Happy New Year!
The other day, someone mentioned that after Omkara, Maqbool and Haider—based respectively on Othello, MacBeth and Hamlet—Vishal Bhardwaj was going to be making a trio of films based on Shakespeare’s comedies. The thought came into my head: had any Hindi film maker remade a Shakespearean comedy before? The very next moment, the answer popped up. Of course: Angoor. And (my brain was beginning to work overtime by now), another film based on A Comedy of Errors and also starring Sanjeev Kumar: Gustakhi Maaf.
I hadn’t heard of Gustakhi Maaf until a few years back, when I happened to find (and subsequently buy) a delightful lobby card featuring Sanjeev Kumar in this film. I went looking for the film, discovered that it was based on A Comedy of Errors and that it starred the ever-bubbly Tanuja—but I couldn’t get hold of the film anywhere. Until Harini (over at bagsbooksandmore) pointed me to it. So here goes: review #1 of 2015, of a fun, frothy film.
Gustakhi Maaf wastes little time in getting down to business. Even though this is a lost-and-found film, the ground work is laid very quickly, with almost no faffing about. Mr Gupta and his wife have identical twin baby daughters, whom they name Seema and Asha. A couple of years later, travelling in a boat with their two toddlers, the parents are separated when a terrible storm hits. Mr Gupta quickly hands over Seema to his wife and grabs Asha…
…but the swirling waters wreak havoc on the family. While Mr Gupta and Asha wash up safe and sound on the riverbank, Mrs Gupta is swept away downriver. When she comes to, she has lost her memory [along with her daughter, though she doesn’t know that yet, since she doesn’t even know now that she has daughters or a husband]. She goes off by herself, while little Seema, coming ashore further away, is found by a wealthy but eccentric Seth (Ulhas).
…who, in typically selfish and irresponsible Hindi film finder-of-lost-child style, instead of reporting to the cops or looking around for a parent, grabs the kid and thanks heaven for finally bringing a ray of hope to his lonely life. He swiftly and informally adopts Seema there and then, and names her Asha, because she’s brought hope into his childless life. [Which means that while Gustakhi Maaf slips up on the taaveez/photo/shared song trope of Hindi lost-and-found films, it adds a delicious new dimension to it all: girls who look the same and have the same name].
We now move forward 18 years [another departure from the norm in Hindi films, which invariably move only in increments of 5 years, typically 15 or 20]. Asha (Tanuja)—the original Asha, who was rescued by her own father and has been brought up by him—comes to Darjeeling for a vacation, along with her father and her maid, Mirchi (Padma Khanna).
Asha and Mr Gupta, of course, have no clue that the other Asha survived that long-ago storm and is alive and well—and living in Darjeeling, along with her adoptive father. This Asha [whom I shall henceforth refer to as Seema-turned-Asha] is a bit of a nut job, very highly strung and hot-tempered. Also, she is engaged to her sweetheart, Shankar (Sujit Kumar), a painter and photographer who runs a studio along with his younger brother Jai (Sanjeev Kumar), also a photographer and painter.
Seema-turned-Asha and Shankar have a date planned, and she’s been waiting for him, with increasing impatience, at the rendezvous. This is a fairly crowded marketplace, and Seema-turned-Asha frets and fumes as Shankar once again doesn’t turn up on time [punctuality, obviously, is not this man’s strong point. A refreshing change from the usual, perhaps, with Hindi cinema being so good at showing the poor man waiting for his beloved to arrive].
Meanwhile, Shankar has been busy hoisting up, outside his shop and with Jai’s help, a rather risqué painting he’s made of Seema-turned-Asha [the pose she’s striking, and the extent of her clothing, seem to have been what inspired RK re Mandakini in Ram Teri Ganga Maili]. Shankar is very proud of his handiwork on this painting, and is certain his sweetheart is going to approve of it too.
When he suddenly realizes that he’s going to be late for their date, Shankar panics. He can’t leave with the painting not yet properly hung, so he sends a note through his servant Chhajju, who, besides being a bit of a halfwit, is also hard of hearing. Chhajju is given strict instructions to make sure he hands over the note.
Only, by the time Chhajju arrives at the rendezvous, Seema-turned-Asha has given up waiting and gone away, disgusted, furious, and ready to break off with Shankar.
…and, instead, Asha, checking out the sights, has turned up. She’s just finished having a Coke from a stall nearby and is setting off on her bicycle when Chhajju comes bustling up and gives her the note. This leads to the expected: questions, puzzling answers, even more questions, and finally fury [these sisters get mad real quick]. Asha, finding this odd man forcing love letters on to her from some stranger he insists is her fiancé, lets fly and slaps Chhajju.
When Chhajju reports to Shankar, stinging cheek and all, Shankar comes to the conclusion that his not showing up on time has caused his betrothed to lose her temper thus. So he hurries off, to beg her forgiveness and woo her back.
With the result that Asha, still fuming over the way she’d been accosted by some random stranger, finds herself accosted by yet another random stranger—and this one even asserting that he is her fiancé! Shankar tries to hug her, show her how much he cares… and gets slapped for his efforts. Asha decides enough is enough. Darjeeling has some weird men.
Back in the photo studio, Jai sits down with Shankar and tries to have a heart-to-heart with him.
Jai is firmly convinced that Seema-turned-Asha, his bhabhi to be, is utterly nuts. Look at the way she behaves, he tells Shankar. A candidate for the nuthouse. Shankar should take her to their old friend Dr Pal, who’s a psychiatrist [and, as we later discover, not much further on the road to sanity than several of the inmates of his mental hospital]. Shankar is, after much dithering, finally convinced. He agrees that he’ll go the next day to his beloved’s house and wheedle her into coming to Dr Pal’s.
Now, suddenly, a lot of things happen in quick succession. Asha—the original one—goes out shopping in the city, and buys a necklace at a jeweller’s. When she realizes she doesn’t have the money and tells the jeweller that she’ll come back later, he insists she keep the necklace; he’ll send his munim to her home later to collect the money. Asha, pleasantly surprised, accepts, and begins to give him her address—but he stops her. ‘Of course we know you, Ashaji, and where you stay.’ Asha is even more surprised and gratified, but she accepts.
And when the munim goes with the bill to Seema-turned-Asha’s house, she gets mad at him, completely denies having bought any necklace, and throws him out of the house. She then tells her father, the eccentric Seth, of the entire incident, with the result that when the munim returns with reinforcements [in the form of the jeweller], Sethji gives them a good talking-to, and when that doesn’t convince them, pulls a gun on them and lets fly. Battered and dishevelled, the pair runs off, this time to the police station. Enough is enough.
As soon as they step out of the police station, the inspector in tow, who should come along but Asha-the one who’d bought the necklace. She gives the jeweller a cheerful little scold: why hasn’t he yet sent somebody to fetch the money? Her father doesn’t like to owe anybody anything, so can the money please be collected, as soon as possible?
She goes off, leaving behind her a very confused lot. The jeweller comes swiftly to the conclusion that the sight of the law has frightened this wily girl, and that’s why she’s now ready to pay up. He thanks the inspector; they won’t be needing him any more, as he can see. They’ll collect the money on their own now. [and, of course, since they end up going all over again to Seema–turned–Asha’s house, this isn’t the end of their troubles].
Back now, to the sorrows of Shankar, who arrives at Sethji’s house, hoping for [and dreading] a chance to persuade Seema-turned-Asha to come with him to Dr Pal’s. Instead of his girl, he meets her father, and Sethji’s decidedly eccentric behaviour—and the admission that their family tree harbours a number of lunatics—sinks Shankar in despair. His fiancée has obviously inherited the family genes, he realizes.
But he loves her anyway, and goes off to coax her with a song. The lady is wooed back, and all looks fine. She isn’t nuts, Shankar decides with relief.
A surprise awaits. When Shankar gets back to his studio, all hell breaks loose. Asha, passing by, sees a large crowd gathered outside, and finds them all looking up at that Mandakini-esque painting of whom she immediately recognizes as herself. Thoroughly incensed, Asha gathers up anything that comes to hand—vegetables from a passing vendor, stones, etc—and flings them at the painting and the studio. Shankar, Jai and Chhajju retreat, and the sad truth comes home to Shankar: his fiancée is loony. She is the one who was so keen to get this portrait painted, and now look at the way she’s ruining it.
The end result is that once Asha, her fury spent, goes off, Shankar too climbs into a taxi and tells Jai he’s going far, far away. His nerves are all shot to pieces and he cannot stand it any more. He wants to sing a sad song, he says dolefully.
So now Jai is solely in charge of the shop- and soon receives a visit from Asha. He’s inclined to barricade the place and keep her out, but she manages to push her way in. She’s realized, now that she’s cooled down a bit, that she’s destroyed their property—that painting—so she’s come to help compensate: Jai can paint her in lieu of the painting Shankar had made (she, of course, is under the impression that Shankar painted her from memory after that one time he met her in the marketplace and she slapped him).
Jai is adamant: no, thank you, he doesn’t want to paint Asha. Will she please go, now? But what Jai doesn’t know is that Asha, in this brief while, has fallen prey to his charms (even when he’s been doing his hardest to shoo her away) and she’s privately decided that come what may, Jai is going to be hers.
So Asha sets out to woo Jai, and Jai, wondering what has suddenly gone wrong with this girl, who is supposed to be in love with his elder brother, doesn’t know what to do with her. Except avoid her, and that the tenacious Asha isn’t having. And, with Mirchi’s help and advice, Asha is pretty certain she’ll be able to get her man.
Gustakhi Maaf isn’t a precise copy of A Comedy of Errors. A major missing element is that of the identical twin servants; and instead of one twin being actually married to someone, it’s a case of being betrothed. There are similarities, though, like the mix-up with the necklace, or the single twin falling for the sibling of her as-yet-unknown twin’s love interest. A good adaptation, however, and much fun.
Tanuja and Sanjeev Kumar. These are two of my favourite actors, and here they get a chance to be absolutely brilliant. The chemistry between Jai and Asha is fantastic, in an interestingly non-romantic way: for much of the length of their interactions in this story, it’s Asha who’s pursuing Jai, while he’s avoiding her—and Asha’s concept of seducing a man consists of teasing him mercilessly, flirting in a light-hearted way and generally not letting on that she’s actually serious. The result is loads of hilarious dialogues and plenty of delightful repartee. Their comic timing is superb, and they’re a joy to behold.
The dialogues and the story. While not sticking to the plot of Shakespeare’s play (after Shankar goes off to brood, the story focuses solely on Asha’s attempts to woo Jai), it’s still a funny film, especially as Asha is so very inept at anything in the way of seduction.
… Talking of which, I found this film a refreshing inversion of the way Hindi cinema usually works. Instead of the man being the pursuer (stalker?), it’s the girl in that role. A single romantic song doesn’t turn the tables and make the pursued succumb. And when two brothers realize they’re in love with the same girl, they don’t assume they have a right to decide between themselves—without applying to the lady in question—whom she should end up with. Also, interestingly, this is a definitely urban, English-speaking audience film, with certain remarks and jokes that seem surprisingly progressive for the time. Asha, for instance, in one dialogue, tells Jai that the painting she’d destroyed revealed the painter as being ‘sex-starved.’
What I didn’t like:
The very hurried end. No, I didn’t mind the fact that the reunion and eventual unscrambling of relationships didn’t take its own sweet time, but I’d have liked it to be a little more coherent. This seemed to just be thrown together far too quickly. And the slapstick scene that culminates in the reunion was just too slapstick for my taste.
Still, all said and done: a delightful film, and one I thoroughly enjoyed. If you like comedy and are a fan of either Sanjeev Kumar or Tanuja (or both, as I am), do look out for this one. It’s a gem.