Maya (1961)

A wealthy young man strikes out on his own to see how the rest of the world lives. He pretends to be poor, goes to live in a community of poor people, and falls in love with a poor girl who doesn’t realise he’s a wealthy man. Starring Dev Anand as the protagonist.
Asli-Naqli? No. Interestingly, not. This was Maya, made just a year before Asli-Naqli, but with a very similar storyline.

Maya gets off to a running start: we see a liveried servant (Sunder) hosting a dinner party for a bunch of other similarly clad servants. This is in the absence of all their masters. The ‘host’ of this party is servant to Seth Ram Narain (Mubarak). Seth Ram Narain isn’t in town right now, and his only son, Manmohan (Dev Anand) is out celebrating his birthday with a party for his friends.

Manmohan returns unexpectedly, depressed and melancholy.
We’re now given a flashback of the party, where Manmohan – within the course of a few brief minutes – gets several bad jolts. First, he sees (standing outside the party hall) his old friend Deepak (Krishan Dhawan), who’s come to wish Manmohan for his birthday. Despite much cajoling on Manmohan’s part, Deepak refuses to come inside – he insists that he, in his simple clothes, will be out of place amidst all those suits and glittery saris.

Manmohan, who seems to genuinely like his friend, accepts that, and then apologises for not having kept in touch with Deepak. “I remember you’d told me that your wife was ill, and you needed money for her treatment,” Manmohan tells Deepak. “But I went away to Kashmir with some friends, and forgot all about that. I hope bhabhi’s better now?”
Then comes the first shock: Deepak’s wife died as a result of that illness.

Still shaken, Manmohan eventually goes back into the party hall, and here he receives two more shocks. First, he hears a ‘friend’ telling others that he’s made friends with Manmohan in order to get a business deal through. Then Manmohan overhears his girlfriend Shiela (Bela Bose) telling another man that she only fawns on Manmohan because of his wealth; she doesn’t really love him.

A disillusioned and depressed Manmohan comes home and goes to bed. He’s tossing and turning when an unexpected visitor enters his room: a thief. Manmohan manages to overpower the man (Sudesh Kumar) pretty effortlessly: even though the thief has a dagger, he can’t bring himself to use it. When Manmohan confronts him, he breaks down and confesses all. His name is Sudesh, and though he’s a member of a gang of petty criminals, his heart’s not in this work at all. He’s ashamed of it, too, and begs Manmohan not to hand him over to the police. It’ll break the heart of Sudesh’s sister, who dotes on her brother.

Manmohan’s mind works fast.  He tells Sudesh that he will keep mum and not hand Sudesh over to the cops – if Sudesh will help him in return. And how? By giving Manmohan a taste of poverty. Manmohan will accompany Sudesh to the chawl where Sudesh lives, and Manmohan will find a place to stay there too. He’ll earn his daily bread, somehow make ends meet, do without, face hardship… live as a poor man.

Sudesh looks puzzled, but agrees, and after Manmohan has changed into more commonplace clothing, the two men go off to the chawl where Sudesh lives.
Over the next few scenes, we meet the other people in the chawl. There is Mausi (Lalita Pawar), a kind and motherly lady from whom Manmohan – now calling himself Shyam – rents a room. Mausi and her mausi (mother’s sister) live next door, and Manmohan/Shyam will be eating his meals with them.

There is Banke (Agha), who is a member of the same gang as Sudesh. Banke, while he’s pretty street-smart and not above throwing his weight around, is also a good man at heart. He’s in love with a pretty lady (whom we only hear being referred to as ‘Madam’ throughout the film – Helen). Madam also lives in the chawl, and is derisive of Banke and his repeated declarations of his love.

There is Banke and Sudesh’s boss, the ruthless Ranbir (Jayant), who heads a gang of thieves, extortionists, and worse – with Ranbir being the worst of the lot.

And there is Sudesh’s elder sister, Shyama (Mala Sinha). On the first night when Sudesh brings Manmohan/Shyam home, Shyama is out. Sudesh lets Shyam sleep in his own bed, and since Shyam – covered up with a sheet completely from head to toe – is lying in her brother’s bed, Shyama, on arriving the next morning, thinks this is her brother.

When, despite much tugging and scolding, he refuses to wake up, Shyama pours a bucketful of water over him – only to find that this is a stranger, not Sudesh.

Shyama and Shyam are soon in love. Shyam finds himself a job – selling ice cream from a cart – and all is happiness, love and contentment.

But there are problems lurking in the background. Shyam, after all, is really Manmohan. He’s left a big mansion behind, and the owner of that big mansion, Manmohan’s wealthy father, will soon be back and will wonder where his son has disappeared… if and when he discovers Manmohan’s new and humble avatar, he’s not going to be very pleased.

What will Shyama’s reaction be when she discovers that the man she loves has been lying to her all along about his identity?

Plus, there is the nasty Ranbir, who has an eye on Shyama for himself. When he finds that Shyama and Shyam are an item, this man isn’t one to gracefully let them go on being together.

And what of Sudesh, firmly under Ranbir’s thumb, even though he knows Ranbir’s in the wrong? Sudesh is too weak-willed to stand up for himself or for his sister, and may just let Ranbir sway him…

What I liked about this film:

Salil Choudhary’s music. Salil is one of my favourite music directors, and this film has some really good songs: Koi sone ke dilwaala, Zindagi hai kya, sun meri jaan, Jaa re jaa re ud jaa re panchhi, Tasveer teri dil mein, Ae dil kahaan teri manzil (two versions: Dwijen Mukherjee’s and Lata’s), and a relatively little-known but delightful little Agha-Helen number, Sanam tu chal diya rasta mere bina.

The cameos. Maya is chockfull of familiar faces who turn up for only a scene or two. There’s Bela Bose, for instance, who only appears briefly in that party scene at the start. There’s Brahm Bhardwaj, as a music teacher who also lives in the chawl.  There’s Tabassum Kusum Thengdi (identified by Arunkumar Deshmukh and Anu Warrier), who looks a lot like Tabassum and puts in an appearance in the song Zindagi hai kya, sun meri jaan:

Then there’s blog favourite, Edwina Lyons, who appears (and has a line to say, too!) as a secretary to one of Manmohan’s employees. She also appears, dressed in a kasta sari, in Sanam tu chal diya rasta mere bina, though she (unfortunately) doesn’t get to dance.

And, lastly: one person who went on to become one of Hindi cinema’s greatest onscreen villains. In one scene, this boy comes running to report to Ranbir:

Amjad Khan, in case you haven’t already guessed, sharing screen space with his real life father, Jayant. He’s not credited in the film, and if IMDB is to be believed, he was actually about 20 when the film was released, though I think he looks a good deal younger.

Mala Sinha, by the way, looks really beautiful in many of the scenes.

What I didn’t like:

The melodrama. Oh, the melodrama. So much weeping and speechifying and “let-us-die-together-if-we-cannot-live-together”. Honestly, this could’ve made for a good film – see Asli-Naqli, as a contrast.
Asli-Naqli managed to use the theme of a rich man pretending to be poor to get a closer look at what it means to be poor, and to show the sort of problems the poor have to deal with. Maya starts off trying to do the same, but that laudably socialist idea peters out pretty soon, and we’re left with a story of star-crossed lovers having to face up to a lecherous goonda, and two disapproving male family members. By the end, there was so much unreality and total farce happening that I nearly gave up.

75 thoughts on “Maya (1961)

  1. Just like you, I love Maya for its wonderful songs! As I have often repeated, the prelude to jaa re jaa re ud jaa re panchhi is my favourite. Loved Jayant in this. Normally I don’t like the villains, but despite being lecherous and all, the character was still sort of solid.
    I can remember the melodrama, but at the time when I saw the movie, I think, I was more melodrama-proof!
    Tabassum looks so lovely in the above screen cap. Edwina looks hip in the figure hugging kasta sari.
    Glad to find Sudesh Kumar here again.


    • Yes, the songs are what really endear Maya to me – the film’s worth watching just for them alone! Jaa re jaa re ud jaa re panchhi is lovely, but someone – my sister, I think, or maybe my father – spoilt Koi sone ke dilwaala for me by pointing out the odd way Dev Anand is sitting at the piano, so obviously just thumping away at the keys any old how, and with his trousers riding up his calves… since then, that’s the only thing I remember from the song, even if I’m only listening to it, not watching it!

      I too think Edwina looks real nice in that kasta sari. I wish she’d danced. These four girls, all dressed up so prettily, are just made to stand around and tap a foot now and then. :-(


  2. The film left me cold, but the songs, oh the songs! (Of how many films have I said this?)

    Two things: Zindagi hai kya, sun meri jaan was inspired by the theme music of Limelight.
    And the girl who comes down is not Tabassum, though there is a marked similarity. She’s a girl called Kusum something-or-the-other.


  3. Maybe there is something different about Dev-Mala Sinha films, both of them (Maya & Love Marriage) have great songs, but I have never been able to see them completely. LM, I left halfway, & so was it with Maya. As you have pointed out, Maya shared some similarities with Asli Naqli, and that is a movie I like and have watched it a couple of times. Hence, I am at least not allergic to the rich man trying out poverty theme.
    Love the songs though :)


    • The ‘rich man pretending to be poor’ (or, alternately, ‘rich woman pretending to be poor’) wasn’t as uncommon a theme as one would expect, I think. Dil Tera Deewaana, Kashmir ki Kali, Mere Humdum Mere Dost and An Evening in Paris are all films that have that element in them – though the last three don’t make much of an effort to sustain the pretence.

      I agree about Love Marriage being quite hard to sit through, too – that descended into really over the top melodrama too. And I didn’t like its songs as much as the songs of Maya.


      • I have not seen DTD and MHMD, but Kashmir Ki Kali is an all-time favorite. An Evening in Paris has great songs, and the Shammi-Sharmila pair, but the movie is a drag. But I agree that the two I have seen “don’t make much of an effort to sustain the pretence.”
        So, Is Asli Naqli the best of this genre ? Legend has it that Dev & Hrishikesh Mukherjee had a fight that went something along these lines
        HM to Dev — You cannot act, you just look good
        Dev to HM — No one comes to see your movies, at least they come to see me.


        • I agree about An Evening in Paris being a drag. It looked very pretty and had great songs, but the story was all haywire and totally OTT. Of all the major 60s’ Shammi Kapoor films, that’s probably one of those that I like the least.

          Yes, I think Asli-Naqli would probably rate as the best of the lot, though with Kashmir ki Kali a close second – I think Kashmir ki Kali had an entertaining storyline that managed (though it was too unrealistic) to be pretty absorbing.

          That’s an interesting anecdote about the Dev Anand-Hrisihikesh Mukherjee fight; didn’t know about it. Though I’m wondering how justified both men were in their allegations; Mukherjee had already directed Anari (which I thought did well) and Dev Anand had already acted in films like CID and Kala Pani (for which he even won Best Actor)… so maybe they were just being nasty.


  4. Beautiful songs, beautiful Mala Sinha, handsome Dev Anand. What more can one ask for?
    Answer: No melodrama. Hahaha
    But I’d rather watch OTT melodrama than OTT violence.


    • Yes, OTT violence is something I can’t bear – that’s the main reason why I stopped watching most Hindi films that were being released in the 80s and 90s. Most of them, if their trailers and posters were to be believed, centred around a young man trying to wreak vengeance on someone or the other. Too gory for me. Fortunately, things were generally a lot less violent in 50s and 60s cinema.


    • Derubala, I know Kalpana passed away. And no, pacifist’s remark is not at all inappropriate, since she was referring to an earlier comment thread on my previous post:

      In fact, pacifist herself suggested that I do a separate post (because the news of Kalpana’s death had permeated a post to celebrate my birthday, which did seem a little inauspicious…)

      Unfortunately, though I wanted to do a tribute to Kalpana, I don’t know if that will happen. I’ve already reviewed two of my favourite films of hers, Professor and Pyaar Kiye Jaa; most of the other films I’ve seen – Naughty Boy, Saheli and Teesra Kaun – are so boring or confusing (or both) that writing a review of them would be painful. Let me see if I can get hold of Teen Deviyaan


    • The first time I saw Maya (which was also the last time I saw it, before last week) was also on Doordarshan, back in the days when I was a kid and much more forgiving of high melodrama. Now I’m less patient with all that weeping and shrieking and all.


  5. Perhaps I could just sit through the filmm because of Dev Anand, Mala Sinha and the lovely lovely songs. Tasveer Teri Dil mein is iconic for me!! But yes, too loud the film becomes towards the end.. but still watchable I guess.


    • Watchable… yes, I guess I am one of those people (and it seems you are, too, considering some of the films you’ve reviewed!!) who will sit through a film and watch it till the end, even if it’s awful. Maya isn’t terrible, but I’ve seen much better ones. And the songs, anyway, are wonderful.


    • I thought that tidbit about Amjad Khan was interesting. I hadn’t realised he was in this film (especially since he’s uncredited) until I saw Maya. What’s more, a friend of mine had (incorrectly) told me that Amjad Khan’s first onscreen appearance was in Mughal-e-Azam. I must let him know he was wrong!


      • If this was 1961 and Mughal-e-Azam was 1960, then that could still have been Amjad Khan’s first onscreen appearance, right?

        Btw, am coming very late to this post – I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said. I watched this movie a couple of years ago – it was part of my Dev Anand catch-up series of movies (I saw 10-15 Dev Anand 50s/60s movies in a pretty short timespan at that time).

        Like most others here, I also did not find this a movie I’d care to remember too much. I wouldn’t say it is really bad – but it’s just one of those “meh” movies. Songs are quite good but otherwise not much to remember after seeing the movie. I also found Mala Sinha very melodramatic in this – maybe that was the demand of the role. The role gave her ample opportunity to let herself go. And she did. :-)


        • Ah, my bad, Raja – about Mughal-e-Azam being actually Amjad Khan’s first screen appearance. Yes, of course you’re right.

          And you’ve described Maya perfectly. Meh. Very meh. Neither substance to it, nor entertaining fluff. The songs are about the only thing one tends to remember from it.


      • Amjad Khan’s first film appearances were in the 50s films — Char Paise and Ab Dili Door Nahin. It’s possible there’s other films he was in around this time as well.


  6. What a coincidence – I rewatched this film myself just a few days ago. And I had much the same reaction to it as you – lovely songs (my current love is “sanam tu chal diya rasta” – Rafi sounds positively groovy), middling movie. For me the melodrama was made much harder to bear thanks to Mala Sinha who reminded me with this movie why I dislike her so..:-(

    Asli Naqli is indeed a much more enjoyable watch.


  7. @Shalini, Rafi is absolutely fantastic in Sanam tu chal diya rasta, isn’t he? Right now, another of his groovy songs (almost Elvis-ish, I’d say) which I’m listening to is Laal-laal gaal from Mr X:

    As far as Mala Sinha is concerned, I like her in fun stuff like Aankhen, but in films like Maya, she goes completely OTT when it comes to the melodrama. :-(


  8. I never knew Jayant was Amjad Khan’s dad.

    On Maya, you have given me enough reasons to not include this film in my watch list- I have included Asli-Naqli in it only because it is a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film.


  9. Thank god they learnt from the mistakes they made and didnt make Asli Naqli so melo-dramatic!
    I remember watching Asli Naqli on Doordarshan long ago and had liked it a lot. I like the songs of Maya but I dont think I’ll ever watch the movie.

    ROTFL on the discussion on Koi sone ka dilwaala …I dont think I’ll ever be able to listen to it or watch it with a straight face now.

    I so envy Samir for not having seen Dil Tera Deewana. That’s one movie that I literally had to struggle to sit through, inspite of having Shammi Kapoor in it.


    • I completely agree with you, sunheriyaadein, re: Dil Tera Deewaana. Despite Shammi Kapoor (and that too a Shammi Kapoor at his peak), it soon became hard to sit through for me. I don’t even like the songs too much, not even the title song (which most people seem to like). :-(


  10. I sat down to watch Maya because of Dev-Mala pairing despite knowing the fact that it shared its storyline with Asli Naqli (which I abso-absolutely love!). Dev-Mala pairing- I loved their scenes together. But then, thats it. The film left me cold. There was nothing much in it and I fast forwarded a few times to make the film a bit pacy (which, in my opinion, is a heinous crime if you call yourself a filmbuff!) It lacked the sparkle and fun of Asli Naqli and instead turned out to be a lech vs hero story. Thoroughly disappointing! :(


    • I agree with you, Punya. The film left me cold too. :-( I didn’t go so far as to FF it – my patience is boundless – but yes, I took quite a few breaks in between. Certainly not the riveting type of film that you don’t want to stop watching for even a minute. Such a waste of good actors and great music.


  11. Thank You Madhu! I could not understand why My ID did not automatically show down below like it used to & thought that I did something wrong & deleted it by mistake Why does it not show up any longer do You know Madhu?


    • Did you use a different e-mail ID when you wrote the comment, Edwina? Every time a new e-mail ID is entered as part of a comment, WordPress accepts it as a new reader’s comment – so it automatically comes to me for moderation.

      If you did use the same mail address as before, then I don’t see why there was a problem.


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