There are several reasons why I decided to review this film, even though it’s not a particularly impressive one. For one, it’s one of the rare Indian films set outside India and the Middle East (more on this later). For another, its music by Naushad, who (I would have thought) would not have been the most obvious choice to compose music for a film that’s distinctly Latin in tone. And, because this is a film I’ve long been wanting to see—ever since I first watched Lo pyaar ki ho gayi jeet on Chitrahaar as a pre-teen.
To begin with, though, what it’s all about.
Sundari (Nalini Jaywant) is a ‘Pahadi’ (a girl from the mountains), who’s a very good singer and dancer. When the story begins, she’s performing onstage along with Chand (Krishna Kumar) and Chakori (Sharda). Sundari lives in a rented room, her landlady (Amir Bano) standing in for general factotum, de facto parent/chaperone, as well as local grouch. She cooks for Sundari, scolds her, gets scolded by her: Sundari isn’t one of your placid docile types.
The general view of the Pahadi people in this town isn’t good, as the newly-arrived constable Havildar Pritam (Suresh) discovers. His boss, the subedar, while briefing Pritam, tells him to beware of the Pahadis. They’re a rough, criminal lot, and not to be trusted.
Pritam discovers this for himself later that evening: he’s walking down a street when he meets Sundari (she sings a song to him), and they introduce themselves to each other.
In the course of the conversation that follows, Sundari manages to snag Pritam’s gold watch, and Pritam finds himself infatuated by this feisty, sharp-tongued woman who, as it emerges moments later, has stolen and hidden about a dozen oranges in the folds of her voluminous skirts.
When the rightful owner of the oranges finds out, there’s hell to pay, and Sundari and Pritam run off in opposite directions.
The next day, though, they meet again—thanks to Pritam’s colleague, Moti (?) who call Sundari Phuljhadi and has been wooing her. Sundari seems to be more intent on flirting with Pritam, but Moti isn’t to be deterred: he probably doesn’t think this is anything more than harmless flirting on Sundari’s part.
A few days later, Sundari gets into a quarrel at the local watering-place. Another woman, who’s washing her clothes at the tap, gets angry because Sundari splashed her, and Sundari retaliates by asking why she’s washing her clothes here. The quarrel escalates into fisticuffs, and Sundari picks up a stone and bashes the woman on the head.
As a result, Sundari is arrested, and the constable charged with taking her to the lockup is none other than Pritam, along with two subordinates.
En route to the police station, Sundari manages to get herself walking in front of Pritam, then turns around and pushes him hard enough to send him reeling, making all three men fall in a pile. Sundari races off…
… and Pritam finds himself in trouble. He is accused of having helped Sundari escape, and so he’s punished. Nothing very severe, just that he’s put on boring old guard duty until further orders.
Sundari comes to hear of this, and is remorseful. She had not meant for Pritam to get into trouble. Therefore, when she finds that the subedar is hosting a party for all the well-heeled and influential people of the town, Sundari gatecrashes. She sings and dances and is such a hit that when she, in private, begs the subedar to let Pritam go because he’s innocent, the subedar not only agrees, he also gives Sundari a bag of money as a reward for having entertained his guests so well at the party.
So Pritam is freed, and he sets about courting Sundari. But Sundari’s landlady has been seeking Sundari’s future in the cards, and tells Sundari that death is foretold if she enters into a relationship with Pritam. Sundari, superstitious to start with, recalls that a black cat crossed her path the other day…
Moreover, a bunch of thugs, newly released from jail, come calling and get Sundari’s landlady to feed them. They’re old friends, and in the course of their meal, they tell the landlady that Sundari’s fiancé Rahu is still in jail, but will soon be out too, and he’ll be coming to fetch Sundari. Sundari, who arrives while the men are still there, scoffs at this. Rahu isn’t her fiancé, he may fancy himself betrothed to her, but she doesn’t think so.
The sum total of all this: the superstition, the supposed omens, etc—is that when Pritam tries to hug Sundari, her necklace breaks and all the beads scatter. This is a bad omen, Sundari cries out. It means that they can never be together, that her landlady’s prophecy will come true. She is so upset that she refuses to listen to Pritam and pushes him out of her home, throwing his sword out into the street after him.
The attraction, however, is too strong, and Sundari calls Pritam back.
The Pritam-Sundari romance seems, sadly, to be doomed from the very beginning. Soon after, Moti, Sundari’s unwanted admirer and Pritam’s colleague, comes to visit Sundari while Pritam is with her. Moti is furious when he realizes that Pritam and Sundari are an item, and in his anger, he pulls out his sword and challenges Pritam to a duel right there.
Seeing these two men on the verge of killing each other, Sundari does what she can to help Pritam: she puts out a foot and trips Moti up. Moti goes crashing—straight onto the point of Pritam’s sword. Pritam is too stunned to know what to do, but Sundari is far more level-headed (and more used to a life of criminality): she quickly runs off with Pritam, taking him out of town and into the wilderness.
A price is soon on Pritam’s head: Rs 500. Sundari and Pritam, aware of this, stay well away from town. They may be on the run, but it’s not completely unpleasant: they are together, after all, and it’s not as if anyone’s coming after them.
Not for long. Because Rahu (Shyam), Sundari’s ‘fiancé’ is out of prison, and arrives in the wilderness. And, naturally, is not happy to find Sundari with another man.
According to several sources, Jaadoo is based on French composer Georges Bizet’s famous four-act opera, Carmen, about a feisty and fiery gypsy named Carmen who seduces a soldier, Jose (Note: Richard, in his comment below, quotes someone who mentioned that Jaadoo was actually copied from the 1948 Hollywood film The Loves of Carmen) . I haven’t seen any other versions of Carmen (or read the novella on which it was based), but a brief glimpse of the synopsis is enough to see the points of resemblance: the fortune-telling, the watch, the feistiness of the lead heroine, the killing of the fellow-soldier, and so on.
What I liked about this film:
The somewhat unusual way in which a story originally set in Spain translates into Hindi. AR Kardar, who directed Jaadoo, begins his film with a disclaimer, that this is set in no particular place. But, barring some very fleeting references to India (the most obvious being that the money on Pritam’s head is in rupees), there’s nothing in Jaadoo that points to its setting in India. Instead, everything else, from the architecture, to the clothing (the flamenco dresses, the sombreros, the soldiers’ uniforms, even the folded blankets thrown over the shoulders of several of Rahu’s men), the music: everything very distinctly evokes Spain.
That was one of the elements about this film that I liked: it’s rare to see a Hindi film set in a locale outside India (or, at the most, the Middle East): it’s the rare film (Hamlet was another) which has the courage to do it. Also, it has the courage to veer away from standard Hindi film tropes; neither Sundari nor Pritam, for instance, seems to have any parents or other family.
That said, it’s clear that Kardar couldn’t see his audience identifying completely with the wildness of the original Carmen. She would have been too wild for Indian tastes, so Nalini Jaywant’s Sundari is toned down considerably. She is wild to begin with, flirtatious and difficult, but once she falls in love, all of Sundari’s feistiness goes flying out of the window. Far from tiring of Pritam’s love and straying, she ends up pretty much giving up everything for him. Nalini Jaywant does a good enough job of the allure of Sundari, though the somewhat cheeky nature of the character in the earlier half of the film comes across as more juvenile than anything else.
It’s a fairly predictable story, but I found the Hispanic look and feel of Jaadoo appealing.
And, there’s Naushad’s music, to lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni. Naushad, so solidly classical and folk Indian, would not have been my first choice to compose the score for a film like this: I would have expected C Ramachandra, with his proven passion for Western-inspired tunes. But Naushad, assisted by Ghulam Mohammad, does a good job of marrying Indian tunes with Hispanic elements. Castanets, for instance, play an important part in several of the tunes. My favourite songs from this album are Lo pyaar ki ho gayi jeet, Ulajh gaya jiya mera nainon ke jaal mein, and Naadaan mohabbat waalon ke armaan badalte rehte hain.
What I didn’t like:
I would have liked Sundari to have remained her more wild self, but I can see why Kardar would have changed that part of the story to fit in with what Indian audiences would expect. And Pritam’s behaviour near the end, so mule-headed in a stubbornly patriarchal way, is irritating.
Not a must-see, but not a dreadful film. And definitely unusual.