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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.