The buy-a-film-because-of-a-song bug bites again. I’ve had this happen to me umpteen times, and the symptoms are invariably the same: I remember hearing a lovely song (generally back in the long-ago days of my childhood), and I think, if the music is so fabulous, what must the film be like? (Yes, a nincompoop’s logic, but what the hell). Sometimes, I discover on imdb that the film has a cast I like. Very occasionally, I even find that it has a director I have great faith in.
When a film, besides starring the beautiful Mala Sinha, also includes three more of my favourite actors—Ashok Kumar, Helen and Johnny Walker—and features a deliciously romantic song, I can’t not buy.
What I get is an Indianised version of Barbara Cartland mush. This is pure Desire of the Heart, which memsaab used so well as a comparison for Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. A marriage of convenience turns sour (or rather, doesn’t sweeten at all) because one partner is spirited and out for a good time, the other’s all wishy-washy and old-fashioned. Pyaar ka Sapna differs from RNBDJ in that the differences between the two people are more of upbringing than of age.
Here, Sudha (Mala Sinha) is the well-brought-up Hindu girl (there’s a lot of stress upon her being a good ‘Hindu girl’) who’s currently on a pilgrimage across India, accompanying her old mother (Durga Khote). On a train, they end up sharing a compartment with elderly (and wealthy) couple Jwala Prasad (Bipin Gupta) and his wife Parvati (Mridula Rani). Both husband and wife are very impressed with Sudha – so gentle and sweet and docile. Just the bahu they’ve been looking for to make their son Ramesh a home-loving man.
That remark worries Sudha’s mother a bit, but not enough for her to raise any objections when Jwala Prasad proposes a match between Sudha and Ramesh. Perhaps she’s just relieved that Sudha – who’s been rejected time and again because she doesn’t know any English – will finally be getting married.
Ramesh (Biswajeet), meanwhile, has just finished his graduation and is busy whooping it up. In the midst of all this happiness, party-pooper Jwala Prasad arrives one day all unannounced to tell Ramesh that he, Ramesh, will be getting married a week from now.
Ramesh tries to remonstrate – he doesn’t want to get married now, he wants to go abroad (for what, it’s not clear; perhaps just to continue the partying). He wants his independence. Since Jwala Prasad is the one supposed to be financing the phoren trip, he springs a nasty surprise on his son. Fine, you want to be independent, you finance your own trip. So Ramesh, under duress and ready to do anything to go to Europe, agrees. He’ll marry Sudha.
They get married, with Ramesh stubbornly not even looking at Sudha’s face through all the ceremonies and after. A few days later, he takes Rs 15,000 from Jwala Prasad – expenses for the trip to Europe – but when Jwala Prasad insists that Ramesh take Sudha with him, our hero does the dirty on everybody and absconds. He does, however, talk to Sudha (still not looking her in the face) and tells her that he’s leaving. He also gives her a letter that’ll enable her to get a divorce.
And off he goes. Sudha now finds herself caught in a nasty situation. Her mother-in-law, led astray by the malicious comments of a friend (Leela Misra in a small but unpleasant cameo), starts being cold – though thankfully not cruel.
Jwala Prasad, furious with his dissolute son, promptly disowns Ramesh and vows that he will get Sudha married elsewhere. Which, of course, sends Sudha into a panic. She tries to reason with her father-in-law: that a Hindu woman, when she has taken a man into her heart, cannot even bear to think of another; that Ramesh will always be a God to her, and other similarly nauseating words of loyalty that Ramesh doesn’t deserve in the least. When Jwala Prasad – stubborn old fogey – refuses to listen, Sudha runs off to her mother.
Poor Sudha finds that her mother, while sympathetic, is of the opinion that Sudha should go back to her in-laws, no matter what. She agrees that Jwala Prasad shouldn’t be wanting to get Sudha married again, but still. Sudha shouldn’t have come away without telling her in-laws. So Sudha is put on the train, along with an old servant to look after her on the way. The old man soon goes to sleep, and when the train stops during the night at a small station, Sudha gets off the train and sets off to commit suicide.
She chooses to do so by wandering on to the highway and standing in the path of an oncoming car. In the car is Shankarnath (Ashok Kumar), who immediately gets his driver to stop; they haul the now-fainted Sudha into the car, and Shankarnath takes her home. A few days later, Shankarnath visits Jwala Prasad, introduces himself and lets Jwala Prasad know that Sudha is alive and well. He then says that he feels Sudha should stay with Shankarnath for a while; it would be better for all concerned.
Shankarnath shares a sad story of his own: he too had disowned his son years ago, when the son went off to London and flung himself into a life of debauchery. The son married an English girl; both of them are now dead, and Shankarnath, who’s being trying to trace his granddaughter unsuccessfully, is wishing he had not broken off all ties with his son. He tries to convince Jwala Prasad to reconcile with Ramesh, but if Sudha is a gaai (‘cow’, used to describe a woman who is docile and meek; bovine is more like it), her father-in-law is a mule.
Sudha therefore is ‘adopted’ by Shankarnath and he gives her a makeover. She’s taught English, how to use cutlery, how to walk in high heels, how to waltz and say “Je m’appelle Sudha” and sundry other French phrases. Her staid cotton saris are packed away and replaced with slinky chiffons, and she’s given a smart bouffant.
Then one day, Shankarnath gives her something more: a passport with a visa for the UK (a “passport for Europe” is how they put it, but I have my doubts about that). And the news that Sudha – now called Sushma – is to go to London and work her charm on Ramesh enough to make him completely devoted to her. All without him realising who she really is. Sudha is sceptical and apprehensive and feels guilty at the thought of fooling her own ‘husband-deity’ (okay, that’s because I can’t think of a better equivalent for pati-dev). Shankarnath should’ve tried to give her ideas a makeover too.
In the meantime, Ramesh has been enjoying himself in the UK. He’s made friends with the equally dissolute Gupte (Johnny Walker), and has been spending all of his father’s hard-earned money at bars and pubs and casinos.
Gupte also introduces Ramesh to the lovely Jenny (Helen), a girl who lives next door in the lodging house where Gupte has found a room for Ramesh. Jenny speaks fluent Hindi – not surprising, she says, considering that her father was Indian though her mother was English. She also tells Ramesh that she’s now all alone in the world, because both her parents have since died. (Does this ring any bells, anyone?)
Ramesh and Jenny have a fabulous time together, pub-hopping and going to nightclubs and amusement parks and whatnot. For Ramesh, it’s just a grand time with a pretty girl; he doesn’t realise that Jenny is falling in love with him.
One evening, at a party, Ramesh encounters a chic young Indian woman who fascinates him with her beauty and her wit. He quickly puts Gupte on the job of finding out who she is, and Gupte discovers that this is Sushma, who’s recently come to London and is staying with her ‘uncle’, Mr Malhotra (Rajan Haksar). Gupte cautions Ramesh: Malhotra is a dangerous man who packs a gun (“I’ve already murdered one man,” Malhotra tells Gupte later in the film). Note: Malhotra, since we know the background, is actually only a henchman of Shankarnath’s. And why he’s a murderer, or why he isn’t behind bars, or indeed why everybody makes him out to be so dangerous, is never explained – he seems quite a harmless sort, really.
Some initial hiccups – Ramesh tries to make a pass at Sushma, and she gets mad at him – and the Ramesh-Sushma/Sudha love story takes off. He soon realises that he is really, truly, deeply in love with Sushma. So much in love that even when she confesses that she is married, and that her husband left her a few days after the wedding, Ramesh doesn’t back away. In the meantime, Malhotra (on Shankarnath’s instructions) has had a message conveyed to Ramesh: that his wife Sudha has committed suicide.
What happens now? When will Ramesh discover who Sushma really is? And what will be his reaction? And what about Jenny, eating the laddoo of delusion and thinking Ramesh is hers?
What I liked about this film:
Ae meri zindagi tu nahin ajnabi. This is the song that made me buy the film. Chitragupt composed some wonderful music for Pyaar ka Sapna, but this song – so beautifully romantic (and with Lac Leman and those lovely red geraniums too!) – is a gem. Incidentally, one of the nicest songs from Pyaar ka Sapna is Night is lovely. Helen at her best in a slinky sizzly dance number, but the song isn’t to be found on the VCD. Another song that’s missing from the VCD is Yeh zindagi hamaari kya khoob zindagi hai.
The ladies. Mala Sinha and Helen are both so pretty! Biswajeet is fairly pretty too, incidentally.
Actually, being the soupy romantic that I am, I don’t really mind the basic plot either – and the fact that Ramesh actually had never seen Sudha’s face makes it more believable for him to fall in love with her Sushma avatar. Not the farfetched moustache-and-clothes-as-disguise premise of RNBDJ. But…
What I didn’t like:
Okay, so I liked the romance. What put me off were some of the characters, including the leads. Sudha/Sushma is too spineless and too much of a believer in the “my husband is my God even if he treats me like dirt” dictum. If this had been confined to pre-makeover, I could’ve lived with it. But Sushma, even a fashionable, bouffant-and-high heels Sushma, is still a wimp at heart. It isn’t even a question of her forgiving Ramesh; she never even regards what he did to her as wrong. I’d have preferred it if Sudha had developed some spunk and decided to teach her errant husband a lesson.
And I don’t care for a hero who is so worthless – till the very end. Ramesh is a gambler, a drunk and a lecher (which I could have lived with; reformed rake, you know), but the problem is, he’s also selfish and never really sorry for the way he treated his wife. Not a nice man.
Worst of all is Jwala Prasad. This old man is an autocratic bully, going about taking decisions without consulting anyone else – even when the decisions are about their lives – and he always takes the wrong decision. I wanted to strangle this man.
The surprise? Guess who directed Pyaar ka Sapna? None other than Hrishikesh Mukherjee. This is certainly a far cry from both the early, sensitive Mukherjee films like Anuradha and Anupama, as well as the later comedies like Golmaal and Chupke-Chupke. This is more along the lines of Mukherjee films like Saanjh aur Savera, Chhaya or Asli-Naqli: heavy on melodrama, more entertaining than sensitive, and with (as in Saanjh aur Savera or Anuradha) a message that’s staunchly in favour of the traditional Indian idea of marriage: a woman, married, must stick with her spouse and regard him as God no matter what. Aargh.