Shrimatiji (1952)

Among the lesser-known films for which my Uncle Vernie played was Shrimatiji, made by (and featuring) some of his closest friends. IS Johar, who was one of Vernie Tau’s chums, wrote, directed, and acted in it. The three music composers for the film (Jimmy, Basant Prakash, and S Mohinder) too were friends of Vernie Tau’s, Jimmy an especially close pal.

My father had recently expressed a desire to watch this film, mainly to hear his elder brother’s music. When I discovered it starred Shyama (whose gorgeous smile and dancing eyes make her one of my favourites), I decided I needed to watch it too. And, since the only other film in which I’ve seen Nasir Khan was Ganga-Jamuna, I wanted to see if he was any different in a much earlier film.

Shyama and Nasir Khan in Shrimatiji

I am glad to say I loved Shyama in this. And that Nasir Khan, young and unfettered by tragic hero status (unlike older brother Dilip Kumar) is likeable. It may not be the best comedy I’ve ever seen (not by a long shot), but bits of it were entertaining enough—and I really liked a couple of the songs.

Shrimatiji is set in 1942, and begins on a deserted country road where Indra (Shyama) is sitting at a bus stop all by herself, waiting for a bus to take her back to the city. It is in the middle of the monsoon and the road is a series of puddles.
Indra had come to a village to try and get a job as a school teacher, but her attempt has failed, so she’s headed back.

Indra waits for a bus

Only, the bus doesn’t stop (it races by, splashing mud all over poor Indra), and even a passing car goes past…

…only to screech to a halt. The driver, Jeevan (?) offers Indra a lift. She initially refuses, but a sudden flash of lightning in a darkening sky makes her change her mind. She accepts Jeevan’s offer, and since he’s quite polite and gentleman-like, doesn’t find reason to regret her decision. Or not immediately, at least.

Jeevan gives Indra a lift

Soon after, they approach a fancy hotel beside the road. Unseen by Indra, Jeevan smartly snips a wire in his car [how come people in Hindi films have electric wires dangling within easy reach in their cars?]. He explains to Indra that his car’s out of petrol, so it’s just as well they’re outside the hotel—they can spend the night here.

Jeevan's car 'runs out of petrol'

Indra has been pretty naïve all this while: she hasn’t realised that Jeevan has designs on her. Now, while she goes to the ladies’ to change into clean clothes (remember? She’d been splashed), Jeevan concocts a rather convoluted plan to have his wicked way with her.
This plan involves a friend of Jeevan’s, as equally unscrupulous as Jeevan himself. Jeevan briefs him, and goes off…

Jeevan briefs a friend

…while the friend accosts Indra, now sitting at a table in the restaurant. He has already informed a police constable who’s standing nearby—though not within earshot—that Indra is a thief, who’s just stolen a purse full of valuables. [why the constable doesn’t arrest her right then is anybody’s guess]. The friend asks Indra if he might sit at her table, gives her some rigmarole about him being a palmist, and discreetly slips the purse—which he’s been carrying with him—into Indra’s suitcase, which is lying beside them. [Nobody notices, of course—neither Indra, nor the cop].

A 'palmist' joins Indra at her table

But the cop now summons a colleague, and they pounce on Indra. Jeevan’s friend accuses her of having stolen his purse and put it in her suitcase, and Indra’s busy yelling her innocence… when the manager of the hotel (Murad) arrives along with Jeevan. Jeevan assures everybody that Indra is his wife—his ‘shrimatiji’, and that she actually is innocent. A Major who’s in the manager’s company happens to know Jeevan well, so vouches for him.

Jeevan comes to Indra's rescue

Jeevan’s friend gets hauled away by the cops [what does he get out of this adventure, I wonder?]. The Major whips out a camera, wanting to take a photo of Jeevan, ‘Mrs Jeevan’, and the manager. They oblige, and Indra goes along with it, realising that if she denies being married to Jeevan, she’ll be accused of the theft and probably arrested.

The Major takes a photo of the 'newlyweds'

The manager, having apologised to the shrimatiji for this incident, offers the newlywed couple (as Jeevan has described them), the only room available.
Once there, of course, Indra discovers the truth: that Jeevan, far from being a gentleman and leaving the room for her, intends to spend the night there—in her company.

Jeevan shows his true colours

And this where Indra shows herself to be a far more feisty character than I’d expected her to be. Instead of pleading with him or crying or shrieking for help, Indra spits on her hands [literally!] and sets about thrashing Jeevan up. She kicks and bites and slaps him, and finally corners him with the help of a cut electrical lamp cord: a couple of nasty shocks, and Jeevan is blubbering for help.

Indra gets the better of Jeevan

Indra runs away, and the next thing we know, she’s back in the city, where she lives with three roommates (one of whom is a young Indira Bansal). All four girls are equally broke and are deeply in debt. So deeply that they are reduced to ordering one cup of tea between the four of them, and portioning it out.

Back in town, Indra and her friends

When they go out searching once again for jobs, they return to discover that their creditors are crowding the staircase to the girls’ flat. They manage to sneak in by a window at the back, compare notes, realise their situation’s desperate, and—well, break into song. [It’s one of the most delightful songs I’ve heard about housekeeping, so I’m okay with this].

A little song and dance

The next day, Indra is at a typing school (and making a sad mess of her work), when two men arrive looking to employ a secretary. The pair call themselves Motumal (Majnu) and Chhoturam (IS Johar). Indra makes quite an impression on them when she accidentally flings the top half of her typewriter, ribbons, cartridge and all, onto their feet. Chhoturam and  Matumal tell the lady in charge (Tuntun, in a cameo) that they’d like to employ this girl.

At the typing school...

Indra is very happy, and even more so when, in their office, her new bosses tell her that they’ll be paying her a princely salary of Rs 300 per month. Chhoturam gives her Rs 600 as an advance, plus a further Rs 5,000, with instructions that she should go and have that amount changed for notes of a smaller denomination.

Chhoturam and Motumal give Indra her orders - and money

Our girl is thrilled to bits, and hasn’t the slightest inkling that these two characters are actually secret agents who are spying for the Japanese. When she’s gone off, Chhoturam and Motumal tune into their radio and contact a Japanese officer, to whom they report that they have hired a new secretary and sent her off with the forged currency. Soon India will be awash in fake currency, and the war effort will collapse.

The Japanese in radio contact with Chhoturam and Motumal

Meanwhile, Indra has used the advance she’d received to pay off the girls’ creditors. The money, within a matter of hours, is found by the police and traced. Fortunately, the girls come to know of this before the police can get to them, so they hide. Indra, certain that the ‘shareef’ Chhoturam and Motumal couldn’t be to blame, decides to go back to their office to return the money.

Just as she’s about to enter, though, Indra overhears her two bosses, in conversation with Jeevan [yes, like a bad penny—rather appropriate, in this case—he keeps popping up].  It doesn’t take much listening for Indra to realise that Chhoturam and Motumal are as crooked as their pal Jeevan.

Indra overhears her bosses - with Jeevan!

She flees, but in the process slips, drops the briefcase, and has to scramble to escape. Motumal and Chhoturam give chase, and while they’re trying to catch up with Indra, Jeevan picks up the briefcase (full of real money, since Indra had already accomplished that task). He makes a quick exit.

Now Indra and her buddies are really in the soup. They have no money. They can’t go back to their flat, since that’s the first place the police will come looking for them. And there’s a warrant out for Indra’s arrest, on charges of aiding and abetting forgery.
Luck hasn’t deserted them completely, however. Soon after, sitting on the pavement outside a theatre, they see four men—dressed as Romans—emerge from the theatre, quarrelling with a fifth.

A quarrel outside a theatre

It turns out that these four, headed by Rajesh (Nasir Khan) are the lead players of this theatre. They’ve had a difference of opinion with the manager, and, as a result, are threatening to quit.

Indra takes advantage of the situation and jumps into the fray along with her friends. They offer to act, dance and sing in the theatre, a proposal which irks Rajesh and his pals (one of whom is played by Ram Avtar), who suddenly realise that their jobs are in serious danger.

Rajesh and his pals

The men scoff at the girls, saying they’ll never make it. And Indra takes up the challenge. If we’re accepted, she tells Rajesh, you four men will have to be our assistants, and do whatever we tell you to. And vice-versa, adds Rajesh, who is convinced the girls won’t succeed.
But they do (thanks to a peppy but impromptu number by Indra, who gets cold feet at the last minute). The audience is happy, the manager is happy, and he employs the girls, who are the happiest.

Not so Rajesh and his cronies, who now have to cater to every whim and fancy of the girls.

Indra orders Rajesh about

And this, not even midway through the film. There’s plenty more to come. After all, what is an old-fashioned Hindi film without a romance (and when you have four young men and four young women, four romances?) Plus, there’s the fact that, all said and done, the police still believe Indra was party to the circulation of forged currency. And Chhoturam and Motumal believe Indra has run off with the real money (which, of course, is actually in Jeevan’s hands). And the war is still on.

Complicated? You bet.

What I liked about this film:

Shyama as Indra. Shyama, as I mentioned, is a favourite of mine—and in Shrimatiji, as Indra, she is at her kickass best. Indra does have her moments of being the helpless, caught-in-a-cleft female, but she usually triumphs. Jeevan, for example, gets his just desserts when she bashes him towards the beginning of the film. And there’s a memorable episode near the end where, faced by the enemy, Indra holds her own, wielding a single stick pretty effectively while the men on her side cower uselessly or lie about unconscious. Atta-girl!

Shyama as Indra in Shrimatiji

The music, by Jimmy, Basant Prakash, and S Mohinder. My favourite is Barkha ki raaton mein, for its lovely melody, while Ae babu o babuji and Lipstick lagaanewaale dil ko jalaanewaale are so much fun that it’s impossible for me to dislike them.  Incidentally, while Ae babu o babuji has been sung by Shamshad Begum, Jimmy—who taught Kishore Kumar how to yodel—yodels a bit in it.

What I didn’t like:

The completely crazy all-over-the-place story in the last half hour or so of the film. About three-fourths of the film is fast-paced, loony but funny (rather like one of those screwball comedies so popular in Hollywood in the 30s and 40s). It isn’t perfect even then, because scenes are telescoped into sometimes ludicrously short sequences that don’t have much of an impact. But the worst is in the last half hour, when lots of pretty silly stuff happens, totally unbelievable volte-faces take place, and one’s left wondering why.

Still. With old Hindi comedies being so few and far apart, that can be forgiven. This isn’t a Roop Shorey style Ek Thi Ladki (though it does seem as if IS Johar was attempting something of the sort—there are too many resemblances to that film), but it’s good for a few laughs anyway.


44 thoughts on “Shrimatiji (1952)

  1. What an obscure film, DO. Never heard any of the songs let alone the film.
    Barkha ki Raaton mein is melodious, but
    lipstick lagaane waale dil ko jalanewaale – choola jala rahe hain had me ROTFL. Also other similar lines, especially,
    teer chalanewale – chammach chala rahe hain ROTFL

    You’ve made the story sound so interesting and different.
    Shyama is one of my favourites too. Loved her in Barsaat ki Raat as much as Madhubala. Also in the song thandi thandi hawa pooche unka pata laaj aaye sakhi … she looks so lovely (haven’t seen the film – only the song).
    Thanks DO.


    • “Never heard any of the songs let alone the film.

      Now that has to be a first for you, Pacifist – you seem to know the most obscure of songs! I loved the lyrics (not to mention the picturisation) of Lipstick lagaanewaale too. The first time I heard it, it didn’t strike me immediately that the ‘jalaana‘ was being used in two different ways, but after that, I was giggling all the way. Whoever wrote the lyrics (and I haven’t been able to discover that – either Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Shailendra, or Hasrat), did a fine job.

      I think I actually liked Shyama – as a character – more in Barsaat ki Raat than I did Madhubala!


  2. See, this is like one more Jeevan (?) coming up from some place and saying, Atta Girl! Just the kind of story that should be going around, when Indians girls need to pin their dirty old men down not by their kickass beauty, but their kickass fists!
    Great review! Or did I see the film, as I read?


    • Yes, Julia, this is certainly an appropriate film for the times! Indra is just the type of woman Indian girls should emulate – not waiting for her hero to come and rescue her, but actually fighting her way through (and winning).

      Glad you liked the review. :-)


  3. Very good review, Madhu. You really have a knack of describing things. You make them come alive. :-)

    Sounds like a fun movie actually. I only remember that lipstick waala song – from seeing it on Atul’s blog a long time ago.

    Always good to see Shyama. :-)

    Btw, what do you think of Nasir Khan now, considering that you’ve now seen him in two films?


    • Thank you so much, Raja! I’m glad you liked this review. Yes, it’s a fun movie, even if it does get a little wearing in the last half-hour (and even then, at least it’s not terribly melodramatic or otherwise ‘red-mist’!)

      Hmm. Nasir Khan is probably not best gauged by way of this film. Honestly, even though he’s credited right at the beginning, along with Shyama, this is really Shyama’s film all the way. He doesn’t even make an entrance till pretty late in the film, and is never really much of the traditional hero you see in Hindi cinema.

      I guess I should go scouting for some other Nasir Khan films now…


    • It showcases her wonderfully, Ava. You must see this one – it’s available as a VCD from Induna.

      I am always intrigued by how Shyama acted, pretty simultaneously, as the heroine (Do Behnen, Mai Baap, Bus Conductor, Khazanchi etc), the shrew (Bhabhi, Chhoti Bahen, Bahurani) and the second lead (Barsaat ki Raat). Pretty versatile.


  4. I’m glad you got to see Shrimatiji, Madhu. It’s been a while since I watched the film, but like you I loved Shyama in it. I liked that the movie centered around her character rather than the hero’s as is generally the case in Hindi movies. And Johar certainly did seem to feature the fiesty-resourceful-modern-woman-caught-in-a-nefarious-plot trope in several of his earlier movies. Most of them were decent fun, so no complaints from me.


    • I too liked that the movie centred around Shyama’s character rather the usual hero-centric films. And, unlike the other notable female-centric films of the period (like Mother India), this wasn’t depressing tale. Nor was her character being headstrong for the sake of it, as in Ziddi.

      In fact, I’d say Nasir Khan was the one who ended up being in the sort of role usually assigned to a heroine in the usual Hindi film: mostly there only to provide a romantic angle. ;-)


  5. Can you believe it, I was just watching THIS interview before reading the review ?

    Will look out for this film. Have you seen ‘Bhai Bhai’ , the film with the classic ‘Ae dil mujhe bata de’ picturised on Shyama?


    • Wow, that is a coincidence! Such a delightful interview, and Shyama is so vivacious and lovely even now. She seems like such an unassuming and down-to-earth person.:-)

      I have watched Bhai-Bhai; didn’t like it much, though of course the music is great. Shyama’s role is of the ‘other woman’, not a sympathetic character.

      Do you know which film that is, from which the clips with Shammi Kapoor are taken?

      Thank you for sharing this, Chris! Liked it a lot.


      • Such coincidences do happen occasionally.
        The clips with Shammi Kapoor are from the film ‘Mirza Sahibaan’ ; one of those ‘tragic’ romances Punjab is known for.


    • This is a lovely interview. Thanks.
      When was it taken? Is this her present look? She looks great I must say, because she must be in her 80s here. Love her sinple straightforward way of telling things. Such innocence.


      • This interview (and of other stars of the golden era on that channel) are from the 90s – early 2000s. Shyama has not celebrated her 80th birthday yet as per wiki.


  6. Madhooooo! *Groan* I have a fever of 103, a sinus infection that has blocked my nostrils and seemingly unblocked my tearducts (or why am I sooo weepy all the time now?), all courtesy my youngest, and I don’t have the energy to lie down, much less see a film, and you go write such a delicious review of a film I had heard of, but never felt interested in tracking down and watching. I haven’t heard any of these songs either. Now I am laughing through my tears as I watched the kaamwaali song, and I’m wondering where I can get a copy to watch. My head is not going to thank you! (I do, though.)


    • Oh, Anu, you poor thing! You sound very ill indeed. :-( I do hope you’re better now. And, shouldn’t you be resting instead of surfing the Net?! *grrr*

      But this is a mostly-cute film, and definitely worth at least a watch, mostly because of Shyama. She’s a treasure here! Shrimatiji is available on Induna (or was, a few months back, when I ordered it), so you can probably buy it from there.

      Get well soon!


    • Poor you Anu :-( Get well soon.
      Laughter being the best medicine, you’ll find yourself on the road to recovery pretty soon. Just keep listening to ‘kaamwaali’ song :-D


  7. Now that was a delightful review of a delightful movie.
    After the happening sin the capital and elsewhere, nice to see a woman stand up for herself and also beat up the villains!
    How nice to see a heroine stand for herself and threaten to strangle the villain right in the very first part of the film! Yay!
    It seems I. S. Johar was very much of a feminist! Kudos to him!


    • I don’t know about IS Johar being much of a feminist, but yes, from both Shrimatiji as well as Dholak (which was also written by him), it certainly seems he liked the idea of a feisty heroine, not one to cower and cringe.


  8. Incidentally, we watched Hum Sab Chor Hai, directed by ISJ, last week.
    Among similarities with Shrimatiji, the film is cantered on the female lead role, and “What I Didn’t Like”.
    The review, a very pleasing reading as it is, did provide opportunity to re-visit the songs.
    One certainly remembers Nagina as Naseer Khan in the lead role, a film in which Nutan could not attend the premier show because she was only 16 (or so) and the film was certified as “A”.
    One more unique aspect of Shrimatiji should be a combination of 3 music directors and three lyricists – Raja Mehandi Ali Khan, Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri


    • I’d watched Hum Sab Chor Hain years ago, when it was shown on Doordarshan, so I have only very sketchy memories of it. I do remember liking it quite a bit, though – the only pre-Tumsa Nahin Dekha movie of Shammi Kapoor’s that I’ve actually liked. How did you get hold of it? The last time I’d checked, no VCDs were available, let alone DVDs.

      My father was also mentioning yesterday that Naseer Khan had been the male lead in Nagina. That’s another film I want to see.


  9. Madhu ji,
    very good review of a moderately funny film.
    After the unprecedented success of ‘Ek thi Ladji”-1949,which was also written by I S Johar,both Roop K Shorey and Johar were mesmerised with the story.They could never come out of that.

    Shorey tried to repeat the story in some form or the other and even Johar did that too.further Shorey considered Johar and Majnu as a lucky charm for him and repeated them in almost all subsequent films,barring some.
    So,after 1950 , upto say 71 film “Ek thi Reeta”,there were many films with similar plot.poor Shorey died hoping till the last that he will duplicate the ETLadki magic again!

    Hum sab chor hain- ETLadki clone was my favourite film due to its songs and Nalini Jayawant.

    Nagina is also worth watching.It was one of the films which Nasir khan made after he had to come back to India running away from Pakistan,overnight, because of an affair which threatened to become a risk to his life.


    • Thank you, Arunji. Yes, ‘moderately funny’ is the right term for this film.

      I will certainly look out for Nagina. I remember having read a review of it on a blog (I’ve forgotten whose), which did have positive things to say about the film.

      When it comes to Ek Thi Ladki, I like it, but I still think Dholak is more enjoyable. Roop Shorey, in my opinion, does even better in that than in Ek Thi Ladki.


  10. I really enjoy the posts on your uncle or should that be uncles. As far as this film is concerned I think I would enjoy it for one it features Shyama, I quite like her and it also stars Nasir Khan. Most people will be surprised but the fact is as they say ‘Pasan Apni Apni, Khayal Apna Apna’. You see while everyone goes gaga over Dilip Kumar, I just fell in love with his younger brother Nasir Khan, I found him very charming the first time I saw him in Nagina opposite Nutan, who was then little more than a child.


  11. This was the first film of Shyama as a heroine although she had been acting since 1945 as an extra and side heroine. The man is not Jeevan but an actor called Ram Singh who actually came in many films like Shaheed, Apradh, Sargam etc


    • I never said the actor’s name was Jeevan (that’s why I’ve added the question mark in the brackets following the name of the character – that’s to indicate I don’t know who the actor is). Thank you for telling me.


  12. What a coincidence.
    Just finished seeing Shrimatiji!
    Beautiful film simple and uncomplicated.
    Atta girl Shyama you bashed them up.
    Music was great. Thanks for your blog which I read midway thru the film.
    This film was released when I as 7 years old!


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