Considering ‘arranged marriages’ were—and still are—so common in India, the fact that old Hindi cinema tended to focus mostly on ‘love marriages’ seems rather odd to me. It’s more romantic, I suppose, to imagine that one will fall in love and end up, after various trials and tribulations and having encountered sundry obstacles, married to one’s sweetheart.
There were exceptions, though, the occasional film about people getting married first, and falling in love later. There was Ghoonghat, Saanjh aur Savera, Blackmail, or those examples of child marriages, Chhoti si Mulaqat and Ji Chaahta Hai. Most of them about people who are forced—because of their own submissiveness, and because they can’t pluck up the courage to say no to bossy elders—into getting married to near or complete strangers.
Unlike this one. Mohabbat Zindagi Hai is one of the few examples (Mr & Mrs 55 was another) of someone getting married for a very mercenary reason. And, as in Mr & Mrs 55, the heroine here is an heiress who needs to get married in a hurry in order to inherit. No husband, no money. But, unlike Mr & Mrs 55, the heroine here doesn’t marry because she thinks she can easily divorce her unwanted husband soon after; she marries him because he’s on death row. He won’t be alive three days after their wedding.
To start at the beginning, however. Neeta (Rajshree) is the neglected daughter of the very wealthy Mr Sharma (Badri Prasad), the owner of some coal mines. Neeta’s mother died giving birth to her, and (Anupama-like), Mr Sharma blamed Neeta for it. So much so that he pretty much left her to be brought up by servants. She has never been deprived of the material things in life—far from it—but her father’s coldness has embittered her. Neeta resents his neglect of her, and the fact that he’s constantly heckling her to get married makes things no better.
Neeta is out on a picnic with some friends when—the friends having decided to stay on a while longer, while Neeta wants to go home—she sets off homeward (through the jungle, and on foot!) Along the way, she bumps into [no, not the junglee jaanwar she’s been warned of] Amar (Dharmendra). Amar, unknown to Neeta, is a supervisor in her father’s mines. He doesn’t have the faintest idea who she is, and sets about flirting with her mercilessly.
We are now introduced to a few other important people in the story. The chief of these is Mr Sinha (Nasir Hussain, as avuncular as ever) a lawyer who is Mr Sharma’s best friend. Mr Sinha keeps admonishing Mr Sharma to stop:
(a) drinking so much (Sharma has become an alcoholic ever since his wife’s death)
(b) heckling Neeta to get married
Neither of which has any effect on his friend.
There’s Mr Sinha’s rather spineless (literally; he’s slouching and slumping all the time) son, Vikram ‘Vicky’ (Deven Verma). Vicky is also a lawyer and works as a junior to his father. In addition, he’s a friend of Neeta’s. And he’s been deputed by Mr Sinha to keep an eye on Neeta and report back [why, it’s not explained. It reeks of an invasion of privacy, though, to me].
Then, there are the people in the colony next to the coal mines. All the men, of course, are miners, and they and their families inhabit the colony. Amar is a favourite here with everybody, because—though he’s far more literate and not as poor as them—he treats them as equals, genuinely cares for them, and is generous with sweets at Diwali and smiles and good cheer the rest of the time.
He even happens to save a little boy called Gopi from being run over by a train, and Gopi’s mother Laajo (Chand Usmani) is very, very grateful. She tells Amar that she’s new in the colony; she’s arrived only the other day. When asked who her husband is, however, she brushes it off, saying she hasn’t seen the man for a long time now. Amar is too polite to enquire further.
…but the truth is revealed soon after, at least to the audience. The colony’s most eligible bachelor [and how short they must be on bachelors, really] is Manglu (Mehmood, dressed in unflattering fitted pyjamas and short kurtas, or worse, in just a langot). He’s being chased by all the unmarried lovelorn young women in the basti, and one day happens to bump into Laajo. Laajo! Horror and embarrassment on Manglu’s side, joy on hers. It turns out Manglu is Gopi’s father. Some years back, Manglu left home to seek his fortune so he could provide for his sweetheart Laajo; he came away to the coal mines, and has been working here ever since.
Laajo tells Manglu that, fearing persecution from fellow villagers for becoming an unwed mother, she fled the village. Now she’s happy: she has found Manglu and they can be together again. To her shock, Manglu puts a dampener on this. Of course not, he says. Nothing doing. They can’t be together. He rushes off, and Laajo grits her teeth and says she’ll see how Manglu won’t be hers. [This eagerness to have such a rotter for a partner beats me, especially considering Laajo seems to have done fairly well for herself all this while].
Anyway, back to the main story [which, sadly, keeps getting punctuated now and then by this very avoidable comic side plot of Manglu’s]. Neeta, going down into the coal mines for a tour with her friends, gets separated from them and wanders off on her own, looking for the way out. She nearly blunders into an area which has been rigged with dynamite and is due to be blown up any moment—but is saved in the nick of time by none other than Amar, the supervisor on this stretch.
Neeta is shaken up, but not especially gracious in her thanks; and Amar is miffed at this stupid girl who goes wandering about the mines as if she were in a park [I don’t blame him]. Amar already has enough on his plate as it is; two workers in the section under his charge have had a fight over money borrowed and not paid back, and Amar has had to break up their fight before they harm each other.
In the meantime, one evening, playing billiards [and drinking like a fish on the side], Mr Sharma feels a sharp pain in his chest. It doesn’t turn out to be a heart attack, but the doctor comes by, gives him an injection, cautions him against this drinking—and Mr Sharma, after this reminder of his mortality, decides it is time to turn over a new leaf.
At Mr Sinha’s insistence, he goes to Neeta’s birthday party, which she’s hosting for her friends (Mr Sharma had forgotten all about it being his daughter’s birthday). There is a tearful reunion of father and daughter, after which—encouraged by her father and his friend—Neeta goes back to dancing with her friends, while Mr Sharma and Mr Sinha go upstairs.
…when suddenly, upstairs, Mr Sharma has a heart attack and dies.
The sorrow and shock of her father’s death aside, Neeta has another unpleasant surprise in store for her. When Mr Sinha reads out the will (which her father had written well before his change of heart, but which—because he hasn’t had the time to change it—still stands), Neeta discovers that she must get married within three months in order to inherit the wealth due to her.
This is preposterous! She raves and rants, says she will appeal to the courts, or will marry just about anyone of her male friends and then get a divorce once she’s inherited—but Mr Sinha stops her. He, after all, is a lawyer, he assures her. He will examine this will and try to find a way out. They have three months; there’s plenty of time.
He doesn’t do a thing about it, intentionally [I thought for a while, from some of the slightly cloak-and-dagger conversations between Mr Sinha and Vicky, that Mr Sinha was going to suggest Neeta marry Vicky, but that didn’t happen]. And Neeta too seems to have forgotten, or is just too blindly confident of Mr Sinha and his ability to get her safely out of this mess.
There’s a very brief, incomplete [edited?] scene in the coal mines, where Amar’s two belligerent workers have finally had a violent brawl. We see Amar rushing, all alone, to try and stop them…
…and the scene shifts back to Neeta, who has now discovered that the three months will be up in three days’ time. Mr Sinha, when she confronts him, has no solution to offer. Neeta, in a fit of anger, rushes off for help from another quarter: she goes to a lawyer named Mr Srivastava and asks him for a second opinion.
And Mr Srivastava comes up with an unorthodox and thoroughly mercenary solution. He takes her to the local jail and tells her his idea: there’s a prisoner here, convicted of murder, who’s going to be executed three days from now. Mr Srivastava had represented him but lost the case. If Neeta marries the prisoner, she will have a husband (and, therefore, the money)—but, three days later, with the husband conveniently dead, she needn’t worry any more about being saddled with a man she doesn’t want.
Neeta is initially reluctant—more so when she sees who the prisoner is: Amar, whom she doesn’t like one bit, anyway. And Amar, on his part, refuses to have anything to do with a scheme like this. He, however, is prevailed upon to agree (Mr Srivastava can be persuasive when he puts his mind to it): it will be a good deed, because Neeta will be able to inherit the money which is rightfully hers.
So, in an unromantic court wedding, Neeta and Amar are quietly married. They part ways on the steps of the courthouse, Amar heading back to jail and the hangman’s noose while Neeta goes off to triumphantly brandish before Mr Sinha her marriage certificate, so that he can get her her money. [Pretty cold-blooded, this woman].
Mr Sinha, who has more scruples, privately decides marriage should be for keeps. Besides, he’s met Amar before and has been impressed by the young man’s sincerity, goodness, and overall impressiveness. He’s certain Amar is innocent, so he decides to meet Amar, investigate the case for himself, and find out who really committed the murder. Within a day, Mr Poirot Sinha has got to the real culprit [which makes me wonder just how incompetent the local police must be]…
So that, by the time Neeta, now an heiress and ready to celebrate with her friends, comes back home, it is to find her presumed-dead husband waiting for her. Amar has been ba-izzat bari karoed, and he’s come here to be husband to her. Whether she likes it or not.
And Neeta, left unloved and lonely through most of her life, is now so used to the idea of being alone that she has absolutely no desire for a husband. She will do anything, fight tooth and nail, to get rid of Amar.
I have to admit that the one trope in romantic fiction that I like is the marriage of convenience, where two people get married for a mundane reason other than love, and end up falling in love. Something sweet about that, and it was the main reason I watched Mohabbat Zindagi Hai: the synopsis sounded right up my street. And Dharmendra? Yum, I thought.
But did the film match up to my expectations of it? Not quite.
What I liked about this film:
The eye candy, in the form of the two leads. Especially Dharmendra, who in the mid-60s used to look good enough to eat. Rajshree, while not the most beautiful of actresses, could be very pretty at times—and she is, here. Together, they look great.
An aside: interestingly—and daringly—Mohabbat Zindagi Hai has some pretty steamy scenes, considering this was 1966. There’s a suhaag raat scene which has Dharmendra bare-chested, and there’s a song (Raaton ko chori-chori) picturised on Chand Usmani (and partly on Rajshree), where Chand Usmani’s character’s restlessness doesn’t leave much to the imagination.
OP Nayyar’s music. This isn’t one of his best-known scores (and I must admit I wouldn’t be able to recall most of the songs without help), but the songs are pleasant enough. Tumhaari mulaaqat se, Na jaane kyon hamaare dil ko and Yeh purnoor chehra are the best of the lot.
What I didn’t like:
The bad scripting. This was a film I had great hopes of: there was so much scope here to have a really good, very satisfying romance—but it’s completely botched because of poor scripting. For some inexplicable reason, Amar (who has already been given the background by Mr Sinha, and therefore knows that it’s not Neeta’s fault she’s so anti-love) decides that the best way to get Neeta to fall in love with him is to be nasty to her, order her all over the place, throw her friends out, and generally treat her like dirt. True, he doesn’t force himself on her or hit her—but, still. And the chemistry between them doesn’t have any chance to develop: it’s completely zero one minute because they’re fighting like cats and dogs; then, the next moment, having sung a romantic duet, they’re ready to be man and wife. Thoroughly unconvincing. Plus, the interruptions because of the Manglu-Laajo-his other girlfriends angle don’t help.
And there are things left unexplained. For example, why has Mr Sinha made Vicky trail Neeta all this while? What does he hope to achieve? And why did he sit around for three months, if it wasn’t as if he was hoping she would marry Vicky out of desperation? And why was Pritam stupid enough to do what precipitated the climax, anyway?
All said and done, a film I probably wouldn’t watch again. Even if it were for Dharmendra and Rajshree.