Of Mere piya gaye Rangoon fame.
Mere piya gaye Rangoon—and some of the other songs of Patanga—were the main reason I began watching this film. Then, when the credits started to roll and I discovered this film also starred Shyam, I sat up a bit and began watching with a bit more interest. Shyam (1920-51, born Shyam Sundar Chadha) grew up in Rawalpindi and, when he was just 22 years old, debuted in a Punjabi film named Gawandi. He went on to work in several films, including Samadhi, Dillagi, and Shabistan—the last-named was also to be Shyam’s last film: in the course of the shooting, he fell off a horse and died.
I’ve seen precious little of Shyam (Samadhi is the only film of his I remember watching), but he intrigues me in the same way that his older contemporary Chandramohan does: they make me wonder if the honour roll of Hindi cinema would have been somewhat different if these men had lived. Shyam, with that handsome face and that impressive height and build, was definite star material. Plus, he was not a bad actor, either. Had he lived well into the 50s, would his presence have perhaps altered the careers of actors like Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor?
Who knows. For the time being, about Patanga, in which Shyam plays a dashing young man, the spoilt son of a jagirdar. He doesn’t, however, appear till well into the film, which starts off in the countryside, where a desperate man, father to six daughters, is waiting for his wife to give birth to their seventh child. When the news comes (brought, in a very brief appearance, by a gawky young Rajendra Kumar) that a son has been born, the man cannot contain his happiness.
That joy is doubled when, during the celebrations surrounding the birth, a passing astrologer offers to read the baby’s future by looking at its palm. Oh, this one is very blessed, says the jyotishi. He will have a fine future. ‘Iske aage-peechhe motorein ghoomengeen’ (‘cars will go in front of him and behind’)…
… which is proven true, when we next see Raja (now Yakub). He’s a traffic cop, busy directing cars at a crossing. Yes, there are plenty of cars behind and in front of him, and all around as well. So much for that astrologer.
Things move swiftly, interspersed with plenty of songs. Raja, looking about, notices a pretty girl (Nighar Sultana, looking really very lovely) singing to advertise a medicine that purports to impart a tuneful voice to the harshest of throats.
Raja is so enchanted that he deserts his post, goes off to watch the song and dance, and discovers that the girl’s name is Rani. The old man selling the medicines is her father. Rani and Raja have a brief chat before parting ways.
Raja’s negligence in the matter of his duty, however, has had unfortunate consequences: an accident occurs, and Raja ends up being suspended for a year. With no income coming in and his six older sisters to support, Raja is in dire straits. He doesn’t let this dampen his joie de vivre, though, and seeing a plump man (Gope) being thrown out of a restaurant for eating too well and not paying a naya paisa, Raja strikes up a conversation with this errant customer, who turns out to be Nathuram Gope, the owner (and producer, director, actor, and writer) of a theatre company. Gope encourages Raja to go in and eat his fill: the waiters at this restaurant are flimsy fellows and cause no lasting hurt when they dump a man on the pavement.
This Raja (having had a full meal) discovers isn’t quite true: it does hurt. In the meantime, though, he crosses paths with a familiar face: the girl he’d seen performing on the street has been dining at the same restaurant, dressed up as a Pathan. [Why she’s dressed as a man is unclear, though it might have been revealed in a brief part of the film that has the dialogue missing].
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that Raja and Rani become friends, and decide to try for a job at Gope Seth’s theatre company.
Gope’s lead actress Miss Jwala (Mohana) is supposed to be Anglo-Indian, I suppose, as can be guessed by her ungrammatical Hindi. Despite that drawback, Gope is all for her continuing with being the lead, and summarily turns out both Raja and Rani (who sneak into his office by subterfuge).
These two don’t give up, though: they come back, manage to get onto the stage (after having overpowered, and subsequently exchanged clothes with, the lead pair). On stage, they perform so well that Gope is bowled over and hires them immediately. Rani, especially, is a valuable asset who swiftly displaces a very disgruntled Miss Jwala.
Shortly after, the theatre company (of which Rani’s father is also now a part, though it’s not quite clear exactly what he does) goes on tour. At one of the places where they stage a show, Shyam (Shyam), the son of a jagirdar, attends the show along with his friend Randhir (Randhir; barring Yakub and Nighar Sultana, almost everybody—at least those I could recognize—play characters with the same names as the actors themselves).
Shyam is quite taken up with Rani, though not in a good way: he’s merely lusting after her. He tells Randhir so, and when Shyam finds Rani alone for a while, he moves in for the kill (that phrase, by the way, is singularly apt here: there’s something predatory about the man; this isn’t the relatively innocent wooing-disguised-as-stalking of most Hindi film heroes). He begins by asking Rani if she’s Nighar Sultana (hehe!) and then, when she coldly rebuffs him, starts getting even more fresh.
Rani doesn’t stand this long; she gives Shyam a resounding slap and goes off, leaving him caressing his cheek but vowing that he will make Rani his. Soon, he’s caught up with her again and is trying to get her to accept a diamond ring that he’s taken off his own finger. This time, even while an indignant Rani is giving this pest a piece of her mind, she is rescued by her colleagues: Gope and Raja arrive, throw the ring back in Shyam’s face (calling the diamond a ‘piece of glass’ and thus adding insult to injury).
But Shyam, despite being turned down all over again, is not one to take no for an answer. He is staying in the same hotel where Gope has booked rooms for all the members of the theatre company; so, one evening, Shyam sneaks into Rani’s room and is there when she comes in. Rani tries to get him to leave, even threatening to call for the police. Shyam reminds her that if the police—or anyone—comes, it’s her reputation that will suffer. He’s nasty enough to go to the door and call for the bearer to fetch the police. Rani, pushed to the wall, ends up admitting defeat and letting him sit in her room.
Not for long, though, because Raja, hearing voices from her room, comes to check on Rani. Shyam manages to hide under a small table and Rani tries to fob Raja off by saying that she was rehearsing for their upcoming show. Raja decides this is a great idea: they can rehearse together! After some jugglery and surreptitious sneaking about, Shyam—still under the table—manages to make his escape, with Raja none the wiser.
Shyam still isn’t ready to give up. He tells Randhir all over again that he wants Rani, and Randhir asks if any of the many mansions and houses Shyam’s family owns are currently empty. Yes, there’s the mansion at Rangpur, says Shyam. Great! That’s well away from Shyam’s rather stern father’s disapproving gaze, too. Shyam should host a grand (wild?) party there, and engage Gope’s troupe to perform at the party. Rani will, obviously, be part of the group, and Shyam is bound to make progress.
Of course, a party like this will require money, so Shyam goes off to ask his father for Rs 10,000. Daddy, though he’s a wealthy jagirdar, is not happy coughing up money for his rakish son’s frivolities. He ticks Shyam off, refuses to listen to the pleadings of Shyam’s doting mother, and says it’s high time Shyam was married [why it’s assumed that marriage will reform someone is something I’ve never been able to figure out].
Daddy isn’t just expressing a hope for something they should work towards. No; the girl is already there, and she’s been betrothed to Shyam since they were children. Purnima (Purnima) is the now-orphaned daughter of Jagirdar Sahib’s old friend, to whom Jagirdar Sahib had long ago made a promise that Shyam and Purnima would one day be married [these childhood engagements and weddings… ugh!]. Purnima now goes around pining for her betrothed, so what if he shows no inclination whatsoever towards the romantic [not when it comes to her, at any rate].
Now, having learnt that Shyam needs 10,000 and has been refused it by his father, Purnima comes to Shyam with a cheque for the amount. Because she loves him. [*rolling my eyes*]. Shyam, to give him credit, does try to refuse it—after all, this is her money (does he also perhaps feel a little guilty that his fiancée’s money will be used to finance his chasing after another woman?). Then, Shyam’s worse self prevails, and having accepted the money, he goes off to Gope to arrange for the troupe to visit his Rangpur estate…
… where Shyam, now wearing a sherwani and disguised in beard and heavy moustache, pretends to be his own father (with Randhir acting as his son). This disguise easily fools Gope and his troupe (including Rani), but Shyam’s family gardener and his wife, who’ve been eavesdropping and peeking in while Randhir has helped stick the beard onto Shyam’s jaw, confront him with the truth. Shyam, in order to keep the gardener from telling Shyam’s father about these most disreputable goings-on, gives the man five rupees.
But the gardener’s wife is a canny woman, and soon persuades her husband that it would be best to pocket the money, but go and tell Jagirdar Sahib anyway…
In the meantime, having revealed the real man behind the disguise to Rani, Shyam also reveals that he’s actually fallen in love with her instead of merely lusting after her. As a result, Rani [ick, this woman has no self-respect] also falls in love with Shyam.
… And all hell breaks loose in a frightfully melodramatic style.
What I liked about this film:
Shyam and Nighar Sultana, purely as eye candy (not that their acting is bad, but both of them are wonderful to look at). I’ve seen Nighar Sultana in several other films before, but it was only in this film that I realized just how gorgeous she was in her heyday.
And, C Ramachandra’s music. Patanga is one of the early films from the composer’s career, and brims with great songs. Mere piya gaye Rangoon, of course, was the main draw for me, but as the film progressed, I remembered other songs that are well-known and good: O dilwaalon dil ka lagaana achha hai, Boloji dil loge toh kya-kya doge, and Dil se bhula do tum humein hum na tumhe bhulaayenge.
While on the topic of music, it’s worth pointing out that Yakub bursts into song every now and then. While I’ve heard his rendition of Inhi logon ne le leena dupatta mera before, hearing him in this, and that too without the help of any form of instrumental support, made me really appreciate his singing—he’s good!
What I didn’t like:
The way the light romantic comedy of the first half slips into a grotesque melodrama that bears no resemblance to the first half: it makes one almost think these are two different films with the same set of characters. Patanga starts off funny, filled with songs, and with what looked like a simple enough plot line: a beautiful and popular actress is loved by her rather plain but devoted and sincere co-star, but is coveted by a lothario who will stop at nothing to make her his own. Just given that as a concept, I’d have thought there was lots of scope here for an offbeat love story, with the Casanova sent packing, the heroine and hero united, etc etc.
Which does happen, but only after some completely crazy and inexplicable behaviour on the parts of various characters, said behaviour also being complicated by some very sudden changes of mind. For instance, there’s no good reason given for why Shyam—who’s obviously only wanting Rani for pleasure, no more—suddenly falls in love with her (and it’s a very chaste and committed love too, one for which he goes up against his father and the world). Even more inexplicable, why does Rani (who so far has been shown—and rightly so, given his behaviour—to detest Shyam) suddenly fall head over heels in love with him?
Then, why, if they’re so much in love with each other, do both of this gorgeous pair agree to Shyam marrying Purnima? Because Purnima slaps Rani, calls her names and stakes a claim on Shyam, Rani’s eyes are opened, and she realizes that it’s not her, but Purnima whom Shyam should be marrying? And why does Shyam, still with bewildered hurt in his eyes, put the var maala around Purnima’s neck just because Rani says so? Don’t any of these people realize that marrying somebody when you are really in love with someone else is just not a good setup for a happy wedded life?
And, Purnima. Like Nighar Sultana, I’ve seen her in several films, and have usually not minded her. Here, as Purnima, she made me want to slap her. Purnima (the character) is a weepy example of rather self-centred (but disguised as devoted) pativrata stree, a woman who will hang on to the man she’s been promised to, come hell or high water, no matter if he is deeply in love with another woman.
What irked me the most was that the two main female characters in this film—Rani and Purnima—are weak in their own ways. They have little self-respect, even if Rani initially is shown as being rather feisty and courageous. By the end of the film, at least, both are shown conforming to the rules: if you’ve been promised to a boy when you were a girl, you must marry him you’re both grown up, or (if you haven’t been promised to someone as a child) you must end up marrying the man who loves you, even if he’s never really struck you as more than a friend.
Watch this if you want some good music. But beware the curse of the second half.