I have watched hundreds of Hindi films. Many of these I’ve reviewed here on this blog, and for many of those, I’ve had readers mention that so-and-so film was actually a remake of so-and-so Hollywood film, or was inspired from this novel or that play. In some, of course, I’ve been able to spot a source immediately: the grand mansion being run as a hotel by its manager who then forces the owner to pretend to be a guest is lifted from Come September and used—without any credit for the original idea—in both Kashmir ki Kali and Mere Sanam. Adalat is a remake of Madame X; Aradhana of To Each His Own; Gumnaam of And Then There Were None… all uncredited. And umpteen others.
This is something I find very irritating. The amount of work that goes into coming up with a good plot is substantial, and if you’re acknowledging that by thinking it worthy of being copied, then you should certainly think it worthy enough to pay for. But by calmly hogging all the credit and assuming that Indian audiences won’t cotton on to this plagiarism, and Hollywood (or foreign writers), too far from the world of Hindi cinema, will be oblivious.
Anyway, that’s a long, convoluted and messy topic, which I should probably leave for later. For now, the reason why all of that came to my mind: because this film does give credit where it’s due. Not, unfortunately, to the writer of the book (Johanna Spyri), but at least to the book itself.
Do Phool begins the way Heidi does: with a little girl going up a mountain (in this case, a hill, really) with her maternal aunt, who’s taking her there. Shankari (Amir Bano) has looked after Poornima (Baby Naaz) ever since Poornima was left orphaned as a baby. Now Shankari Mausi has decided that Poornima should be looked after by her paternal grandfather, Sagar (Bipin Gupta), a reclusive carpenter who lives by himself on the mountaintop, spurned and ostracized by all the villagers of Neecha Nagar, where Shankari lives.
From the mutual dislike and the exchange of insults that follows, it seems that Shankari is behind Neecha Nagar’s shunning of Sagar. Sagar accuses Shankari of having hired goons years ago to kill his son (Poornima’s father), and Shankari does nothing to deny this. Even though Sagar refuses to have anything to do with Poornima, Shankari leaves the girl there and goes off down the mountain…
… but Sagar’s ill-temper seems to not extend towards Poornima. Once they’re on their own, he welcomes his granddaughter home, takes her inside to feed her and give her a glass of goat’s milk to drink, and makes up a bed of hay for her next to the loft window through which she can look down on the scenery outside.
Within the day, Poornima has become completely at home with her Dada. She loves it on the mountain, Sagar dotes on her, and in the morning, she has made a new friend: Jaggu (Romi), a goatherd. While the goats graze on the mountainside, Jaggu takes Poornima to see the sights, to listen to Jaggu playing his flute, and to imagine being surrounded by fairies.
Jaggu lives with his blind old mother (Protima Devi) in a ramshackle hut further down the mountain. When Jaggu brings Poornima to meet his mother, love immediately springs up between the two. Poornima is very sorry to discover that Jaggu’s mother can’t see, and that her teeth are too weak for her to eat anything except soft bread. And, of course, their hut is so derelict, even the slightest gust whips through their home, shaking it all over. Poornima promises Jaggu’s mother that she will ask her grandfather to come and repair the hut.
All is happiness and joy. Jaggu and Poornima have become the best of friends; Poornima’s Dada goes to Jaggu’s home and repairs the roof, and as a result Jaggu’s mother is so touched and grateful, she proclaims it far and wide through all the village of Neecha Nagar that Sagar is a good man, a god in human form. This makes the village priest come over and try to get ‘the atheist’ Sagar to start coming to the temple again, but Sagar will have none of that. The priest looked on while Sagar’s son was slaughtered by the village goons; Sagar will not be friends with him or his sort.
Soon after, Poornima’s aunt Shankari turns up again like a bad penny. This time, she’s come with a proposition. A wealthy seth in the city wants to adopt Poornima, and will pay good money for her. She’s come to take Poornima away. Sagar tells Shankari to get lost, and Shankari does that—but manages to whisk away Poornima in the process.
… and the next time we see Poornima, a frightened and nervous child, she’s being handed over by Shankari at the mansion of Seth Girijashankar. Sethji isn’t at home, but Shankari has an explanatory letter from him to the Governess/Nanny (Neelam? Her character calls herself a governess; everybody else calls her a nanny). Nanny is very irritable and nasty, and is wont to throw Shankari and Poornima out. But Shankari is no pushover, and insists that Nanny read Sethji’s letter.
Willy-nilly, Nanny is obliged to hand over the five hundred rupees Sethji had promised to pay for Poornima, and with that, Shankari rushes off, leaving a scared and unhappy Poornima to the tender mercies of Nanny & Co.
Fortunately for Poornima, it soon emerges that Nanny is the only nasty character in this household, where Poornima has been brought not to be adopted by Sethji but to be a companion to his daughter Roopa (Vijaya Choudhary), who is wheelchair-bound. Roopa comes across at first as very cantankerous and rude; she snaps left, right and centre at both Nanny (who gives back as good as she gets) and Roopa’s tutor, Masterji (Jeevan, in an unusual role), who while pretty good at repartee himself, comes across as rather less irritable.
But Roopa’s short temper is probably more a result of being cooped up at home all day with no companions her own age. Because it takes no more than a couple of minutes of Poornima’s company for her to blossom, to light up and be cheerful.
Even the others in the household are good to Poornima; the trusted minion Gangu Dada (SN Banerjee) is very kind and loving, and even Masterji, though he despairs of Poornima ever learning anything, at least doesn’t treat her badly or rave and rant…
… as Nanny does. Because nothing Poornima does can please Nanny (and, truth be told, Poornima is constantly letting her heart take her down paths Nanny disapproves of). One day, Poornima brings back a few kittens from a trip outdoors, and Nanny (who’s scared of cats) gets frantic. Then, another day, a madaari with a pair of dancing monkeys follows Poornima home after she sees his act and tells him to come home to collect the money. Both Roopa and Poornima sit down to enjoy a performance by the monkeys, and Nanny (who’s scared of monkeys) works herself up into an apoplectic rage.
The last straw comes when Nanny discovers Poornima trying to sneak out of the house with a basketful of bread rolls. She accuses Poornima of stealing the bread, and Poornima denies it: she didn’t steal, these are rolls from her meals, which she’s been saving up to take home to Jaggu’s old mother, whose rotten teeth allow her to eat nothing except bread…
Nanny blows a fuse. Sethji is due back soon, she will present him with all these proofs of just what a nasty creature Poornima is. And then see what happens. Poornima will get her comeuppance…
And Roopa’s father (Ulhas) does seem, at first glance, to be a rather terrifying sort. He’s come along with his sister (Mumtaz Begum), and soon after, there also arrives the doctor (Rajan Haksar), who has been monitoring Roopa’s progress, or the lack of it. With all these rather awe-inspiring adults, can Poornima hope to stand a chance? What will happen of the poor little thing?
What I liked about this film, and some comparisons:
The music, by Vasant Desai, with lyrics by Hasrat Jaipuri. There are some lovely songs in Do Phool, my favourites being Kanha na chhedo na chhedo baansuri and Main bezubaan hoon panchhi (which deserves special mention because it’s the only song I recall seeing in which Jeevan ‘plays’ the piano). I was also intrigued by Matak-matak naachoon re, which as a song came across as rather uncharacteristic of Vasant Desai (though, I hasten to add, still a good song). What’s more, the picturization had me glued to the screen: the dancer (who is she?) had a sort of graceless (some may think it graceful, I don’t know) gawkishness about her that had me riveted. She actually reminded me of some of those street children you see performing: there was that same awkward movement about her.
And, the overall story is pleasant, offbeat in that there’s no romantic angle (more about this later), and there’s a general everything-will-turn-out-well feel to it. Even when Poornima is low and lonely and things look bleak, you can tell it won’t get really bad because everybody around is generally nice.
I must applaud AR Kardar (who directed Do Phool) for having stayed so true to the novel. I’ve seen far too many films based on books that are travesties of the original, which needlessly and mindlessly change the story. Kardar doesn’t do that; the changes he makes are mostly sensible ones. For instance, the somewhat rambling and extended story involving the doctor that is part of Heidi is done away with in Do Phool. The doctor is there, but he has very little role to play. There are other minor changes too (Peter’s blind grandmother becomes Jaggu’s blind grandmother in Do Phool, for example), but that, to me, was fine.
What I didn’t like:
The mysterious back story of Sagar’s son, Poornima’s father. Shankari seems to have got him killed, but why, it’s never explained.
And Poornima does come across as a little too much of a goodie two shoes, but that was also a grouse I had with Heidi. Baby Naaz, whom I’ve always liked, was good as Poornima, though. Poornima’s friendship with Jaggu was fun, though I so wish the lyrics of the songs they sing together had been somewhat different: the lyrics have a distinctly romantic flavour about them, which is really not there in their relationship. These two are friends, they don’t show signs of being future lovers; but the songs insist on introducing romance into the equation.
But all said and done, easily one of the most faithful adaptations of a novel I’ve ever seen. If you like Heidi, you should watch Do Phool (interestingly, the only versions up on YouTube are subtitled in English: very unusual).