Who, in case you’re curious, include Dharmendra, Kishore Kumar, Nasir Hussain, Kumkum, Hari Shivdasani, Rehman, Asit Sen, Azra, and Aruna Irani, besides Telugu star Savitri. With, in smaller roles, everybody from Tuntun, Brahm Bhardwaj, Mridula Rani, Manorama and Jankidas, to child star Master Shahid. [All that was missing was wonder dog Tommy].
In an increasingly long list of films I’ve watched because I’ve fallen in love with their songs (in this case, Machalti hui hawa mein chham-chham and Chhedo na meri zulfein), Ganga ki Lehren is the latest. I had assumed—by watching the videos of the aforementioned songs—that Kishore Kumar and Kumkum were the leads here. So discovering that they were only two in a plethora of actors was a surprise. Devi Sharma, producer and director of Ganga ki Lehren, obviously pulled out all the stops when getting together the cast for this film.
Several years ago, I’d reviewed Bhabhi. Not an enjoyable film (though it had some good songs). What did impress me was the writer’s obvious dedication to the task of educating the film’s audience. Entertainment, he/she had apparently decided, is all very well, but a film should leave you with important lessons for life too. Unless I am mistaken, the same person who wrote the script for Bhabhi also had a hand in writing Ganga ki Lehren.
We begin at a mandap, where Seema (Savitri, looking rather hefty) is about to get married, when her prospective father-in-law (Brahm Bhardwaj) springs up and calls a halt to the proceedings. He has found out that Seema’s family are bhaands, not the thakurs they’ve been pretending to be. He refuses to have his son marry a naachne-gaanewaali. Seema’s brother and her younger sister Uma (Kumkum) protest, but to no avail. Bhaiya even takes off his pagri and lays it down, begging for mercy.
At this juncture, in steps a wedding guest, Ashok (Dharmendra, looking gorgeous and acting stern as he advises the angry would-have-been-Seema’s-father-in-law that he’s not being nice). With the result that the man turns around and snaps at Ashok: if he’s feeling so very sorry for the woman, why doesn’t he marry her himself? [Lesson 1: Think through stuff very well before offering free advice, because you might end up being saddled with more than you bargained for].
Ashok, however, is a devta [not my words, but his grateful suddenly-brother-in-law’s]. He agrees, and is married right there and then. His new brother-in-law is so effected by this, and so tearfully grateful, that he cops it. Odd reaction, but basically what it boils down to is that Ashok is now not merely saddled with an unexpected new bride, but also:
- The responsibility of performing the last rites of the dead man, and
- Uma, who has nowhere to go, and doesn’t baulk at being a kabab mein haddi.
With Seema and Uma in tow, Ashok goes to his own very palatial home. He leaves the two sisters in the car, telling Seema that he’d like to tell his father first.
Father, Diwan Jiya Lal (Nasir Hussain) is not pleased. In fact, he is so furious that he yells at Ashok that he won’t have anything to do with either him or his bride. Ashok, whose devta-ness asserts itself, decides to stand by Seema…
…who, it turns out, had gotten bored of sitting in the car, had come around to outside the drawing room window, and has therefore heard everything. She has now raced off to commit suicide, and Ashok just about manages to stop her jumping off the edge of a cliff. [Lesson 2: if someone tries to kill themselves, don’t merely pat them and coo lovingly. They need therapy].
The long and the short of this is that Ashok, Seema and Uma move to another town (by the Ganga). Ashok takes up a job—not too well-paying but adequate—and soon enough, a baby boy is born. Munna, as soon as he’s old enough (and is now played by Master Shahid), begins to call Uma ma and Seema didi. [Yes, confused child, but there’s a lesson here as well. Lesson 3 is that you should nip such muddle-headedness in the bud, because it can lead to much, much worse].
One day, while Uma and some random female friends [who never put in an appearance after this] are out singing and dancing beside the river, when Munna, running to meet his ‘ma‘ falls into the river [Lesson 4, here: riverside towns are unsafe places to live in], and nearly drowns. He is saved by the timely intervention of a stranger, Kishore (Kishore Kumar) who had, unasked and uninvited, joined Uma and her friends in their song.
Wiped down and comforted, Munna is taken home. Kishore has already fallen in love with Uma, and she with him, though neither of them says so yet.
Meanwhile, Kishore’s very wealthy father (Hari Shivdasani) has been planning to get wealthier still, by arranging a match between Kishore and Neeta (Aruna Irani). Neeta is an heiress, an orphan who is looked after by her elder, worldly-wise sister Ragini (Azra). Ragini is optimistic about the match, and assures Neeta –who expresses doubts, since she’s crippled–that her legs are being treated, and she will be well soon enough.
There’s some rigmarole now, what with Kishore, in a love-induced stupor, mistaking Neeta’s photo for Uma and saying he likes her very much, to his father. Father, of course, is delighted. When, in a slightly less dazed state, Kishore realizes what he’s done, it’s too late. No, he’s not married yet, but Father simply refuses to have the match called off. Kishore ends up seizing on the one way he can to put the wedding off for a while: he pretends to be mad.
Meanwhile [there are lots of meanwhiles in this film], Ashok reveals to his little family that he has lost his job. Now, even though he’s been going out every day to search for employment, he’s been unsuccessful. They have never been rich, this little quartet; now they’re even worse off.
Seema tries to find work as a seamstress, but is no good at managing deadlines. When she gets told off by an irate client (Manorama), Ashok realizes that his wife has been working, and immediately puts a stop to it. While he is alive, how can the women of his household work?! [Yes, well. Considering he’s not being able to earn a phooti kauri, he’d better keep shut].
Next, Uma, realizing how bad things are, goes out looking for a job–and ends up finding one as companion to a wealthy man’s ‘child’, who has gone mad. And who should the child be, but Kishore? [This is just the first of many many coincidences, each successive one more far-fetched than the last].
Kishore’s father, completely unaware that this is the girl Kishore actually wants to marry, is very happy to see swift progress in Kishore’s case: his bachcha’s madness seems to be disappearing really quickly.
But that’s all ephemeral. Because when Ashok comes to know that Uma has taken up a job [employed, and a woman of his family? Horrors!], he is madder than a wet hen, and immediately forbids Uma from working any more. It’s only when Kishore’s father comes to plead, saying that Uma’s been a huge help, that Ashok finally relents. But on one condition: that Uma will visit as a friend, a companion. Not as an employee. So, basically, we’re back to square one: no money. [Where Uma, who is constantly in silk saris or salwar-kurtas and wears nice enough jewellery gets all that from, is anybody’s guess].
Things are so bad by now that Seema, always a religious sort and given to singing her signature bhajan, Jai jai hey Jagdambe mata, even takes Uma along with her to the temple, where the two of them teach it to a horde of other devotees. [Lesson 4: if there’s a song only you know, teach it to others. Always useful].
And not a moment too soon. Ashok has finally gotten a job:- as chauffeur to Neeta, the girl Kishore’s father wants him to marry. [Those coincidences, again]. He hasn’t been on the job too long before one day, back home, Ashok suddenly reels and blacks out. The doctor who’s summoned has a quick look, and [why can’t all doctors be as efficient as this?] without the aid of any tests or specialized equipment or anything beyond a stethoscope, pronounces that Ashok will continue to suffer these sudden blackouts unless his eyes are operated upon immediately. The operation will cost Rs 3,000…
… Which, of course, they do not possess. Uma gets it by winning a dance competition [observation: how easy it is, in Hindi cinema, to suddenly get hold of money, a chance to travel, etc–all you do is participate in a competition, whether dance or song or beauty pageant–and you win. Always]. Ashok, as pigheaded as ever, of course refuses to have anything to do with it and throws out the money. This guy is getting on my nerves.
Since Seema doesn’t seem to be doing very much in a practical way, Uma takes it upon herself to help–by writing, pretending to be Seema, to Ashok’s father, telling him what’s happened, and asking for the money.
Ashok’s father, who’s mulish enough [blood will tell] to still blame his unseen bahu for all the ills that have befallen them, sends back a curt reply: get out of Ashok’s life, and send him back to me. I will look after him.
And Seema, when she accidentally happens to see that letter, decides there’s only one thing to be done: get out of Ashok’s life, by committing suicide. By drowning in the Ganga.
This, by the way, being nowhere close to the end. Because there’s loads to come, including Rehman, Mridula Rani, Jankidas, amnesia, blindness, reunion-thanks-to-a-song, mistaken identity, more pigheadedness on the part of various men and some utterly infuriating Main Chup Rahoongi-ness on the part of a certain woman.
What I liked about this film:
Chitragupt’s music, with lyrics by Majrooh. My favourite songs are the frothy Machalti hui hawa mein chham-chham and Chhedo na meri zulfein, but a surprising hit for me–considering the fact that I’m not usually fond of bhajans–was the melodious Jai jai hey Jagdambe mata, which I found restrained and beautiful.
The pace of the story and the general entertainment value. Even though all my asides in the synopsis may seem to indicate otherwise, this film is really not bad as far as story goes. It moves along at a rattling pace, with new twists and turns [not to mention coincidences] every few minutes. Yes, it does get melodramatic in the last half-hour, and just about everybody–Ashok, Seema, Ashok’s father, Kishore, Kishore’s father, even Uma–made me see red and want to bash them over the head at some time or the other during the course of the film, but still.
What I didn’t like:
Savitri, who sticks out like a sore thumb as Seema. She just doesn’t fit with Dharmendra–the chemistry between them is zero. In fact, more than once during the film, I found myself wondering what the scriptwriter had been intending, since Ashok and Uma seem to share a camaraderie and an easy friendship –even though it is that of jija-saali –which makes them appear far more convincing as two people close to each other than do Ashok and Seema. Savitri’s acting is adequate (as it is, she isn’t expected to do too much), but that’s about it. Kumkum as Seema might have been a better choice.