Mention Shakespeare and Hindi cinema, and most eyes light up. Vishal Bhardwaj’s tragedy trilogy—Omkara, Maqbool, and Haider—come immediately to mind for those who cannot think back further than the 1990s, if that. Those who belong to a certain generation (my own) will probably remember fondly the delightful comedy, Angoor, based on A Comedy of Errors.
Fewer, perhaps, will know that Hindi cinema’s tryst with Shakespeare is much older than Angoor. In 1928, a Hamlet adaptation called Khoon-e-Nahak was released; the same play was adapted for screen again in 1935, this time as Khoon ka Khoon, starring Sohrab Modi in the title role opposite Naseem Banu as Ophelia. In 1941, The Merchant of Venice was adapted as a film named Zaalim Saudagar. And in 1954, Kishore Sahu produced, directed and acted in Hamlet, an interesting and unusual film for Hindi audiences since it was a fairly faithful enactment of the play—down to the costumes, the names, etc.
Along with Hamlet (which seems to win hands down when it comes to popularity among Hindi film makers), another popular play for adaptation seems to be A Comedy of Errors. In 1969, it had been made (though with many departures from the original plot, and with no twin servants) as Gustakhi Maaf, with Tanuja in the double role, opposite Sanjeev Kumar. It’s interesting to note that while Sanjeev Kumar would go on to act in another adaptation of the play (Angoor), Tanuja had already acted in yet another version. Do Dooni Chaar, released in 1968 and quite clearly the inspiration for Angoor.
Even before the credits roll, we are introduced to the four main characters of this story. The cigarette-smoking, happy-go-lucky Sandeep (Kishore Kumar; I will dub this man Sandeep#1, since of course we have a duplicate in the offing). His somewhat sour, serious servant, Sevak (Asit Sen; henceforth Sevak#1).
And, flipping characters, Sandeep#2 (also Kishore Kumar), who is relatively serious and staid and is addicted to snuff. Plus his servant, Sevak#2 (also Asit Sen), a funny, lighthearted sort who likes a good laugh.
When the story begins after the credits, Sandeep#1 and Sevak#1 are about to leave home to go to a place called Shikarpur. This is for work—Sandeep#1 is in the timber business and has to visit a government timber office. The two men will be taking the steamer and then the train. When Sandeep#1’s mother (?) discovers they will be travelling by steamer, she is very distressed. Her entire world turned topsy-turvy because of an aquatic accident, she tells Sandeep. Her husband, her son—Sandeep#1’s brother—and Sevak#1’s brother, too—were all lost in that long-ago accident. She doesn’t want Sandeep#1 to go by steamer.
But he manages to comfort and reassure his mother, and the two men go off on their journey.
Meanwhile, in Shikarpur, we meet up with Sandeep#2 and his household. Sandeep#2 lives with his wife Suman (Surekha), her younger sister Anju (Tanuja), Sevak#2 and his wife Pyaari (Sudha Rani). Sandeep#2 is a successful and wealthy man: he runs a business (‘Suman Industries’), though on this particular morning, Suman’s husband is not feeling kindly disposed towards her—or she towards him. Suman is nagging Sandeep#2 for having not yet bought her the jeweled cummerbund he had promised her.
Instead, there’s some Kiran whom Sandeep#2 has been harping on about; it appears Suman is convinced her husband has a tendre for this Kiran, and is mad about it. He’s been buying jewels for Kiran, says Suman—and none for her.
Sandeep#2 retaliates by getting huffy. Even though Anju tries to pacify husband and wife, they are still annoyed when Sandeep#2 leaves for office.
In office, Sandeep#2—by now feeling more kindly disposed towards his wife—summons an employee, gives him a book as reference for jewellery, and instructs him to go to Sandeep#2’s usual jeweller, Karamchand. Karamchand should use the reference to make a fine cummerbund for Suman [for something as large as a cummerbund, I’d have thought a more personal involvement, especially on the part of the person who’ll be wearing it, would be in order].
The employee goes off to the jeweller’s, and later we see the consequences of it on the jeweller. Karamchand is talking to a moneylender named Dharamdas (Rashid Khan), from whom he needs a loan in order to make this jewellery that Sandeep#2 has commissioned. As soon as he hears who has commissioned the piece, Dharamdas happily hands over the money: everybody knows that Sandeep#2 is well-heeled and will pay up without demur.
Meanwhile, back to Sandeep#1 and Sevak#1, who have arrived in Shikarpur. The two men are surprised when, shortly after they alight from the train, Sandeep#1 is asked where he’s returning from. Several people seem to know (and respect) Sandeep#1—even addressing him by name, and considering this is the first time he’s been to Shikarpur, Sandeep#1 and his servant tell themselves Shikarpur has some very odd people indeed. Madmen, all, and the sooner these two finish their work and go back home to Ma, the better.
They book a room in a hotel, and leaving Sevak#1 to settle in, Sandeep#1 goes off to the timber office. Before he goes, he leaves Rs 2000 with Sevak#1 for safekeeping.
Sandeep#1’s work at the timber office goes off smoothly, and when he’s leaving, the officer—a genial sort—suggests Sandeep#1 stay on in Shikarpur for at least a few days. See the sights. Sandeep#1 declines, and is told—by way of a compromise—that he should at least go and have a look at the Adivasi mela currently on in town: it’s very good.
The Adivasi mela is not on Sandeep#1’s agenda; he’d rather go home. But he graciously thanks the officer, and sets off for the hotel—but hasn’t gone far before he’s distracted by the appearance of a sweet little girl (Neetu Singh), whom he sees frolicking about with a goat kid in her arms. Sandeep#1 is so enchanted, he follows the little girl, singing a song as he does so. By the time his song ends, the girl has vanished, and Sandeep#1 is lost.
A passing forest-dweller, however, is able to point him in the right direction (and, by way of an aside, reveals to Sandeep#1 that the little girl with the kid in her arms is none other than the ban devi, the forest goddess).
Sandeep#1 manages to get to the main road, where he soon catches a bus and goes off to the town.
But when he alights from the bus, whom should he see but Sevak?
This Sevak, though, is not his Sevak—and neither of them realizes it in the course of the bewildering (for them) conversation that ensues.
This is Sevak#2, sent out by Anju to find Sandeep#2 and fetch him home. Suman, having parted from her husband on mutually huffy terms, has been fretting herself silly and has not eaten anything all day. In sympathy with her, nobody else in the house—Anju, Sevak#2 and Pyaari—has eaten either. Now Sevak#2 sees Sandeep#1, mistakes him (naturally) for Sandeep#2, and scolds him for not having come home all this while. Your wife is waiting for you, he says. All of us, including my wife and I, have gone hungry thanks to this quarrel between the two of you.
And why is Sandeep smoking a cigarette? Since when has he left off snuff and taken up cigarettes?
Naturally, Sandeep#1 thinks Sevak#1 (as he thinks) has gone utterly bonkers. Which wife (or wives, considering Sevak is now seemingly claiming to be married as well)? What snuff? Why not cigarettes? Sevak lashes back: has Sandeep taken to smoking ganja? What is he smoking, that he’s talking such nonsense? By now Sandeep’s puzzlement has turned to pure and simple fury: he lashes out at Sevak and thrashes him, with the result that Sevak races off.
Sandeep#1, still simmering and angry, heads back to the hotel. And there, to his surprise, who should open the room door, still bleary-eyed with sleep, but Sevak? Sandeep#1 cannot fathom what this is all about, and beats up Sevak#1 for his recent behaviour. [Sandeep#1 has serious anger management issues].
Calm prevails after a while, and though Sandeep#1 and Sevak#1 are still convinced the other’s off his rocker, they decide they need a break. Let’s go to the Adivasi mela, says Sandeep#1. That, hopefully, will clear the cobwebs from their minds. So they go off to the mela and are enjoying themselves, when Sandeep#1 spots a very pretty girl wandering through the crowd… it’s Anju, though of course Sandeep#1 doesn’t know this yet.
What has happened here is that Sevak#2, bruised and battered from the beating he received at the hands of Sandeep#1, has scurried home to tell everybody that the master seems to have flipped his lid. So Anju has decided to take matters into her own hands: she will go and search for her brother-in-law. Sevak#2 is dispatched to the home of Kiran to check if Sandeep#2 has gone there.
And Anju, going past the mela, catches a glimpse of her brother-in-law (or so she thinks). By the time she’s gotten off the rickshaw and gone into the mela, the man has vanished among the crowds. But when she catches up with him and tries taking him home, both Sandeep#2 (actually Sandeep#1) and Sevak#2 (actually Sevak#1) protest. What wife? What home? Sandeep#1 even thinks she’s joking.
By now a crowd has gathered, and people are ‘recognizing’ both Sandeep and Sevak. Sandeep’s drawing flak from all sides: why is he refusing to go home? Eventually, mostly because nobody’s listening to him (and Anju thinks his protestations about being unmarried is simply an expression of his anger at Suman), Sandeep gives in. He and Sevak go home with Anju…
… and find themselves in deep trouble. Because both are confronted by ‘wives’ who cannot understand why their husbands are suddenly being so squeamish and reluctant to allow any sort of intimacy.
Meanwhile, Sandeep#2, who has vowed to himself that he won’t go back home until he has the cummerbund, works late in office and finally goes to the jeweller Karamchand’s shop, where he hangs about, waiting for the cummerbund to be readied. Sevak#2, who has been to his master’s office and been told that he’s gone to Karamchand’s, goes there too. Master and servant sit around, getting on Karamchand’s nerves till late into the night.
And things go from bad to worse.
Produced by Bimal Roy, Do Dooni Chaar was directed by Debu Sen. Gulzar, who wrote the lyrics as well as the dialogues for the film, was also its chief assistant director (a significant involvement, which probably explains why, fourteen years later, Gulzar remade this as Angoor). More about Angoor later (and, since I always do that for films which were remade, a comparison).
What I liked about this film:
The overall story and plot, which is pretty faithful to A Comedy of Errors (barring the parent in danger of being executed). It’s fast-paced, it requires you to keep track of what’s happening between the two pairs of identical twins, and the misunderstandings that arise are delightful. Asit Sen as Sevak#1 and Sevak#2, especially, is lots of fun. This is probably one of the biggest and most major roles I’ve seen him in, and he does justice to it.
Hawaaon pe likh do hawaaon ke naam. Do Dooni Chaar had a score that could have been brilliant: after all, its lyricist was Gulzar and its music director was Hemant. Sadly, though, this was the only song in the entire film that I really loved. Ranu Mukherjee gets a couple of songs, singing playback for Tanuja—and while her voice does suit Tanuja to some extent, the overall effect jarred for me: there were moments she sounded quite out of tune.
What I didn’t like:
Nothing, really. The entire film is a good one, entertaining, pretty hilarious, and good, light-hearted fun. Which is what makes me wonder why Do Dooni Chaar flopped so. Was it that Kishore Kumar was not acceptable to an audience as a hero (even if as a comic hero, which he had always been anyway)? Had he by this time become associated more with playback singing than with lead roles onscreen? Were there elements—like the almost-compromising position in which both Sandeep#1 and Sevak#1 find themselves, inadvertently believed by their sisters-in-law to be their husbands—that people didn’t like? Was the fact that Sandeep#2 was so friendly with another woman—Kiran—seeming to smack of adultery (even though there’s no real proof of this in the film)? Were these elements too bold for even 1968?
I don’t know.
Ditching Do Dooni Chaar becomes easier if you compare it to Angoor. Because, while it is the same story (and not just another remake of A Comedy of Errors), there is a world of difference between Do Dooni Chaar and Angoor. It’s obvious that Gulzar has used the Do Dooni Chaar template to craft this story: there are certain common elements which are not there in Shakespeare’s play. There’s no parent in danger of being executed in either of these films. The entire angle of the mother having become an abbess and now giving shelter to one pair of twins is replaced in both Hindi films by a woman whom the married twin happens to be friends with (and who is therefore a cause of jealousy on the part of his wife). One twin smokes cigarettes while the other uses snuff; there remains only parent of the two who had begun that ill-fated voyage in which this story began.
Plus, there are some small but interesting little nods to Do Dooni Chaar. For instance, Deepti Naval’s character is called Tanu: a possible nod to the fact that Tanuja played this character in the earlier film? And at one point, Deven Verma’s character, playing the unmarried Bahadur, tries to recall the name of the maidservant who thinks he’s her husband, and refers to her as Pyaari rather than Prema (which is the character’s name in Angoor).
But, to cut to the chase: a comparison. Angoor is far, far funnier. Some plot elements are different—for instance, the fact that the unmarried Ashok (Sanjeev Kumar) is addicted to pulp fiction and therefore thinks that all the nuttiness which ensues when he arrives in this new town are the workings of some gang which is after the lakh rupees he’s carrying in his briefcase. The episode of the bhaang ke pakode is original, too.
Where Angoor scores most heavily however is in the overall funniness of the film. While the situations are the same, the treatment is funnier. The dialogues are more hilarious, and the acting is much, much better. Not that Kishore Kumar and Asit Sen aren’t funny; they are—but Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma are just that much more hilarious. Also, Moushumi Chatterjee is a hoot as the confused, jealous, impetuous, yet utterly endearing wife. I think Angoor also works better because it doesn’t waste time in a lot of songs. There are only three songs in this film, of which one—that laugh-out-loud rendition of Preetam aan milo—just adds to the hilarity.
Final verdict: Angoor, any time. Do Dooni Chaar, if there were no Angoor to compare it with, is a pretty good film. Once you’ve seen Angoor though, it can’t match up.