I wanted to watch a Dilip Kumar film to commemorate the life and career of this extraordinary actor. But which one? There are lots of iconic Dilip Kumar films that I have either seen long ago (Devdas, Footpath, Daag, Deedaar, Udan Khatola, Andaaz) and not reviewed on this blog, or which I’ve never seen (Tarana, Jugnu, Mela, Shaheed, Musaafir). I could watch a film I’d never seen before, but—knowing what a lot of Dilip Kumar’s early films are like—there was always a chance I’d run up against something depressing.
I finally decided to rewatch a film I’d seen years ago. A film that’s a good showcase of Dilip Kumar’s versatility, his ability to pull off comic roles as well as the tragic ones for which he was better known. Ram aur Shyam is an out-and-out entertainer, a film I’d watched and loved as a teenager, and which I knew for a fact would cheer me up.
Ram aur Shyam begins by introducing us to Kumar Ramchandra ‘Ram’ (Dilip Kumar). Scared, nervous to the point of being weepy, Ram is tormented by his brother-in-law Gajendra (Pran), who, along with his shrewish harridan of a mother (Zebunissa) lives with Ram and Gajendra’s wife, who is Ram’s sister Sulakshana (Nirupa Roy). Gajendra is nasty to Sulakshana and to their daughter Cuckoo (Baby Farida), but it is for Ram that he reserves his worst behaviour.
At the start of the story, Gajendra gets to know that at an upcoming function—to commemorate the 15th death anniversary of Ram’s father—the mill workers will be presenting some demands to Ram. Gajendra is certain that Ram, wimp that he is, will give in, which will mean less money for Gajendra. So he warns Ram: no coming for the function. No matter what happens, Ram must stay home.
Ram agrees, but later, his niece Cuckoo wheedles him into going along with her to the function. It’ll be fun, and they will sneak in at the back, nobody will notice them. Ram, never able to resist Cuckoo’s pleas, gives in. They enjoy the singing and dancing and are slipping away when they’re noticed, and immediately all the workers come eagerly forward to garland Ram…
And Gajendra flips his lid. Somehow he brings Ram home, and then sets about whipping him. (This, it later emerges, has been going on for years: when they were children and flying kites on the roof together, Gajendra thrashed Ram for laughing when Gajendra’s kite string got cut. Why, with such a history, Gajendra was accepted as a husband for Sulakshana is anybody’s guess).
Not only does Gajendra beat Ram black and blue, he also now sets about trying to get hold of Ram’s wealth once and for all. Papers are being drawn up, and Gajendra bullies Ram: sign, sign, sign. Ram is a bundle of nerves and so sick of it all that he decides to jump into the well. Sulakshana and Cuckoo, however, stop him and tell him how they won’t be able to live without him, and so on and so forth. Ram finally gives in.
Sulakshana is rattled by what has happened, and summons the family doctor. Why is Ram so timid, why can he not stand up to Gajendra? The doctor says a possible solution to this is to get Ram married. (Wow. If only all our psychological problems could be solved thus). Sulakshana is relieved, especially since she too has been wanting to get her little brother married.
And a prospective bride has already been found. Anjana ‘Anju’ (Waheeda Rehman) is the daughter of the wealthy Mr Gangadhar (Nazir Hussain). Gajendra goes to meet them, taking along a photo of Ram’s. Anju, however, makes it clear that she is not going to give her verdict until she’s met the man, and—to Gajendra’s annoyance—her father supports her. So, much against the wishes of Gajendra, who’d much rather have Ram married without any of this preliminary (and possibly risky) meeting, gives in.
Anju and her father come home for tea. Ram is very reluctant, and Sulakshana and Cuckoo have a tough time cajoling him to come downstairs and meet Anju. Anju, finally seeing her prospective bride groom come mincing timidly down the stairs, his sister and niece on either side of him (very reminiscent of the stereotypical potential bahu being presented)… has alarm bells start ringing in her mind immediately.
Within moments, Anju is even more puzzled and alarmed. Ram looks terrified, he can’t seem to think straight or talk straight, and when Anju offers to pour tea, he looks so worried that Cuckoo interjects to explain: Mamaji doesn’t drink tea. Perhaps Anju can pour him some milk.
Anju does so, but Ram’s hands are trembling horrifically and he ends up spilling the milk in Anju’s lap. This is the last straw; an upset Anju leaves, along with her father.
As soon as they’re gone, Gajendra again gets after Ram, bullying and harassing him and threatening to get those papers ready. Ram sees only one way out: he runs away.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to Shyam (also Dilip Kumar). Shyam lives in a village called Kaagal Gaon, and is both the bane and the joy of the life of his mother (Leela Misra). Shyam has substantial lands which he farms; he also has a running feud with childhood friend Shanta (Mumtaz), with whom he’s constantly exchanging barbs.
Shyam gets into another of his scrapes when, aided and abetted by his pal Murlidhar (Mukri), he finds work in a film that’s being shot nearby. Things go awry, Shyam beats up half the cast as well as the director, leading to his mother feeling that her son has shamed them both horribly. She is so upset that she locks up Shyam—hopefully he’ll acquire some sense that way—and goes off, heedless of Shyam’s shouts that he must be let out, he has to go to town to buy seed.
Shyam manages to break out and run away to town, where he goes into a restaurant and has a huge meal. That done, he slips away while the waiter has gone to get tea. In the meantime, the runaway Ram arrives in the same restaurant, sits down at the same table (with the dirty dishes scattered all across), and is mistaken for Shyam. He is given Shyam’s pretty impressive bill too, and nobody listens to him when he says he never ate any of this.
While Ram is getting hounded in the restaurant, outside in the street, another drama plays out. Anju has come to the same market to do shopping and is about to get into her car when she is accosted by some hoodlums who snatch her bag. Anju starts screaming, and who should come to her help but Shyam, kicking and punching and sending goons flying in all directions? Anju is flabbergasted. This is a very different man from the one who spilled milk on her the other day.
She is so impressed with Shyam (who, of course, she thinks is Ram) that she takes him home, and from there—having impressed Anju’s father as well—Shyam happily accepts when they invite him to come along with him to Kodaikanal for a jaunt. And there, Anju and Shyam (naturally enough, given the picturesque surroundings and the fact that Anju is now looking on her prospective fiancé with new eyes) fall in love.
Ram is taken aback, and starts to panic when the other villagers surround him. Then Shyam’s mother arrives, and starts weeping. He tries to deny she’s his mother, and says he’s not Shyam at all, but of course nobody’s listening. The ojha is summoned, and he does jhaad-phoonk, hitting Ram with leaves and throwing what looks like ashes on the poor man. Ram is so exhausted with all this nonsense, he takes the easy way out and agrees that yes, he is Shyam, and that yes, this is his mother.
All is well. Everybody is happy and relieved, and Ram and Shanta soon fall in love.
But what happens when a furious Gajendra goes to Anju’s home (where Anju & Co. have returned from Kodaikanal) to fetch ‘Ram’? Shyam, still masquerading as Ram, blithely goes along with the charade and comes home, to find Gajendra getting ready to whip the stuffing out of him. And a supposed sister and niece crying and wailing, telling him how much they’ve missed him, etc. An indomitable Shyam is not the sort to take things lying down…
What I liked about this film:
Dilip Kumar, who is superb as Ram and Shyam. Besides the fact that he is very believable as two very different men, he also manages to be funny as both of them. With Shyam, of course, it’s easier to bring in the humour, since Shyam’s insouciance and his irrepressible cheeriness make him such a delightful character, but even Ram, once he’s out of range of the nasty Gajendra, can be pretty funny, in the somewhat babe-in-the-woods style. His helplessness and his inability to stand up to more bossy people (even if those bossy people love him, as Shanta does) is hilarious.
Both Ram’s and Shyam’s characters, of course owe a lot to those who created them. Narasa Raju DV’s story and screenplay, Kaushal Bharati’s dialogues, and Tapi Chanakya’s direction, are part of the reason for the success of Ram and Shyam. The overall story and screenplay too are good: there is little by way of unnecessary digressions, no comic side plots (the two heroes can be pretty comic by themselves, actually), and a good pace that doesn’t drag or get boring.
And, the music. Ram aur Shyam had music composed by Naushad to lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni, and the magic works here, especially with Aayi hain bahaarein mite zulm-o-sitam, Aaj ki raat mere dil ki salaami le le and Baalam tere pyaar ki thandi aag mein jalte-jalte.
What I didn’t like:
The fact that Gajendra actually doesn’t get his complete comeuppance. Yes, he does get thrashed a bit, but that’s it. This is a man who attempted murder, a man who’s also a wife-beater, besides everything else. He at least deserves a jail term, a massive fine on top of that—or something, something more than what he ends up with, which is (in proportion to his many misdemeanours) a mere slap on the wrist. And Sulakshana, whom he’s been thrashing all this while, is happy to forgive him. Ugh.
But. That irritant aside, this is an enjoyable film. Fun, entertaining, and a great way to appreciate the genius that was Dilip Kumar.
And, yes. Some comparisons.
Five years after Ram aur Shyam, another Hindi film with the same basic story was made. Seeta aur Geeta (1972), starring Hema Malini in a double role, was directed by Ramesh Sippy and written by Salim-Javed (oddly, with no credits to the Ram aur Shyam team, though there are too many similarities between the two films for it to be a coincidence). Here too, one twin (in this case, the aptly named Seeta, all demure and docile) is the perpetually harassed, beaten, and ill-treated one, who lives with her crippled grandmother, her spineless Chacha, and her frightfully shrewish Chachi. Chachi’s spoiled daughter and Chachi’s lecherous brother are also part of the mix.
The other twin, Geeta, is a feisty street performer/acrobat who is constantly arguing with her fellow performer Raka (Dharmendra). A series of coincidences lead to Seeta and Geeta switching places (as in Ram aur Shyam), and the fun starts.
While Salim-Javed and Satish Bhatnagar (who were respectively responsible for the dialogues and the screenplay), may have borrowed the basic plot from Ram aur Shyam, they made this story their own. Just by making the protagonist(s) female, a lot changed anyway: the submissive Seeta was buried under a ton of housework, and the lecherous Ranjeet (Roopesh Kumar) was added to the evilness.
Plus, the characters’ characters, Seeta’s docility on the one hand and Geeta’s brash, fearless feistiness on the other, acquire a further dimension because they are females. Geeta, especially, as the banjaran street performer of no known lineage, has an uphill task trying to prove both her good intentions as well as her general ‘goodness’ (which includes a certain ‘purity’)—all of which is made much easier by the revelation of her actual lineage. Comparing these two films in depth might be an interesting study of gender differences in Hindi cinema.
Which is the better film? I can’t say. I like both equally. But yes, the joy of seeing Hema Malini’s Geeta giving Ranjeet what for: priceless. Shyam’s bashing of Gajendra isn’t quite as satisfying.