I am not – most decidedly not – nuts about red hearts and roses and all that bullshit. Really, if you love someone, you love them. And not just on February 14.
But, anyway, here’s my nod to the bandwagon. I’m not jumping on to it, mind you; just reviewing one of my favourite romance films.
So here we go. A Bimal Roy film that’s a must if you like romances.
The hero of our story is Arun (a very young Shashi Kapoor – he was only 24 when the film was released). Arun’s parents died when he was a child, so he’s been brought up by Dr Mathur, who used to be Arun’s father’s best friend. Arun too has made medicine his profession. He’s an MBBS, and is now hopeful of getting a scholarship to go abroad for further studies.
The widowed Dr Mathur’s daughter Ratna (Praveen Choudhary) is younger than Arun. When the story begins, Ratna is:
(a) reading a book named Prem Patra Kaise Likhein (‘How to write a love letter’)
(b) very huffy that Arun did not come home for her birthday party the previous night because he was at work
Anybody with any knowledge of lovelorn young females would probably have figured out that Ratna’s got a massive crush on Arun, but that’s not the case in this household. Both Arun and Mr Mathur are blissfully unaware.
Ratna and Arun do get along well, though. In fact, since she’s known him from childhood, she’s even able to perfectly forge his handwriting and his signature, as she gleefully tells him one day during one of their light-hearted spats.
We’re now introduced to the female half of this love story. This is (as she’s referred to by all her classmates) “the famous Kavita Kapoor” (Sadhana). Kavita is a 5th year student at the medical college-cum-hospital where Arun is the House Surgeon. She’s very pretty, very good at her studies – and has been recently receiving some annoying anonymous love letters, which is presumably the reason for her so-called fame.
Kavita is now so irritated with these letters that she’s said – in a moment of anger – that she’s going to complain to the principal of the college the next time one of these letters comes her way.
In the meantime, though, it’s not a letter that comes her way, but the deliciously handsome figure of Arun himself, who bumps into her one day. He has a logical reason for not looking where he’s going – he’s just discovered he’s been granted that much-awaited scholarship, and has gone a little mad in his exultation.
There aren’t any fireworks at first glance (first bump?), but Arun’s friend and colleague Kedar (Rajendranath), who’s been witness to the entire episode, figures that Arun and Kavita would probably make a great jodi. He goes off to discuss the possibilities with his girlfriend Sumitra (Chand Usmani), who is also a doctor at the hospital and who immediately falls in with Kedar’s plan…
…which is to get Kavita and Arun on the same shift. Arun is House Surgeon for the night shift, and Sumitra has been assigned for the night shift in the Surgical Ward. That evening, she phones Kavita and tells her that she, Sumitra, isn’t feeling at all well, so will Kavita please do her shift at the Surgical Ward?
So Kavita is on duty when an emergency crops up: an appendicitis. She goes to the House Surgeon – Arun, of course – and he, after examining the patient, realises an immediate appendectomy is called for.
The senior surgeon isn’t available, so Arun has to perform the operation, with Kavita’s help.
They have a long and tiring night. The next morning, Kavita is driving home and offers Arun a lift. He accepts, and they drive off together. You can see they’re interested in each other, but beyond some shy sidelong glances and small smiles, there’s nothing yet.
When Kavita stops at Arun’s (or rather, Dr Mathur’s) house to drop him off, Ratna – who is sitting on the balcony above, with a friend of hers – sees them. Ratna’s friend has an elder sister who is Kavita’s classmate, so the friend knows all about “the famous Kavita Kapoor”. She shares all the gossip – about Kavita’s unknown admirers, the love letters, etc – with Ratna, and then takes herself off.
One evening, while Arun is sitting at home (he’s spending his time doodling Kavita’s name on page), Ratna comes along, asking for help with her chemistry lessons. The chapter she needs help with is on catalytic agents. Arun begins explaining catalytic agents to Ratna, and she deftly manages to swing the topic around to human chemistry – can, like two chemicals, two human beings too be in close proximity and not react to each other unless there’s a catalytic agent to spur them on?
Arun tells her off; she’s too young to be talking of things like that. This makes Ratna burst into indignant tears, and a disgusted Arun leaves. Dr Mathur, coming into the room, sees Ratna crying and from her confused babble, finally figures out what’s happening.
He informs Arun – Ratna is infatuated with him – and Arun is horrified. He’s always thought of Ratna as a younger sister.
Never mind, he tells Dr Mathur. He’ll go talk to Ratna and make her see sense.
The next day, at the medical college, there’s another love letter addressed to Kavita Kapoor. Her catty classmates (led by a pretty Bela Bose) decide to open it and read it for themselves before Kavita arrives.
It’s a very fervent prem patra, all right. The writer has poured his heart out, telling Kavita all that she means to him. And, for once, the writer isn’t anonymous. The letter is from Arun.
When Kavita gets to read the letter, she is angry – another love letter! The anger changes momentarily to pleased surprise when she sees who’s written it – and then back to anger, when her classmates gather around, jeering and egging her on to go and complain to the principal. Kavita does end up genuinely annoyed, and goes to the principal’s office.
Arun – completely baffled – is summoned and ticked off. He tries to defend himself and deny having written the letter, but he can’t get a word in edgeways. All he can do is stare at Kavita and feel betrayed and angry at this accusation.
Later that day, he receives a message from the principal that his scholarship has been cancelled.
Arun is so devastated that he goes home to the Mathurs’, packs his suitcase, and having told Ratna what has happened, tells her he’s going to his uncle in Rashidpur village, until he can figure out what to do with his life.
This brings Ratna to her senses. She goes to Kavita, introduces herself, and confesses: she, Ratna, was the one who wrote that letter – because she was infatuated with Arun, and was jealous of Arun’s love for Kavita. Now Arun is gone, and Ratna has been the cause of his ruin.
Kavita feels terribly guilty and wants to go beg Arun’s forgiveness, but he, of course, is far away. Sumitra, to whom she hurries for advice, consoles her. Arun will return sooner or later; she can apologise then.
But there has been an unexpected development in Arun’s life while he’s been in Rashidpur. At his uncle’s insistence, Arun has accompanied his uncle to the mansion of the zamindar of Rashidpur, to ask for a loan so that Arun can study abroad even though the scholarship is gone.
The zamindar is (in a refreshing departure from the stereotypical Hindi film zamindar) a generous and kind man, who readily agrees. Later, though, he confides in Arun’s uncle that he’s very impressed with Arun. He’ll give the money anyway, but in return, he’d like Arun as a son-in-law.
Arun, when his uncle tells him the deal, refuses. He won’t be bought. The uncle manages to convince him: it had been Arun’s father’s dearest wish that Arun should grow up and be a doctor, so that the villagers (like Arun’s mother, who died of cholera) would not succumb to disease because of a lack of medical care.
But Arun says he’ll marry the zamindar’s daughter only after he returns from abroad. And he has no wish to see the girl for himself. He has seen pretty faces, he says bitterly, which hide evil; what need does he have to see what his future bride looks like?
… and his fiancée, Tara (Seema Deo) is brought by her father, the zamindar, to the city. He brings her to the home of his sister (?) and her husband (Kanu Roy) – who happen to be Kavita’s parents. The zamindar wants Tara to spend some months in their home, acquiring a little town polish so that her husband-to-be won’t be disappointed.
Kavita is distressed to discover that her cousin will be marrying Arun, but she gamely joins in the makeover project. An Anglo-Indian governess is appointed for Tara; Tara’s ghagra-cholis are switched for saris, salwar-kurtas and capris; Tara is given a new hairstyle… and she finds herself quickly taken under the wing of a young man named Subhash (Sudhir) and Subhash’s sister Leela (Madhavi). Kavita’s parents had been hoping that Subhash and Kavita would be interested in each other, but it turns out that Subhash is keener on Tara.
And she on him. To the extent that, when Tara’s father writes to his daughter, instructing Tara to be a good fiancée and write to Arun, Tara is most reluctant. She confides in Kavita that she doesn’t know what to write; and when Kavita offers to dictate the letter, Tara has another excuse: her handwriting is so awful, Arun won’t come back to India!
Tara finally wheedles Kavita into writing the letter.
So Kavita writes to Arun, pretending to be Tara. And he, far away in England, is delighted to receive such a lovely letter from ‘Tara’. He writes back, telling her how surprised he was – he admits he hadn’t expected such a polished letter from a village girl – and even tells her, though without naming any names, about the girl who betrayed him.
Kavita is heartbroken when Tara reads out Arun’s letter. But Kavita has been well and truly sucked into the whirlpool now. She has to be the one to write to Arun, as Tara laughingly points out: after all, Arun now recognises Kavita’s handwriting as that of ‘Tara’.
And thus begins a chain of love letters: from Kavita (pretending to be Tara) to Arun, and back. She falls even deeper in love with him; and he comes to know and love the Tara he’s discovering through their correspondence. But every now and then, Arun mentions the bitterness he harbours towards the girl who destroyed his dreams… and Kavita knows that this long-distance love affair is a dream she’s built up for herself. It isn’t real.
Then, one day, there’s an accident in the laboratory where Arun is working, and he is blinded. He has to come home to India. He does – a changed man: blind and gradually growing uncertain of Tara’s love for him (he’s also changed in that his moustache is now thankfully gone, plus his singing voice has changed from Mukesh’s to Talat’s, but that’s a different matter).
What I liked about this film:
Just about everything. I love Bimal Roy’s usually easy-to-relate-to style of film-making. Films like Parakh or Sujata aren’t about the rich and famous or about crazy adventures; they’re about the everyday lives of people like us. Prem Patra is in the same style; people are shades of grey, not outright black or white. There are no villains – not even tyrannical parents wanting to force their opinions on their offspring – and there is no high melodrama. Even folk like Ratna aren’t really wicked, just naïve.
I even like the fact that Tara isn’t portrayed as the traditional bharatiya naari who wouldn’t even look at a man other than her husband (or her fiancée). Tara is good and sweet all right, but she’s human, and not a doormat enough to think she has to marry a man she’s never seen.
Shashi Kapoor and Sadhana, two actors whom I like a lot, and who are great together. Their chemistry is fantastic too: from the initial shyness (despite a mutual attraction) onwards.
Bimal Roy’s subtle way of showing emotion. I love the way he uses silences and expressions, rather than over-the-top dialogues, to reveal feelings. Especially in the case of Kavita. Kavita is caught in the unenviable position of being in love with a man who hates her but who is in love with the woman she is pretending to be. Her joy at getting a letter from him; her distress on realising how much he hates “the famous Kavita Kapoor”; her sorrow when he goes blind: a lot of this is never said.
Lastly: Salil Choudhary’s music. Not one of his best-known scores, but with some lovely songs nevertheless, especially Do ankhiyaan jhuki-jhuki si, Saawan ki raaton mein, and Yeh mere andhere ujaale na hote.
What I didn’t like:
A particular comic interlude that involves Tara going off with Subhash, Leela, Kavita’s father, and Kedar on a tiger hunt. It would’ve been better omitted from the film.
Still, I’m willing to forgive that in a film that’s otherwise so satisfying a watch for a romance lover.
Happy Valentine’s Day, all!