Yes, with Anu flagging off the Dev Anand movie month on her blog (coinciding with my Duniya review) and Madhu following it up with Mahal, it seemed to me that my next review should be of a previously unwatched Dev Anand movie. And what better than a Dev Anand-Waheeda Rehman movie, available on Youtube!
I heard of this movie first from an uncle around the time that the atrocious Anil Kapoor –Sridevi movie of the same name was released. He was bemoaning the lack of good music in that movie and fondly remembering the “superlative score of Shankar-Jaikishen” in the older one. While the music is indeed superlative compared to that atrocious movie of the late 80s, the soundtrack of the 1961 (barring a couple of songs) is not one of my favourites.
Coming to the movie, it starts off in a sharaab ka adda where our hero, Chhagan is busy drinking. A lame goonda (Jeevan, whose name I could not figure out) enters this adda and It is soon established that these men are both thieves and partners. And as they are discussing their next heist (stealing a diamond from a jeweller), aboard a steamer that is leaving for Shivsagar , the next morning, they have a fallout. (Note: Not sure where this Shivsagar is, but I think Shivsagar is probably another name for the well-known Gangasagar pilgrimage (Sagar island) in Bengal.)
Jeevan does not give Chhagan the tickets; Chhagan, now determined to steal the diamond, lands up at the harbour.
At the harbour, Chhagan meets the Bengali manager of the steamer who tells him that there are no tickets available and points to the other devotees who haven’t been able to get tickets as well.
We then get to know that Chhagan is a nastik – he does not believe in God and believes only in his abilities. Yes there is a song to espouse his worldview. That he is an atheist, now on a journey undertaken usually by the devoted is of note – and as Hindi film logic goes, by the end he should get converted into a believer, especially because this was made in the early sixties!
The morning of the pilgrimage dawns; Chhagan lurks around, trying to get on. And as he waits, along with him, we meet the other passengers.
There is a Swami (Hiralal) with his devotees, mainly widows – whom he provides shelter to. He is orthodox and extremely narrow minded. He is shown chastising one of the widows (Sahira), when she gets startled by a camera flashlight. Since the camera was wielded by a young man, her morals are definitely suspect. She can be forgiven and taken back in the fold only after a deep penance. The flabbergasted young man, who tries standing up for this young dukhiyari vidhwa, is a writer who is on the pilgrimage looking for fodder for his book. Chhagan observes this appalling incident, and immediately has a run-in with the Swami (Wisdom, gained by watching numerous Hindi movies, tells me that by the end of the movie, the Swami would be revealed to be fraudulent or would simply be reformed.)
Then we meet a khandaani rayeez from Lucknow, Banke Bihari (Sunder). He is here along with his sycophantic chelas (one of them being Rajendranath). This gentleman, fond of his music and shaayari, is on this journey due to remorse, or so we are informed. His wife, who was against his drinking, has now passed away and in a fit of remorse, this gentleman decides to relinquish the habit. And what better way than to just dump the crates of liquor in the Ganga! (No. 2: These characters are there to provide some standard comic relief)
Next we meet the jeweller (Jagdish Raj, not as a cop!) and his family – our hero’s main interest (till the heroine makes an appearance, of course!) He had vowed to immerse a valuable diamond in the Ganga at Shivsagar if his only son recovered. And the son had. So the family is on their way to Shivsagar.
Our lame villain, Jeevan now makes an entry all set to steal the diamond, with a mute pehelwan to do his bidding.
Then a naachnewali madam, now mature and past her prime (Manorama) enters with her entourange. Some servants and her foster daughter who is hidden from the world’s preying eyes – after all she is a roop ki rani. The madam had vowed that her daughter would first dance in Shivsagar, pure and unsoiled, and then enter the profession. Our hero, intrigued by the pretty tinkling feet, is now determined to steal a few glances, after all he is the choron ka raja.
Chhagan swims quite a distance and somehow gets into the steamer. He quickly befriends the writer and the manager and some others. And so the journey to Shivsagar begins.
Soon enough as expected, Chhagan and Roopa meet (in typical Hindi film fashion) and quickly fall in love, even as Manorama, blissfully unaware, has arranged for her to be delivered to Banke Bihari as his new wife. Jeevan and the mute guy try hard to steal the diamond but are foiled by Chhagan. There is also a sub-plot where the Swami continues to harangue the widow and the writer. He is convinced they are having an affair!
Does Chhagan manage to steal the jewel? Do Roopa and Chhagan get together? How does the widow-writer-Swami plot culminate?
The rest of the movie is about the completion of the journey – both literal and metaphorical. The questions are answered and many characters are transformed.
My two cents: This was yet another movie that surpassed my expectations! The screenplay (Abrar Alvi and H.S. Rawail) is rather effective. I was surprised at the non-dramatic way in which some plot points were resolved and taken to their logical conclusion (as far as possible). Yes, a little contrived and too convenient, but still refreshing.
As expected, Chhagan turns into a believer; but what was refreshing was that his beliefs didn’t change because of anyone else. He does not get coerced by Roopa (no ‘tumhe meri kasam hai’ type of dialogues) or anyone; but instead changes his beliefs because of his own experiences (even though it was sudden, but well). The Swami, to my pleasant surprise, is not a stock villainous character. He is open minded to change his beliefs and publicly asks for forgiveness and gives credit where it is due.
All in all, an interesting watch.
Acting: Dev Anand plays a morally ambiguous character – he is a thief, but with a heart of gold. This seems to be the standard kind of roles he was doing those days. Yes, he is charming enough and pulls it off. Waheeda Rehman is sweet and gracious, as she plays the sheltered and naive Roopa. Competent enough – she has two lovely dance sequences (Chaand gaya taare and an extended semi-classical performance to Shiv Sagar, set to the tune that S-J used later in this song from Rangoli (1962)!) The rest of the actors also play their parts ably.
Music: The soundtrack, while not my favourite, has a couple of lovely songs. Tum to dil ke taar chhedkar (both the Lata and the Talat versions) is clearly the best of the songs. I also like both the Asha songs – the semi-classical Chaand Gaya taare gaye…Jaaona Sata na rasiya and the bhajan Aaja re aaja re aaja naina dwaare But the title song did leave me cold. I didnt like it – the song and the picturisation. I am not much of a fashion person, but the costume she wears here just looks so bad; those bold horizontal stripes….
While not one of Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman’s best movies, Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja is definitely worth a one-time watch. Please be warned that the quality of the DVD print on youtube is rather bad.