A little less than a week ago, on December 4, I received news that a very dear aunt had passed away. My parents, my sister and I made arrangements to travel to Kolkata for the funeral, the next day. Early in the morning, just as I was about to leave for the airport, the newspaper was delivered, and one headline sprang out at me: Shashi Kapoor had passed away, too. On the very same day as my aunt.
I suppose if Shashi Kapoor had passed away on any other day, on a day when I was not quite so swamped in sorrow of my own, I would have posted a tribute to him earlier. Later, I thought. When I am a little less distraught. My father, reading the newspaper, remarked that he and Shashi Kapoor had been born in the same year, just 6 months apart (my father in September 1938, Shashi in March 1938). My mother, looking at a lovely photo of a smiling and very handsome young Shashi, remarked that he looked uncannily like a cousin of mine (which I have to agree with; I have thought so many times). In our own ways, all of us remembered Shashi Kapoor.
But there has to be a proper tribute. At least on this blog, where I’ve always made it obvious that Shashi Kapoor is a favourite. A man who was far more versatile than most people realize, and who managed to be a very believable leading man for a fairly long time.
Since I’d already done a Shashi Kapoor songs list, I thought I’d review a film this time. Which one, though? I’d already reviewed, over the years, all my favourite Shashi films: Pyaar Kiye Jaa, Prem Patra, Sharmeelee, Dharamputra, Waqt… I decided, then, to turn to a Shashi film I’ve been meaning to watch for a while now. For many reasons. One, because Mohabbat Isko Kehte Hain has superb music. Secondly, because it pairs Shashi Kapoor with one of his most frequent co-stars, Nanda (the actress who agreed to star with a very young Shashi when none of the other leading ladies of Hindi cinema wanted to work with a newcomer).
(As I discovered while watching this film, it had connections, too, to my family on that day when we travelled for my aunt’s funeral. My mother’s observation that Shashi Kapoor looked like a cousin of mine? Well, as it turned out, Shashi Kapoor here plays a character who has the same name as that cousin: Vijay. And a good bit of the film was set in the very city we had travelled to: Kolkata).
Vijay (Shashi) is a truck driver who works for a seth. Along with his helper/cleaner/friend Ramu (Kumud Tripathi), Vijay is constantly at daggers drawn with another driver, Kundan (Madan Puri). Kundan is always trying to poison the seth’s mind against Vijay, and Vijay always succeeds in getting the upper hand.
Vijay has no family to call his own; but the old lady (Leela Chitnis) who lives next door has been an honorary naani (maternal grandmother) to him. When the film opens, Naani has just returned home after an unspecified but obviously fairly long time. She is greeted by another neighbour (Chand Burque), who also happens to be mother to the evil Kundan. Kundan’s mother immediately sets out to badmouth Vijay: Vijay has knocked down part of the wall separating his home from Naani’s, and has been jumping over and getting into Naani’s house whenever he pleases.
Vijay arrives in the midst of all this backbiting (Naani, thankfully, does not seem to have paid too much attention to Kundan’s mother’s diatribe). Vijay is quick to defend himself: part of the wall did collapse because he kept jumping over it, but it had anyway been falling apart. And he kept coming into Naani’s home to draw water from her well, and to ensure her home was secure.
In the midst of this conversation, it emerges that Naani has returned from Calcutta, bringing with her her granddaughter Rajni, who had been studying in the city all these years. And lo and behold—here comes Rajni (Nanda), and Vijay is completely bowled over. He teases her, pulls her leg, embarrasses her with his goggle-eyed praise…
… and, in a quieter moment, confesses his love for her. Rajni is suitably demure, and though she says she feels shy admitting her love for him, she does do so, too.
Naani looks benevolently on at all of this; they have her blessings. But Madan and his mother are thoroughly miffed. Kundan wants to marry Rajni, and his mother likes the idea too, more so (and this applies to both mother and son) because Rajni is sole heir to Naani’s house. The two of them therefore set about maligning Vijay.
Thanks to the less-than-ideal company of his friend Ramu, Vijay has been to watch a mujra at a kotha on the very evening that Naani and Rajni return; Rajni discovers this and is jealous, until Vijay assures her that Ramu had dragged him along. He, Vijay, has no interest in naachne-gaanewaalis. Rajni, thankfully, believes him—but Vijay is not out of the woods yet. Soon after, some foul-mouthed insinuations from Kundan make Vijay hit him, and Kundan’s mother goes to Naani with a tall story about Vijay being a gambler and drunkard who’s been going around besmirching Rajni’s name.
Naani, who should know better, believes this woman and refuses to let Vijay enter the house. Vijay manages to convince Rajni of his innocence and eventually win back Naani too, but there’s more to come. One day, just as Rajni and Vijay return from an exhilarating day at the mela, Naani hands Vijay Rs 200, asking him to hand them over to a creditor of hers. Vijay sets out on the errand, and gets diverted at the mela, where he returns to buy a pair of earrings he had earlier seen for Rajni.
While he’s looking at the earrings, Kundan passes by and picks Vijay’s pocket. Vijay discovers his wallet’s missing only when he starts to pay for the earrings, but by then, it’s too late. He has no clue where the pickpocket has gone. Deep in despair, Vijay leaves the mela, and on his way out, comes across a gambler in progress. Vijay may not gamble regularly, but he has a talent for it. So he jumps into the fray, and wins a good deal of money before the police come along and round up all the gamblers. Vijay ends up having to spend time in the lock-up.
… with the result that Kundan’s mother reports to Naani that Vijay has gambled away her money at the mela. By now, Naani has given up on Vijay, and even Rajni is beginning to plead with him not to lie, when he tries to tell her the truth. Now Vijay is even an ex-convict! She still loves him, though, and weeps when Vijay decides to leave home and go away to Durgapur to find a better job there.
But while Vijay goes off on a fruitless quest (he isn’t able to get a job, after all) to Durgapur, Naani receives a letter from Rajni’s uncle in Calcutta. He is ill and wants Naani and Rajni to come look after him. He has also a very good match in mind for Rajni… Rajni refuses, telling Naani that she will marry no-one but Vijay, and Naani, despite her recent disillusionment with Vijay, agrees. They will, however, go to Calcutta to look after Uncle.
So the two women go away, and Vijay’s letters, when they arrive at the empty house, go unanswered. When he, puzzled and worried, arrives to find them gone to Calcutta, Vijay too goes off in their wake—but where will he look for them in such a big city? And will he have redeemed himself in Naani’s eyes? Or will events transpire to make even Rajni turn away from Vijay?
Because, by the time Vijay sees Rajni again, she is a married woman.
What I liked about this film:
The music, by Khayyam. If there is one reason to watch Mohabbat Isko Kehte Hain, it is for the songs: Theheriye hosh mein aa loon toh chale jaaiyega, Jo humpe guzarti hai tanha kise samjhaayein; Meri nigaah ne kya kaam laajawaab kiya… and several others, also good.
Shashi Kapoor and Nanda. The other Shashi Kapoor-Nanda film of 1965, Jab-Jab Phool Khile, far outshone this one at the box office simply because of the glamour of it and a somewhat more filmi storyline, but the chemistry between the two is sweeter in Mohabbat Isko Kehte Hain: more believable, less contrived. Rajni and Vijay have been childhood sweethearts, and this shines through in their interactions even as adults: they are comfortable with each other, outspoken—and, oh, they look so adorable together.
What I didn’t like:
The odd turnabouts in attitude of Rajni’s grandmother. Rajni, until she gets what she thinks is irrefutable proof of Vijay’s waywardness, continues to give him the benefit of doubt (which I appreciated), but Naani does near-constant flip-flops regarding the man. One moment she’s fawning over him and wanting Rajni to marry Vijay; the next, just because some catty neighbour has passed some as-yet-unverified remark, she’s broken off all relationships with Vijay. She came across, on the whole, as a weakling, easily swayed by whatever anybody—Kundan’s mother, Rajni, Rajni’s uncle—says to her.
Also, Vijay’s penchant for jumping into games of chance is puzzling: why does he keep doing that?
I could foresee, pretty accurately, the end, so this did not come as a surprise to me. And I’ve seen several films with a similar premise: the old lover reappearing in a married woman’s life, the dilemma she faces, the fear of suspicion arising in the husband even when the woman herself is ‘pavitra as the Ganga’. Mohabbat Isko Kehte Hain didn’t take the road less travelled; it was predictable enough, but—perhaps because of the songs, perhaps because of a good cast (among the others in this film are Ramesh Deo, David, Anwar Hussain, Rashid Khan, Tabassum and Helen)—this wasn’t utterly painful.
And Shashi Kapoor certainly was part of the reason I liked this film. Yes, other actors could also have played the romantic hero who, thanks to a series of unfortunate misunderstandings (not to mention his own foolish decisions at times), ends up dumped while his sweetheart marries another. I’ve seen almost exactly the same men being played by everybody from Rajendra Kumar to Dilip Kumar, from Manoj Kumar to Jeetendra, and very few have managed to appeal to me in both avatars. The romantic hero, singing love songs to his beloved, is usually likeable enough (in Shashi Kapoor’s case, outright delectable). The betrayed and tormented hero is a different ball game: too often merely accusatory and self-pityingly melancholic. Shashi manages to imbue his Vijay with a little more depth: you can see the hurt in this man, and the way he tries to balance what he sees as his duty with his own feelings of both anger as well as deep love.
RIP, Shashi Kapoor. May your films live on, as your memory does for those of us who liked you so much.