Talaash (1969)

There are a bunch of films that I’ve read a plot synopsis of, found it interesting, thought I’d try and watch it—and then taken a look at the cast, only to discover it starred someone I didn’t like. It’s happened time and again; with Talaash, having discovered that the film starred Rajendra Kumar, I decided to put the film on the back burner, even though the synopsis sounded interesting.

Then, reading Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal’s SD Burman: The Prince Musician, and seeing the list of songs (some of them truly lovely ones), I thought I may be able to sit through the film. Perhaps the rest of the cast, the interesting story, and the good music, would compensate for Rajendra Kumar.

Talaash begins with the graduation of Raj Kumar ‘Raju’ (Rajendra Kumar), who is being congratulated by all his classmates for having once again come first in the class. Raju goes off to meet his friend Lachhu (OP Ralhan, who also directed this film, which was produced by Rajendra Kumar). Lachhu has, after seven tries, finally managed to graduate too. They congratulate each other, and talk briefly of their futures. Lachhu will be roped in to work at his wealthy father’s cloth shop; Raju doesn’t know what he’ll do, but he’s certain: the wealth of his family will only be doubled. Yes, he’s not known want, ever, and he will continue to enjoy all that wealth, now through his own hard work.

Raju travels home to his widowed mother (Sulochana Latkar) and, thanks to his arriving a little earlier than expected, is able to overhear a dialogue between his mother (who’s sitting and working a sewing machine) and her friend (Mumtaz Begum). The friend is commending Raju’s mother, praising her maternal love and sacrifice: how she has laboured hard all these years, not even letting Raju know that they’re so short of money…

Raju’s eyes are opened, he’s very remorseful, and weepily grateful to Ma for having been such a devi. When asked to give him some words of wisdom, Ma says that Raju must always follow his soul. It doesn’t matter what the mind wants or what the heart wants; see what the soul wants, and go for that.

Raju returns to Bombay, leaving Ma behind in the village with his siblings [who, by the way, seem to completely vanish after one single, wordless appearance]. He gets a job as a clerk in a company owned by Ranjit Rai (Balraj Sahni).

Raju, far from being the hard-working, dependable sort, ends up botching things left, right and centre, and gets ticked off—plus warned—by Ranjit Rai.

A self-pitying Raju confides in Lachhu (who is now also Raju’s roommate) and Lachhu, in a surprising departure from the norm for a Hindi film comedian, offers sane advice: do what you have to do, well. So what if you aren’t as wealthy, don’t have a car or a big house, as another person? Compare yourself to those who don’t have a roof over their heads or food to eat.

Raju, suitably chastened as well as encouraged by this pep talk, goes back to work a changed man. He works late, after everybody else has gone home [Was this the film that set the trend for expectations from corporate sector employees all across India?!] And, when an appreciative Ranjit Rai asks him what his dream is, Raju frankly admits that he wants to be in Ranjit Rai’s place.

Ranjit Rai pretends to absentmindedly drop his wallet near Raju’s desk, but Raju, spotting it on the floor, picks it up and rushes out to hand it to Ranjit Rai.

Then, a few days later, a business associate tries to bribe Raju, offering him Rs 10,000 for a signature. Raju turns down the offer brusquely, even though that money would probably come in handy.

Raju keeps at it, nose to the grindstone, while Lachhu falls in love with the beautiful Rita (Helen), who comes one day to his shop. Rita [for no reason that I can see] seems equally charmed by Lachhu.

One day, after a hectic and gruelling few weeks of work, Raju is given a happy surprise: Ranjit Rai tells him to take a few days off. Go for a holiday somewhere. Raju decides that the hills will be a good option, and since a lovesick Lachhu, choosing just then to swoon after dancing with Rita, is amenable—the two friends head off to an unspecified ‘pahaadi ilaaqa’ (‘hilly area’), which looks rather like Kashmir.

Rita is also travelling on the same flight [no, no coincidence, this: Lachhu already knew Rita was also headed for the ‘pahaadi ilaaqa’, to perform]. She mistakes Raj Kumar’s name for a title, and when they arrive at the hotel where all of them will be staying, Rita surreptitiously tells the manager (Randhir) that this is a prince, no less.

Soon, everybody in the hotel thinks Raju is a prince. All the women (including characters played by Nadira, Daisy Irani, and Tabassum) flutter their eyelashes at Raju and simper and flirt. Raju seems blissfully unaware that this is anything out of the ordinary, or that these women are being overly friendly. He’s either painfully dumb or too naïve for words, it’s hard to say.

One day, the entire troop goes out riding, and Raju’s luck is such that he ends up on a very reckless horse which runs away with him and throws him. Fortunately for Raju, a girl (Sharmila Tagore) named Gauri comes running to his rescue, tears off a strip of her dupatta to tie around his head, and gets some water from the river to splash on his face.

By this time, Raju’s gang have turned up, and the women go on instant alert: who is this filthy village girl? Why is she sitting with Raju’s head in her lap? Who does she think she is? Blah, blah. Raju, angry at their attitude, shoos them away and apologizes to a distressed-looking Gauri…

… only to have to apologize to her all over again a while later, when she arrives at his hotel room, carrying the wallet he had accidentally dropped when he had fallen off the horse. Raju’s entourage of jealous (and horrifically rude) females again start to rant at Gauri, but he sends them away—and, within moments, has confessed his love for Gauri, who looks very pleased.

Their romance progresses swiftly, and encounters only a brief speed bump in the form of Gauri’s father (DK Sapru), who is wary of outsiders—of pardesis who break girls’ hearts. But Raju is able to convince Daddy of his sincerity and love and devotion to Gauri, so all is well. A local festival that includes mass weddings is coming up within the next couple of days and both Gauri and her father plead with Raju to stay back so that the two of them can be married.

But Raju refuses. Because for an event so important as his marriage, his mother must be there to witness and bless them. He consoles Gauri by assuring her that he will return—by the time this festival comes around again, he will be back with his Ma. Gauri sends a pretty red shawl for Ma, which Raju takes and gifts to his mother, telling her only that it has been sent for her by ‘someone’. He tells her nothing about Gauri.

When Raju rejoins work, it is to be greeted with astounding news. Ranjit Rai is extremely happy with Raju for all the good work he’s been doing, as well as for his honesty (besides the wallet Raju returned so promptly, there’s also the question of the refused bribe, which too Ranjit Rai knows about).  In recognition of Raju’s hard work and honesty, he has been promoted to manager. Shortly after, Ranjit Rai makes him partner in another of Rai’s companies.

Raju is also given a plush house (to which he fetches Ma, younger siblings having been conveniently forgotten by now). And a fancy car.

Plus, Ranjit Rai turns up at Raju’s new home to greet Raju’s mother and compliment her on the exemplary behaviour and demeanour of her son (Rai Sahib has a thankfully short and forgiving memory—he seems to have forgotten all about Raju’s early days at office). Rai has also come on another mission: to invite them to his home for a party. His daughter Madhu, who has been studying abroad all these years, has finally returned, and he’s hosting a party in her honour.

Ma declines—she’d feel out of place there—but encourages Raju to attend. So Raju does, and is introduced to Madhu.

Who is this girl who looks, barring the brown hair and green eyes, the spitting image of Gauri? She’s not anything like Gauri either, as Raju soon discovers. Unlike the simple village girl, Madhu is urbane, sophisticated, a girl who likes fast cars and Hindustani classical music with equal fervour. She is also surprisingly bold in her overtures towards Raju. Very soon, he’s become very aware of the fact that she is attracted to him.

Meanwhile, Raju’s friend Lachhu has been having problems of his own. Rita, now his girlfriend, introduces Lachhu to her father Dias (Sajjan) as a potential son-in-law, and Dias refuses, subsequently evicting Lachhu from the house. When a distraught Rita accuses her father of being cruel and greedy, of wanting her to go on working just so that he can earn money from her dancing, Dias breaks down and confesses the truth.

Many years ago, when Rita was a baby, one night a very drunk Dias came home with two other tipsy friends. Dias woke up his wife and forced her to cook something for the three drunks. While Dias and a friend, Peter (Madan Puri) lolled about on the sofa and got even more drunk, the third, John (Jeevan) slipped away into the kitchen and assaulted Dias’s wife.

Though the other two managed to save her in time, John pulled a gun. There was a fight, Dias picked up the gun, and egged on by Peter, shot John—dead. A solicitous Peter offered to look after everything and cover up while Dias made his escape with wife and baby. Which would have been all very well, except that Peter soon started showing his true colours. All these years, he has been blackmailing Dias, extorting money from him in exchange for keeping mum about John’s death.

Now what?

Talaash, to me, was a somewhat odd film. There are two mysteries or problems here: one is Rita and her father’s being preyed upon by the wily Peter, the other is the identity of Madhu, and what connection—if any—she has with her lookalike, Gauri. If you are observant enough, and if you can put two and two together, you will know, pretty early in the film, the truth behind both. Both are built up well, however, so the journey to the end isn’t bad—it’s entertaining, at least—but because of the somewhat obvious clues embedded in the story, the end doesn’t really come as a surprise.

What I liked about this film:

SD Burman’s music. Talaash has a lot of songs, and while some of them are fairly forgettable, there are a few that are well-known and lovely. These include the credits song, Meri duniya hai maa tere aanchal mein (sung by SD Burman himself); Palkon ke peechhe se kya tumne keh daala; Khaayi hai re humne kasam sang rehne ki; and Tere naina talaash karein jise.

The overall scripting, which isn’t bad. There are no obvious plot holes that I could see, and barring an irritating and forced episode regarding a match for Lachhu in the form of a character played by Tuntun, not much that is extraneous, either. The building up of the relationship between Raju and Madhu is well-done, especially when seen from his point of view: the gradual attraction, the way his fascination grows for this woman who shares Gauri’s features but is otherwise completely different.

What I didn’t like:

The motive behind the main plot, which I did not agree with at all.

Major spoiler ahead:

Madhu’s motive behind this entire farce was to test Raju’s love for her. Well, she gets to know that Raju does love her and not her wealth, but what of her love for Raju? Does her love mean that she is happy tormenting him so, deliberately putting him to the test, making him doubt his own feelings to such an extent that it nearly drives him mad? And all because she is unconvinced that he truly loves her and not her wealth? As Gauri, Madhu should have realized that Raju loved her—Gauri had no wealth to speak of. Testing him in that case would’ve been a simple problem: merely wait and see if he turns up on the appointed date for the wedding. If he doesn’t, he is obviously not the right man for her. To turn up as Madhu, to drive him batty, to leave him torn and in two minds (plus feeling guilty as hell because of what happens to his mother)… no, that’s not cricket.

Spoiler ends.

There is also some cringeworthy melodrama near the end, in a scene involving Balraj Sahni and Rajendra Kumar.

On the whole, not an awful film, but not one of my favourites in the ‘mysterious woman’ category.

Interestingly, while watching Talaash, I kept thinking, ‘Someone in the art department likes purple!’ Purple, especially in its brightest, most virulent shades, seems to be present in just about every frame, with walls, book covers, painted flowerpots, vases, picture frames, even leaves of potted plants, being purple. Plus, purple seems to be a popular colour for costume design too. There’s so much of this colour to be seen in this film, I wondered who was obsessed with it.

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40 thoughts on “Talaash (1969)

  1. I ,too, have avoided seeing THALASH all these years exactly for the same reason!!!
    Colour Purple was a good observation,Madhu ji.
    Was there any pattern in which movies SDB sang for? An interesting topic for discussion.

    • That is certainly an interesting topic for discussion! For some of the films – Bandini, Aradhana, Guide – there is the theme of a lead character having been jailed. But some other songs (in Talaash, Sujata, Amar Prem, Prem Pujari…) I don’t know. I suppose Sujata and Amar Prem there would be the social issue aspect of the film, but that’s not true of the other films.

      Of course, there is the fact that nearly all of SDB’s songs sung are background songs.

  2. Well if it’s not a good movie it’s not bad either, it’s fairly watchable. The only issue is the rationale behind Madhu’s test.
    Also, if I remember right, Raju’s position gets more embarrassing (I guess) because Ma too tries to edge her towards Madhu.

    • I agree, it’s fairly watchable. And Ma’s enthusiasm for Madhu does make Raju’s position more embarrassing – and more of a dilemma for him, considering he is anyway attracted to Madhu.

  3. Your review makes me want to see this film. I absolutely love the songs that you have mentioned. But my favorite one is the song ‘Kitni akeli kitni tanha…’.

    I have avoided the film for same reasons as you. But I must go and find it now.

    Good review!

    • Thank you, glad you liked the review! And the film isn’t terrible, at least it’s entertaining and fairly watchable, despite the problems I mention. Plus the songs are really good.

  4. I liked the movie as there was no villain per se (barring the Lacchhu mess). The struggle was internal for the hero. Should he take the easy way out and choose the rich girl or should he listen to his conscience and keep his promise to the simple village girl. I wonder if the effect had been better if there were really two girls.

    • Yes, that’s a good point about the problem being an internal one (in any case the Lachhu-Rita-her father problem isn’t really Raju’s problem). I don’t think Hindi cinema would’ve gone as far as to saddle the hero with the moral burden of having to choose between two good girls! Sharmeelee-like, one of them (the Westernized one) would have had to go rogue while the Indian Sati-Savitri would have been the clear-cut winner. :-)

  5. Great blog! One of greatest hits That year. My most favorite song was “aaj ko junli raat ma…”. You may have missed to add that in your blog .

  6. God! This ‘testing’ thing! As if clearing test once is a sure proof and people can’t change or grow out of love! Loved your review but I want to watch it for that dominant purple colour ! 😊

    • Yes! The test thing is so irritating – especially when (as in this case) there’s a much simpler way of verifying the issue.

      My daughter adores purple; she is so devoted to the colour that even her bed linen is purple, and her comb is purple, and her favourite stuffed toy is a purple teddy bear… she will probably like this film when she’s older just because there is so much purple in it! :-) Even if you merely scroll through the rest of the screen shots, you’ll see evidence of lots of purple there.

  7. ‘Tere naina talaash kar’ was sung on screen by Shahu Modak… the first Lord Ram of the Indian screen. Incidentally, he was a Christian
    (Just a bit of trivia)

  8. This movie was advertised as ‘ One crore colour colossus ‘ presumably indicating
    that it cost that fabulous sum to produce.
    I recall however that the movie was a
    flop!

  9. The only reason Helen falls in love with Lachchu is because Ralhan is the producer. :) Poor Helen.

    I watched this and found the basic motive very irritating. Because why the heck does Madhu have to go through this rigmarole? And the climax made me want to tear my remaining hair.
    Also, it was very, very hard to accept Rajendra Kumar (whom I don’t like at the best of times) as a new graduate.

    But the songs!
    Thanks for this review, Madhu. It reminded me of all that irritated me about the movie. :)

    • LOL re: Helen and Lachhu! (BTW, OP Ralhan was director, and Rajendra Kumar was producer). But the logic still holds true.

      I agree about the climax making one want to tear out one’s hair. That crazy, crazy scene with Balraj Sahni and those suitcases… oh, Lord. Plus of course that rigmarole. So utterly needless. If I’d been in Raju’s place, as soon as I found out what was happening, I’d have run away from the woman! :-)

      • If I’d been in Raju’s place, as soon as I found out what was happening, I’d have run away from the woman! :-)

        Isn’t that the truth? Can you imagine living a life where you don’t even know you’re being tested and held up to fail?

  10. Hello,
    A good review Madhuji,
    I don’t think, it’s a very good movie. My father also tells me about it. He being a great fan of S d Burman, and the film was over advertised as a big budget, he went to watch it. And didn’t like it at all. And it failed badly at box office, too.
    So better to skip it.
    And I like the songs a lot. But when I watched ‘kitani akeli’, I didn’t like golden haired Sharmila at all. I don’t think, it suits her.

  11. Madhu,
    I give a wide miss to ‘Bollywood’ of 60s and 70s, therefore, I don’t see myself watching this film, notwithstanding your excellent review. I was curious, is there any movie in which Rajendra Kumar didn’t come first? Or any movie in which he was not a paragon of virtue. I guess that must have put many viewers off him.

    Your spoiler piqued my interest. Who was the real, Gauri or Madhu? And the whole idea of testing Raju seems illogical.

    • Sorry for the delayed response, AK. I was travelling and was away from my blog. I agree that Rajendra Kumar ends up being the paragon of virtue in pretty much every film I’ve seen him in (though I agree with Nitin about the two films he’s mentioned – he does have shades of grey. And, if you count the double role in Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan, one of the characters he plays there is pretty evil too.

      Spoiler:

      Madhu is the real girl, not Gauri. Madhu happened to be in the hills when Raju came by, and she was posing for a photo shoot dressed as a village girl when he fell off his horse. (The game is given away right then, because we see her standing, dressed as Gauri, with the photographer getting his shot ready, when Raju goes past at full tilt).

      Spoiler ends

      Oh, do please reconsider your resolve to not watch any 60s films. There are some amazing films in this decade, including a couple of great comedies and some really well-made and sensitive films on families or society. Most of them from Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

      • Madhu,
        I used a loaded word ‘Bollywood’ – these are the dancing-around-the trees-flowers, romance, comedy, villain, and finally the happy end films. Good films I watch repeatedly.

      • I intended to watch the movie quite s few years back but gave up almost immediately, when I saw Sharmila posing in full tribal makeup for a shoot. I thought it was poor editing that let this ‘superfluous’ shot into the movie. It
        really put me off! And now I realise
        that it was integral to the movie!

  12. Madhu ji ,
    Nicely reviewed .
    It seems that Sharmila enters late in the movie , but I thank the story – writer who has given her 2 different types of roles so that she can show her लटकाज् nd झटकाज् !
    I m a big fan of Sharmila Tagore nd think that our bollywood directors hav used only 25 % of her talent . Of course , that is the loss for us , the viewers .
    I remember U mentioning , in a previous post , about her weird dress in ” पलकोंके पीछेसे क्या तुमने कह डाला “.
    The sweet ” कितनी अकेली कितनी तनहाँ सी ”
    Is very poorly picturized nd totally wasted.
    Moreover , O.P.Ralhan has been given unnecessary importance nd footage in the movie .

    Well , Ur review definately , will prompt the viewers to watch the film .
    The screenshots r also very nice .
    Nd I must appreciate Ur observation about the purpled माहौल throughout the movie .

    Madhu ji , thnx for the review .

    • Thank you, Pramodji! Glad you liked this post.

      I agree with you about Sharmila Tagore being underutilized in Hindi cinema. I do think she had a lot more talent than she was allowed to display – mostly (like far too many pretty actresses of the day) she was only expected to look beautiful, not really do much in the way of acting. But, as can be seen in the odd film where she is given a good role, she could act very well indeed.

  13. Oh c’mon Talaash is not that bad. Or Rajendra Kumar for that matter.Of course it could have been much better, if only O.P Ralhan’s comic side plot was cut short.It’s a pity that too many directors venture in front of the camera.(I’m looking at you Goldie Anand). As for Sharmila’s motivations, she’s rich and a little spoiled. So of course she can get away with a lot. I’m speculating that she might have been pursued for her money before -maybe while she was in Europe. Since she probably hasn’t heard of a pre-nup, this might have seemed like a good idea to test her fiance. I enjoyed the role-reversal for once. And it was rare to see a Hindi film hero being attracted to another woman, once he’d met his one-and-only love. Of course now that I’ve seen more older films, it isn’t that rare any more.

    • It’s not an awful film, but – as I mentioned – the test really got my goat. Especially since, as Gauri, there’s a fairly easy way for Madhu to figure out whether Raju wants her for her wealth or not.

      But we will agree to disagree, if that suits you. :-)

  14. “Then, reading Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal’s SD Burman: The Prince Musician, and seeing the list of songs (some of them truly lovely ones), I thought I may be able to sit through the film. Perhaps the rest of the cast, the interesting story, and the good music, would compensate for Rajendra Kumar.”

    OMG! I did the exact same thing after reading about Talash and the amazing songs in the book “The Prince Musician” but truly disappointing to see those songs wasted. I couldn’t take it to be honest so I couldn’t sit through like you did..

    But your review is brilliant as usual. Your observation about purple is amazing. I didn’t notice until I read your review.

    I wasn’t able to visit your blog for some time as I was busy in last few weeks but am slowly getting back to find time for things I enjoy!

    • LOL! Yes, I suppose my level of patience is a little higher than that of most people. Probably comes of having watched so many truly terrible films. :-)

      Talking of the SD Burman biography, another film added to my list as a result of that is Sitaaron se Aage. Don’t know when I’ll get the time to watch it, but it’s there.

      Glad you enjoyed the review, Ashish. Thank you!

  15. My post won’t be about the film itself – which I haven’t seen, nor do I feel inclined to – but a few tangentially-related thoughts:

    Back in the day, when I used to hear the song “Aaj Ko Junli Raat Ma”, I did not know that a word such as “junli” existed; not only that, my mind refused to accept that such a word could potentially exist. Therefore, I mentally replaced that word with “jubilee” instead, because of Jubilee Kumar being in the song! Hehehe…

    I also thought that this film would be Gujarat-based. That was for two reasons: firstly because “Raat Ma” sounds Gujarati to my ears; and secondly because Rajendra Kumar did at least one film in Gujarati I know of, the blockbuster Mehndi Rang Lagyo. But going by your post it doesn’t seem possible now. Gujarat may have certain “pahaadi ilaake” but snow-clad they most definitely are not and weren’t even in the 60s when global warming was nowhere near it is today :)

    Incidentally, Rajendra Kumar’s 90th birth anniversary as well as 20th death anniversary are both due this coming July. I thought to suggest that as a tribute you could post a list of best songs featuring him. Most people’s opinions about him as an actor and star – judging by the comments here and elsewhere – aren’t very flattering but it is hard to deny that several very good songs were picturized on him. Also, you have already sat through one film of his and to expect you to sit through another in such a short span of time will be too much to ask :)

    • Hehe. I think half the time lyricists – especially in the later years, when the old stalwarts had retired or died – didn’t bother much about whether the words fitted the setting or the characters. So you have complete dehaatis who otherwise speak a dialect, suddenly singing in chaste, Sanskritised Hindi. So the Junli raat ma didn’t surprise me (by the way, an admission: I still don’t know what junli means).

      And I didn’t know that Rajendra Kumar’s death and birth anniversaries were coming up this July. Let’s see if I can manage a post. While (as you know) I don’t like him, I completely agree that he’s had some fabulous songs picturized on him. In fact, picking just ten songs might be quite a challenge. Thanks for telling me!

      (Incidentally, the next review coming up is of a Rajendra Kumar film – and one with an especially good song – which was the main reason I watched the film).

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