I started off being a diehard fan of Dev Anand’s. While in school and college, pretty much all of Dev Anand’s films I’d seen were the ones Doordarshan aired: CID, Teen Deviyaan, Tere Ghar ke Saamne, Jewel Thief, Nau Do Gyarah, Munimji… what wasn’t to like? Yes, I drew the line at Dev Anand post the early 70s—those mannerisms by then had begun to be tiresome, and the man’s ‘evergreen’ image really didn’t fool me. It was downright embarrassing to watch films like Warrant or Heera Panna.
And then, when I was in my twenties or so, I began paying a little more attention to Dev Anand’s early career—and found that here was a mix of films, some good and some pretty forgettable except for some good music. After trying out films like Vidya and Sazaa, I sort of gave up. Until Sanam was recommended to me by someone who knows his Dev Anand movies inside-out. A comedy, surprisingly modern, I was told.
It doesn’t start off seeming very comic. Yogendra ‘Yogen’ (Dev Anand) is a graduate, but desperately poor and unemployed. Worse still, his mother is consumptive and the doctor’s recommended that she be taken to another place—the hills?—to recuperate [this is suspiciously like Professor, not that I mind]. Yogen has been roaming the streets, trying to get any job he can. In the course of his perambulations, he goes into a bookshop to ask for a job, and is told there’s no job available. ‘Beg!’ advises the shopkeeper when Yogen explains his situation.
A dejected Yogen is leaving when he sees a stylish little handbag lying on a shelf of books. Two young women who had been in the shop have just stepped out. He grabs the bag, goes rushing out and accosts them. Sadhana (Suraiya) and her cousin Rani (Meena Kumari) are pleasantly surprised at the honesty of this man, and even more so when he refuses the money Sadhana offers as a reward. Sadhana is quite smitten by Yogen…
… and later, tries to reason with her father, the Public Prosecutor (KN Singh), who holds that the poor are inherently dishonest. She gives this stranger’s example, Rani supports her, and Prosecutor Sahib unbends enough to admit that there may be some exceptions.
Meanwhile, Yogen is in even more of a pickle than before, Ma’s condition being so bad that there seems no hope. When he returns home that evening and Ma asks him if he managed to get a job, Yogen doesn’t have the heart to tell her the truth.
Yes, he says. Yes, I’ve got a job.
Oh, how wonderful! And for what salary? Surely a man so well-educated and capable as her son must get at least a hundred rupees.
Yes, that’s exactly how much I will get. A hundred rupees a month.
There is much rejoicing, and Ganga, the neighbour who’s been looking after Ma while Yogen has been looking for a job, takes him aside and makes a suggestion. Go and ask your boss for an advance of Rs 50. Your mother needs to go to the hills, and I can go with her so you don’t need to take leave. Yogen has no option but to agree, and tells Ganga that she should pack their things and take Ma to the railway station: he will borrow the money, buy the train tickets, and meet them at the station.
Of course, since there’s no job and no boss, Yogen can borrow money only from a pawnbroker or moneylender. He goes to one, and on being asked what surety he will offer, says that his word is all he has. At this, the man gets wild and starts abusing Yogen. What does he think a penniless wretch’s word is worth? Yogen tries mentioning his situation, and the man echoes what the shopkeeper had said: Beg. He adds other options: Steal, hold up someone.
So Yogen snatches fifty rupees out of his hands. There is a tussle, Yogen hits out at his attacker, and the man is flung into the road, to be crushed by a passing vehicle. Yogen does not wait to see any of this: he’s already rushed away to the railway station, where he buys the train tickets for Ma and Ganga and sees them off.
Soon after, Yogen is arrested and charged with robbery and murder. In court, facing the prosecutor (Sadhana’s father, though neither of them know it), Yogen admits he stole the money, but that he intended to return it—and outright denies having murdered the man. The prosecutor refuses to believe it, and so, it seems, do the jury and the judge. Yogen ends up sentenced to life imprisonment.
When his mother comes to know [through a letter from Yogen—unusual for a Hindi film hero, who’d have done pretty much anything to spare his Ma suffering], she comes racing back to Bombay. Fortunately for her, she’s healthier now and can therefore summon up the strength to rush off to the prosecutor’s bungalow and rave and rant at him and his wife (Protima Devi).
The prosecutor and his wife brush her off, but minutes later, he has a change of heart. Summoning his servant, Prosecutor Sahib gives instructions to acquire a house for Yogen’s mother and arrange for her livelihood. Without letting her know who is behind it all.
A few days later, Sadhana and Rani are out for a jaunt. With them is Rasik Lal Mehta BA, LLB, Bar-at-Law (Failed)—as he describes himself (this is Gope, and very funny too). Rasik is loony about Sadhana, who humours him, gently teases him, but gives him no real reason to imagine himself favoured. Rasik’s relationship with Rani is the exact opposite of that with Sadhana—he is thoroughly irritated by her, and she takes great delight in ribbing him, calling him an ullu and whatnot (Sadhana is quick to console Rasik by saying that the ullu is the ‘wise owl’ of the West, so Rasik has no reason to feel offended).
The girls manage to shake Rasik off and go off by themselves, singing a song of freedom. By chance, they pass near the local jail, outside which Yogen is part of a group of prisoners at work. Inspired by the song he hears, Yogen flings his tools down and races off [security here seems to be woefully inadequate]. The alarm is raised and a bunch of cops come chasing after him, but by then Yogen has found a car and jumped into the back seat.
This, as he discovers moments later, is the car of Sadhana and Rani. They are scared, but Rani recognizes, in this jailbird crouching at the back, the man who had returned Sadhana’s bag that day… so they drive off with Yogen and take him to their home.
Naturally, home is fraught with danger. Even while Yogen is changing into a pair of borrowed clothes that Sadhana hands over, Rasik arrives, all puffing and panting [and very huffy at having been abandoned with such gay abandon]. To hoodwink him, the girls quickly plonk Yogen down at the piano, and pretend to be happily employed in singing.
In the midst of all of this, Sadhana’s father also arrives, and comes to the conclusion that this young man must surely be the music teacher Sadhana had been wanting to appoint. Sadhana agrees; yes, this is Masterji.
Later, she tells Yogen (whom she is already halfway in love with) that the safest place for him would be this house. The police wouldn’t even think of coming here [they do, actually—her car number having been noted down by the pursuing cops; however, Prosecutor Sahib is so indignant at the very thought of his house being searched for a fugitive that the police quickly retreat].
Yogen is reluctant—after all, he is a fugitive, and if he is caught, it could get Sadhana into trouble—but Sadhana overrules him. When Yogen discovers who her father is, and points out that Prosecutor Sahib is bound to recognize Yogen as the man he got convicted a while ago, Sadhana assures Yogen that her father has had convicted hundreds of men: how can he possibly remember the faces of all of them? Yogen is, willy-nilly, persuaded to agree.
Since he’s already been mistaken for the music teacher, that’s the role she assigns to him. He will also be staying in the house.
The relationship between Yogen and Sadhana goes up another notch when, in the wake of a stage performance, a fire breaks out and Yogen rescues Sadhana.
A shaken Sadhana and a relieved Yogen end up confessing their love for each other. Little do they know that their loving conversation is being overheard, every word of it, by Sadhana’s father.
Soon after, Sadhana tells her mother too, and Ma is well pleased: Masterji is a very personable young man, and he obviously loves Sadhana deeply—he put his life at great risk to save her from the fire. She is all for her daughter marrying Yogen, and says so to her husband. Prosecutor Sahib, to her distress (and to Sadhana’s even greater distress) refuses. They know nothing of Yogen: who he is, what is his family, nothing.
Let alone knowing that Yogen is the very man he got sentenced to life imprisonment. And whom he firmly believes to be a hardened criminal…
What I liked about this film:
The unusual twist at the end, which turns Sanam around completely. By about the halfway mark of this film—with Yogen and Sadhana’s romance in dire straits, because of her father’s disapproval and the very fact that Yogen is an ex-convict (and an escaped one at that)—I was certain this film would turn out to be one of those run-of-the-mill tragic romances that seemed to be so popular in the 50s. Or, if not tragic, at least predictable enough. Then, a few minutes from the end, the story took an interesting and unexpected turn which gave it a refreshingly modern touch. That ‘modernity’ of a film made nearly 70 years ago was what surprised me—while the middle part of the film may look suspiciously like countless others, the end proves it more progressive than hundreds of much more recent films (in fact, very recent films too).
Secondly, Meena Kumari as Rani. Dev Anand and Suraiya may be the leads of Sanam, but Meena Kumari—even though her role isn’t huge—is a sunbeam, a laughing, dancing-eyed and cheerful spirit whom I loved. I have always pointed to films like Kohinoor and Azaad whenever people have slotted Meena Kumari as the eternal ‘Queen of Tragedy’; this role surpasses even those when it comes to light-heartedness.
Last but not least, the music, by Husnlal Bhagatram. Sanam has loads of songs, and nearly all of them are hits of their time: Dil le gaya ji koi dil le gaya, Bedard shikaari, Naya-naya hai pyaar zamaana dekhe na, Mere chaahnewaale hazaar, Chalo Honolulu…
What I didn’t like:
The somewhat over the top melodrama in the middle of the film. Yes, the end explains that, but I still think it gets a bit too much.
And why on earth would a court put a man on trial for murder if he was crushed under a vehicle being driven by someone else who drove off in what was obviously a hit-and-run case? Then, if the person whose car that had been comes forward and confesses, why suddenly shift the blame to him? Why should it be that the blame was initially put on a man who accidentally pushed the victim into the path of an oncoming vehicle, and then it’s conveniently shifted to the one who’d been driving the vehicle—after the first man has not only been convicted of murder, but has even served part of the sentence? Very flawed logic.
All said and done, an okay film. The middle part sags melodramatically and was what put me off in what would otherwise have been an enjoyable film. In fact, if the comedy of the first half-hour, and of Naya-naya hai pyaar zamaana dekhe na had been sustained for most of the film, I’d count this as one of the most delightful films of the early 50s.