Mr India (1961)

A simple-hearted—even outright simple, really—man turns out to be the look-alike of a much-wanted criminal. As a result, the police train him to impersonate the criminal so that they can get enough evidence to crack down on a web of crime.

I have no idea if Don (1978) was inspired by Mr India. Don is in many ways a very different film (the criminal, for one, dies fairly early on in the proceedings; for another, it’s a much more complex plot): but there is that fleeting resemblance.

Mr India begins by introducing us to Gullu (IS Johar), naïve and simple, as he goes about job-hunting, and getting rejected at every office because he doesn’t fit the regional profiles demanded by the parochial employers of these places. Gullu gets briefly hired by someone who wants to rig a ‘Mr India’ weight-lifting competition, with Gullu pretending to hoist what is actually wooden dumbbells rather than iron.

Gullu’s conscience doesn’t allow him to go through with this scheme, and he blurts it all out, thus missing his chance to be Mr India. All because of his inherent honesty.

Gullu’s father (?) is fed up with his son, who parades around all day dressed up in Western clothes, speaking broken Hindi (which even I can’t fathom the reason for). Why doesn’t he get a job, says Daddy, fuming for all he’s worth. Gullu’s mother (Praveen Paul) is rather more complacent and liable to give Gullu the benefit of doubt, even when it comes to Gullu’s dog, a mutt named Charlie.

Charlie is the reason for Gullu’s encounter, along the sea front, with Bambi (Geeta Bali) and her father (Hari Shivdasani). The very wealthy Bambi is also very Westernized and speaks English most of the time. When her pet dog Jackie wanders off somewhere and gets lost, Gullu happens to notice and offers Charlie’s services to track down Jackie. Bambi agrees, and soon enough, Jackie has been found and restored to his beloved mistress.

Bambi insists on giving Gullu a few rupees; but that’s it. No more. She won’t even let Jackie be friends with that mongrel Charlie; so plebian. Gullu is insulted and annoyed, but lets it go.

Soon after, he bumps into Bambi and Jackie again, at the theatre. Bambi doesn’t know it but Gullu has come here intentionally, having overheard Bambi telling her father that they would go to the theatre. At the cloak room (which, oddly enough, seems to be a place where you can even leave dogs), Bambi leaves Jackie…

…and shortly after, Gullu leaves Charlie there, bribing the cloak room attendant to let the dogs get friendly with each other.

During the show, Bambi realizes that Gullu is in the next box, but though she’s startled, she contents herself with just giving him the cold shoulder. It’s only when she gets to the cloak room and finds Jackie hob-nobbing with Charlie that Bambi gets really huffy about this breach of class distinctions.

Fortunately, something happens to open Bambi’s eyes. Jackie soon falls ill, going off his feed and being so listless that Bambi frantically summons two vets, both of whom reach the conclusion, after much probing and questioning, that Jackie is pining away for Charlie.

So Bambi’s father sends two of his men to borrow Charlie. This makes Jackie much better, but Charlie, away from Gullu, isn’t happy: so Gullu is fetched.

Anyway, what happens is something you can pretty much expect, given the way most Hindi cinema proceeds: Gullu and Bambi fall in love, Bambi asserting that she loves his simplicity, and not seeming to mind that Gullu comes across more as a nitwit, and a spineless twit, than anything else. They go gallivanting with their respective dogs; they sing songs; and they end up, deep in the heart of the forest, lost at night.

Deep in the heart of the forest, too, they stumble upon a house that Bambi thinks might be a dak bungalow. They might be able to find shelter for the night there.

What Bambi and Gullu don’t know is that this is no dak bungalow or any such thing; it’s the lair of the dreaded criminal and gang leader, Jang Bahadur Rai (also IS Johar). Jang Bahadur Rai, along with his dancer girlfriend Rita (Helen, naturally) and an assorted collection of hoodlums, lives here. He is a ruthless, hard character, and leaves his lair on another round of bloody murder and rampage, just a little before Gullu and Bambi roll up.

The darwaan, imagining that Jang Bahadur has again donned one of the many disguises he is so fond of, assumes this is his boss. He winks merrily at Gullu, playing along with the latter’s assertions that he wants to stay in this ‘dak bungalow’ for the night. Gullu thinks this hectic winking is all part of the game, so when he goes into the ‘dak bungalow’, he winks a good lot more, making Jang Bahadur’s minions think their boss is joking with them.

Bambi and Gullu watch Rita perform a ‘dagger dance’ for them. Rita, seeing who she thinks is her boyfriend with another woman, is suitably annoyed, and lets fly with the daggers, narrowly missing poor Gullu each time. Bambi, meanwhile, has put two and two together and come up with five: she thinks this man beside her is Jang Bahadur, and she gets furious. Gullu, seeing his chance to get out of this den of thieves with his hide intact, pretends to be Jang Bahadur.

Jang Bahadur’s hoodlums co-operate, and Gullu and Bambi slip out into the forest. Here, it takes Gullu a while to convince Bambi that he is, indeed, her Gullu, and not Jang Bahadur. All is happy and nice, until—come morning—Bambi’s and Gullu’s fathers, searching anxiously for their offspring, stumble upon them. Bambi’s father is apoplectic when Bambi admits that she loves Gullu.

Bambi’s father decides to bust up with romance, and while Bambi is confined to her home, he also arranges her betrothal to a young man, Kamaljeet (Kamaljeet), who’s so handsome, he’s won a beauty contest. Kamaljeet is also something of a nincompoop, twittering and rushing about and making cups of tea for a Bambi who is most contemptuous.

Meanwhile, Gullu, nursing a broken heart, is wandering the streets when he’s arrested by a cop, who mistakes him for Jang Bahadur. Gullu is dragged off to the police station and they’re about to bung him into the lock-up when a phone call comes from another part of the state: Jang Bahadur has been arrested.

Which is how the police realize that there’s a look-alike of Jang Bahadur around, and somebody gets the brainwave that Gullu can impersonate him, to try and help the police gather in all of the gang. (Shortly after, when Jang Bahadur gives the cops the slip and escapes, this becomes even more imperative). Bambi, it now emerges, is a social worker who helps rehabilitate prisoners, so she is roped in to help in the scheme of training Gullu. The training is however done by a suave cop (Feroz Khan in a very brief role).

And the stage is set.

Mr India, once it got going and I realized that IS Johar was the hero here, was not a film I was holding out great hope for. While I have liked IS Johar in several films, it’s never been in those where he’s the leading man. And IS Johar being mostly comic hero, speaking in bad Bambaiyya Hindi? I didn’t think I’d like this one.

Perhaps because I had low expectations, I ended up liking Mr India a good deal. It’s a light, entertaining film which doesn’t take itself too seriously.

What I liked about this film:

The script and direction (the director is GP Sippy), which only meanders briefly in the beginning when it’s setting up the Bambi-Gullu romance (and really, which mainstream Hindi film with a romance in it doesn’t meander at least a bit, with its songs and initial disagreements and whatnot). Beyond that, especially once Jang Bahadur makes an entrance, it is pretty fast-paced and with little digression. Plus, there’s a sort of undercurrent of humour all through, with nobody ever really being badly hurt or distressed to the point of singing sad songs, or the like.

Also, Geeta Bali as Bambi: silly when she needs to be, firm and putting her foot down with her wishy-washy boyfriend when she needs to. I loved, too, that she seems to be enjoying herself thoroughly in this film. IS Johar, as both the bumbling Gullu as well as the merciless and nasty Jang Bahadur, proves how good an actor he was (a fact that often goes unheeded when talking of Hindi cinema, but which comes to the fore with foreign-made productions like North-West Frontier and Harry Black and the Tiger).

Last but not the least: the music, composed by GS Kohli and with lyrics by Jan Nisar Akhtar. There are several good songs here, most of them in a style very reminiscent of OP Nayyar. Among those I especially liked were Kya soch raha matwaale, Kahaan chali chham se, and Chhodke na jaana aadhi raat ko.

What I didn’t like:

Actually, not much. The last bit of the film, with IS Johar running along a road (you have to see the scene to understand what I mean) is pure slapstick and made me wonder why he didn’t stop—but really, that’s all part of the film’s agenda of not taking itself seriously.

If you’re happy to watch a film that doesn’t go the prescribed route, which dares to have a hero and a heroine who aren’t quite conventional (Bambi is, to some extent; but Gullu isn’t, by no means): this is good time-pass. Not fantastic, not a great comedy, even, but enjoyable enough. Light and fun.


16 thoughts on “Mr India (1961)

    • Yes, I always wonder why Geeta Bali ended up in so many B-grade films, especially given how popular an actress she had been. I wonder if that was a result of her working after her marriage? Did her popularity with producers fall? I have no idea.


  1. It’s been so long since I’ve watched “Mr, India,” that I remember nothing of the plot, which is fine because it’s not the kind of movie where the plot matters all that much. What I do remember are the nice songs and Geeta Bali. I thought she was brilliant as the stuck-up, ditzy “Mem.” She was exactly what I envisioned a woman named Bambi would be like. And she was a hoot to boot. :-D

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  2. The reviewed movie was made as a comedy but this idea (using a criminal’s look-alike by the cops) has been used in many action (and serious) movies in varied ways. I.S. Johar was indeed an extraordinary actor. Hearty thanks for enlightening about this Bhooli-Bisri kinda movie in your typical narrating style which must be an entertaining watch.

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  3. Loved this light hearted movie. I.S. was very good in Shagrid 1967 as Prof. Brij Mohan Agnihotri. Still hear ‘ Bade Miyaan Deewane Aise Na Bano, Hasina Kya Chaahe Humse Suno’ sung on I.S. and Joy with playback from Rafi Saheb and Mannada. Seen most of I.S. movies. Almost same plot seen in , Shreeman Ashique 1993 starring Rishi Kapoor and Urmila Martondka.

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    • Shagird is my favourite Hindi film of IS Johar’s. He’s so absolutely delightful in it! I must rewatch that sometime and review – it’s one of those films I like (mostly) but haven’t yet reviewed on this blog. Thanks for reminding me of it. I hadn’t known of the remake.


  4. Madhu, thanks for this review. Shalini had recommended this to me some time back, but I haven’t gotten around to watching it yet. It seems like just the right kind of silliness that I need right now. :)

    Re: Geeta Bali and B-grade films. She was a kind-hearted, generous soul from all accounts and happily signed films with not-very-successful actors because she believed her star wattage would help them a little. Shammi once asked her why and she said that successful people like Raj K [Baawre Nain] and Dev [Baazi]had helped her when she was a relative newcomer and she was paying it forward. I remember an interview with Bhagwan where he said that every actress refused Albela because he was the lead, but Geeta willingly signed on. [It just made me like Geeta all the more.]

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    • Thank you for that lovely little insight into Geeta Bali! It does make me like her even more. Reminds me of Nanda vis-a-vis Shashi Kapoor; I’ve seen interviews with him where he was grateful for her agreeing to star with him, still so raw, in his early films, when none of the other established actresses would ‘stoop’ to do so.


  5. From time to time I’ve manned the cloakroom at an opera house, and I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what to do had someone had tried to use me as a dogsitter!

    I’ve been looking to watch some more Geeta Bali movies–perhaps this should be the one : )

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