The first time I heard of Sadhana was when my mother and aunt had dragged me, aged 10, to a hairdresser in Bangalore. Something had to be done about my unruly hair, they had decided. My hair was assessed and so was my broad forehead and the hairdresser pronounced that I should get a “Sadhana cut” – a fringe that would cover my forehead, making it look smaller. I had no clue who the hairdresser was talking about, but the name stuck.
Sadhana Shivdasani, who would have turned 77 on Sep 2, 2018 is still remembered for her immaculate fashion sense and that hairstyle, which incidentally was devised to give her character a makeover and make it fashionable in Love in Simla (1960). And thats the film I planned to watch and review before her birthday. But when do I ever blog on time? Here it is – more than 3 weeks late!
Love in Simla (1960), a Filmalaya production, introduced two new stars – Joy Mukherjee (Sasadhar Mukherjee’s son, who was to become a moderately successful 1960s star, more of a poor man’s Shammi Kapoor), and Sadhana Shivdasani. While it was Sadhana’s first film as a leading actress, it cannot be counted as her debut. She had already made her debut – as an extra and a chorus dancer in Shree 420 (1955) (I have seen Mud mud ke na dekh a million times just to spot Sadhana but have not been able to) and then in a Sindhi film Abaana. Love in Simla, said to be based on an English film Jane Steps Out (1938), also featured two amazing actresses of the 1930s – Durga Khote and Shobhana Samarth (Nutan and Tanuja’s mother) and was directed by R.K. Nayyar. (Sadhana and R.K.Nayyar supposedly fell in love during the shooting of this film and it culminated in their wedding in 1966)
We are introduced to General Rajpal Singh (Kishore Sahu) who lives in Simla along with his haughty wife (Shobhana Samarth), beautiful, spoilt daughter (Azra), a small son and dog. There is also a niece, his late elder brother’s daughter, Sonia (Sadhana), who is a shy, plain, bespectacled chit of a girl. Sonia has been living with General Rajpal Singh and his family since the untimely death of her parents. It is a Cinderella-type situation for the poor Sonia – except that it isn’t that dreary. Her aunt and cousin are vain, haughty and plain spoilt. Sheela keeps pointing out as to how dowdy and plain Sonia is. Oh yes, there is a kind, witty, likeable grandmother (Durga Khote) also in the household, who keeps sarcastically commenting o her son, a Major General, is so henpecked and how her daughter-in-law is. She is genuinely fond of Sonia, who thankfully quickly shows that she has a bit more spunk and does not always keep her mouth shut. Sheela has a special someone in her life, Dev (Joy Mukherjee), who is shortly to visit. And just prior to the visit, other than the introductory song Dil thhaam chale (in which Joy Mukherjee firmly proves why he came to be called the poor man’s Shammi Kapoor), there is a long argument between Sheela and Sonia. Sheela, being the not so nice girl who dances, frequents clubs etc, obviously does not wish to have children and while Dev is dear to her, he is not The One. (She is too ambitious and materialistic to believe in such a concept anyway!) Sonia, appalled at these declarations butts in and extols the virtues of having kids and that she would have some 12 if she could. The argument escalates and the battle lines are drawn. Sheela reminds yet again that poor Sonia is disadvantaged when it comes to the looks department and hence won’t find anyone. Sonia, while hurt, rises up to this challenge and says that she will make Dev hers to prove a point. The audience knows who will win in the end. After all, Sonia is the good Bharatiya naari, while Sheela is a spoilt, anglicised modern chit of a girl.
Dev shows up and Sonia tries to charm him but fails. She is plain, gullible, and doesn’t seem to have the graces needed or wiles (in this case, to lure Dev) to win a man’s heart. Dev is genuinely besotted with Sheela. So as Sheela and Dev prance around the house, romancing and singing songs, Sonia is terribly jealous; she gets angry and feels rather sorry for her state. As she breaks down, the grandmother who has been watching all this steps in for that much-needed Cinderella transformation! Pointing out areas of improvement, she dolls up Sonia and lo, a princess is born. All it takes is getting rid of the glasses (which were being worn to ward off headaches! how very convenient), trousers and yes that now-famous Sadhana cut!
Using her new-found looks and ada to her advantage, Sonia plays on Dev’s jealousies and manipulates situations to spend time with him. You see, the battle lines had been drawn – and everything is fair in love and war. All this goes on while the vain Sheela is playing the belle of the ball or sleeping peacefully (after Sonia spikes her milk). Not surprising, after three / four songs and ridiculous banter, Dev and Sonia fall in love. Sheela also ‘wakes’ up and realises her Dev has been prancing around town with her cousin and she confronts her sister. Of course Sonia points out that she has won the challenge and that this could have been avoided had she not been so unkind all these years. Sonia also tells Sheela in no uncertain terms that she knows that Sheela does not really love Dev; its just his money she is after. Sheela promptly goes into victim mode, wailing and weeping and not eating and Sonia, keeping in line with her good Bharatiya nari image, sacrifices her own love for the sake of her sister!
Does she manage to shake Dev off? Who gets Dev in the end? The rest of the movie answers these questions.
My two cents: Love in Simla is a typical 60s movie – with lovely stars, locales, music and a simple story – fluffy and easy to watch. Sadhana is good – the best thing in the movie. She looks pretty; of course there are too many inconsistencies in the way in the character she plays, but she is a delight to watch. Durga Khote, in a rather limited appearance, is brilliant. She literally lights up the scene with her wit, amusement (at her silly son and daughter-in-law) and her fondness for Sonia. Shobhana Samarth may not have been a good actress – she was just so-so as a vain, haughty, sharp-tongued aunt. But she is beautiful; which is amazing considering that by 1960 her eldest daughter Nutan was 25, married and was a sought-out star and Tanuja (who turns 75 today- yet another post in the pipeline) had made her debut.) Both the male characters were silly too (sillier than the women); General Rajpal as the hen-pecked husband with a roving eye and that idiotic, jobless and aimless Dev. He lands up in Shimla, believing himself to be totally smitten by Sheela. Two songs later, he is head-over-heels in love with a now-pretty Sonia. The music by Iqbal Qureishi is good – especially Dil thham chale and Kiya hai dilruba
All in all, a time-pass movie that is easy to watch.