Look what I found!
[To make that clearer to those not in the know: I am a die-hard Shammi Kapoor fan, especially of the Shammi Kapoor between 1957 and 1966. I have watched most of his films from that period, and to find one I haven’t seen is cause for rejoicing. Even if it turns out to be a dud. Therefore the euphoria].
I first came across a mention of College Girl while watching a video of Halke-halke chalo saanwre (from Taangewaali, also starring Shammi). Besides the music (which I loved), I thought the song looked great too, and was eager to try and get hold of Taangewaali—until someone told me that a neat job of mixing had been done here: the audio was of the Taangewaali song, but the video was from College Girl. College Girl went up on my list of films to search for—and I discovered it last week on Youtube.
Unlike the quintessential 1960s Shammi Kapoor film (which tended to focus on the hero, often even being named for a character trait or the profession of the lead man: Junglee, Professor, Budtameez, Bluffmaster) this film, from the beginning, focuses on the heroine of the film, the eponymous college girl.
Except that she isn’t in college yet.
Kamla (Vyjyantimala) is the only daughter of widowed hakim Ram Prasad (Om Prakash). At the start of the film, Kamla has just finished her matriculation. [And, in a refreshing departure from the usual “pass ho gayi”, she’s not just passed—or got a first division—but has actually stood first in the university]. Kamla is, naturally, thoroughly chuffed about this, and goes to break the news to her friend Janaki (Purnima).
Janaki, unlike Kamla, is illiterate. She is also a rather pathetic figure. Her father (Nana Palsikar) has recently remarried, and Janaki’s stepmother (Tabassum) is—well, about the same age as Janaki herself. The one ray of light in this gloom is in that her stepmother is not the usual stepmother. She treats Janaki like a friend, and in a moment of shared sorrow, they admit that if Babuji hadn’t married a woman young enough to be his daughter, these two could have actually been friends, not mother and daughter…
But, back to Janaki and Kamla. Janaki is very happy for her friend, and urges Kamla to hurry home and share the news with her family. [Which I’d have expected Kamla to have done first, but—seeing her family in the next scene—I can understand her reticence].
Her father, on hearing that Kamla has topped the university [should this be ‘school board’ or something, though?] is very pleased. He’s even more pleased when he hears she’ll get a scholarship as a prize.
Both he and his sister (Leela Misra), who lives with them, however, balk at the idea of Kamla joining college. Ram Prasad thinks Kamla’s school education is more than enough; he doesn’t want her joining college and studying alongside men [she’d been in a girls’ school, so the question of the opposite sex being in close proximity hadn’t arisen]. Besides, there’s no money. Kamla reminds him of the scholarship.
But Hakim Sahib is adamant. No college for Kamla. He even breaks into a sweat when she asks him for a rupee to send a telegram to a friend, telling her about Kamla’s success.
“Here’s three paise,” says her father. “Send your friend a postcard.” Kamla returns the money, and with a lugubrious sigh [totally lost on Ram Prasad] says that the results will probably be announced in the newspapers; her friend will no doubt read about it there.
Ram Prasad is rather more generous to his two sons, Heera and Panna (one of whom is Kumud Tripathi). These two are utter wastrels who spend all their time at the akhaada, supposedly in training for wrestling, but actually just lolling around and eating almonds. Ram Prasad holds them up as paragons of virtue whom Kamla would do well to emulate. [I cannot imagine Kamla lolling about in an akhaada and tossing almonds into her mouth, though].
Kamla, thankfully, is no wimp. When Ram Prasad’s old friend, Dr Ratan Lal (Raj Mehra), comes visiting—after many years—and is openly appreciative of not just Kamla’s success but also her desire to study further, she decides to ask him for help. She goes to his house and tells him why she wants to study (to become a doctor, since her mother had died due to the absence of a lady doctor—and, presumably, a reluctance to be examined by a man).
Dr Ratan Lal agrees to help, and between them, they stage a little drama for the benefit of Ram Prasad. Kamla convinces her father that she would like to join a tailoring college; Ratan Lal pitches in and supports her, telling Ram Prasad that this is a laudable venture, since it’s something every young woman should know. Ram Prasad ends up having to acquiesce.
Kamla therefore joins college, and on her very first day, meets a classmate named Shyam (Shammi Kapoor, at last). Shyam is a bit of a joker, and (unknown to Kamla) is the son of Ratan Lal. Ratan Lal and his wife (Achla Sachdev) have more or less given up on Shyam achieving anything in the way of academics. He’s got into college, but how long he’s going to be there is anybody’s guess.
Kamla discovers soon enough who this young man is—because Shyam, who knows Ram Prasad, comes to consult the hakim for some minor ailment. While he’s sitting with Ram Prasad, Kamla emerges, and is introduced. She has to resort to much subterfuge to prevent Shyam from informing her father that it’s not a tailoring college she’s going to.
Thankfully for Kamla, Shyam—despite his clownishness and his reprehensible preference for hockey over books—is a sweet soul. He plays along and doesn’t reveal her secret to Ram Prasad.
He even helps Kamla keep her secret when Ram Prasad hands her a length of woolen material and tells her (since she’s been learning, as he thinks, to be a seamstress) to make him a sherwani. Kamla hasn’t the least idea of how to go about doing that, so Shyam helps by taking the cloth and getting it stitched. It’s hardly surprising that they become good friends very soon.
Ratan Lal decides to help along what he probably thinks is a good match, by proposing that he and Ram Prasad get together and buy a tonga, so that Shyam and Kamla can be spared the long-term expense and inconvenience of having to go to “their respective colleges” by public transport. Ram Prasad being the skinflint he is, agrees to buy the tonga if Ratan Lal will buy the horse and keep it fed. [This is all basically a set-up to allow this song].
Things seem to be getting along fabulously. Two years pass. Kamla is making good progress at college, and Ram Prasad hasn’t yet thought of asking her why she doesn’t seem to be churning out garments by the dozen.
Colleges being what they are, this one has an annual function, invitations to which are sent out to all the parents. Kamla, when seeking admission, had shown considerable foresight in giving her father’s address Care Of Dr Ratan Lal—that has helped keep Ram Prasad in the dark.
Unfortunately, when the invite to the annual function arrives at the good doctor’s home, he is not at home, and Ram Prasad (who’s popped in to say hello) is.
He’s surprised; why should he, Ram Prasad, be receiving an invite from Shyam’s college? But it’ll be interesting, he supposes, so he goes along for the function—just in time to see his daughter cavorting onstage with Shyam.
All hell breaks loose, of course. Ram Prasad is furious [enough to break one cardinal rule of Hindi film songs, to never ever cut off a song midway]. Kamla is dragged home, and locked up in her room upstairs—and told that she’s never to even think of going to college again.
In the meantime, Ram Prasad decides he must get Kamla married off as soon as possible. And not to Shyam, since Ram Prasad now realises that Ratan Lal and Shyam have aided and abetted Kamla all this while. In a dramatic scene, he unhitches his tonga from Ratan Lal’s horse, openly stating that this friendship is at an end.
Ram Prasad goes off to find a groom for Kamla. And Shyam, who’s overheard his plans, follows. It takes all of Shyam’s wits, disguises, a baby [whose antecedents are never revealed] and the use of a friend (Mohan Choti) who obligingly dresses up in drag, to throw a spanner in the works. Kamla, even if she can’t study, is at least not going to be forcibly married.
Not content with this, Shyam comes to meet Kamla [by shinning up the pipe to her room] and is discovered. Ram Prasad barges into his daughter’s room and pushes her sweetheart off the window sill. Horrors! Shyam, fortunately, doesn’t cop it, but is badly wounded enough to be in bed, all bandaged, for a brief scene where his mother can worry about him.
While Shyam is temporarily out of the picture, Kamla receives news that her friend Janaki is getting married. Kamla, of course, goes for the function, and is standing outside, watching the baaraat come in. The groom, when he arrives, is so old and decrepit that Janaki’s father has to help him walk to the mandap. Kamla is aghast, and rushes to talk to Janaki.
Janaki admits that her own illiteracy has brought her to this pretty pass, but Kamla is educated, she mustn’t let herself be bullied. She begs Kamla to not let anyone [read: Ram Prasad] run her life for her.
And, to reinforce that lesson, Janaki (unknown to Kamla) has already drunk down a bottle of poison—she collapses and dies in the middle of the pheras.
That is when Kamla realises how serious this matter of being educated or not, self-willed or a doormat, can be. But what will she do about it?
What I liked about this film:
The eye candy. I like both Shammi Kapoor and Vyjyantimala a lot, and they’re both equally pleasing to the eye in this.
The music, by Shankar-Jaikishan. Hum aur tum aur yeh sama, while nowhere as gloriously romantic as its Dil Deke Dekho counterpart, is very pleasant (though I will admit to being turned off a bit by the “lovely, lovely, lovely” bit). Pehla-pehla pyaar ka ishaara and Hum bhi karte hain pyaar are two others that are especially nice.
The basic premise of the story, about the importance of women’s education. And the fact that the central figure in it is a strong female character, without being a tomboy or very Westernised. Kamla conforms very much to Ram Prasad and his sister’s idea (or most of contemporary Hindi cinema’s idea)—at least when it comes to appearance and behavior—of what a ‘good girl’ should be like. She dresses in saris or salwar kurtas. She is respectful to her elders, does all the household chores—and yet is determined enough to push for what she sees as her right. I liked that Kamla was more real than most of the screen heroines of the period.
What I didn’t like:
I would’ve liked less of the melodrama in the last half hour of the film. It’s not unbearable [and I guessed pretty early on that this was coming], but still. Less would’ve been better.
And—conversely—more would’ve been better, in the case of Shammi Kapoor. He was the main reason I watched College Girl, and he actually didn’t have that much screen time in it.
College Girl is available for online viewing on Youtube, here. Be warned: the print is pretty bad. Plus, MM (the Pakistani avatar of Friends, methinks), appear to have summarily chopped off sections mid-scene in several places, leaving the story a bit choppy, particularly in the second half.