Today is the birth centenary of the Indian director, writer and producer Subodh Mukherji. While Mukherji doesn’t have a huge list of films to his name—barely a dozen—the majority of the films he did make proved to be very successful ones, big entertainers that had great music, starred beautiful people, and were generally good time-pass, if nothing else.
Born in Jhansi on April 1, 1921, Subodh Mukherji was jailed for three months in 1942 for his activities as part of the Indian freedom movement. Subsequently, at the behest of his family, he was made to go to Bombay to join his elder brother Sashadhar Mukherji (who had established Filmistan Studios along with Madan Mohan’s father, Rai Bahadur Chunilal; Ashok Kumar; and Gyan Mukherjee). It was for Filmistan that Subodh Mukherji made his first film, writing and directing Paying Guest (1957), though he also took time off in between to direct Munimji (1955). Through the late 50s and the 60s, Mukherji was to go on to write, produce, and/or direct several films that exemplified his philosophy of making films that told entertaining stories: Junglee (1961), Love Marriage (1959), Shagird (1967, starring Sashadhar Mukherji’s son, Joy Mukherji).
Today, in celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Subodh Mukherji’s birth, I decided to rewatch and review a film I had last seen as a child. Love Marriage, which is mostly set in Mukherji’s home town of Jhansi. Interestingly, one of the actors from this film, Abhi Bhattacharya, was also born in 1921 (I don’t know his exact date of birth, though). I’ll be reviewing another film, later in the year, as a tribute to Abhi Bhattacharya.
For now, Jhansi.
Here live two brothers, of whom the younger one is Sunil (Dev Anand), whose Bhabhi (sister-in-law) affectionately calls him Sonu. Sunil, his elder brother Anil (Abhi Bhattacharya), Bhabhi Uma (Pranoti Ghosh) and their young son, live together. Sunil is constantly monkeying around, much to the annoyance of his brother, though Uma is relatively indulgent. Her attitude towards Sunil, whom she’s probably known since he was a child, is that of a doting mother towards a much-loved, much-pampered child. All sins are forgiven.
Sunil is an excellent cricketer, a batsman, to be precise. When the story starts, he’s just been at a match, hitting sixes and fours all over the place, winning the match for his team. Match over, he and his friends are chatting, when one of them reveals that a mutual friend is visiting an obviously ‘bad’ woman named Neelam. Sunil immediately takes it upon himself to go to the rescue of said friend [why? Why does the friend, who is obviously an adult and able to take decisions for himself, have to be rescued?].
All the friends troop off to Neelam’s house and barge in. Sunil has a run-in with the (naturally) incensed Neelam (Neeta?), who, baulked of her prey, is mad as hell. She promises to get even with Sunil someday.
Back home, Anil gives Sunil some good news. A friend of Anil’s, Mr Joglekar, has a company in Bombay and Anil had written to him about a job for Sunil, since Sunil has just graduated [either Sunil has taken years to scrape through each semester, or this is another case of Hindi cinema forgetting that thirty-something people don’t usually study in undergraduate courses]. Joglekar has agreed and Sunil has to go to Bombay by the next train to meet Joglekar.
Uma is very upset; Sunil will be going so far, how will he manage, who will look after him [lots of people in this film treat other adults like helpless toddlers]. It takes quite a bit to soothe her.
Sunil arrives in Bombay, and goes to the home of an uncle whom he’s hoping to stay with. Unfortunately, the neighbours inform Sunil, Uncle has left for Jhansi. Sunil rather shamelessly angles to be invited to stay with the neighbours, but they shrug him off.
Sunil eventually finds a room available for rent, but the woman, Geeta (Mala Sinha) who’s renting it out, is hell-bent on giving it out to a woman. She lives in the room next door, and has no desire to have to live with a man in the room beside hers. Sunil manages to hoodwink his way through and get the room, after all.
He even, within a few hours, manages to wheedle Geeta into giving him dinner as well. Geeta puts up a stern façade and pretends she can’t bear him, but she’s smiling in a silly way when he’s not looking. This farce goes on for a while, until Sunil (now working with Mr Joglekar’s firm, and representing the company at a cricket match at Brabourne Stadium), hits a brilliant innings. Geeta, a cricket fan, is completely bowled over and makes it obvious that this is the turning point.
Much billing and cooing (actually, singing and dancing) ensues, with Sunil and Geeta obviously very much in love even though they don’t say so to each other’s faces. Then, with a thud, the romance comes hurtling down to earth. Mr Joglekar gives Sunil the news that while Sunil has been confirmed in the job, he has been transferred to Jhansi, to handle the office there. Sunil is broken-hearted; he will be parted from Geeta.
But Geeta has news too: she’s been fired from her job [given that she’s an orphan, working here in Bombay to earn for herself and her aunt, she seems surprisingly cheery about now being jobless]. She will go back to Deolali, to be with Chachi, Geeta tells Sunil, and Sunil pounces on the silver lining. The train to Jhansi passes through Deolali. So they can be together for that duration… but even then, on the train and when Deolali comes, Sunil chickens out of proposing to Geeta. She can see what’s happening, and is miffed at his dilly-dallying.
The long and the short of it is that Geeta goes to her Chachi’s home, and soon after, Sunil turns up too. Geeta disguises herself as Chachi and has a joke at Sunil’s expense, but the chachi get-up manages to make Sunil finally propose. All is well. And Chachi too, having discovered the two lovebirds, is delighted to give her blessing.
Chachi is rather frail [or so we’re supposed to believe; despite that hacking cough and the patently fake white hair, Chachi doesn’t look old at all, with not a wrinkle in sight]. Now she collapses and seems to be on the brink of death. Just the right moment to beg for one last favour: she wants to see Sunil and Geeta married before she dies. So they do, and [naturally enough] Chachi soon gets well.
Sunil and Geeta now go to Jhansi, and here, after some more joking around (Sunil is nervous about breaking the news of his wedding to Anil and Uma), everything is revealed. Everybody is happy, Uma is delighted to have such a wonderful young sister-in-law, and everything is tickety-boo.
But a snake lurks in the grass. Anil has been travelling for work, and someone has been keeping an eye on him. One day, Neelam is given a message: Anil is going on so-and-so train.
So that evening, when the train in which Anil is travelling stops briefly at a station, he is surprised to find someone banging desperately on the door of his compartment. Anil hurries to open it, and in comes Neelam, looking very scared. She bangs the door shut behind her, telling Anil that some vile man is after her, and can she please shelter in this compartment for now?
And by the time Sunil and Geeta are in Jhansi, the picture of domestic bliss, Neelam has succeeded in executing the first part of her plan.
What I liked about this film:
Some of the songs (the music for Love Marriage was composed by Shankar-Jaikishan, to lyrics by Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri). Pretty much all the songs of the film are fairly well-known, but when it comes to songs I like, Dheere-dheere chal chaand gagan mein, Kahaan jaa rahe thhe kahaan aa gaye hum, Kareeb aao na tadpaao, and Kahe jhoom-jhoom raat yeh suhaani are my favourites.
And Dev Anand and Mala Sinha can look very pleasant most of the time [he, when he’s not making faces; she, when she’s not overwrought].
What I didn’t like:
The lack of any real story till about the last half-hour. The version of Love Marriage that I watched on YouTube was 140 minutes long, and till about the 90 minute mark, nothing really concrete had happened except for the Sunil-Geeta romance and marriage. Not much had happened when it came to character development, either; till this point, there had just been a good deal of romantic faffing and lots of songs and the like.
And, the melodrama, the irritating behaviour of pretty much everybody, in the last half-hour of the film. One person is utterly spineless; another self-sacrificing to the point of giving up everybody’s happiness for the sake of what seems ‘right’. And all the members of this seemingly very close-knit family who love each other to bits are willing to believe the absolute worst. Only one person tries to give the Silent One a chance to explain, to justify what seems to be all wrong; but even that person quickly gives up and resorts to drastic measures.
The moments of ‘traditional Eastern = good, modern Western = bad’. Teen kanastar peet-peet kar is an example of this, and there’s more, like Geeta telling Uma she wishes she too will find happiness and fulfillment in looking after home and hearth (right after, she finds immense bliss in running errands for her lazy bum of a husband).
Not a brilliant film as far as story goes, but yes: entertaining enough, and worth watching even just for the music.