I hadn’t heard of this version of the Mahabharat till a few days back (not, of course, that the existence of this film is surprising; given Hindi cinema’s love for mythology, there was bound to be at least one version of this epic floating about). Then, commenting on my jewellery songs post, blog reader Afsal posted a song from Mahabharat, and mentioned part of the cast: Pradeep Kumar as Arjun. Dara Singh as Bheem. Padmini as Draupadi. And good songs.
I won’t narrate the complete story here; the Mahabharat is too well-known for that (and if you aren’t familiar with it, I’d advise checking it out first before watching the film). Suffice to say that the film begins right in the middle of some action, without setting any preliminary background in place. At the court of the blind King Dhritrashtra in Hastinapur, the entire court is watching the two cousins Bheem (Dara Singh) and Suyodhan/Duryodhan (Tiwari) engage in a wrestling match.
For a lot of people of my generation – or those younger than me, who have seen Shammi Kapoor in his earlier films, this is the film that is probably representative of Shammi Kapoor: the ‘Yahoo! Kapoor’ as a friend of mine says with a sneer. Junglee is one of the major successes of Shammi Kapoor’s heyday. It is also, with Shammi’s wild whooping and crazy antics in songs like Suku suku, an important reason for him getting saddled with that ‘Yahoo! Kapoor’ epithet.
This particular Shammi Kapoor film has a very special place in my heart – because Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra was one of the first Hindi film songs I ever learnt to sing. I must’ve been about eight years old. I’d never seen the film; television was yet to make its way into our lives (it was just round the corner, though I didn’t get to see the song till much later). But I used to hear it now and then on radio, and sometimes on an LP my parents owned. I always did wonder who the heroine was, the woman who was praised for the fact that her ‘zulfon ka rang’ was sunehra, and who had jheel si neeli aankhein. Could she have been an Indian actress, I wondered? She sounded firang.
Rewatching this film after donkey’s years, I was struck by the similarity in basics with How to Marry a Millionaire. Here too are three beautiful girls, each of whom falls in love with a man she meets—but doesn’t realise is not quite the sort of man she’d hoped to end up marrying.
That’s where the resemblance ends. Our girls, like good bharatiya naaris, aren’t mercenary gold-diggers. Which, of course, is good news for the three men whom they fall for, since their heroes aren’t exactly rolling in wealth either.
I’m always on the lookout for old, offbeat Hindi films. Something without the hackneyed romances, the clashes between rich/poor, urban/rural, good/evil, the sudden breaking into song and the neat tying up of all loose ends once the regulation three hours are up. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against masala films—some of my favourite old films are masala to the spice-sodden core. But somehow a film like Kanoon, Ittefaq, Anokhi Raat, Kabuliwalaor Dekh Kabira Roya, each unusual in its own way, has a certain je ne sais quoi. So does this, Nargis’s last film. There’s something a little hat ke about a film in which the romance is really quite minimal, and the strange light-and-shadow personality of a schizophrenic woman is the main focus of the plot.