; he was ghastly. :-(


  3. I actually thought Bhagwan was quite funny in some scenes. And this was the film that made me become sort of a fan of Geeta Bali for the first time. (I’d liked her in Baazi, but I thought this was a better showcase for her.)

    Dustedoff, I guess it’s true that you hadn’t written about any Geeta Bali starrers before this. (And don’t even think of calling Mujrim a Geeta Bali starrer – we know who the heroine was in that one! ;) ) So, it was kind of nice that you finally did here.

    BTW, if your father is recommending these films based on the soundtracks, then I think he has great taste. Albela is C. Ramchandra at his best (along with a few other C. Ramchandra films), but Naushad at his best – which is what Ratan is, IMO – is even better. Neither film is as good as its music, but neither is bad. I would give Ratan the edge, but I enjoyed Albela too.


  4. Richard, my father’s taste in films is governed by their sound tracks! My parents live in a small town where it’s impossible to buy DVDs of anything but new Hindi films, so when my parents bought a DVD player, I asked them if they wanted any particular DVDs, which I could order from Induna or perhaps search out in Delhi. My mother’s lists mainly consisted of Hitchcock. My father’s list included Ratan, Albela, Anhonee, Daag, Anmol Ghadi, Sangdil, Sazaa, Mela, Aan and a bunch of other films, not all of them necessarily fabulous films, but with great music. That’s my pa. ;-)


  5. Hehehe.
    I really don’t know what to make out of Bhagwan. I certainly don’t like him as a hero. He makes Kishore Kumar look like having an abundance of hero material :-D

    I’ve watched this film right up to the part when their family misfortunes take stage and I thought I needed a break….I’m still enjoying my break ;-)

    Though one must agree that when it comes to dancing he is surprisingly elegant considering all things.

    People were very simple hearted then, to accept Bhagwan in a hero’s role. I wonder if this film was a success.


    • From what my father tells me, I think Albela was quite a hit, but that was mainly because of the music! Honestly, I don’t blame you for still being on that break. ;-)

      When I was watching this film, I thought: am I being too shallow to think that there’s a certain type of man – looks-wise, mainly – that I associate with being a hero? But by that count, then, I don’t think either Kishore Kumar or Johnny Walker (though both very pleasant looking) would be acceptable to me as heroes. But really, I think both of them – and especially Johnny Walker – took on hero roles that were more comic than heroic. For instance, JW in Chhoomantar is a hero, but he’s also so funny, and so not melodramatic, that it doesn’t feel odd at all. Whereas Bhagwaan is, in my opinion, best in small doses in films like Chori-Chori or Agra Road. This one was all wrong as far as the casting of the hero went.


  6. I love ur pa, for loving the music of the films more than the plot and acting!
    Music is the strongest adhesive, which binds me to Hindi films as well!
    The way Bhagwan neglects his work at the office, even I would have fired him!!
    I know, Bhagwan is very hard to tolerate, the same is true for me as well. But my mother likes him, most probably because just like Bhagwan she also spent her childhood in Dadar chawl. And according to her accounts the life must have been somewhat like depicted in the film! ;-)
    AND the music of the film is sure great.
    I’ll go with bollyviewer here and jsut watch the songs on you tube and let the film be.
    The first screen cap is gorgeous!
    I think I also would have been ready to wash dishes at Geeta Bali’s place! (maybe for one day)
    Geeta Bali!!!!!! *sigh*


    • I suppose if your mum grew up in an atmosphere similar to what Bhagwaan experienced, that would be enough of a reason to like him! An affinity, I guess…

      I just checked my notes for Albela and discovered that it has twelve songs! So, even if you use a conservative estimate of about 3 minutes per song, you have over half an hour simply of songs. Add to that some quarrelling and yelling (family), some billing and cooing (Pyarelal and Asha) and some mindless antics (Pyarelal and the theatre manager), and it makes a lot of sense to simply watch all the songs on youtube. :-)

      By the way, that screen cap of Geeta Bali is from a song: O betaji, arre o babuji. That frame is towards the end of the song.


  7. Just watched ‘dheere se aajaa ri’, it is outrageous teh way Bhagwan behaves there. That he should spoil such a beautiful song for me is scandalous!
    *waving a fist in the air*


  8. I absolutely agree with you, Bhagwan as a hero and that to opposite Geeta Bali, No! No! I had a terrible time watching it long ago on TV. But the film was a super duper hit so who are we to complain . But there is one film where Bhagwan stars as a regular comedian and he is hilarious, I think it was a double role; the film was ‘Hum Do Daku’ produced by Kishore Kumar and Bhagwan had the weird name Guru Ghantal. I was a child but I remember laughing out loud throughout the film. Will I enjoy the film now as an adult? I sure think so.


    • Thank you, Shilpi, for the suggestion! Just the name Guru Ghantal brought a grin to my face. I’ll certainly keep an eye out for Hum Do Daku. I’ve never heard of it before, and a search reveals that it’s probably not out on DVD or even VCD yet… but at least it’s something to look out for!


  9. I’ve only ever seen or heard the songs, and they are fabulous. You can still sing them, after so many years. I think Bhagwan is a bit difficult to take as a hero, not only because of his looks, but also his ‘acting’ skills, rolling his eyes and all that. I find Kishor Kumar difficult too at times, when he overdoes it. But then, I find Raj Kapoor intolerable too some times. :)


    • “But then, I find Raj Kapoor intolerable too some times. :)”

      For me, that’s more often than not! Frankly, Raj Kapoor in his ‘lovable tramp’ roles never strikes as me as anything close to lovable. The squeaky voice, the liberal ‘“Ji!”, that palm held up beside his face as proof of his honesty… all of that irritates me no end.


          • Dustedoff, I thought you once said you liked Shree 420 too…

            Anyway, no interest here in going back to the old debate about Raj Kapoor. :)

            But has anyone seen Bawre Nain (1950)? I see clips of that one starring Raj Kapoor and Geeta Bali, and they look good. And I love that soundtrack, from Roshan…


            • Yes, Baanwre Nain had a wonderful soundtrack, didn’t it? I haven’t seen the film, but have heard the songs often enough to like them a lot.

              By the way, I do like one scene from Shree 420 – that one where he’s all tuxedoed, and is talking to Maya when he sweeps his palm down his face, changing expression as he goes… probably my favourite scene of Raj Kapoor’s.


        • I actually haven’t watched any Charlie Chaplin films since I was a kid, when nearly all his films were aired on television. I remember thinking some of them were quite funny, but others not so much. And I hated a lot of Chaplin’s mannerisms.


    • The story isn’t bad as such; it’s just the execution – the casting of the hero is all wrong, and as I mentioned, the family is very irritating. Otherwise, there are several plus points: a simple, not very complicated story; a very pretty heroine (yes, she’s really lovely, isn’t she?!), and great music. But if you have other films to watch, see those and keep this for watching when you have nothing else to see – or watch the songs on youtube.


  10. I caught ‘O betaji, arre o babuji’ today. It is indeed lovely. I wish it had a different hero. He is much too ‘jolly’ without enough ‘charm’. What I mean is, I imagine it would’ve even better with Relangi. For example,


  11. I’d never heard of Relangi before, but I’ve just been watching those two songs, and loved them! As you say, he’s got so much charm – you can see the mischief sparkle in his eyes. Fabulous! :-)

    By the way, I loved the music of that second song especially. Wonderful.


  12. I love the songs of “Albela” though I do wish CR hadn’t chosen to sing so many of them himself!:-) As for the film, well…Geeta Bali is always great to watch.:-)


    • When I first discovered that C Ramchandra sang most of the songs of Albela himself (which was before I actually heard all the songs), I was a bit sceptical too. But now, in hindsight, I can say I didn’t really mind. I thought he was a bit like a male Suraiya – not a perfect voice, not superbly trained, but with a sort of raw charm about it, which was really quite endearing! :-)


  13. Pacifist has just reminded me that Tom Daniel had created a subtitled DVD version of Albela and made it available for anyone who’d like to watch. Richard made an announcement to this effect at the end of his post on the film. Do go check it out! (By the way, that’s what I call co-operation: Tom ‘cleaned up’ the audio and video, Ava subtitled some of the songs, Richard posted the announcement, and pacifist reminded me about it. Thank you, all)!


  14. i’ll surely look out for this Richard posted lots of lovely songs from time to time on his blog which had me interested and Geeta Bali in that first screen cap is simply GORGEOUSSSS. Urmila Matondkar does indeed look a LOT like her

    Merry Christmas and a prosperous New year from me


    • And a very Merry Christmas and happy New Year to you too, bollywoodeewana! Yes, do try and get hold of Albela (you can download Tom’s subtitled and optimised version) – I’m sure you’ll enjoy both the music and the sheer gorgeousness of Geeta Bali. :-)


  15. I remember reading in a Bhagwan interview that Albela had a contemporary release against Awara (1951). Yet, the movie held its own not just because of its music, but also its story line and performances. In the interview, Bhagwan also mentioned that he became a star after that and began the trend of stars buying the latest available car in the market.

    This movie truly deserves all the recognition.


    • I am not sure Bhagwaan was being very truthful when he said he “became a star” after Albela. My father remembers the reactions to this film and says that the music was the main highlight – and Geeta Bali to some extent. Most people couldn’t identify with Bhagwaan, especially not as a hero. And if he did become the star he fondly believed himself to be, one would have expected a lot more films starring him to be made – and not just those which he himself produced and directed. I wonder how many of those there are…


  16. :)))) In Defence of All Us Plain Looking Ghaati Males :))))
    We may not have set even a single woman’s heart a-flutter, but even we have the right to be a Bollywood hero (albeit short-lived.).
    (**** The Ghost Of Bhagwan ****)

    I identify with many of the comments made earlier — “Great Songs, Less-Than-Avg Hero”, “Just Watch for the Songs”, “C Ramchandra great singing & music”.

    This is most certainly a definitive Bombay movie, I grew up watching this one on streets & in makeshift auditoriums. The movie-watching would proceed as follows :-
    a) People would tolerate the movie until the first song.
    b) The song would be re-played anywhere from 2 – 4 times.
    c) When the regular movie resumed, movie-goers would soon loose their patience and demand it be forwarded to the next song.
    d) The song would be re-played anywhere from 2 – 4 times.
    e) Repeat c & d until the end.
    Most movie-goers would be dancing to the racier songs.

    There is a great story involving Bhagwan, Lata Mangeshkar, C. Ramchandra, & C. Ramchandra’s wife; but it would be wise not to put it in public domain (It probably exists in C. Ramchandra’s autobiography.)


    • How do you know you haven’t set a single woman’s heart a-flutter? :-))) My husband insists he’s plain, but I keep telling him he’s the most gorgeous male who ever walked the Earth!! Well, I can see he probably isn’t (considering how I go on harping about Cary Grant and Tyrone Power and Robert Mitchum and Shammi Kapoor, even in his company…) but still, I do adore him. :-D

      I love your description of how the film would be played. I can well imagine it – the songs are really so wonderful, and Bhagwaan, frankly, isn’t just plain-looking, he looks (and acts) a buffoon. Not a good combination, and I can understand why people would clamour to have the movie move on to the next song, rather than sit through the whole thing.

      Oh, now you’ve got me very curious about what that story is. I haven’t the faintest idea. Please, please tell – and you needn’t put it in the public domain, no? After all, you are on Facebook with me, so just mail it to me. Please!


  17. Funny no body mentioned that the ” Big B” got his dance moves from Bhagwaan dada!
    And what was the raunchy story all about – did you get the details.


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