This movie landed up in my to-watch list rather by accident. I was looking for a previously unwatched Vyjayantimala movie to watch and review for the blog. And the three shortlisted films were Aas ka panchhi (1961), Dr Vidya (1962) and Duniya (1968). I do not like Rajendra kumar, so within ten minutes (even before the heroine makes an entry!), Aas ka Panchhi was out; Dr. Vidya, well, has some memorable songs – I love Pawan Diwani, Jaani tum to dole and Aye hai dilruba; So I watched it, but the entire viewing experience was, to mildly put it, unsatisfactory – if I were to review it now, I would just rant and be very uncharitable.
So I finally watched Duniya. Made in 1968 by Time films and directed by T.V. Prakash Rao, it starred Dev Anand, Vyjayantimala, Balraj Sahni, Sulochana, Achala Sachdev in pivotal roles.This was the third movie in which Dev Anand and Vyjayantimala starred together – the other two being Amardeep (1958) and Jewel Thief (1967).
I have a mental cut-off when it comes to Dev Anand movies. I like him in pre-Guide phase, and haven’t watched his movies past that date. The laid back boyishness and charm that he had in the fifties seems to just disappear post 1965. Okay, Jewel Thief was not that bad, but all that seems to remain is an exaggerated swagger and a literal lack of a spine! He can’t seem to stand still without swaying.
We are introduced to our main protagonists. We see them as three children in a village, as the movie begins – Gopal and his sister Mala who live with their widowed mother and their neighbour and friend, Amar. Gopal has just been caught for stealing by the villagers – and his mother admonishes him in typical Bollywood good mom fashion. Amar who watches all this, swears that he shall become a ‘bada vakil‘ when he grows up and shall protect his dear friend! (Now why dont these people just tell Gopal to mend his ways was the first question that pops in my mind; the question is answered shortly!)
This proclamation melts his dear mother (Sulochana)’s soft heart as she promptly proceeds to the little mandir in their hut and prays for her son’s illustrious future. May he become as bada a vakil as his illustrious dad. This dad (a photo kept in the Gita) is none other than Balraj Sahni. The scene then shifts to a huge mansion where a doctor tells Ramnath (Balraj Sahni) that his wife cannot conceive. For a second, I thought this was a flashback, till the the time we are shown his grieving wife, Shobha (Achala Sachdev). (Aaha, so then it clicked. Amar shall definitely face-off with his father over Gopal in the climax. Which is why Gopal has to become a crook, or if nothing else, a petty thief!)
Digression aside, Ramnath and Shobha decide to adopt a child and who should that be? They settle on a distant cousin’s daughter – Mala, who is promptly sent off to the city and grows up to be a pretty, dancing, accomplished young lady. Gopal, in the meanwhile, runs away from the village. And Amar grows up to be a young counsel with an advocate Mehta in the same city.
Amar meets Mala, have some standard tiffs interspersed with some songs, and quickly fall in love. Not much time is wasted, Amar and Mala also learn that they are childhood friends.
Mala has enlisted the help of Amar’s detective friend James Bond 009 (Johnny Walker, there for some stock comic scenes and a couple of songs) to locate Gopal; and Amar also promises her of his support. Gopal, we find out through James, is now a wanted criminal and on the run.
We also see a shady guy shadowing Mala from the very first scene. A guy who dabbles in very shady activities, he goes by the name of Mohan (Prem Chopra) and is seen in this parallel track where some Sethjis are also involved – the usual smuggling wala racket.
Through this parallel track, we learn about Ramnath’s earlier marriage to Janaki (Sulochana, who still is there in the same village). Ramnath’s mum played by Lalita Pawar, does not approve and Janaki is banished, along with her ‘khokh mein pal rahi pyaar ki nishaani‘ and Ramnath is informed of her death. Now Ramnath does not seem to have wasted much time in mourning for her and has since promptly remarried; but thats another story.
So we have Mohan, who upon knowing this backstory, presents himself as Ramnath’s son. Instead of coming clean about his past with Wife no 2, Ramnath announces Mala’s engagement to Mohan.
This leads to many confrontational scenes between Mala’s boyfriend (and Ramnath’s real son), Amar and Ramnath.
Mohan shortly gets murdered and Gopal (who is now Ram Singh, Mohan’s driver) is accused. Mala gets to know his true identity and there is a teary reunion in the jail, after which she requests Amar to take up the case.
So then we get to the courtroom scenes where Ramnath and Amar face off, try to out do the other, and get to the bottom of the mystery.
Who killed Mohan and why? Does Ramnath get to know that Amar is his son? Does the family reunite? The rest of the movie provides the answers to these questions.
My two cents: Duniya was a surprisingly a good-to-watch movie! For one, I liked the pace. They came straight to the point, towards the actual story. That Amar and Mala were childhood friends, and that Gopal was now a crook, were all established fast – no near miss scenes there. Some of the Johnny Walker sequences, typical for those days, could have been avoided; but having said, this film’s script was fairly tight.
While not exactly a mystery, the final revelation as to who murdered Mohan was indeed surprising. The focus was more on the son-father angle and story; but the whodunit was also interesting.
Acting : Balraj Sahni is good, as usual; Dev Anand hams his way through- yes, with the exaggerated swagger, but is overall decent. It is not one of his best performances, but he is not unbearable. Vyjayantimala sleepwalks through this typical 60’s heroine wala role: She gets her two-three songs, some amount of drama, and yes an elaborate dance drama (Yeh dharti hindustan ki, an Asha solo passing on the message of national integration) scene to highlight her dancing skills! And those she does competently. Achala Sachdev and Sulochana had their rona-dhone wala scenes – personally I preferred Achala Sachdev to Sulochana, but that was because she had less to cry about and actually smiled in a couple of scenes! Prem Chopra and Madan Puri had fairly inconsequential roles, which they did well; and Johnny Walker reprised his usual role adequately.
All in all, a good time-pass. Or probably I enjoyed it more because I had zilch expectations from this movie!