June 23, 2021 marked the birth centenary of one of my favourite actors, the very talented and charismatic Rehman. Born Sayeed Rehman Khan in Lahore, Rehman joined the Royal Indian Air Force in 1942 and underwent training at Pune as a pilot. The Air Force soon lost its charm for Rehman (he failed a test) and he went off to Bombay to join the cinema industry. Initially taken on as a third assistant director by the writer-director Vishram Bedekar for Bedekar’s film Lakharani (1945), Rehman went on to assist director DD Kashyap in the film Chaand, where, completely by chance, Rehman appeared onscreen. In a dance sequence in the film, a Pathan character was needed—and the only person around who knew how to tie a turban the Pathan way was Rehman. And he knew how to tie it only around his own head.
The Hindi proverb ‘Daane-daane pe likha hai khaane waale ka naam’ comes to mind.
Rehman was required to say a couple of lines in that brief appearance, and fluffed it repeatedly; thirty takes were required to get it right, possibly because the first line began with a K: “Kitna achha naach thha”. Rehman, even years later, and as a seasoned actor, found it very difficult to begin a dialogue with the K sound and would request that a different word be substituted, or the words moved around.
Rehman had enough of a presence for his potential as an actor to be recognized, and he went on to act as a lead, working opposite major actresses like Madhubala, Suraiya, Nalini Jaywant and Nigar Sultana.
It is however as a character actor that Rehman is mostly remembered. As the debauched zamindar, neglecting his beautiful wife in Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam. As the hapless admirer who inadvertently gets his best friend to marry the woman he loves, in Chaudhvin ka Chaand. As the suave charmer of Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke, the wealthy and unprincipled Chinoy Seth of Waqt, the self-serving and ambitious Mr Ghosh of Pyaasa. His versatility was such that through the late 50s and the 60s, he played the middle-aged (and sometimes even older) man in every shade: the avuncular, the kind, the gullible, the scheming, the imperious, the outright nasty. And more.
I must admit I hadn’t known, on the 23rd, that it was Rehman’s birth centenary. But I couldn’t let an occasion such as this go by without a commemorative post. I have already reviewed several of Rehman’s important films, including Waqt and Dharamputra; and I was in no mood to go through a rewatch of Chaudhvin ka Chaand, which I find irritatingly regressive.
I settled, then, on watching one of Rehman’s early films. Rehman was always good-looking, I think, and in his early films, with rather less flab on him, he looks very handsome indeed. There was another reason I especially wanted to watch Ek Nazar: this album was one of SD Burman’s earlier compositions, in the same year of the landmark Thandi hawaayein lehraake aayein of Naujawan—the leading lady of which, Nalini Jaywant, was also the star of Ek Nazar.
The story begins on a train, where two young men get talking. Within moments, Raj ‘Rajju’ (Rehman) and Dilip ‘Deepu’ (Karan Dewan) have discovered that they are in fact childhood friends. They are delighted to meet each other, and compare notes: both are on their way to Bombay to look for a job.
… But Rajju and Deepu never make it to Bombay. A crying baby in the train, whom the mother admits is thirsty, arouses Deepu’s humane feelings, and he gets off at a station to fetch water for the infant. This makes him miss the train, but fortunately for Deepu, Rajju shows that their bachpan ki dosti has not been forgotten. The train chugs off, but there is Rajju, waiting beside the tracks. They decide they can try to get jobs in this town; why bother going all the way to Bombay?
Within a short time, Deepu and Rajju have found a place to stay: a rain basera run by Pandit Kalicharan (Gope).
Also, wandering around and seeing the sights, the two friends notice an advertisement for a theatrical performance. It sounds enjoyable, so (despite the fact that they’re both broke), Deepu and Rajju go on in.
Here, they’re lucky enough to overhear one of the employees, an usher at the theatre, being given instructions by the boss to seat a couple of important guests who’re expected. Rajju figures this is their chance to get in without paying. Sure enough: by pretending to be the awaited guests, Rajju and Deepu get in and are seated in a box. Deepu is uncomfortable with this subterfuge, and lodges a protest which Rajju shrugs off.
The show starts, with the theatre’s heroine Chitra (Nalini Jaywant) coming onstage and singing a song. In the meantime, the expected guests have turned up and the cat is out of the bag. Rajju and Deepu are evicted from the box, and Rajju thrown out so that he lands on the stage. Rajju, completely unfazed, takes advantage of the situation to join Chitra’s song. Chitra is taken aback, and miffed, but Rajju completes the duet…
… and ends up getting a job at the theatre as a result. The theatre owner is so impressed, he offers Rajju the position of leading male star. Deepu, coming in to see what it’s all about, also gets offered a position, and thus both friends find themselves in well-paying jobs (the way this theatre owner hands out jobs so summarily, I wonder how he’s able to keep the place afloat).
Things happen very quickly now. Chitra and Rajju, in between rehearsing for a play (of which we only get to see one brief scene of rehearsing a dialogue, nothing more) bicker. And, obviously (this was coming) fall in love.
Meanwhile Deepu too has fallen in love with Chitra, and comes to pay her a daily visit. He comes up the stairs, and as luck would have it, just as he leaves, Rajju comes up by the lift. This happens several times, neither man realizing that his friend is also visiting Chitra.
And Chitra, rather obtuse, cannot tell that Deepu is wooing her.
This doesn’t last long. One day Deepu, going to Chitra’s home, sees Rajju going into the building where she lives; Deepu surreptitiously follows, and peeks in to find Chitra and Rajju in a loving embrace, cooing loving words at each other. His heart is broken, but Deepu quietly slinks away, and decides to keep his aborted love a secret from his best friend and the woman both of them love.
Chitra is keen to leave the theatre. After all, as she tells Rajju; once they’re married, she would like to devote herself to home and hearth, not be working. Rajju is alarmed. She mustn’t give up her job—and no, he isn’t being a feminist; he basically tells her that he doesn’t want to get married anytime soon. There’s no hurry, is there? Chitra is disappointed, but she swallows her disappointment.
Soon after, Rajju gets some very surprising news. His great-grandfather, who was a very wealthy man, has died, having willed all his substantial wealth to Rajju. Rajju is delighted, and quickly packs, readying to go and take possession of his bequest. He’s so excited, he doesn’t even think of going to Chitra and letting her know of this news. It’s Deepu who, coming in and discovering Rajju about to leave, persuades Rajju to at least meet Chitra and let her know he’s going.
So Rajju does go to Chitra’s home, but Chitra is out, and he ends up having to write her a note. That done, Rajju takes the train to the town where his inheritance awaits him.
Little does Rajju know that his inheriting all that wealth rankles with someone. Kanwar Pratap Bahadur (Raj Mehra) had been a good friend of Rajju’s great-grandfather for many years, and had been hoping to inherit all that wealth. He’s very disgruntled about the shabby way in which this outsider Rajju has pulled the rug out from under his feet, and makes no bones cribbing about it to his man Friday, Chhajju (Randhir).
One look at Rajju, however, and the wheels start turning in Kanwar Pratap Bahadur’s head. This situation may be turned around to his advantage.
And this is how, when Rajju goes to the haveli that has been bequeathed to him, Kanwar Pratap Bahadur’s daughter Rama (Kuldeep Kaur) greets him. And, within minutes, Rajju, all thoughts of Chitra gone out of the window, is trailing around behind Rama like a devoted puppy.
What I liked about this film:
SD Burman’s music, to Rajinder Krishan’s lyrics. My favourite songs here were the peppy Ek alhad-balhad chhori and Bas chupke hi chupke se pyaar ho gaya, the funny Naye zamaane ki mohabbat niraali, and the melodious Jaa dekh liya tera pyaar, though—this being SDB, one of my favourite composers—none of the songs is bad.
And, Rehman, who looks very handsome indeed. One wonders, if he had been able to stop the way he spread, if he mightn’t have had a rather different career, perhaps a longer stint as leading man? But then, we might not have seen the brilliant and diverse characters he brought to life over the years.
What I didn’t like:
The iffy (but by no means unusual, for Hindi cinema) treatment of Rajju’s ‘straying’, and its effect on those around him. Neither Chitra nor Deepu feel that Rajju is to blame for abandoning Chitra and wanting to marry Rama instead. No; the fault is Rama’s; she has lured poor Rajju, and so Rama must be punished. As if Rajju is some babe in arms, easily taken away by whichever woman takes a fancy to him (or to his wealth). Never mind that Rajju was anyway none too inclined to marry Chitra in a hurry, and didn’t even seem to really bother about her enough to tell her he was leaving town—it needed Deepu’s pleas for him to do that. And then, when faced with Rama, Rajju is obviously smitten from the word go.
Yet. No blame attaches to him. Chitra wants him back, and Deepu is hell-bent on getting him back for Chitra, because he only wants Chitra’s happiness. But how happy will Chitra really be, I wonder? What if, once they’re married, Rajju again goes off after some other woman? This man doesn’t strike me at all as trustworthy.
So, no: not a great film. But worth watching for the music.