This was one film where I had a tough time making up my mind: should I review it? Should I not? It’s not a great film, but it’s not absolutely abysmal either. And it has a luminously lovely Nutan, plus some superb songs (courtesy Madan Mohan and Majrooh Sultanpuri) to compensate for other drawbacks in the film. It’s also a film about a murder (as macabre as that may sound, always something that catches my attention).
If for nothing else, as an example of a film that could have been pretty good but ends up a damp squib, this, I decided, was worth reviewing.
The story centres round Raj Kumar Saxena ‘Raju’ (Shekhar), a mechanic who works in a garage, and lives in a tiny room above the garage along with his friend and colleague Popat (Johnny Walker). Popat has been having a chat with a wealthy customer, Muthuswami Chetiyar (Mirajkar) and is keen on getting Muthuswami to invest in a garage for Popat. The incentive Popat offers is a match for Muthuswami’s daughter: Raju, he says, will be a fine bridegroom. Because he guesses Muthuswami will not be eager to marry his daughter to a mechanic, Popat takes care not to let on that the groom he has in mind is that figure hunched over a car at the other end of the garage…
Raju is not inclined to even go and see Muthuswami’s daughter, but Popat bamboozles him into it. After all, Raju has a widowed mother and younger siblings to look after. A bride with a fat dowry will come in handy.
And, to lull any suspicions Muthuswami might have, Popat suggests some subterfuge. A newly repaired car, left at the garage to be attended to, can be passed off as Raju’s. And, to arrange for a suitably flashy outfit, Popat drags Raju off to the home of a dhoban named Chhabili (Shubha Khote) who is Popat’s girlfriend. A suit which has been left with Chhabili for laundering is unceremoniously (and much against Chhabili’s wishes) yanked out of her possession, and Popat forces Raju to don it.
Raju, willy-nilly, sets off for Muthuswami’s home, driving that swanky car and dressed in that swanky suit. But midway there, he has a mishap. Or, rather, someone else has a mishap involving Raju. Sheela (Nutan), off to a party, emerges from a nearby building and is going down the road when Raju drives the car through a puddle and liberally splashes her all over.
Sheela is irate, and Raju, trying desperately to make amends, insists on taking Sheela to a nearby laundry and getting her sari cleaned right then. Sheela is miffed, but she finally agrees, limping into the car because the heel of one of her shoes has come off. At the laundry, while Sheela (who’s been given what looks like a large bedcover to drape herself in) retreats inside, Raju takes her clothes to be cleaned. And is told that her blouse has torn, but will be mended in a few minutes.
While Raju takes Sheela’s broken shoe to a nearby cobbler to get it repaired, Sheela happens to run into a good friend, Nargis Daruwallah (Shammi, for once acting as the Parsi she was in real life, and with her real life first name too), who’s also come to the laundry. Nargis and Sheela have a chat; Nargis meets Raju when he returns with the mended shoe, and she is canny enough to realize that this man is smitten with her friend.
Nargis, in fact, becomes quite the amused onlooker as Sheela’s and Raju’s romance progresses.
Raju is so completely bowled over by Sheela that he cannot go past the building outside which he first met her, without looking about, just in case Sheela is there, outside… and, again donning that suit, he ends up escorting Sheela, Nargis and a bunch of their sahelis on a picnic where Raju gets the opportunity to sing to Sheela of his love.
Raju, though, is caught in a dilemma. On the one hand, he frets about deceiving Sheela. On the other hand, he is so head over heels in love with her, he cannot bear the idea of telling her the truth and being outright rejected. Sheela, after all, seems to him to be fairly well-off.
What Raju doesn’t know is that Sheela has by now got her own ideas about who he is. Sometime after that first disastrous encounter of theirs, Sheela and Nargis bumped into Raju, and he, all flummoxed and flustered, dropped something he was carrying, and out spilled lots of visiting cards. Not, as Raju knew, his own; they were of the man whose car Raju has ‘borrowed’. Raju gathered up all the cards quickly and made his exit, but Sheela and Nargis found two of the cards, overlooked on one side. Pyare Lal Gupta, Financier. But he’s a very well-known man, and very wealthy, Nargis had said, and Sheela and she were both quite in awe that this Mr Gupta should have deigned to fall in love with Sheela.
The real Pyare Lal Gupta (Kamal Kapoor), while immensely rich, is also a slimy character. He is currently dangling after a tawaif named Maina (Minoo Mumtaz). Maina, in turn, is in love with Raju. But Raju has no interest in her, though he has a hard time convincing Jangi (Jeevan), who is also in love with Maina and is a sort of small-time crook and gambler and general underworld in-the-know character.
Also, Raju has made things difficult for himself with Muthuswami Chetiyar, who along with his wife, a Punjabi named Anarkali (Amirbano) and their daughter (Tuntun) has been annoyed with Raju, who had taken one look at the Chetiyars’ daughter and run off. (I always feel rather sorry for Tuntun when she’s pushed into these roles as the simpering and pampered daughter of a wealthy man, who ends up being rejected by her bridegroom; something so sizeist about it).
While Raju has been romancing Sheela (who thinks he’s Pyarelal Gupta), the real Pyarelal Gupta is busy pursuing Maina, much to Maina’s disgust and Jangi’s irritation.
And Sheela, all unknown to Raju, has troubles of her own. Her father (whom we don’t see at this stage, but who is a bearded artist named Dharamdas, played by Nasir Hussain), owes Rs 5,000 to someone. This someone, though Sheela doesn’t know it, is one of Pyarelal Gupta’s henchmen (Pyarelal Gupta may call himself a financier, but he seems to be a bit of a loan shark, and with his tentacles spread so wide, nothing can be traced to him). And Pyarelal Gupta, on being alerted by his man, sneaks a peek at Sheela. He sends word: the loan will be written off in exchange for Sheela.
Sheela’s father rushes off to make arrangements to get Rs 5,000 from elsewhere, and a distraught Sheela is at home when Raju (who’s never called on her before, though he knows where she lives) comes calling. Sheela’s snoopy upstairs neighbour (Leela Misra), who’s heard all about this wealthy admirer of Sheela’s , comes downstairs. While Sheela is fetching tea for Raju, Aunty quickly informs ‘Pyarelal Gupta’ of the Rs 5,000 debt for which Sheela and her father are so stressed. Rs 5,000 is nothing for Pyarelal Gupta, right? So will he get it, will he give Sheela the money that will save her life, her honour?
Though Aunty tells Raju not to tell Sheela, and to keep it quiet, Sheela does come to know. She’s grateful to Raju for taking it upon himself to repay that debt. They only have two days left; the day after tomorrow, if the debt is not paid, Sheela will be in danger of being—well, whatever. Raju is fervent in his assurances that he will get the money, Sheela can depend on him. And Sheela, of course, is reassured; after all, she thinks her lover is a rich man; Rs 5,000 is peanuts for him.
But Raju has not reckoned with just how difficult it can be for a poor man with no connections and no avenues for wealth to suddenly and quickly scrape together such a large sum. Even with Popat to help, it’s soon obvious to an increasingly desperate Raju that perhaps the only option is to try, with the help of the infamous Jangi, to make a killing at a gambling hall operated by Pyarelal Gupta. But Pyarelal Gupta sets a condition: if Raju loses, Maina will be his (so distressing; Maina, dancing in the background, has no say in deciding whom she wants to be with, and her fate depends upon a turn of the dice). One after the other, Raju and Jangi’s chips fall the wrong way, until finally there’s just the last try left, the aakhri dao.
What I liked about this film:
The music. Madan Mohan composed the music for Aakhri Dao, to lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri, and the combination is stunning. Among the better-known songs here are Tujhe kya sunaaoon ae dilruba and Haai unki woh nigaahein, but there are several others which I didn’t recall having heard before but liked a lot too: Na darr sanam laga bhi le, Humsafar saath apna chhod chale, and the delightful Idhar toh haath la pyaare, which is picturized in an unusual context and situation—and is one of those rare songs which actually take a story forward considerably.
And, Nutan, who is so pretty, and who pairs so well with Shammi (yes, usually a ‘pair’ would be a romantic pair, but to me, it seemed the chemistry between these two friends came across more convincingly than that between the two lovers).
What I didn’t like:
Shekhar. I don’t even expect leading actors to look good (though that always helps, in a film of this type, where the focal point is a standard romance); but there must be something, some charisma, some attractiveness, to make me want to root for the man. With Shekhar, there’s nothing. I wasn’t invested in Raju the mechanic, I didn’t care if he ended up with Sheela or not. He was so lacklustre that even Kamal Kapoor, as the villain, came across as more interesting. One good fallout of casting Shekhar in the lead role was that Johnny Walker got more screen time than usual; plus, he got to be in the climax in a big way.
Aakhri Dao is not one of those films you absolutely must watch. It takes a while gathering steam, but I will concede that there’s not much extraneous stuff to it before that second half. Most scenes are needed, to show the progression of Raju’s deceit, how that initial lie leads him deeper into that ‘tangled web’, as Walter Scott put it. The pace really picks up in the second half, when Raju sets off to get that money for Sheela, and then, when he gets so deep into trouble, there seems no way he’s going to get out of it alive.
But, yes: the music. The songs are reason enough to watch this one.