Yash Chopra’s debut as a director, Dhool ka Phool is unusual in a lot of ways.
Leela Chitnis, for instance, is not a coughing-her-guts out (or basket-making) pathetic old mum.
The hero and heroine travel by train—and that too in trains that go over bridges—without the train falling into the river or crashing and the protagonist losing their memory in the process. Or being given up for dead.
And two people in love in the first half-hour of the film end up moving on in life and not loving each other till the end of time.
On the flip side, it does have a long-lost mother feeling an inexplicable affection towards a strange boy, who for no reason that he can fathom, instinctively calls her “Ma!” It does have a thunderstorm at the end of a love song, with the expected consequences [read: raging hormones, libido and “Humein aisi galti nahin karni chaahiye thhi”]. And it does have Manmohan Krishna being the goodie-two-shoes who stands up for what is right and righteous.
Dhool ka Phool starts off with a bang. Rather, a crash. Mahesh (Rajendra Kumar, looking far too old to be playing a college student) is cycling along and collides with Meena (Mala Sinha), also on a cycle. She’s very miffed, since the collision has bent the front wheel of her cycle all out of shape. But Mahesh is gallant and offers to help. After she’s made some huffy excuses, he ends up escorting her to her home. He apparently has hidden charms, because by the time she says goodbye to him, Meena is bestowing shy smiles on Mahesh.
Meena, we see in the next scene, doesn’t have the happiest of domestic lives. She’s an orphan and lives with her chaacha (Jeevan, which—by the mere casting—should give you an idea of how loving an uncle this man is) and chaachi (Amir Banu). Both uncle and aunt spare no opportunity to tell Meena just what a burden she is on them, even though her dead father had left behind Rs 20,000 for Meena’s education and care.
Now that Meena’s met Mahesh, they soon [in the usual way of Hindi film jodis in colleges] find themselves onstage singing a duet. From there, it’s a short step to singing a duet in a garden. And, when the rain comes pouring down, taking shelter in a deserted hut [how come there’s always a conveniently placed deserted hut or cave in the vicinity when filmi characters are drenched?].
The inevitable happens; Meena and Mahesh end up being naughty, and—just as inevitably—end up feeling thoroughly remorseful for what’s happened. This was sinful of them, they admit, and Mahesh reassures Meena that they’ll get married soon. This cheers her up considerably.
What Mahesh doesn’t know is that while he’s been here in town studying in college and whooping it up with his girlfriend, back home his father (Radhakrishna) has been working like a beaver to have Mahesh set up well in life. This involves getting his beloved son both a good job and a good wife.
About a month after Mahesh and Meena’s momentous tryst, Mahesh receives a letter from Daddy, bearing good tidings. A plum job has been procured for Mahesh. It comes, too, with all the trappings: a house and a car [and, though Daddy does not mention it, and so Mahesh does not realise, a bride]. Mahesh is summoned home.
And, just as this happens, Meena discovers she is pregnant. Strangely for someone in a Hindi film, not because she feels nauseous, but because she has a cramp when she gets up too hurriedly. A wall calendar with a large photograph of a baby is near at hand for us—and Meena—to realise, with horror, what the implications of this are.
Meena goes rushing off to tell Mahesh, and he again reassures her: they will get married, their baby will not be born out of wedlock. He has to go home to meet his father, and while he’s there, Mahesh will wheedle Daddy into agreeing to the marriage.
Meena goes home, relieved. Perhaps her life will not fall apart, after all. Mahesh goes off to his hometown [in a train, as I mentioned, that actually manages to cross a river without plunging into it].
…and days pass. Weeks pass. Meena waits, with increasing impatience and anxiety, for news from Mahesh, but there’s not a squeak out of him. No letters, no telegrams, no anything. Finally, when she can’t bear it any more, Meena decides there’s only one option: to go to Mahesh’s father’s home and see what’s delayed Mahesh’s return.
But, disaster. Meena discovers that Mahesh is getting married. In fact, as she stands in the street, about to set forth for his house, the baraat passes by, with Mahesh mounted on a mare [and no, the sehra isn’t so thick or all-enveloping that it disguises him; Meena can see, quite clearly, that this is Mahesh and no-one else]. There is no question about this whole affair; the camera—and Meena—follow, and it’s clear as crystal: Mahesh has married another girl, Malti (Nanda).
Meena crawls back home, defeated. And things begin to happen in quick succession. She’s so distraught that her daai asks what’s wrong, and Meena confides in her: only to have chaachi, who’s lying awake in the next room, overhear the sordid confession. Chaacha and chaachi come storming out of their room to heap abuse on Meena. “Tujh jaisi kulta ke liye hamaare ghar mein jagah nahin hai!” they yell, and throw her out of the house in the middle of the night.
What is there for Meena to do? Commit suicide, of course. But just as she’s looking down from the edge of the cliff [why do people in Hindi films always pause before taking that big leap? Why not just go racing till the edge and leap off without a second thought?—because that would considerably shorten the story?]—the daai arrives and pulls Meena back. She even takes Meena to her own little hut and gives Meena a surprisingly level-headed lecture: if this is a sin, then it is more Mahesh’s wrongdoing than Meena’s, for having dumped her in this shameful way. Meena will have her baby, and will live with the daai for as long as it’s needed.
So Meena gives birth to a son, and they live for a few months with the daai. Then one day, out of the blue, the daai drops dead in the street. [The absence of coughing and sighing weakly, in the case of Leela Chitnis, is apparently no guarantee that her character will last till the end of the movie]. Meena and her baby are suddenly all alone and adrift in the world.
Meena, therefore, does the only thing she can think of: she takes her baby to its father. She arrives at Mahesh’s house just as he drives up in his car, and confronts him. This is his child, Meena informs Mahesh, and as its father, he is responsible for bringing it up. Mahesh blusters and gets belligerent, telling Meena that she should never have gotten into this mess in the first place, and that he’s now a married man. How can he take this baby into his house? When Meena retorts that she will go into his house and tell his wife that this is her husband’s illegitimate child, Mahesh asks her what proof there is.
There is none, of course, and Meena is left dumbstruck. Mahesh goes off, and she—in a fit of rage and helplessness—does the unthinkable [at least by the standards of Hindi cinema’s ultimate-in-self-sacrifice motherhood]: she puts her baby down on a pathway in the middle of a forest and abandons the little tyke.
Shortly after, along this path comes Abdul Rashid (Manmohan Krishna). He’s surprised to see the baby (which, by now, has acquired a guardian—a cobra has come slithering along and raised its hood over the baby as a sign of its protection; rather a cheesy motif that I’d not expected from Yash Chopra). Abdul Rashid, having marvelled at how someone can be callous enough to abandon a baby [and also having marvelled over the wonders of the animal world], picks up the baby. He shouts out, asking whose offspring this is, but—receiving no reply—takes the child to his own home.
In his neighbourhood, Abdul Chaacha (as he’s almost universally known) is initially praised for having taken pity on this poor baby. Then, when he tries passing the baby on to various neighbours for them to bring up as their own, people do an about-turn. Who knows whose baby this is, they say. Is he Hindu? Is he Muslim? And his parents must have been unmarried, too. Nobody wants to have anything to do with this paap ki gathri, as they label the little bundle.
Abdul, therefore, takes the baby to his own home, and spends the next few years lavishing all his love and affection on the child, whom he names Roshan (Sushil Kumar, who went on—a few years later—to play one of the protagonists in Dosti).
In the meantime, Roshan’s biological parents have gone their own ways. Mahesh, having gotten over Meena in a jiffy, has settled into blissfully happy married life with Malti. They’ve also had a son, Ramesh (Daisy Irani), a precocious and spoilt little brat whom his parents dote on. Mahesh, in a surprisingly short stretch of time, has gone grey-haired and in need of very thick glasses, and has also become a well-respected magistrate.
…and Meena, trying to scrape together a living, has managed to get a job as the secretary of an advocate named Jagdish Chandra (Ashok Kumar). She had, on that fateful night when she abandoned her baby, gone rushing back in a fit of remorse, but by then Abdul Chaacha had already taken the baby. Meena has not forgiven herself in all these years for that lapse in maternal duty and affection. This guilt, needling away at her, makes her commit some startling errors in her job at the beginning (a typed letter which wanders into a series of ‘mother-child, mother-child’), but she eventually settles in. Enough for her boss to, a few years later, propose to her. Meena agrees, and they get married.
And so we end up, a few years after this all started. Abdul Chaacha has been skimping and enduring hardship so that Roshan may be able to get a good education, but whichever school Roshan goes to, he ends up being asked who his father is—and when Roshan can supply no name, the children start bullying him. Now, in a last-ditch effort to try and get him into a school where this will not happen, Abdul Chaacha takes Roshan to get him admitted in yet another school… and who should be there, also getting admitted (and in Roshan’s class, too) but Roshan’s own half-brother, Ramesh, who’s been brought by Roshan’s real father?
Dhool ka Phool is a film I’d heard of many times before I watched it. I put off watching it mainly because Rajendra Kumar isn’t one of my favourites, and films about illegitimate children—or even children believed to be illegitimate, since their parents got secretly married—are, more often than not, tedious and melodramatic. [Ever wondered, by the way, why illegitimate children in Hindi films tend to be referred to as flowers? Dhool ka Phool, Ek Phool Do Maali, and the like. Considering how people in Hindi cinema tended to look down upon children of unwed parents, I’d have expected ‘weed’ to be a more appropriate appellation. I will admit, though, that ‘Ek Kharpatvaar Do Maali’ does not have much recall value].
But, I digress. This was an interesting enough film. Predictable in some ways, and not in others, especially in the way it laid stress on the fact that a child should not be held responsible for the deeds of its parents. More on that, below.
What I liked about this film:
The music, by N Dutta (with lyrics by my favourite, the inimitable Sahir Ludhianvi). Although the song that perhaps most adequately encapsulates the message of Dhool ka Phool is Tu Hindu banega na Mussulmaan banega (and it’s not a bad song, music-wise, either), my favourite song from this film is the lovely Jhukti ghata gaati hawa, followed by the eventually ironic Tere pyaar ka aasraa chahta hoon, wafaa kar raha hoon, wafaa chahta hoon.
The somewhat unusual treatment, at times, of some tropes. For instance, the fact that Meena’s and Mahesh’s love story is not one of undying love (compare this to similar films like Ek Phool Do Maali or Aradhana or Phoolon ki Sej, all with the unwed mother separated by fate from the father of her child, and all with the mother spending the rest of her life either mourning her lost love, or eventually reunited with him). Dhool ka Phool, in contrast, has the temerity to let Meena and Mahesh go their own ways, and for Meena—refreshingly bold, thank heavens—to eventually find love again.
What I didn’t like:
A fair number of things grated on my nerves while watching Dhool ka Phool, though none of these were by themselves enough to make me dislike the film. Rajendra Kumar isn’t one of my favourite actors, so that was a minus from the beginning. Daisy Irani’s character Ramesh is bratty and needs a swift kick in the pants, and the film does tend towards too much melodrama in places.
However, considering it questions some longstanding social norms (that the woman is to blame for conceiving out of wedlock, and that an illegitimate child must be ostracised)—that is good reason to applaud Dhool ka Phool. It was forward-thinking for its time, a fact also evidenced in the way its characters often behave (Jagdish Chandra takes Meena’s past in his stride, for example; and Abdul Chaacha does not hesitate to bring up an unknown child as his own). If only for that (and the good music, and some good acting from Manmohan Krishna, Mala Sinha, and Ashok Kumar), this is a film worth a watch.