Mehboob Khan, who directed Aan, Andaz and Mother India, also made this unusual film. It explores themes that were avant garde for the 50’s: a man’s sudden succumbing to sheer lust, while being in love with another woman; a woman’s sympathy for `the other woman’; a villain who’s shades of grey rather than totally black-hearted. Not exactly standard Bollywood fare. There are clichés of course, but on the whole, this is worth a watch.
Sonia (Nimmi) is a poor village milkmaid who lives with her father and nasty stepmother. She strikes me as a bit of a halfwit (her most involved conversations seem to be with cattle and birds; and she’s gaping, wide-eyed, in most scenes), but maybe that was just supposed to be naiveté.
Sonia’s being pursued by Sankat (Jayant). She spurns him—with reason, too: he’s lecherous, and a crook. In fact, these days, he’s been helping brew trouble by thrashing some villagers who want to hold the annual village fair on land Sankat claims is his.
Sonia, fed up with Sankat, flees from him, and bumps into a newcomer. He’s an urbane young lawyer named Amarnath (Dilip Kumar, looking very handsome), and when he scratches himself on some cactus, Sonia binds him up. She’s obviously shy but fascinated; he seems intrigued, but no more.
Amar’s munshi has been after him to get married. He gives Amar a photograph of a girl, Anju (Madhubala), suggesting her as a bride. Amar, even without meeting her, is smitten. A while later, he gets an opportunity to meet the lady herself: a sophisticated and educated woman who barges into his home asking him why he’s planning to defend Sankat in his quarrel with the villagers.
Though Amar’s been representing Sankat, he’s also been telling him to reform. Now, besotted with Anju, he does a volte face and ends up proving Sankat’s got no real right to the land. The villagers are jubilant, Sankat’s philosophical, and Anju is fast falling for Amar.
The fair’s held; Amar and Anju are well on the way to being engaged. Sonia—defying Sankat’s high-handed admonitions—dances at the fair, and when she’s on her way back home that night, Sankat tries to rape her. The night turns stormy, and Sonia runs into Amar’s haveli for shelter.
Amar has just received a telegram from his father, who’s very ill. But when he discovers Sonia in the house, all thoughts of going to visit his father vanish. Amar succumbs to a sudden fit of passion—and rapes Sonia.
Later that night, Sonia goes back home, shattered. (This, by the way, is one of the most memorable scenes in the film. Nimmi hams her way through Amar, but this scene—where she climbs up to the hayloft and tells her parents and Sankat she wants to be left alone, is anguish itself. Very poignant).
Over the days that follow, Amar is eaten up by guilt. He wants to confess all to Anju, but can’t summon up the courage to do so. Anju realises something is wrong.
But Amar stays quiet, and so does Sonia. Sankat, meanwhile, has been coaxing and bribing Sonia’s stepmother to let him marry Sonia. On the day of the wedding, Sonia breaks down and refuses to marry anyone, saying she’s already married. Anju, who’s been invited for the wedding with Amar, tries to get Sonia to divulge the name of her `husband’.
Nothing comes of it. The wedding doesn’t take place. Amar and Sonia keep mum, and Amar, now engaged to Anju, is getting steadily more distraught. Sonia comes to meet him at his home (which is being renovated) and there’s an accident—the ceiling collapses—in which Amar nearly dies. He recovers (thanks to the incessant prayers of both Anju and Sonia), and shortly after, Anju discovers—by sheer coincidence—who Sonia’s mysterious lover is.
What I liked about this film:
The characters have nuances you didn’t see in most run-of-the-mill Hindi films of the 50’s and 60’s. They’re shades of grey rather than black and white: Amar, for instance, is the hero, but he’s also a spineless creature who takes an eternity to admit the awful truth. And he’s human too, able to love one woman and yet feel lust for another. Sankat is equally interesting: crooked as a corkscrew and lusting after Sonia, but being tender and understanding when she confesses she’s in love with another man.
The acting, especially Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. And yes, the chemistry between them is great!
Madhubala. Need I say more? She has my vote as the most beautiful woman in Bollywood. Here’s why:
What I didn’t like:
Nimmi. She’s almost as infuriatingly hammy and theatrical here as she was in Aan.
The songs (especially Insaaf ka mandir hai yeh) are good, but there are just too many of them. Fewer songs, fewer interruptions, and it might have been a whole lot better.
Sonia’s love for her rapist is a little hard to swallow. True, she was fascinated by him earlier, but her agony after he rapes her is palpable—and doesn’t fit with her later near-reverence for Amar.
That said and done, this is a good film. Though the end is predictable, the premise of a hero who’s not quite a demi-god is a welcome departure from the standard!