The main reason I wanted to see this film was that it starred Shammi Kapoor and Geeta Bali—and her not in a mere item number, as in Mujrim, but in a much more substantial role.
Unfortunately, what I didn’t realise was that it’s Mala Sinha who’s paired with Shammi Kapoor in Rangeen Raatein, while Geeta Bali is in the role of a man [what was the director Kidar Sharma thinking of?!]
Anyway, to begin at the beginning. The ‘rangeen raatein’ (‘colourful nights’) of the title are the nights of glitter, glamour and entertainment promised to the far-flung villages of Kumaon by the ‘Moti Bai Touring Talkie’, which is referred to [rather ambitiously] by the police as a ‘carnival’. They have a trio of girls who sing and dance; and a bunch of men who indulge in rather more nefarious deeds.
It is these deeds that have drawn the attention of the local police. The daroga, chatting with a subordinate, is derisive of carnivals such as this, which—with their scantily-clad women and iffy morality—are ruining the innocence of the simple villagers of these hills.
The simple villagers, in particular, being Mala (Mala Sinha) and her brother Gulu (Geeta Bali [Why, why, why?]) Mala and Gulu live with their cantankerous old mausi (? This actress looks very familiar, but I can’t place her. She resembles Mridula Rani a bit). When the story begins, the mausi is just leaving on a pilgrimage, and is ordering everybody about…
…and, in between, is hurling insults at poor blind Kamla (Chand Usmani), who happens to live with this little family. Mala tries to shush her aunt, but Mausi makes no bones about her feelings towards Kamla: Kamla, in her opinion, is a worthless, useless burden on all of them, and the sooner she leaves their home, the better.
When Mausi finally gets onto the cart and leaves, there’s a collective sigh of relief [also from me. Maybe the story can get a move on now]. Mala, in one of their affectionate sakhi moments, happens to ask Kamla about her past. Considering they seem to be bosom buddies, this seems a little odd. Didn’t anybody—especially Mala, who is so chummy with Kamla—think of asking her before?
But. Kamla explains.
Once upon a time, Kamla used to live in Nainital with her uncle, who was a hakim. Kamla could see at that time, though her eyesight was bad enough for her to have to wear spectacles.
Kamla’s uncle had an assistant named Gulab (Rohit Tony; [this guy surprised me. I think he’s quite good-looking, and he isn’t a bad actor—but I don’t remember seeing him in any other films. Does anybody know what happened to him?]).
Gulab, when he wasn’t busy drinking or gambling (two vices for which we see the hakim actually caning him on his outstretched palm), he was flirting with Kamla. Kamla, shy and demure, was initially of the “hato, jaao ji” bent of mind, but was soon won over. She, in turn, managed to win over her uncle too, and since he thought Gulab was actually good at heart, he agreed to the wedding.
So, says Kamla, she and Gulab were married, and Kamla went to live with her new husband and his mother. But the new mother-in-law, despite the fact that Kamla’s dowry had been Rs 14,000 instead of the 10,000 that was demanded, wasn’t happy. When Kamla, wearing her specs [and I’m paraphrasing the dialogue here] would do the cooking in their kitchen, her saas would fly into a rage and beat her.
[Hmm. Why? Did she fear that Kamla would drop her specs into the daal?]
The long and short of it was that Kamla was thrown out of the house and came back to live with her uncle, the hakim. Soon after, a letter arrived from Gulab, letting Kamla know that he had left her. [Considerate of him to have bothered to tell her]. Kamla, now hopelessly despondent, swallowed one of the poisons from her uncle’s medicine chest. He managed to save her life in time, but her eyesight—already bad—went.
Thus, Kamla, blind and poor and with no-one to call her own. We aren’t obliged with an explanation of how she landed up in this village, but we’ll have to be satisfied with that.
Mala and Gulu are much affected by this tale of woe, and decide to set about trying to track down the errant Gulab.
They soon [and without much effort on their part] discover that Gulab is part of the Moti Bai Touring Talkie, and will be passing by their village in a couple of days’ time. Mala and Gulu think up a plan to get Gulab back for Kamla. They, along with Kamla, will stand by the roadside. Gulu, Mala and their pal Bulbul (Tun Tun) will make a lot of noise—playing a bugle, beating a drum, etc—enough to draw Gulab’s attention. He will, of course, see Kamla standing by the roadside looking delighted at his coming, and he will stop.
What a smart plan.
It does not, of course, take into consideration the fact that Gulab:
(a) may be concentrating too hard on his driving to look closely at people standing beside the road
(b) has, by his own admission, in that long-ago letter, left Kamla. He’s hardly likely to change his mind just because she’s with a couple of noisy villagers.
In any case, Gulab is too busy chatting with Moti Bai (? Another actress I know I should recognise, but can’t). Moti Bai, though obviously much older than him, is openly flirtatious. Gulab does nothing to discourage her, either.
Anyway, Gulab, Moti Bai and Co. carry on down the road, and soon pull in at a large village where they set about staging a show. Now we discover exactly what the men in this troupe are up to: they kidnap village girls (why, it’s never said; probably to be sold off in some faraway city). They’ve abducted a young woman here too, and are keeping her locked up until it’s time to move on. She’s been crying and pleading to be allowed to go to her baby, Natthu [this poor child is in for some very hard times].
It turns out that this woman’s been deserted by her husband [were Kumaoni husbands really so fickle back in the 50s? First Gulab, then this one].
We—and the weeping girl—now meet one of the men who’s among the kidnappers. This is Moti Singh (Shammi Kapoor! Finally!). He seems as hard-hearted as the rest of them, and the girl’s sob story doesn’t have any effect on him.
Just at this moment, the local police (who’ve been keeping an eye on Moti Bai and her gang) raid the place. Moti Bai, Moti Singh, etc are arrested. Gulab urges the kidnapped girl to run away through the open window, saying this is her chance to escape. She jumps out and begins to run across the stream outside.
One policeman, seeing someone splashing through the stream, fires into the dark—and accidentally kills the girl.
When Mala tells Kamla about this death, and the baby’s being virtually orphaned, Kamla begs her to bring Natthu home. She will look after the poor motherless baby, at least till Mausi returns. [Even Kamla has the sense to realise that Mausi won’t take kindly to yet another poor soul being taken into the fold].
Gulu, meanwhile, offers to stand bail for Gulab, so that Kamla’s husband can come home to her [what touching faith!]. Gulu also—and this I found pretty inexplicable—pays up his hard-earned money to get Moti Bai, Moti Singh, and the rest of their cronies freed too. He even tells Gulab that Kamla and Mala are waiting at home for all of them to arrive, so that they may be fed and looked after.
[…which, of course, is all a ploy on the part of the writer to get Moti Singh within range of Mala].
Gulab tells Gulu that he and Moti Bai will follow later; Moti Singh and Revdi (Shammi), who is one of the company’s dancers, will accompany Gulu in the meantime. There is a wince-worthy scene in which poor Gulu is obliged to carry Revdi [who is no Twiggy] across a river.
Moti Singh and Mala soon meet—she happens to pitch a bucketful of water at him—and there’s instant chemistry. He flirts, she pretends a rude sort of indifference, but it’s obvious that they’re well on the way to falling in love.
When Gulab finally comes to Mala and Gulu’s home, Mala helps dress Kamla up prettily so that Kamla can meet her husband. But Gulab is as cold and unresponsive as ever [why am I not surprised?]. He tells Kamla that he’s not interested in her and that their relationship is at an end.
Kamla tries to plead, then resigns herself to smiling beatifically while constantly saying how Gulab will always be her true love. This woman gets on my nerves with her pativrata ways; she’s irritating in the extreme.
Both ‘heroes’—Moti Singh and Gulab—are not exactly hero material. They’re criminals, they’re untrustworthy, and other than their looks, there’s very little to be appreciated there. Worst of all, they don’t even care much for the respective women in their lives. Gulab rejects Kamla outright, and Moti Singh, while he flirts outrageously with Mala, takes a long time to realise that this is love, and that it requires something more than just a clandestine rendezvous now and then.
Where will this tale lead? Will the two jodis find happiness? And what of Moti Bai and her criminal activities?
Writer and director Kidar Sharma (also known for Baawre Nain and Chitralekha) is not at his best here; the scripting is choppy, and the story moves in fits and starts. Kamla’s incessant pleading with Gulab to take her back becomes boringly repetitive after a while, whereas other equally important elements of the plot—such as the romance between Moti Singh and Mala, or Moti Singh’s battle with his own conscience, or Moti Bai’s criminal activities, are given too little time for them to be really believable.
Ultimately, this one’s pretty typical of pre-Tumsa Nahin Dekha Shammi Kapoor films: not very well-written, and with a hefty dose of tragedy [I’m warning you!] included. Recommended only if you’re nutty enough about Mr Kapoor to want to see each of his films.
What I liked about this film:
The music, by Roshan. The songs of Rangeen Raatein were all new to me, but many of them were really nice. My favourites were More baalma o more saajna o, Ghoonghat hataaike nazrein milaaike, and Bahut aasaan hai chilman se.
The authenticity of the setting. Rangeen Raatein was actually filmed in Ranikhet (in present-day Uttarakhand), so everything—from the slate-roofed village houses and terraced fields, the pine woods, and the cattle in their sheds, to the costumes of the actors—are all very pahadi. Just watching this film made me want to go on a trip to Uttarakhand again.
One very sensual scene; in fact, in all the Shammi Kapoor films I’ve seen, I’ve never come across a scene as sizzling as this.
What I didn’t like:
The script and pace of the film; too much time is devoted to repeating the same thing (Kamla’s love for Gulab) over and over again, while nearly ignoring other important aspects of the story. I’d have liked it to be a little better balanced.
Kamla, who really got on my nerves after a while. I could have imagined that a blind village woman, deserted by her husband, would be miserable; but Kamla’s unfailing cheerfulness became downright jarring pretty soon. I wished she’d stop smiling in that long-suffering way of hers, and just own up to being unhappy.
The treatment of children and animals. There’s a scene where a burning cigarette is tossed into a parrot’s nest, and two scenes where poor baby Natthu is flung about in what must have been really painful for the child.
Two little bits of trivia:
Tun Tun both acts and sings in Rangeen Raatein—and is credited twice. She’s listed as Tun Tun along with the other members of the cast; and she’s listed as Uma Devi among the playback singers. She doesn’t have an entire song to herself, though; all she does is sing a couple of lines towards the end in Main ek shola, aag ka gola.
Geeta Bali, on hearing that Kidar Sharma (who had been a mentor to her) was going to be shooting in Ranikhet, asked for a role in the film—because she wanted very much to visit Kumaon. Sharma couldn’t give her the heroine’s part, because Mala Sinha had already been signed on for it. So Geeta Bali was given the role of Gulu. The shooting in Ranikhet (in April 1955) resulted in Geeta Bali and Shammi Kapoor falling in love, and getting married four months later.