Rajkumari (1970)

Here is the answer to the question I set a couple of days back. What do Aapke kamre mein koi rehta hai, Yeh jawaani hai deewaani, Pyaar deewaana hota hai and Yeh kya hua have in common, I had asked (besides the obvious: that Kishore had sung all four, and RD Burman had composed all four). Some people got the answer correct, and some came close to guessing. Yes, these songs were all copied by Burman from tunes he had composed for one film. That was a Bengali film named Rajkumari, released in 1970.

Rajkumari, starring Tanuja as the eponymous princess, is a film I came across thanks to friend and erstwhile fellow blogger, Harvey. Some weeks back, Harvey shared a link to one of the songs of Rajkumari (more about these songs, later). I liked it so much that I made up my mind I had to see it. And it turned out to be quite entertaining.

Rajkumari Manjuri ‘Manju’ is the only offspring of the Rani Ma of Kamlapur (Chhaya Devi). Rani Ma is the very picture of a strict disciplinarian: not a hair out of place, always firm and bound about by rules that she herself imposes, always the upholder of the honour of the family and name and state she represents. When we are first introduced to Rani Ma, she is busy going through reams of paperwork while one minion reads out some important documents to her and various other minions come by to report progress, to receive instructions, and so on.

A sadly overburdened recipient of much of Rani Ma’s discipline is Manju. Manju’s day is divided into very strict, hide-bound compartments (each time slot neatly labeled and pinned onto a large board that occupies much of one wall in Manju’s room). She learns everything from music to law, she does vigorous exercises under the eagle eye of a physical trainer.

She is also required to dress at all times like the royalty she is: in a sari draped the traditional Bengali way, her hair pinned up neatly. And with spectacles on her nose, all the time. Never mind that whatever ocular troubles Manju had in her childhood have long been corrected.

No wonder, then, that poor Manju spends a good bit of whatever little free time she gets in staring out of her window, looking longingly out at the sky above, the birds, the trees…

Manju has two people who provide some sort of respite. One is her uncle, her mama (mother’s brother: Pahari Sanyal), who also lives with them. Mamaji is a qualified doctor, though he does not practice, and he has a laboratory in the palace where he potters around when he’s not trying to gently (or by subterfuge) get his sister to be a little less unbending.

The other person, to whom Manju can escape three time a week, is Labonno (?). Labonno teaches Manju needlework. For Labonno, this is not a job—she does not accept payment for it—but for Manju, being able to get out of the stifling and oppressive environment at her home is a relief by itself.

Meanwhile, Rani Ma has been busy trying to find a match for Manju. This is a difficult task, since Rani Ma’s expectations of an eligible bridegroom are frightening: wealth, family name, honour, education, looks, character—the two men whom she’s appointed for the task report to her every other day with long lists of prospective candidates, each of which is summarily dismissed by Rani Ma.

One fine day, Rani Ma decides to host a banquet, and invite everybody who’s somebody in the neighbourhood. Labonno and her husband must be invited, and Mamaji is given the task of going to their home and personally extending an invitation. To everybody at home. Mamaji does so, and discovers that there is a house guest at Labonno’s right now: her brother Nirmal (Uttam Kumar), who is an insurance agent.

Since Mamaji is under strict orders to extend the invitation to everyone at home, he does so, including Nirmal. They must, must come for the banquet.

And they do. In fact, just about everybody from the neighbourhood is there, the men all in suits, the women dressed to the nines. Rani Ma greets everybody, and announces the main attraction of the party: a song by Manju. This not being a Hindi film (where the young lady would be expected to sit at a piano and sing) but a Bengali one where the heroine is a well-brought-up, traditional, and cultured girl, Manju is to sing a piece of classical Hindustani music. The audience exchange alarmed looks and murmured remarks that speak volumes. One woman, telling her friend that she doesn’t like classical music, catches Rani Ma’s disapproving eye, and immediately changes her tune.

Some men, sitting huddled away at the back, begin to talk shop. Another man, rising to his feet, begs leave of Rani Ma. He tells her that he had come just because she had invited him, but there’s some work which he cannot duck out of. But you must eat before you go, Rani Ma says, and takes him away to have him fed. As soon as her back is turned, the rest of the gathering too begins to disappear.

Manju, who’s barely begun her song, sees her entire audience vanish right before her very eyes (yes, they’re a rude lot). But, instead of stopping or even faltering, Manju sings on, finally finishing her song—and finding herself at the receiving end of loud but solitary applause. Nirmal (who is a stranger to Manju) has come, and—unlike the rest of the crowd—has actually sat through the entire performance. He comes forward to congratulate her on her singing, and also, importantly, on singing right through, even with barely an audience.

Manju is surprised, a little dazed, and flattered. In the course of her song, she has put down her spectacles; now that she reaches out to pick them up, Nirmal beats her to them. This won’t do, he scolds her teasingly. These frames are all wrong for her face, and—Manju interrupts him to say that she doesn’t actually need the specs, she’s wearing them just because. Nirmal, handling the specs, fumbles and ends up breaking them.

In the midst of this conversation, Mamaji arrives, and recognizes Nirmal. Rani Ma too comes in, is annoyed to find that Manju’s not wearing her specs, and is even more disapproving when Nirmal holds out the specs and admits he’s broken them. Rani Ma points out that she hasn’t even been introduced to him, and Nirmal tells her who he is. Rani Ma looks unimpressed…

… but the knowledge that Nirmal is Labonno’s brother does not make her stop Manju from visiting Labonno’s home for her needlework class the next day. There, of course, is Nirmal, and a shy, eager Manju soon gets talking to him. Nirmal and Labonno ask her to sing something light and frothy; not classical music, and Manju admits that she doesn’t know any songs other than the classical. She has never even heard songs that weren’t classical.

Oh, this will never do, says Nirmal. And , what with a piano at hand in Labonno’s house—at his urging, and her own burgeoning desire to break out of the rules and restrictions that hem her in—Manju learns a song from him. A frothy, light, popular song, which she repeats when she’s back home, dancing about in her room, her hair open and flowing about her shoulders, her sari worn in the modern way. Nirmal, through his breaking of her spectacles, has also broken Manju’s chains.

Rani Ma, when she sees this changed Manju, is suspicious and angry. Why is her hair not properly dressed? Why is she wearing her sari thus? Why is she going about singing these frivolous songs? Manju, not yet ready (and not wanting to rock the boat) meekly accepts. In front of her mother, she goes back to her old ways: training to be a good queen. But, behind Rani Ma’s back, Manju blossoms into a carefree, happy girl who goes rushing off with Nirmal and Labonno on a trip around Calcutta.

A girl who eats out (and is fleetingly introduced to an old classmate of Nirmal’s, who looks at Manju with an interested and appraising gaze). The new Manju stares right back with fierce eyes, giving as good as she gets.

And the new Manju is a girl who is, quite obviously, in love with Nirmal, who reciprocates that love and reassures Manju that her wealth means nothing to him. It is her love, it is she, who is important to him. Manju, the woman. Not Manju, the princess.

Where is the rajkumari’s love headed?

I will admit that I have not yet gotten around to watching Roman Holiday, but from all that I’ve heard of that iconic film, I thought Rajkumari would probably be something along those lines: princess meets commoner and falls in love (though, of course, in this case, there’s no paparazzi chasing the princess, and the commoner isn’t a journalist on the lookout for a unique story).

But no, Rajkumari takes an unusual turn midway through the story. A turn that caught me by surprise, and suddenly made me sit up and start appreciating the film a bit more.

What I liked about this film:

Tanuja as Manju. This is a character that’s very real: not the cookie-cutter heroine (though I will admit: I have seen far more interesting female characters in the handful of Bengali films I’ve seen than I’ve seen in most Hindi cinema). Manju, in the beginning, is a free bird at heart, even though she bows to her mother’s strictures. She doesn’t like the specs, the regimented routine, the boring lessons she must sit through—but, perhaps not wanting to annoy her mother, she bears it all. There are moments of rebellion, glimpses of the free spirit that is caged inside the princess, but the real breaking of the chains occurs only when love drives her to it.

That love, and the dilemma it raises for Manju, becomes the catalyst for the emergence of a stronger, more determined character. This, in turn, sets off a chain of events that help her evolve as a character. The bubbly, cheerful girl-woman of the start of the film is a different one from the steely-eyed, strong-willed yet deeply emotional one of its end—and Tanuja plays all aspects of Manju superbly. She has, in interviews, said that her roles in Bengali films have been better than those in Hindi cinema. While I’ve not seen her other Bengali films (Deya Neya and Antony Firingee among them), Rajkumari has certainly prompted me to watch more of Tanuja’s Bengali cinema.

The other major aspect of Rajkumari that I liked was the music—which was composed by RD Burman. Lovers of Hindi film music will find much to recognize here, because several of these tunes were reused, almost as is, in some of the songs RDB composed for Hindi cinema. Ei ki holo, for instance, became Yeh kya hua (Amar Prem);  Bandha dwaarer andhkaare became Aapke kamre mein koi rehta hai (Yaadon ki Baaraat); Aaj gun-gun-gunje aamaar became Prem deewaana hota hai (Kati Patang) and Ke ji bhabi elomelo is easily recognized as Yeh jawaani hai deewaani (Jawaani Deewaani)—and which features Helen, dancing up a storm, as always. A great score.

What I didn’t like:

Not much, really, except that it seemed as if the momentous, self-destructive decision Manju takes near the end of the film (which precipitates the climax) is a little too drastic. I can see that she’s hurt, and that she feels betrayed and miserable—and that these emotions do lead some people to cause self-harm—but still. The suddenness of that decision was a little hard to swallow.

But, as I said, that wasn’t much. On the whole, this was a film I liked far more than I’d thought I would when I began watching it.

Note:

Rajkumari is available on Youtube, with English subtitles, here. A note of caution, though: the subtitles (perhaps auto-generated? I don’t know) are of little use. Bits of the dialogue are missing: sentences are left hanging mid-air, and many are completely missed, even though they’re important. If you don’t understand at least some Bengali, this isn’t a copy I’d recommend.

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35 thoughts on “Rajkumari (1970)

  1. > If you don’t understand at least some Bengali, this isn’t a copy I’d recommend.

    Ah ha, so you do understand some Bangla, I does presumes?

    A confession: I’ve seen only half the film. Having read this absolutely delightful review I think I’ll make it a priority to watch the other half now. Excellent writing Madhu, enjoyed reading every bit of it.

    • I do understand a little Bengali. Not enough to happily watch a film without the support of subtitles (especially since I hate missing out on anything and having to guess), but enough to tide me over if some subtitles are cut off midway.

      Glad you liked the review, Abhik. Thank you!

  2. Awesome review !!! Thanks for helping us reminisce (along with you) about Rajkumari. Tanuja was the cutest actress to grace Indian cinema – my not so humble opinion…. :-) And of course there’s ‘Mahanayak’ Uttam Kumar – about whom one can go on forever….

    BTW, “Labonno” – That would be “Lavanya” / “Labanya” played by Dipti Ray….

    • Thank you. I do agree about Tanuja – she was really cute (though I’d probably split the honours for ‘cutest actress in Hindi cinema’ between her and Mumtaz). And, as one can see in a film like this, also a very good actress.

      Yes, Uttam Kumar… I too could go on and on. :-)

  3. Thanks for the review. I had missed this movie & has to see it now. BTW, sub titles are useful for clearing some story point. Otherwise , with good actors , one can follow the movie quite easily. Also if you can understand Hindi with some school level knowledge of Sanskrit , you can understand at least half of the dialogues in Bengali.Although this does not work in person to person talks.

    • Yes, Bengali isn’t terribly difficult to understand for anybody who’s comfortable enough with Hindi (though I’ve forgotten whatever knowledge of Sanskrit I had in school, I studied fairly Sanskritized Hindi up to my graduation). Bengali also has some interesting influences from Urdu, and of course in films like this there’s a good bit of English thrown in, which makes it easier. I must admit I hate missing out on a single thing, which is why I like having subtitles to help me along. :-)

  4. So you did watch this film!
    The story does sound like a run-of-the-mill sleeping princess story, but the princess’ decision does intrigue me.
    I remember reading somewhere, that the film flopped at the box-office. Is that true? Does that have anything to do with the ending, is the question, which goes through my mind right now. But don’t answer it. My Bangla isn’t good, well, I understand it only somewhat. But, I still remember the Sunday afternoon regional films shown on DD in the late 80s, which I did understand, though I hardly knew any of the languages.

    The songs are all good, aren’t they?

    Thanks for the review, Madhu. And thanks for the link, maybe, I’ll give it a shot.

    • This was a very satisfying film for me, Harvey – thank you so much for being the means of introducing it to me! Yes, I enjoyed the songs a lot, and the film itself. I had no idea this had flopped, and I can’t see why – I mean, the songs are great, Tanuja and Uttam Kumar are great, and the story (while it is predictable in parts) does have some unexpected twists and turns that I hadn’t seen coming.

      If you could understand the DD Sunday afternoon regional films without subtitles, you will certainly understand this one, given that it does have subtitles, even if they’re a little inadequate. :-)

  5. Wow, I did miss the quiz (not that I would have guessed it) but fascinated to hear about the original bengali versions of those 4 songs you mentioned. Thank you for that. I really enjoy how music sometimes can transcend different languages..

    Also, I didn’t know Tanuja acted in Bengali movies. For some reason, in my head I assumed Tanuja and Nutan to be Punjabi though I do know Tanuja was married to Shomu Mukharjee.

    This film surely looks very interesting, though it appears to be very familiar story line. I will struggle with Bengali but if there are subs I can manage, I think.

    • No, Nutan and Tanuja weren’t Punjabi. Maharashtrian. I suppose being married to Shomu Mukherjee brought Tanuja into Bengali cinema, and she does a good job of speaking the language, as far as I can tell. Plus, her character in this film allows her scope to show what a fine actress she is.

      The subs are all right; they do get chopped off here and there, but I would think anybody who understands Hindi well enough can (especially given the context) pretty much keep abreast of what is going on.

      • oh!
        I haven’t watched any movie other than hindi, marathi, and a very few english (not even five, i think!)
        But, i think i should give this a try. I like Tanuja a lot and at least for her,I will watch this one.
        And above all, it does sound interesting! And subs will help.
        and as far as the discussion goes, I am familiar with hindi and sanskrit. Till 12th std I studied sanskrit, and used to top the class at least in school!
        So may be i can manage.

        BTW, i will be on a tour in Madhya pradesh from 10th till 19th.
        May be I will write on panchmarhi.
        though I’m not used to travel writing. I’m inspired by your travel writing as well.
        :-)

        • ” Till 12th std I studied sanskrit, and used to top the class at least in school!

          I am super impressed! Sanskrit was a blur to me, pretty much. I think we studied it till 9th – or was it 10th, I don’t recall – and while I got good marks (for me, it was a question of pretty much memorizing everything, which I was good at), I never enjoyed it as a subject. I and most of my classmates were deliriously happy once we were rid of Sanskrit. ;-)

          Oh, please do write on Pachmarhi! I spent some of my earliest years – upto the age of 9 – in MP, and always like to read about it, since my own memories of it are hazy.

          • Thank you madhuji,
            Sanskrit was my favourite subject, as it used to be a scoring subject!
            I always used to get 96 or 97/100 at least in school. I stood 12th , in SSC board exam, in my region.
            In college, the subject was undoubtedly better than geography or crop science. ( though in school, i liked geography and got 40/40 in board exams)
            I still do remember a lot about the words and the grammer from sanskrit
            “I spent some of my earliest years – upto the age of 9 – in MP, and always like to read about it”

            Yes, i really want to write, but don’t know how I would write!
            If that turns out to be funny, don’t laugh at it!
            :-)

            • Oh, yes. Sanskrit was a very scoring subject – but despite that, I didn’t like it. Come to think of it, the only scoring subject that I liked was biology! Otherwise, all my favourite subjects – English, History, Geography – were all the type where you couldn’t really hope to get marks in the 90s (though, to my surprise, I actually managed to get 93% in Geography in my XIIth Board exams). :-D

              I am sure your travelogue won’t be funny. Am really looking forward to it.

              • though, to my surprise, I actually managed to get 93% in Geography in my XIIth Board exams

                OMG, that’s so nice!
                And I will surely try to write about panchmarhi.
                Though I would write more about my motion sickness than anything else!
                Oh god! it keeps you in a awkward position always.
                People around you always try to avoid u, ke mere paas mat baitho
                :-)

                • Oh, I can imagine how terrible motion sickness can be! I have a friend whose little girl suffers very seriously from it, so travelling for them is a real problem. Touch wood, nobody in my family has it – the only time I’ve suffered it was at Khardung-La, where I think it might have been caused more by the altitude than anything else.

  6. I don’t know where my earlier comment disappeared, but I assume the gremlins had something to do with it.

    This film sounds interesting, Tanuja looks très pretty, and you’ve left the review at an interesting point – now, I’ll have to watch. The only questions is,WDIGTT?’

    • And, would you believe it, even this comment had gone into the ‘Pending Approval’ folder? WordPress seems to have decided you are not to be trusted.

      Do watch, Anu. Do watch. You know, this was one of those rare films that I pretty much watched at one go – these days, far too many films that I watch end up being the type where I watch them in instalments of half an hour or so: after that, I need time off to go do something else. Rajkumari – mostly because of Tanuja, who holds centrestage – was a film I wanted to watch in one sitting.

  7. I agree with Tanuja that her roles in Bengali films were better than in Hindi films. Apart from Deya Neya I would recommend Tin Bhubaner Parey (with Soumitra) and Adalat O Ekti Meye (directed by Tapan Sinha). I liked Rajkumari quite a lot. Good review. BTW, just finished reading Suresh Jindal’s “My Adventures with Satyajit Ray – The Making of Shatranj Ke Khilari”. Loved it. Do read it if you get a chance. Reading it gave me a good idea of why producers get ulcers or turn to drink.

    • That’s a coincidence! A newspaper is sending me the The Shatranj ke Khiladi book for review. They offered it to me, and I naturally jumped at the opportunity. Am looking forward to reading it.

      Thank you for the recommendations (and for your appreciation of my review). Will look out for the other films too; Deya Neya I already have bookmarked and waiting to be watched.

  8. “Rajkumari” was a disaster at box-office. The main reason behind it was that Bengali viewers couldn’t accept Kishore Kumar as the voice of Uttam Kumar at that time. They used to listen Hemanta Mukherjee and Manna Dey for UK.
    Later in an interview Kishore Kumar himself mentioned it and said he didn’t tuned his voice with the Uttam Kumar’s personality and style.
    Later when KK again was given opportunity to sing for UK in “Amanush”, he made necessary changes in his rendition and the result we all know.
    What an artist…..what an era…
    Very nice review. I have watched “Rajkumari” in childhood but your review made me eager to go for it again …..specially the ‘unusual turn’ you mentioned made me intrigued.

    • Thank you: I’m glad you liked the review. I really enjoyed this film a lot (but then, since I already have a soft spot for both Tanuja as well as Uttam Kumar, that helped).

      That’s a very interesting analysis of why Rajkumari flopped. I do admit I found it odd to have Kishore singing playback for Uttam Kumar, but it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the film itself. Just goes to show how music can (could?) play such a major part in the success – or not – of a film.

  9. On an entirely unrelated note:

    Looking at updates over the last few days regarding the horrible downslide in Delhi’s atmospheric conditions, I just wish to know about your well-being.

  10. I’ve not been managing to read the email updates I get in my inbox but came to your site today because a few days ago a friend messaged and said, Oh look your favourite author has a new book out! And I wondered, what is Madhu up to now a days? And am I glad I came and read this review! Needless to say I cannot wait to watch the movie [after all, I have to find what this ‘turn that caught me by surprise’ moment was] and read the book as soon as I lay my hands on it. My only worry regarding the movie are the subtitles – I cannot understand Bengali at all and am wondering whether the movie will be brilliant enough to take it above the shoddy subtitles.

    • “Oh look your favourite author has a new book out!

      Thank you so much for giving me that label! :-) I am very flattered – and humbled. Thank you. Will publish a post about the book once it’s available online, since that seems to be the most reliable way for most readers to be able to buy the books.

      If you can’t understand Bengali at all, I wouldn’t advise you to go out of your way to watch Rajkumari. It’s a good movie, but in a pleasant, mostly predictable sort of way (that that surprise I mentioned wasn’t a pleasant one) – not something you absolutely must watch.

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