This particular Shammi Kapoor film has a very special place in my heart – because Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra was one of the first Hindi film songs I ever learnt to sing. I must’ve been about eight years old. I’d never seen the film; television was yet to make its way into our lives (it was just round the corner, though I didn’t get to see the song till much later). But I used to hear it now and then on radio, and sometimes on an LP my parents owned. I always did wonder who the heroine was, the woman who was praised for the fact that her ‘zulfon ka rang’ was sunehra, and who had jheel si neeli aankhein. Could she have been an Indian actress, I wondered? She sounded firang.
I eventually did get to see Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra and realised that Sharmila Tagore, though angelically pretty, had neither golden hair nor blue eyes. And I fell in love with Shammi Kapoor’s antics. The way he plunged into the water with that last mad bout of clapping!
I’ve seen Kashmir ki Kali several times over the years, and it’s still, for me, one of Shammi Kapoor’s most entertaining films. There’s everything here you could want from a trademark Shammi Kapoor film: gorgeous heroine, lovely setting, and awesome music. And – need one mention it? – a hero who’s handsome, fun, romantic… well, to put it briefly, a hero who is Shammi Kapoor.
The story begins at the 25th anniversary celebrations of a large factory. The owner, Rajeev Lal ‘Raju’ (Shammi Kapoor) has inherited this firm after the death of his father. They’ve done very well for themselves. But Raju seems to be something of a socialist, and those up on the dais with him – his mother (?) and the manager Shyam Lal (Madan Puri) are horrified when Raju announces the distribution of Rs 5 lakhs among the workers to celebrate the occasion.
Raju’s old nursemaid Karuna (Mridula Rani) is the one who’s been filling up his head with this nonsense, says Shyam Lal, who’s thoroughly peeved. Raju’s mother thinks highly of Karuna – not as a maid, she tells Shyam Lal – and it is to Karuna that she turns for advice on what to do about Raju’s impulsiveness. In time-honoured Hindi film style, they decide that Raju should be married off.
Raju manages to wriggle out of being ‘approved’ by any of the prospective brides and their fathers who are paraded at the Lal mansion – he does this by pretending to be dim-witted, deaf, mute, and lame – but knows he’s not going to be able to evade the topic much longer. Mum is very determined.
Raju’s friend Chander (Anoop Kumar) offers a solution (it seems more like a stopgap arrangement to me, but anyway): that Raju should slip away and go off on holiday. To Kashmir. Raju asks Chander to come along as well, but since Chander has a job which he’ll need a couple of days to resign from, they decide that Raju will go off to Kashmir on his own, and Chander will join him after a few days.
So Raju drives up to Kashmir, happily singing as he does so – only to realise, with nightfall, that the village inn he’s arrived at is full up. The innkeeper (Sundar) tells Raju that a bridge further up the road has collapsed, so there’s no going anywhere. Raju’s shivering and desperately in need of shelter, but the only place the innkeeper can offer him is under the staircase.
When Raju tries to light a small fire to keep him warm, the rising smoke wakes up some girls sleeping upstairs… and they try to put out the fire below by throwing a bucket of cold water – right on top of our poor hero. The main culprit is Champa (Sharmila Tagore, in her debut Hindi film role), a flower-seller who is accompanying a group of her friends from Pathankot to Kashmir. Every year the girls journey to Kashmir to perform at a local fair, and this year is no different.
Although she is defensive and huffy when a madder-than-a-wet-hen Raju accuses her of trying to drown him, Champa is actually sorry. Sorry enough, at least, to later creep downstairs with a blanket, which she drapes over the sleeping Raju. Only he isn’t sleeping, and the gesture endears her to him.
The next morning, he comes across Champa again, and offers her a lift in his car. Champa refuses. When Raju clarifies that he wants to reciprocate her help (that blanket), she says she’d helped him because she thought he was poor. So the wealthy Seth Rajeev Lal happily tells Champa that he isn’t rich. No way. The car is his boss’s; even his smart clothes are hand-me-downs from his boss. He is Raju, just a poor driver.
A blushing Champa still doesn’t get into the car, and goes off on foot. All Raju gets for his pains and his subterfuge is a grim warning from Mohan (Pran), a timber contractor who’s driven the girls from Pathankot to Srinagar in his truck. Mohan thinks of Champa as his girl, and is immediately suspicious of Raju’s motives.
When Raju finally arrives at his family mansion in Srinagar, it is to find that the manager, Bholaram (Dhumal) has converted the mansion into a hotel (Come September, Hindi film style?). The three girls to whom the place has been rented, along with their guardian (Tuntun) soon have an altercation with Raju, who threatens to throw them out by telling them that this is his house, he is Rajeev Lal.
… much confusion ensues, with Bholaram sorting things out by telling the women that this man – Raju – is a nutty friend of the real Rajeev Lal’s. Chander, arriving shortly after, is automatically assigned to the role of Rajeev Lal – which makes him the target for the affections of all three gold-digging young ladies:
Which leaves Raju plenty of time to romance Champa. This isn’t too difficult, because she’s already pretty much in love with him. Even though she does seem a little distressed when he serenades her right in the middle of the Dal Lake, as she’s rowing her shikara-full of flowers past him…
…she’s soon as enchanted by him as he is by her. (And who can blame her?!)
Interspersed with the dreamy songs and the gorgeousness – of Shammi, Sharmila and Srinagar – are a few glimpses of Champa’s personal life. Champa’s only living relative is her old, blind father Dinu (Nasir Hussain). She is devoted to him:
– and Dinu, in turn, dotes on her. She is so certain of her father’s love for her, that when Raju asks her if she’ll marry him, Champa is shyly certain that Dinu will not raise any objections to the match.
What she doesn’t know is that there is an ugly secret in Dinu’s life. We come to know of this one dark night, when Mohan comes to visit Dinu, to complain about Champa’s growing familiarity with Raju. Mohan insists that he will be the one marrying Champa. When Dinu shows signs of protesting, Mohan flings at him a hint of that ugly secret: Champa isn’t Dinu’s daughter. It emerges that Mohan has learnt this from another villager, someone who’s known Dinu for years altogether – since when Dinu was a dissolute drunk, a man who’d have sold his own soul for money.
Those years are long past, but they still haunt Dinu. So does the knowledge that Champa, whom he adores and cannot bear to be parted from, is not actually his daughter. Mohan says he’ll keep mum on one condition: that Champa be married off to him. Dinu, who can’t bring himself to let Champa realise that she isn’t his child – that he stole, her, in fact – has no choice but to agree.
So, tragedy hovers. Champa and Raju’s glorious love story is about to be blown to bits.
And, of course, one mustn’t forget the fact that Raju has all along been deceiving Champa by making her think he’s a poor ( I mean poverty-stricken, not reckless) driver. When, and how, will she come to realise that he’s actually a wealthy man, who’s been fooling her all this while? Plus – who is Champa, really?
What I liked about this film:
Basically, what I like about Kashmir ki Kali is that it’s the classic ‘Shammi Kapoor film’: replete with everything that pleases the senses: a stunning lead pair, in a beautiful setting, and with a plethora of superb songs. OP Nayyar – not a Shammi Kapoor ‘regular’ (that title must surely go to Shankar-Jaikishan) – composed a fantastic score for Kashmir ki Kali. While my favourite romantic song from this film (also one of my favourite romantic songs ever) is Deewana hua baadal, Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra and Ishaaron-ishaaron mein dil lene waale are among the other great songs from this film. Not to mention Kisi na kisi se kabhi na kabhi and Subhaan allah haseen chehra yeh mastaana adaayein – did Shammi Kapoor set some sort of record in this film for songs sung in different modes of transport?! In Kashmir ki Kali, he sings a song in a car, a shikara, and a truck.
What I didn’t like:
That would be nitpicking, now. But yes, Kashmir ki Kali is certainly one of those films that require a willing suspension of disbelief.
But then, if you like commercial Hindi cinema, that shouldn’t be a problem. And Shammi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore, Kashmir and OP Nayyar compensate. More than enough.
By the way, if you haven’t seen this before, here is a scanned image of the ad Amul butter published when Shammi Kapoor passed away in August this year:
Little bit of trivia:
The guitarist O P Nayyar used most frequently during this period was a man called Hazara Singh. It is his playing you hear through most of Chaand sa roshan chehra and other guitar-dominant tunes of this film.