Today may (or may not) be the birth centenary of the film maker, writer, and actor Chetan Anand, eldest brother of Dev Anand and Vijay Anand. Different sources list different dates of birth: most sites (including IMDB) list his birth date as January 3, 1921; others, including Wikipedia (yes, I know not the most reliable of sources) say it’s January 3, 1915. (This article says it’s 1921, but then goes on to write that Chetan Anand was 27 years old in 1943, which is either dodgy maths or a suggestion that the year of birth was indeed 1915). The article, barring that slip, is a good, interesting introduction to the life and career of Chetan Anand.
Anyway. Even if I’m six years too late to the party, at least today is Chetan Anand’s birthday.
Chetan Anand was enough of a stalwart of the Hindi cinema industry for lots to have been written about him, including his association with the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), his drifting away from brothers Dev Anand and Vijay Anand, his subsequent relationship with Priya Rajvansh, and the tragic circumstances of the latter’s death. More than all of that, there are the films of Chetan Anand, from his very first film, the decidedly leftist Neecha Nagar (1946), which shared the Grand Prix for Best Film at Cannes, to what is arguably the best Hindi war film ever, Haqeeqat (1964). From the brilliantly poignant story of a toddler wandering through Bombay in Aakhri Khat (1966), to the reincarnation drama Kudrat (1981), Chetan Anand’s films covered a wide range.
There was this one, too, a somewhat light-hearted satire about insanity and sanity, which was a milestone for Navketan Films, the Anands’ film company for which Chetan directed, Dev acted, Sahir Ludhianvi wrote, and SD Burman composed. A stellar team which delivered many well-loved films which have stood the time, but which, following Funtoosh, fell apart, with these main players in the team moving on to other spaces, other associates.
But, while they were making Funtoosh, the Anands, Sahir and SDB worked magic one last time, creating a film that was an average earner and is today remembered chiefly for a couple of its songs, but is nevertheless entertaining.
The eponymous ‘Funtoosh’ is a man named Ram Lal ‘Funtoosh’, inmate of a mental asylum. At the start of the story, Funtoosh is just being released from the asylum (the doctors there having decided there’s nothing more they can do for him). Funtoosh is a joyful, carefree man, and his equally joyful, carefree friends at the asylum bid him farewell with a plethora of gifts: among them a hat, a robe, a ring with a fake stone (which its giver names the Koh-i-noor), a pair of dark glasses (which show the world in its true colours: black) and a pen (the giver of which solemnly instructs Funtoosh to write letters back to the asylum, letting them know how he’s getting on).
Funtoosh emerges into the big bad world, all laughing and cheerful.
And, within a very short time, he realizes that the world is not a nice place. A beggar wheedles Funtoosh into parting with the robe. A pickpocket slips the ring off Funtoosh’s finger and runs off. And Funtoosh’s hat, despite having its new owner dedicate a song to it, flies off, dances along tantalizingly out of reach…
… and finally comes to a sorry end, crushed under the wheels of a passing car.
By now, a depressed and deflated Funtoosh is missing the cocooned warmth of the asylum, and his friends there. When he takes out the pen to write a letter, a writer (a cameo by Vijay Anand), seeing him, stops to watch and offers Funtoosh a sheet of paper. Funtoosh’s letter—which consists of a large question mark—and Funtoosh’s explanation of it: Zindagi ke do hisse hote hain, ek sawaal, doosra jawaab (Life has two parts: a question and an answer) impress the writer so much that he makes a note of it. When he tells Funtoosh that he’ll write a story about this, about Funtoosh, Funtoosh is so moved that he insists on giving the writer both pen and paper to use.
Soon after, Funtoosh meets a philosophical beggar (Krishan Dhawan), who talks about a dying man inside the building at whose foot the beggar sits. As they talk, the beggar tells Funtoosh that things will change if God wills it, and when God wills it, he will be benevolent. Denewaala chhappar phaadke dega (‘When the Giver gives, his bounty is so vast, it tears through the thatched roof’).
Funtoosh wanders off after a while, and as he leaves, he hears a woman start wailing in the building: the dying man is dead. The thought depresses Funtoosh even more. He ends up singing a song about the loneliness he feels in the midst of this busy, unfeeling world.
And, when he’s had enough of it, he climbs up to the top of a tall building and gets ready to jump down.
Funtoosh couldn’t have chosen a better spot to commit suicide: this place is very visible, and within moments, a huge and enthusiastic crowd has gathered. An enterprising character sets up a telescope and offers bystanders its use, at a very nominal price, to enable them to see Funtoosh’s impending death up close.
Very soon, another person, driving by in his car, sees the crowd and discovers what’s happening. Karori Lal (KN Singh) is a wealthy man who’s having some money problems right now; he’s incurred a lot of debt; even his house has been mortgaged and the moneylenders are pestering him for payments. Looking up at Funtoosh, intent on committing suicide, Karori Lal has an idea.
At this point, I’m not sure exactly what happens. (I watched Funtoosh on the Shemaroo channel on Youtube, and it seems somewhere along the way, the film has lost several scenes; this one appears to be one of the casualties. Sidharth Bhatia, in his book Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story, however, writes that Karori Lal makes a bet with Funtoosh).
At any rate, Funtoosh comes down from the building safe and sound, and Karori Lal takes him home, to the bungalow which Karori Lal inhabits with his beautiful daughter Neelu (Sheila Ramani). Here, Karori Lal tells Funtoosh that he is to be an esteemed guest, and is to make himself at home. Funtoosh is handed over into the care of a servant, who is to attend to all his needs, including having to bear with Funtoosh’s madcap antics.
In the evening, Karori Lal hosts a party for all his wealthy friends, where Funtoosh becomes the star of the show, singing and dancing in various costumes. Karori Lal has spread the word that Funtoosh is in reality a very wealthy man, but likes to play the fool: all his guests, therefore, turn a blind eye to the extreme nuttiness of Funtoosh and devote themselves to playing along. He is a very wealthy man, after all, and this world puts a premium on a very wealthy man.
… as do the women. Neelu is initially unimpressed by Funtoosh, but condescends to accompany him here and there. In the process, she sees many women she knows (including a character played by Indira Billi) doing pretty much anything they can to attract the attention of the ‘wealthy’ Funtoosh. Neelu is incensed by this, so one can only assume that she is (genuinely, given that she knows he’s no rich man?) falling in love with him.
If Neelu only knew, though. Karori Lal, meanwhile, has gone and bought an insurance policy for Funtoosh, with Karori Lal standing to gain 1 lakh rupees if Funtoosh cops it. He has Funtoosh sign the insurance papers, and once that’s over and done with, he drives Funtoosh to the railway line and instructs him to lie down, neck positioned on the train tracks. It’ll be quick; Funtoosh won’t even know it, Karori Lal reassures his victim before quickly putting himself at a safe train, even as the scheduled train approaches.
The train comes thundering along, and goes by—and Karori Lal finds that Funtoosh, far from being a mangled corpse, is alive and well. He’d put his head down on the wrong train track, and he now pleads with Karori Lal: he doesn’t want to die, not yet. Now follows a round of bargaining: Funtoosh wants another three months to live, Karori Lal refuses to let him have more than a week. No, not a week, that’s too little, says Funtoosh… and so on and so forth, until they agree on a month. Funtoosh can enjoy life for another month, and after that he must kill himself so that Karori Lal can get the insurance money and pay off his debtors, because their insistence on being paid quickly is now turning into threats.
In this one month, Funtoosh will cement his relationship with Neelu (whose unwanted fiancé, Baanke Bihari, is naturally very miffed at finding himself jilted so unceremoniously). And, because of Karori Lal’s increasing desperation, something will happen that will eventually lead to the discovery of who Funtoosh really is.
While Funtoosh isn’t a thought-provoking film like Aakhri Khat, Haqeeqat or Neecha Nagar (all of which left a lasting impression when I watched them), it is definitely an unusual film: its premise is offbeat. A madman, catapulted into the house of a man with a scheme that’s actually even madder than Funtoosh’s madness: it makes for an interesting story.
What I liked about this film:
The music. SD Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi were a dream partnership, and while Funtoosh may not have been one of those ‘each-song-a-winner’ scores like Pyaasa or Taxi Driver, it did have some good songs. My favourite is Dukhi mann mere sun mera kehna, with Ae meri topi palatke aa and Denewaala jab bhi deta following close behind. Interestingly, RD Burman, then a teenager, is supposed to have composed Ae meri topi palatke aa (which, according to Cinema Modern, is said to have been filmed by Vijay Anand while Chetan Anand was ill and unable to shoot).
The cameos. Vijay Anand as the writer whom Funtoosh encounters, and Mehmood in Denewaala jab bhi deta. A piece of music too puts in a guest appearance here: an instrumental version of Jaayein toh jaayein kahaan from Navketan’s (and SD Burman’s) Taxi Driver (1954) is played in an appropriate scene in this film, when Funtoosh wanders about, trying to find a way out of the mess he’s in.
What I didn’t like:
I’m not sure whether this is a problem with Funtoosh itself, or with the (badly edited?) version on the Shemaroo channel on Youtube. But the version that I saw had, towards the end, several scenes chopped off partly, and—worse—a major plot hole:
How come the insurance company pays Karori Lal when Funtoosh’s dead body hasn’t been found? Do they not demand any proof that Funtoosh is indeed dead? Do they not investigate his supposed death?
And, some trivia:
The story of Funtoosh was thought up by Amarjeet (who was assistant director in Taxi Driver, Nau Do Gyaarah and Kaala Bazaar, and would go on to direct Hum Dono, among other films). Amarjeet had come to Bombay from Shimla and spent many days at the Anands’ home, until a fed-up Chetan Anand was forced to take him to the railway station to put him on the train to Shimla. Amarjeet, desperate to stay on in Bombay and get a job in the film industry, came up with this story on the spur of the moment.
Not that Amarjeet was terribly original, it seems. There are several instances of resemblance between Funtoosh and Frank Capra’s 1941 film, Meet John Doe.