Humsaaya (1968)

In which Joy Mukherji single-handedly (with some help from the snow-clad Himalayas) defeats an invading army of Chinese guerrillas, thus lending a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘humsaaya aasmaan ka’.

Hindi cinema has mostly tended to stay away from certain genres, at least when it comes to A-grade films. Horror was one, pretty much unknown until the Ramsay Brothers made it their own in the 1980s. Sci fi was another, though there were a few disastrous attempts at it [the aptly-titled Trip to Moon being one—the first few minutes enough to convince me that the film makers were certainly tripping on something]. The spy movie was another which got off to a shaky start, but gathered force and became increasingly popular when film makers realized that here was a good way of getting together lots of masala along with foreign locales [provided one had the budget], while proclaiming one’s patriotism.

Aankhen was easily the best of the spy thrillers. The rest tended to fall by the wayside.

And among the rest is Humsaaya, which—minus glittering foreign locales [it tries to pass off paper flowers glued on twigs as cherry blossom in Peking] and with a Joy Mukherji already going to seed—has a premise that was used to some extent the following year (in Yakeen) but pretty much flopped in this instance. A foreign agent enters India, cleverly disguised as an Indian of whom he is anyway almost a spitting image, and with the intention of wreaking havoc.

The foreign agent in this instance being a Chinese officer whom we get to know of only as Comrade Lin Tan (Joy Mukherji, looking very unconvincing in yellowface). When the story begins, Lin [as he’s called by everybody, since whoever wrote this doesn’t seem aware that in Chinese, the family name precedes the given name] is romancing his beloved, Sin (Mala Sinha). [Note: I am not sure what this character’s name is supposed to be. Various people at various points in the film call her everything from Sin to Sulin to Sooeen to Shoo-in, but since Sin is the shortest of those, I’ll stick to that].

Sin [who, given her name, should’ve been more conducive to living in sin] is eager to get married, and so they do.

Unfortunately, just as Sin and Lin are about to manaao their suhaag raat, some officers come bustling in.

There’s a summons for Comrade Lin from The Party. He must come immediately. Lin, good officer that he is, bids goodbye to his bride and goes off, to meet Comrade Chen Lai (Madan Puri, who—having already acted ‘Chinese’ in Howrah Bridge and China Town, must have been the obvious choice for this role).

Comrade Chen Lai gives Lin the astounding news that he (Lin) is to undergo plastic surgery at once. This is in preparation for a mission. Lin is not told the particulars, but goes under the scalpel and emerges from it looking like—well, Joy Mukherji without the nips and tucks used to make him look Oriental. He comes back home, and Sin is surprised to see this change [hasn’t she wondered where he’s been all these weeks? Or is this some revolutionary form of plastic surgery that allows the patient to go back home, no scars or anything, within a couple of days?] “I’m sure you must have been an Indian prince in some past life, and I your princess,” she says.

Anyway, prince and princess are forced to part without having had their suhaag raat. Chen Lai drives Lin to the Indian border and across [the border seems to have been shockingly porous back then] and to the home of a prince named Shyam (also Joy Mukherji, looking scruffy and bleary-eyed). Shyam is perpetually drunk. He is also [and how very convenient this turns out to be] proficient in Chinese, having learnt it from his servant (Ratan Guarang). Chen Lai, having hidden his own identity, has befriended Shyam, who is thoroughly amused to find this lookalike whom Chen Lai has brought along with him.

The sad story of Shyam’s life emerges quickly. He had been an officer in the Indian Air Force, and in love with the lovely Reena (Sharmila Tagore). Then, one day, visiting Reena, he stumbled upon her talking to an old friend of hers, Vijay Khanna. Vijay was trying to pester Reena to accept his love for her, but Reena kept telling him that she looked on Vijay only as a friend, and that her only love was Shyam.

Shyam, furious at Vijay’s persistence, burst in on this scene, threatening to kill Vijay. A brawl broke out between the two men. They dashed off into the bushes [conveniently getting out of sight of Reena], and in the scuffle, a pistol which Vijay pulled on Shyam ended up in Shyam’s hand. A shot rang out, a bullet hit Vijay bang in the chest, and Vijay died…

… just as Reena came running up, to look with hurt and accusing eyes at Shyam [Sharmila Tagore is called upon to do the ‘hurt and accusing eyes’ thing quite a bit in this film]. She believed that Shyam had killed Vijay, and no matter what Shyam said to deny it, Reena refused to listen [bewafaa!]

Nobody else believed it, either. Shyam was court-martialled and stripped of his rank; he was also sentenced to two years’ rigorous imprisonment. By the time he emerged from prison, he was the man he now is: ostracized by everyone, shunned and looked down upon even by the woman who claimed to love him so much.

Thus, Shyam. He has, even now, no clue who the actual murderer of Vijay Khanna was.

Lin and Chen Lai camp out with Shyam, and the two younger men get along fairly well. Chen Lai passes off Lin’s Indian looks as being the result of a clandestine relationship between an Indian and a Chinese. All three of them have a laugh over this. Lin and Shyam even end up seeing photos of each other’s lady loves, so Shyam gets to see what Lin’s wife looks like.

Meanwhile, Chen Lai gives Lin instructions: he has five days in which to study Shyam and learn everything there is about him, with a view to being able to impersonate Shyam. Chen Lai also explains the entire situation to Lin, with the aid of a projector and slides, set up in a room with an open window. This man, he tells Lin, was Vijay Khanna, who was a Chinese agent. [Photo of the same Vijay Khanna who’d been pestering Reena and was killed]. Vijay Khanna had access to—and knowledge of—a huge stash of arms and ammunition, with which the Chinese are waiting to attack India.

These are the Chinese guerrillas who will carry out the invasion. [Photo of some shabby-looking ‘Chinese’ soldiers. Why they should source their weaponry from within India instead of bringing their own is anybody’s guess. Perhaps, even back then, Chinese-made stuff was not to be trusted?].  Lin has had plastic surgery done so that he looks like Shyam, because it is now Lin’s job to impersonate Shyam, find out who killed Vijay Khanna, and take over the arsenal to help the waiting guerrillas.

But how to get Shyam out of the way? Easy-peasy, says Chen Lai. Slip this drug into Shyam’s drink, and when he’s unconscious, kill him and throw his body over the cliff.

What neither Lin nor Chen Lai know is that Shyam, thanks to that open window, the projector, and Chen Lai’s carrying voice, has heard and seen all. So, when Lin turns up and tries to slip a drug into Shyam’s drink, Shyam is prepared. He knocks out Lin instead, shoves the drug down Lin’s throat, and swaps clothes with the unconscious Chini-turned-Hindustani.

Chen Lai comes along right on time, shoots the unconscious man, tells Shyam (whom, of course, he takes to be Lin) that he’s done a good job, and that he better get going. Lin’s dead body is pushed off a convenient cliff. There are lots of convenient circumstances, happy coincidences, and more in Humsaaya.

To help Shyam get in touch with the string of Chinese agents in India, Chen Lai gives him the address of a Chinese emporium in Delhi. Before he goes there, though, Shyam [good and patriotic Indian that he is] goes and meets the Head of Intelligence (Gajanan Jagirdar), who—after hearing the entire story—tells Shyam that Shyam must now be a double agent. Pretending to the Chinese that he’s Lin pretending to be Shyam, while all the time actually being Shyam.

Besides touching base with those guys at the emporium, Shyam wants to find out who actually killed Vijay Khanna, so that his—Shyam’s—name may finally be cleared. That, he hopes, will also help him figure out who (since Vijay Khanna was a Chinese agent) are the other agents in India [considering Chen Lai thinks Shyam is really Lin, I don’t see why this should be a problem for Shyam].

Reena, when he tries to meet her again, rebuffs Shyam and accuses him, still, of having bumped off Vijay Khanna. Reena’s father (DK Sapru) is equally unwelcoming.

About the only friend Shyam can find is his uncle (Rehman) who fondly accepts Shyam back in the fold [if he’s so very loving, why hasn’t Uncle tried to find out about Shyam these past few years?]

Then, someone phones Shyam, saying he’s the father of Vijay Khanna, and he knows who killed his son.

Is Shyam close to finally vindicating himself and proving his innocence [not to mention getting back a girl who doesn’t seem to trust him an inch]? Will he be able to foil the nefarious plans of Chen Lai & Co. and keep the guerrillas from invading India? Will he discover the identity of the chief Chinese agent in India? What will he do when—and this is one unlucky man—Lin’s bride Sin turns up in India as part of a Chinese dance troupe, and, thinking Shyam is her husband in disguise, starts demanding her suhaag raat [yes, this woman has a one-track mind]?

If you think all of that sounds confusing, wait till you watch Humsaaya.

What I liked about this film:

The music, composed by OP Nayyar. Dil ki aawaaz bhi sun and Woh haseen dard de do are the best of the lot, with Dil ki aawaaz bhi sun being a particular favourite.

And, Sharmila Tagore looks very pretty through most of the film.

What I didn’t like:

Just about everything else.

I can imagine that Humsaaya, described in a couple of sentences, could be enticing and hold the promise of great potential: Disgraced Indian soldier kills a would-be impostor and sets out to clear his own name. Finds himself pitying the dead man’s wife while being in love with a completely different woman. The problem is that the expansion and execution of that concept is shoddy. It tries to do too much: be a spy thriller, complete with mysterious Chinese agent, guerrilla forces on the border, and sabotage; and fit in a love triangle of sorts between Shyam on the one hand, Reena on the other, and Sin [who of course thinks Shyam is Lin] in between.

In the process, everything suffers. The characterization is dodgy, for one. Sin starts off appearing as idiotic, starry-eyed and pretty much sex-starved [poor woman, she’s been married more than a year and no suhaag raat yet, so I suppose that’s understandable…] and shows an utter lack of common sense when she arrives in India. Sharmila Tagore as Reena may look pretty, but struck me as a petulant, self-absorbed and silly creature who should’ve been dumped as unceremoniously as she dumped Shyam. Shyam is a little more balanced as an individual, but paired with two women, neither of whom I really liked [except Sin, in the very last scene], he was not much use.

Then, there’s the sheer incredibility of it all. So many Chinese who know Hindi (or learn it seemingly in a jiffy)? A guerrilla army invading India [why? Was the PLA on leave?] A lone man, destroying that guerrilla force all by himself? A top Chinese spy not knowing who is his own biggest agent in India?

And more, all of it so ridiculous that I can’t be bothered to spell it all out.

Final verdict: watch Dil ki aawaaz bhi sun. And, if you’re adventurous (or hadn’t realized that Woh haseen dard de do is supposed to be erotic), watch that too. The rest of Humsaaya can safely be skipped.

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23 thoughts on “Humsaaya (1968)

  1. Very aptly described.
    But then, all the films of this genre in that era were made equally poorly sans the music.
    Apart from the two songs that you mention, Mujhe mera pyar de do ( Asha Rafi ), aaja mere pyaar ke sahare ( Asha ) and kitna hansee hai yeh jahaan ( Asha ) were also worth listening .

    • I agree: there are innumerable films of this period that were very forgettable but had good music – one of the reasons, I think, that some very talented composers (Chitragupt, for one) who often composed for B-grade films were vastly underrated and overlooked by much of the populace.

  2. Was laughing throughout the review and often my mind would ask why, but I am used to Hindi films, so just jumped to the next line. It made a good reading. Thanks to your warning, I’ll keep away from this film.
    Nevertheless, I’m still thinking, what a waste of a good plot and actors and actresses. A pity.

  3. Judging by the screenshots, seems like not only was Joy Mukherjee in yellowface but the entire film reel was dipped and soaked in mustard as well.

    It also looks like your stars are simply not in the right alignment these days. First you watch The Mummy which was touted as horror but worked barely as romance and not as horror at all; and now this which promises an espionage-action-adventure but only succeeds as unintentional comedy.

    And… did you have to let the cat out of the bag about the context and meaning of Woh haseen dar de do? I used to like that song but now I have begun to feel dirty even thinking about it… tchah!

    • Heh. Yes, the film seems to have suffered the ravages of time – it does look as if it was dipped in mustard (or haldi? Might be more appropriate given the Bengali dominance of the cast; I remember a Bengali classmate who’d often turn up at school with hands stained yellow from rubbing turmeric into fish).

      Talking of Woh haseen dard de do, I have a confession to make: I didn’t think about it that way, either, until a couple of weeks back, when someone from a love-and-sex site called Agents of Isqh invited me to curate a ‘sexy songs’ list for them. As an example, he sent me links to a few lists already online, and this was one of them:

      http://agentsofishq.com/sss/niranjan-iyengars-sexy-saturday-songs/

      That really made me sit up with a “Huh? Whaaaat?!”

      “It also looks like your stars are simply not in the right alignment these days.

      Yes! Thankfully, though, the next review I’ve got lined up is for a film that delivered – really well.

      • Good suggestion – I will ditch my mustard analogy and go for haldi too. Perhaps the former would have fitted if the cast & crew were dominated by Punjabis.

        Eagerly waiting for your next writeup.

        • Though, now that I think of it, what with kashundi being such a favourite in Bengal – along with mustard oil – the mustard analogy would fit that part of the country too. :-) But mustard in flower: yes, that’s Punjab all the way.

          Will be posting the next review later this week. One of the best films I’ve seen in a while.

  4. What beats me is why didn’t Shyam take Sin for a sing song and bumped her later for being a chinese agent,instead of infatuating over snooty Reena.Sin would have gotten her amorous longings satiated and Shyam could have boasted to his punk colleagues how he had his cake and eaten it too besides getting rewarded for rubbing out chinese mata hari.And yes madan puri definitely had mongoloid genes,he was there in Shatranj too.

    • Ah, but this is Hindi cinema in the 60s. Actually coming to think of it, Hindi cinema. Regardless of era. Heroes don’t do that. They stick with the girl they’ve always loved, no matter what an idiot she is. It’s the noble thing to do.

  5. I can’t understand, after the enormous success of ” Phir wohi dil laya hoon”, “Kashmir ki kali” and “Mere sanam” why O.P.Nayyar ended up in these third graded movies ? Why he was not considered by the leading productions of that time as their obvious choice anymore ? Even Nasir Hussain, Shakti Samanta & Shammi Kapoor never tried him later. Why? Only Bishwajeet & Joy Mukherjee kept him alive in the industry. I can’t remember any ‘A’ graded film after 1965 in which O.P.Nayyar scored. Is not it strange?
    Anyway, thanks for your ‘precautionary’ review.

    • Yes, it’s such a pity that someone with as much talent as OP Nayyar ended up composing for such hopeless films. He was still doing great work, but I think after about 1965 or so – when he composed for the films you’ve mentioned – he did no big films. Shammi Kapoor, of course, had become part of the Shankar-Jaikishan gang fairly early, and I suppose Nasir Husain, after Teesri Manzil, pretty much decided to stick with RD Burman. I have a feeling the ascendancy of RDB might have pushed out OP Nayyar to some extent. But that’s only a conjecture; I have really no idea. Maybe someone who knows this better, like Anirudha Bhattacharjee, would be able to comment.

  6. Oh Boy! It is interesting that no matter how unconvincing the story line is, once they commit to a movie, there is no turning back! :)

    “Sin [who, given her name, should’ve been more conducive to living in sin] is eager to get married, and so they do.”

    Ha! Too funny. Even the names have to rhyme? Lin and Sin?

    I love the songs though especially Dil Ki Awaz Bhi Sun..or should it be Lin Ki Awaz bhi Sin…??

    • “Lin Ki Awaz bhi Sin…??

      LOL! Though, considering he’s singing it to Reena, that might be the ultimate faux pas. :-D

      I have a feeling the rhyming names (and the fact that the names are used in the way an Indian or a Westerner would use them – given name followed by family name) seems to suggest that very little research was done for the Chinese aspects of this film. Even as I was watching it, I was reminded of an interview with someone (I’ve forgotten who) who had commented about V Shantaram’s diligence when it came to research: for Dr Kotnis ki Amar Kahaani, the film maker actually employed an expert on Chinese culture, to make sure all the details – down to the number of hairs in a Chinese sage’s beard – were all right. The interviewee was laughing over where they sourced the long hair for the beard: from the tail of the horse shown pulling the ghoda-gaadi in the song Zindagi zindagi zindagi:

  7. Maybe i know this better,any music director or a great singer like rafi or asha knows that they need b-grade movies and fall guys like Joy mukherjee or dharmendra,to create a masterpiece musical encore.In your prison post i had mentioned this profound truth,there is such a factor as ‘jockey’,no devanand or shammi kapoor song will be remembered for their singer or music composer,but a great song in a poor movie with mannequin heroes like joy and dharam,will glorify the actual masters like rafi and o.p.

    • I think that’s a sweeping generalization. For me, a lot of Shammi Kapoor and Dev Anand songs (and I’m a fan of both actors) are good because of the singer/music director. True, the star plays a huge part in the final impression of the song, but so does the singer – for instance, Tumne mujhe dekha or Ae gulbadan are for me favourites because of the music, the words and Rafi – Shammi enhances those. On the other hand, there are loads of songs (Chaahe koi mujhe junglee kahe, and several songs from Dil Tera Deewaana, for example) which feature Shammi Kapoor in his heyday, with Rafi singing for him, but which I don’t like.

      It’s all subjective.

  8. Ohhh… I’m glad you are back! i was wondering where you were. Don’t bad movies give the best reviews? :) At least, for us readers, it does! I choked over some of your comments! Lin and Sin! Well, Hindi films were famous for pairing off names – Sooraj and Kiran, Deepak and Jyoti and the ubiquitous Ram and Sita…. so I suppose, rhyming nams were par for the course!

    I always thought Woh haseen dard de do was erotic! And I did wonder that a Hindi film heroine would ask so openly for sex – but of course, if she’s Chinese, it makes sense. No? Indian culture is safe and sound. :)

    I’ve never watched this film; now, I’ll steer clear of it. Thanks for taking one for the team, Madhu.

    • “wondering where you were.”

      That is very sweet of you, Anu. But I posted my review of The Mummy just a week back, you know – and since I do publish a post once a week, this is pretty much on schedule. In fact, I’d been wondering where you were, because I’ve been seeing the Bahaaron ki Manzil review on your blog for so many days now (seemingly).

      Yes, these grotty movies make for the most entertaining reviews. Something to redeem them, at least!

      “Indian culture is safe and sound. :)

      Absolutely secure. No wonder China is so overpopulated, huh? ;-) At least I’m glad they cast Mala Sinha in that role – she looks far more East Asian than did Saira Banu in Aman or – much, much worse – Jayshree in Dr Kotnis ki Amar Kahaani.

  9. You’re right of course,there are very good songs lipped by super stars and there are many bad songs filmed on ‘jockeys’,but one important clue is the songs on dev shammmi….are quite prosaic,wheras some of the best,the connoisseur’s choice,are the jockey songs like;door bahut mat jaiye le ke karar hamara or in baharo me akele na phiro raah me kali ghata.Sheer poetry,the lifeline of an audiophile.

    • I think we really should agree to disagree on this point!

      – Because some of my favourite songs of Dev Anand’s and Shammi Kapoor’s don’t just sound good, they are also great poetry. Abhi na jaao chhodkar, Main zindagi ka saath nibhaata chala gaya, Hain sabse madhur woh geet jinhein, Is rang badalti duniya mein

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