Let’s say you’re a film maker in the Hindi cinema of the late 1960s. You’ve set your heart on making a thriller. You have some money, but not enough to be able to hope to churn out something with Shammi Kapoor, set in Europe. You see all these glittering films—Teesri Manzil, An Evening in Paris, Jewel Thief—being released, and it irks you. If they can do it, why can’t you? So one day you gird up your loins, and inspired by all of these, and all the James Bond movies you can lay your hands upon, you set out to make your own thriller.
You cannot afford Shammi Kapoor [or is he perhaps too discerning to agree after he’s read the script?], so you settle for Biswajeet instead. You don’t have the budget to shoot abroad, but that doesn’t matter. You will make do by bringing abroad here to India, by plonking a bronze wig onto Biswajeet and having him pretend to be a Parisian named Robbie for much of the film.
Rajendra Kumar is one of those actors whom I’ve repeatedly mentioned as ‘not being one of my favourites’. Saira Banu, beyond her first few films (notably, Junglee and Shaadi), I find too shrill for my liking. Despite the fact that these two star in Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan, it remains one film I like a good deal—because it has such an unusual story.
A story to which there’s a brief nod in the first scene. Sanjay (Rajendra Kumar) and Priya (Saira Banu) meet in what looks like an obviously ‘indoor set’ representation of a cliff. There’s a little banter, she insisting that he’s irritating her with his wooing, he professing his love for her and asserting that he could do anything for her—even give up his life. Priya eggs him on: yes, please. Go ahead. Show us.
I have to admit that I watched this film against all advice. Anu had watched it a couple of years back (and had written up a review of it); but I—remembering a long-ago viewing of Hum Sab Chor Hain, which I’d enjoyed immensely—decided to give it a try anyway.
And, it seems the version I got to watch, while as incoherent in the second half as the one that Anu saw, at least had some more parts intact. The main problem, from what I could see, was that—possibly in transferring the film from celluloid to digital—the reels got mixed up, with one of the reels that should’ve come early in the film ending up later, thus making things very confusing. Despite that (and despite some shameful editing in the last half-hour by the video production company), this evoked one reaction in me: If only this could’ve been available in the original version. Because, if you try to fit the pieces together and imagine what might have been in the bits so summarily chopped off, you can see the outline of what must have been a pretty funny and entertaining film.
Nasir Hussain, as someone (he himself?) once remarked, came to Bombay with one story in his briefcase, and made out of it one blockbuster after another. The story of a son, separated by circumstances from one parent and going through various ups and downs (including falling for the distant parent’s foster offspring, being impersonated by a crook, etc) before the happy ending, was one that was played out in Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Dil Deke Dekho, Phir Wohi Dil Laaya and Pyaar ka Mausam.
But, contrary to popular belief, Nasir Hussain was by no means a one-trick pony. He had other plot elements up his sleeve as well, and they appear now and then sporadically in various films. The ‘couple promised to each other as children’ trope is one [which always ends up with the couple—completely unaware of having been ‘betrothed’ in childhood, even sight unseen—falling in love with each other]. Another was the hero being [mistakenly, of course] believed to have killed a sister [or sister figure] of the heroine’s, after having played fast and loose with her—this, naturally, causing serious heartache and betrayal for the heroine until she realizes that her beloved couldn’t possibly do something so heinous.
There were various reasons for my wanting to see this film. One was that it’s a historical (okay, faux historical, considering it’s set in some undefined supposedly Middle Eastern land named Sherqand). The other was that its music was scored by Sardar Malik, one of—in my opinion—Hindi cinema’s very underrated music directors. The main reason, however, was Shammi Kapoor. Though still in his moustached pre-Tumsa Nahin Dekha days, he is one of my favourite actors. So just about anything starring Shammi Kapoor is, for me, worth watching at least once.
Or, The Nasir Hussain Rule Book of Fool-proof Rehashing.
I’m beginning to think I’m an idiot for trying to think up new stories every time I write. Look at people like Betty Neels or Nasir Hussain; they managed to get by with basically the same story, over and over again, and very successfully too. [which makes me wonder: were Hussain and Neels long-lost brother and sister?]
Take the latter’s Pyaar ka Mausam, for example. I’d seen this film as a kid and remembered little of it except the very good music and the pretty lead pair. A rewatch last night revealed that it amounted to a cocktail of Nasir Hussain’s earlier films: Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Dil Deke Dekho, and Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon. Same story, same plot elements, same rules from The Rule Book. [Note: These rules will make more sense if you’ve seen one or more of the films I’ve mentioned above. If you haven’t, think of it this way: you’ll get to know about four films just from one review].
Nasir Hussain may have made his Tumsa Nahin Dekha story into four separate – and equally successful – films, but did that induce others to be original? On the contrary. Narinder Bedi, at least, probably seemed to think that what worked for Nasir Hussain might well work for him. Therefore, Mere Sanam, which has a storyline similar in many ways to Tumsa Nahin Dekha. (Both films also have fantastic music by OP Nayyar, by the way).
If Rajkumar is the trademark ‘Shammi Kapoor at his peak’ film, then Tumsa Nahin Dekha is an equally – if not more – important film, because this is the one that made Shammi Kapoor into the icon he was by the mid-60s. Till Nasir Hussain got Shammi Kapoor to shave off his moustache and act as the devil-may-care hero of this film, Shammi was (as my father puts it), “Just another actor with a thin moustache and the usual roles. Nothing exceptional.” Tumsa Nahin Dekha gave him the opportunity to transform from the half-hearted, unexceptional sort-of-hero into a Shammi Kapoor who became almost an institution in himself.
I’ve been very busy the last couple of days, and the busy-ness doesn’t look like it’ll come to an end soon. My husband, therefore (and what a model of husbandly devotion!) offered to write the review of Abe-Hayat for me. This, mind you, without having seen the film, just on the basis of a very sketchy gist I’d narrated of the first half while we were on our evening walk. Tarun said he’d do a 3-sentence review:
Once there was an evil jaadugar named Saamri. There was a prince, and a princess. The prince killed Saamri, and then he and the princess lived happily ever after.
I’m doing something I’ve never done on this blog before. I’m offering a free gift for anyone who cares for it: a VCD, once viewed, of Rail ka Dibba. I’ll ship it anywhere in India and you won’t need to pay a paisa for it.
Now, why I’m doing this. First, the preliminaries: it’s a Friends VCD, and we all know what that means. Their logo takes up much of the screen. The print is bad, the sound quality even worse. And their evil villain editor seems to have chewed up frames, scenes, dialogues—everything—in an attempt to fit the film onto two CDs. And though it’s not a really bad film, Rail ka Dibba left me feeling pretty certain that I won’t be watching it again. Anybody who wants it is welcome to it.