Sunil Dutt and Waheeda Rehman. The two names themselves conjure up a mix of everything from Pyaasa to Mother India, from Gumraah to Kaagaz ke Phool. Sunil Dutt, whom I tend to associate either with suspense films (Humraaz, Mera Saaya) or angst-ridden (or otherwise philosophical, socially relevant films like Railway Platform or Sujata. Okay, he did do Postbox No 999 and Padosan, but still… Waheeda, whose films with Guru Dutt did showcase her prowess as an actress, but which also tended to paint her as a ‘serious’ actress—although in her case, films like Solvaa Saal and 12 O’Clock showed that she could be as convincing in peppy and light-hearted roles as many of her contemporaries.
If that’s your impression of Dutt and Rehman—two actors who appeared in mostly grim films—this rom-com is worth seeing just for a different, fun, side to both of them.
Ek Phool Chaar Kaante starts off on a little-frequented road, where young lawyer Sanjeev (Sunil Dutt) has had not one but two flat tires, and is lounging around, waiting for chance help. A carload of girls returning from a picnic comes by, and he manages to wave them down. Among these girls is Sushma (Waheeda Rehman). She and her friends (of whom one is Bela Bose) scoff at Sanjeev, accusing him of being a roadside Romeo and taunting him when he asks for a jack—“Jack is my dog,” says one girl.
After some more fun at Sanjeev’s expense, the girls drive off—and immediately have a flat tire. They have a jack, but don’t know how to use it, so are forced to go back to Sanjeev, who’s been looking on smugly. The end result is that Sanjeev, having fixed his car (and partaken of the leftover refreshments from the girls’ picnic), agrees to teach the girls how to change their car’s tire—but he won’t touch it.
By the time they’re finished, Sushma is furious at Sanjeev; her friends are amused; and Sanjeev is charmed. He doesn’t even really begin to hate Sushma when—a little while later, when both cars meet at a petrol pump—she gets her friends to surreptitiously let the air out of one of his tires all over again.
Soon after, Sushma discovers that, while she had been offering Sanjeev their picnic basket, she had inadvertently left a package on his car. Now something she needs urgently is with Sanjeev. The petrol pump attendant, who says that Sanjeev is a very regular customer, is considerate enough to give Sushma Sanjeev’s address—and Sushma lands up there soon after.
Sanjeev has been sitting with his mother and father (Mumtaz Begum and Bir Sakhuja, respectively), and has been getting the short end of the stick from Daddy, also a lawyer to whom Sanjeev is junior. Daddy is berating Sanjeev for being a frivolous good-for-nothing, when their servant Mohan (Mohan Choti) comes, bringing something he’s found, wrapped in paper, on the back seat of Sanjeev’s car.
It’s the fixings for a kirtan, and Mummy is super pleased. Her son has taken heed of her wishes, and brought her what she so wants! Daddy isn’t impressed.
Just at this moment, Sushma makes her entry, and Sanjeev, recognizing her (though he does not know her name) is surprised. Sushma doesn’t introduce herself, but having perfunctorily greeted Sanjeev’s parents, gathers up the kirtan stuff and rushes off.
Next, Mummy (who, being fond of kirtans herself) coaxes Sanjeev into taking her to the temple for one. And there, looking all jogan-like, her hair open, her head covered and her face serene, singing Banwaari re, is Sushma. Beside her, smiling benevolently on, is an older man (Dhumal), who keeps casting fond looks at Sushma every now and then.
The kirtan over, Sanjeev approaches Sushma, but is rebuffed. She is not the firebrand he had encountered earlier that day; instead, she is coolly dismissive, refusing even to acknowledge that they have met before. Sanjeev is puzzled.
… and he is to get even more puzzled in the days to come. A couple of days later, Sanjeev happens to hear screams for help coming from a building, and races in to find Sushma being attacked by a man (David). Sanjeev comes to her rescue by bashing the man over the head with a stick that’s lying conveniently close—only to have Sushma utter a shriek and promptly grab the stick and use it to bash Sanjeev over the head. It’s only when Sanjeev comes to, that a stranger tells him that this is a naatak mandli, a theatre group; they’d been rehearsing a play.
Soon after, Sanjeev, lounging by a poolside, is witness to the antics of yet another man (Johnny Walker), who first goes about serenading a passing girl, and then barges into the women’s changing room, emerging dressed in a sari and being chased by a bunch of irate women. Sanjeev takes it upon himself to put this man in his place, and a brawl ensues. The shameless wretch—as Sanjeev labels the man—is sent packing.
And Sanjeev bumps, once again, into Sushma. This time in the company of the same man whom Sanjeev had thrashed by the swimming pool. The two are attending a jam session at a club—and when a particularly peppy song is sung, they get to their feet and shake a leg.
By now, Sanjeev’s getting pretty annoyed. What is with this girl? Who is she, really? The kirtan-singing devotee, the rock-and-roll girl about town? The actress? And always with a different man, too!
One day, Shyam (Krishan Dhawan), a friend of Sanjeev’s, comes by to ask for Sanjeev’s help in getting close to a girl Shyam’s infatuated with. The girl is a member of a yoga ashram, which Shyam has joined in an attempt to impress her. The two young men get in, sidle their way to the front of the class—and Shyam points out the girl to Sanjeev. Sushma, again (by now, this shouldn’t surprise Sanjeev), and this time accompanied by yet another man (Rashid Khan).
Sigh. Sanjeev is pretty much head over in heels in love with Sushma, but he can’t get his head around her behaviour.
This mystery gets sorted out soon enough, and without any real effort on Sanjeev’s part. He comes home one day to see Sushma chatting with his mother, who approves of her heartily. Later, when they’re alone, Sanjeev grumpily (and with jealousy oozing from every pore) says that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with a girl who is always going around with different men. Sushma reveals the truth: these four men—the religious nut, the drama nut, the yoga nut and the rock-and-roll nut—are all the Saxenas. Her uncles, her chachas. They brought her up after she was orphaned, and they love her as deeply as her own parents would have.
Everything seems hunky-dory. Sushma and Sanjeev are in love. Sanjeev’s mother is very eager to have Sushma for a bahu, so when she coaxes her husband into visiting Sushma’s chachas to broach the topic of the match, he doesn’t really demur, either. After all, Sanjeev—as he tells the chachas when he calls on them—is a personable young man, wealthy, well-educated, and in a good job.
None of that holds any water with any of the chachas. They heap scorn on Sanjeev’s father, and tell him that they will find a groom of their own choice for Sushma, thank you.
Sanjeev’s father, humiliated, leaves, and Sushma, depressed, goes off, too, to tell her boyfriend of this spanner in the works. The problem, she explains, is that each of the chachas is not just fanatical about his own pet subject, but also vehemently opposed to the pet subjects of his brothers. And each of them will want Sushma to marry a man who conforms to his ideal of a perfect man: Bade Chacha, who is the Rambhakt, will want a religious teacher for Sushma; Chachajaan, who is the theatre buff, will want a good actor to marry her, and so on.
Sushma herself, because she knows how much these men love her—they sacrificed their own chances of marriage and domestic life for her sake—tells Sanjeev that she will not go against them and marry Sanjeev without their blessings.
This is a dilemma, then. Sushma’s only shoulder to cry on at home, the maidservant Jamuna (Tuntun) tries consoling her, but to no avail. Sushma is at her wit’s end: she cannot marry Sanjeev, and Sanjeev can never be what her chachas want him to be.
Or can he? Because Sanjeev, having given it some thought, realizes that he needs to get the chachas on his side—and if that means pretending to be four different men, of four vastly differing types, so be it. Much fun ensues, with some delightful songs, and some madcap Wodehousian jugglery of identities (all too short-lived, sadly) before the happy end.
What I liked about this film:
The light-heartedness of it all. Ek Phool Chaar Kaante is a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously (the premise itself, as you can guess, is far-fetched). Nobody is outright villainous, and it’s easy to see that—especially given Sushma’s chachas’ love for her—things are bound to turn out all right without any tearful melodrama. Director Bhappi Sonie manages this with a light touch, frothy and fun, with the message—of letting people live their own lives—being subtly put forth.
The leads. Waheeda Rehman and Sunil Dutt are a delight: both easy on the eyes (Waheeda is especially pretty in this film), and both obviously enjoying themselves in this caper. What impressed me about Sunil Dutt was the uninhibited nature of much of his acting in this film. Shammi Kapoor-like, he’s very physical, leaping about, dancing with gay abandon (see O meri baby doll), and having a ball as he races about inside the Saxena household, pretending to be one man after another.
Lastly, the music, composed by Shankar-Jaikishan. While this may not be one of their most memorable scores, it does have some good songs, including Tirchhi nazar se yoon na dekh, Soch rahi ki kahoon na kahoon, O meri baby doll, and Dil ae dil bahaaron se mil. Interestingly, the score of Ek Phool Chaar Kaante also includes an unusual song, what may be the first completely English-language song in Hindi cinema: Beautiful baby of Broadway, sung by (and picturized on) Iqbal Singh. The original song, as recorded, was Bombshell baby of Bombay, but the lyrics (possibly considered too lewd?) were changed, and what appears in the film is Beautiful baby of Broadway.
What I didn’t like:
The Shyam angle, for which I saw no need. Shyam is Sanjeev’s friend, and confides in Sanjeev about his love for Sushma, unaware all the time that Sanjeev is also in love with her. Sanjeev (refreshingly for Hindi cinema) doesn’t feel called upon to sacrifice his love for his friend, thank goodness; but he also doesn’t let Shyam in on the truth. Instead, he plays a somewhat nasty trick on Shyam that pretty much results in Shyam being booted out of the picture. I suppose this was meant to be funny; it just struck me as underhand.
But, other than that: a fun film, and one definitely worth a watch.