Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958)

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.

Now what?

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.

25 thoughts on “Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958)

  1. This movie always puts me a good mood. Of all the Madhubala films I have, I’ve probably watched this one the most. Jaali Note and Half Ticket are also delightful fun too. Thank you for you reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed this review! I must admit I don’t like Half Ticket – I find Kishore just too irritating in that. :-) But Madhubala is a joy. My favourite of her more light-hearted films are Chalti ka Naam Gaadi and Kaala Paani. Mr & Mrs 55 is fairly regressive in some ways, but she’s great in that too.

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  2. I love that car race scene, to be honest. But I agree with you on ever other count, especially the bit about Madhubala’s comic timing. It is impeccable and one cannot deny how she worked with every actor she starred with. Absolutely no strain, no awkwardness, so natural. In this movie, everyone was whoever they were playing. They all fit. Even the silly Anoop Kumar. I did feel the second half lag a bit, but it’s still a movie I can watch again and again and again.
    Here’s to more silly movie reviews!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed this, Simrita! Thank you. I agree with you re: Madhubala – she was so good at fitting in with every actor. Actually, so much more versatile than she’s given credit for. I think most people get distracted by her beauty and remember her only for that – whereas she was also a very good actress.

      Also agree about the second half lagging a bit. Despite that, though, still such an enjoyable and entertaining film. :-)

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  3. Truly a classic of yesteryear.
    The poor gentleman who commented on ‘silly films’ surely did not mean Chalti ka Naam Gaadi.
    Though DustedOff is well within her rights to use this movie to flog the hapless guys misstep.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi has immense repeat value. Your assessment is perfect. And it also underscores the directorial range of Satyen Bose also. He proved that he was able to direct a hilarious comedy also (and not just his signature movies).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the directorial range of Satyen Bose is really stupendous! To think that this was the same person who could make a patriotic children’s film (Jagriti), a suspenseful psychological thriller (Raat aur Din) and umpteen standard masala films – and this.

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  5. To produce a really humorous and clean film is a very difficult process. Plum excelled in giving us more than 60 such gems of novels but so difficult, if not impossible , to make a film , or even a TV serial on them.
    The actors and director of this popular film, are all Bengalis, though it is a Hindi film.
    The humour has to be subtle and through the dialogs and not by facial contortions. We had some full length comedies , very rare though, in Tamil. ‘ sabash meenaa;, Sivaji Ganesan and Chandrababu starer. Chandrababu excelled..
    Dekh Kabira Roya . produced by Amiya Chakrabarthy, was a very unique film in this genre with very subtle and pleasant and educative satire.
    Tamil films had a number of comedy scenes, like the one with Nagesh and TSBaliah in ‘kaathalikka Neramillai’,
    youtu.be
    /4IjW7cojPRs

    NSKrishnan and his wife TA Mathuram had their own fine brand of humour… We cannot find one such in any other film.

    Even Hollywood, did not give us pure comedies. except those of Tony Curtis in ‘The Perfect Furlough’ with his wife Janet Leigh and ‘You cannot win them all’ with Charles Bronson.

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    • I have been trying to get hold of Kaathalikka Neramillai for a while now, but it seems to be unavailable with English subtitles. Such a shame.

      There are lots of good English-language comedies that I like a lot, among them Arsenic and Old Lace, The Mouse That Roared, The Russians are Coming The Russians are Coming and several of the early Cary Grant films. Also Peter Sellers.

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  6. Chalti ka Naam Gaadi is less of a coherent film than a collection of vignettes filled with humour and whimsy. :) It has aged surprisingly well, and like you, this is one of the few films in which I could stomach Kishore’s comedy. And man, did Madhubala match him step for step!

    Thanks for reviewing this, Madhu; I last watched this back in 2015 or 2016 when I reviewed it on my blog, but your review makes me want to watch it again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember you having reviewed this one, Anu, and I remember having thought back then that it had been too long since I’d watched this! I’m so glad to have seen it again. Such a fun film.

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  7. Enjoyable review Madhu….I watched this movie a few times and always find it entertaining.

    Two of the songs in this movie were copies of English songs. Hamte Woh They is a copy of The Watermelon Song by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

    Also, Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhaagi is copied from another Ernie Ford song – 16 tons.

    This does not take away anything from the greatness of SD Burman – one of the finest composers of the Golden era.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, this was something I hadn’t known (or had forgotten, if I ever had known it). Thank you for the trivia! And yes, does not take away from SDB’s greatness – I like that he takes inspiration but makes the song his own, somehow better than it was before. My opinion, at any rate. :-)

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  8. Madhuji, I love the movie for the songs! I also love the iconic locations of South Mumbai where some of the scenes have been picturized. It helps to understand how the metro developed over the years. All in all, a light hearted film with some innocent fun and great music.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not familiar enough with Bombay to be able to relate to how it changed, but I do enjoy the backdrop of the city – especially in the title song of the film! Wonderful. Each of the songs in the film is a joy.

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  9. I watched this movie many-many years ago. Also, Half Ticket (at the same time, I think). I don’t remember anything but I remember I found them really funny. And yes, Anup Kumar was underrated.

    Lovely review.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. An enjoyable review of a well-made enjoyable comedy classic!
    I have seen it many times and it is one of those movies of yesteryears that doesn’t appear dated.
    A complete entertainer, its like a perfectly prepared dish where comedy is the main ingredient while melodrama, action and other masala ingredients have been added in just right proportions – nothing in excess.
    Personally, I wouldn’t call it silly. Even if some scenes seem silly, they are still hilarious and the silliness appears part of the script, making enough sense.
    The songs are simply wonderful – one never gets tired listening and seeing!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I mentioned in my reply to Keka Datta, below, I always think of ‘silly’ as something light-hearted, not taking itself seriously. Humorous. It may or may not be deliberately so. For instance, a film like Noormahal I’d call ‘silly’ in a bumbling, inept way, whereas this – or Dekh Kabira Roya – is intelligently silly. It sets out to not take itself seriously, and it manages superbly!

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  11. A flawlessly beautiful face and perfect comic timing as a combination is difficult to come by…. Madhubala is simply wonderful!
    A very silly but a highly entertaining movie with some real good foot tapping numbers.

    Liked by 1 person

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