In response to that unwarranted comment about me ‘wasting my time watching silly Indian films’, I’ve done something (reviewed Bhabhi ki Chudiyaan and Devi) to uphold my contention that all Indian films are not silly. Now it’s time to look at Indian films which are silly, but where the silliness is intelligent, and deliberate.
What, after all, is wrong with silliness, or with humour? For me, the stuffy idea that humour is somehow low is very irritating. Some humour may be unpalatable to certain people (I, for one, find nothing humorous about sexist or racist jokes, or toilet humour), but humour can be sophisticated, it can be the result of a great intelligence.
As, I think, comes through in this delightful film about three brothers, all motor mechanics, who run a garage.
Brijmohan Sharma ‘Bade Bhaiya’ (Ashok Kumar), as he’s known, is the eldest of the three, and he rules with an iron fist in an iron gauntlet. Bade Bhaiya is a hard taskmaster, and lords it over Jagmohan ‘Jaggu’ (Anoop Kumar) and Manmohan ‘Manu’ (Kishore Kumar), as also their apprentice Maujiya (Mohan Choti). One important aspect of Bade Bhaiya’s personality is his aversion to women: he sees red even when Maujiya hangs up a calendar with a painting of a woman on it.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that women are kept strictly out of the lives of these three men. Jaggu and Manu, because of Bade Bhaiya’s bossiness, seem to have convinced themselves that they’re better off without women in their lives.
But one rainy night, when Manu is alone at the garage (which offers ‘Day and Night Service’), a woman enters his life. Literally, banging on the door and waking up Manu, who’s dozed off. Renu (Madhubala) is soaked through, grumpy, and upset that her car has conked out.
Manu is annoyed at her grumpiness, but relieves his feelings by making sarcastic comments and pulling Renu’s leg in song, even as he goes about attending to her car. Finally, the car set right, Renu drives off. She’s so relieved to have her car in working condition again, Renu forgets to pay Manu (5 rupees and 12 annas, the amount Kishore Kumar owed to his college canteen from when he was studying at the Indore Christian College). She also leaves her handbag behind.
She will be back to take her bag, Manu reasons; then he will get the money from her.
When Bade Bhaiya and Jaggu arrive at the garage, Manu tells them all that had happened, and shows the bag. Bade Bhaiya says the solution is simple: open the bag and take out the money. It falls to Manu to do this rather awkward deed, which yields up nothing except a lipstick (which only Bade Bhaiya is able to recognize for what it is; both Manu and Jaggu think it’s a cartridge), and a stage pass to a theatre show in town.
So, that evening, handbag in hand, Manu goes to the theatre, where he discovers that Renu is the star. The usher at the stage door, despite the pass, turns him away, so Manu saunters out, finds Renu’s car, and decides to get into the back seat to wait for her. He settles down and goes off to sleep, so that when Renu emerges past midnight, she doesn’t even realize he’s there. She throws in the glittery costume she’s worn for the show (the dress lands on top of the sleeping Manu), says bye to her friend Sheila (Sahira), and drives off home.
Much later, Manu wakes up, to find that the car is now parked in Renu’s garage. Having gotten his bearings, he sneaks into the kitchen and polishes off some fruit before the watchman outside notices and raises the alarm. Many adventures now ensue, as Manu blunders into Renu’s room, and Renu’s very weathy father Kishanchand (SN Bannerjee) comes thundering to his daughter’s rescue, only to be told that all is well. Manu has hidden under the quilt.
Anyway, Renu manages to boot Manu out surreptitiously, after having assured him that she will come the next day to the garage to pay him the 5 rupees and 12 annas. Manu, leaving the house, sees something fishy: a long, fancy car draws up. A man (Sajjan) gets out of it, looks around in what is a distinctly fishy manner, and having (seemingly) satisfied himself that all is well, beckons to his fellow passengers in the car.
They get out, bringing with them a corpse, which they lay out on the road, before racing off in the car. Manu watches all of this with awe, and once the coast is clear, hurries forward to have a look at the corpse. Just then, a police jeep comes in sight, so Manu takes off and hides. Fortunately, he isn’t seen, and he’s able to get back to the garage without mishap.
The next day, instead of Renu coming to pay up, she phones—to say that the car’s gone kaput again. Bade Bhaiya sends Jaggu to attend to it, but when Jaggu arrives, Renu and Sheila are tinkering about under the hood. Renu goes indoors, and Sheila, quickly realizing how shy and scared Jaggu is, begins to tease him. There’s much looniness here, and you can pretty much see a glimmer of a romance in the air, though Jaggu is too petrified to realize it now.
Jaggu is so useless that eventually Manu has to go and attend to the car. The cops have come to the house, because Renu’s father has lodged a complaint about a break-in the previous night. Manu overhears the inspector talking of how a wealthy jeweller was murdered and his body dumped just nearby, last night.
Anyway, Renu’s father is so worried now that he insists on depositing cash and other valuables in the bank; keep nothing at home! Renu drives him to the bank, and takes Manu along just in case the car conks out again—before driving Manu to the garage.
A few things now happen, one after the other, all of them important.
For one, Renu and Manu are falling in love with each other, though both are too shy to say so.
Then, one day, coming to the garage to (finally) pay that 5 rupees and 12 annas, Renu arrives too early, and finds that all three brothers are asleep. One thing leads to another, and an amused Renu discovers that Bade Bhaiya sleeps with the photo of a mysterious woman under his pillow. Bade Bhaiya, when Jaggu and Manu also see this photo, is very flustered and embarrassed. It emerges that it’s the photo of a very wealthy woman named Kamini, whom Bade Bhaiya had been going to marry—but she jilted him and married another. It’s because of Kamini’s perfidy that Bade Bhaiya is so misogynistic now.
Lastly. Renu’s father has received an offer for a match for Renu: Raja Hardayal (KN Singh), whom he knows somewhat, tells Renu’s father that he has a younger brother named Prakash, who is currently abroad but will return soon. He wants Prakash to marry Renu, if both of them are amenable.
Chalti ka Naam Gaadi is a film I’ve watched several times over the years. I must admit it’s been a long, long time since my last viewing of the film, so I’d forgotten some of the nuances of the plot. What I did remember, though, was the silliness of it. The sense of pure fun, of not taking oneself seriously. While there are elements of the usual masala film plot—the greedy villain, the disillusioned hero with a betrayal in his past, and so on—it never really gets melodramatic or heavy. When even a villain disguises himself as a ghost and jumps about on a car’s hood in an attempt to shake off a pair that’s following him, how can you take a film seriously?
Satyen Bose, who directed Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, scored with this one.
What I liked about this film:
The overall entertainment value of it. There’s some slapstick comedy, yes; but there is also lots of light, frothy pep in general. Kishore Kumar, I must admit, I often tend to find very irritating in these comic hero roles—I far prefer him, when he’s doing comedy, in roles like Ustad in Pasodan. Here, though he’s a comic hero (and he does get a couple of extended scenes of tomfoolery), it’s not over the top for me. Ashok Kumar, of course, is superb; but Anoop Kumar I found to be especially delightful here.
And a special word for Madhubala. I have always held that most people sidelined her acting ability because they were too busy gushing over her looks. In Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, she is so gorgeous, I couldn’t help but stare only at her in all her scenes, and that left me marveling at what good comic timing she has, how fabulous she is as a comedienne.
And, the music. SD Burman and Majrooh Sultanpuri are fantastic here, with one great song after another. Hum tumhaare hain zara and Ruk jaao na ji aisi kya jaldi, though both good songs, tend to get forgotten a bit amongst the iconic comic numbers of the film: the title song, Paanch rupaiyya baarah aana, Hum thhe woh thhi, and Ek ladki bheegi-bhaagi si (which, in the way it bridges romance and comedy, is on par with Haal kaisa hai janaab ka).
What I didn’t like:
Two ‘comic’ scenes that got a wee bit much for me: the car race, and when Bade Bhaiya and Manu have a boxing face-off. These were somewhat superfluous; the race did play a part in the plot, but prolonging it was, for me, unnecessary.
On the whole, though, a fun film. Silly, and fun.