Ek Phool Do Maali (1969)

A very frank admission: I am not intellectual. I cannot summon up the brainpower to analyse a film and go deep into the philosophy of it—which is why arty films are completely lost on me. I never, after seeing a film, question it, delve into its profundities, or explore the hidden meaning of so and so scene.

I am therefore proud to announce that I have finally seen a film that has gone a long way in remedying this lamentable situation. Ek Phool Do Maali made me sit up and think. It made me ask a lot of questions. And it made me vow never to assume that just because a film had a cast I generally liked, meant that the film would be good too.

Sanjay Khan, Bobby and Sadhana in Ek Phool Do Maali

The film begins with bad news: a doctor emerges from an operation theatre to tell an anxious Kailashnath (Balraj Sahni, wearing heavy makeup and what looks like a wig) that Kailashnath’s wife has died in childbirth, along with the baby. Kailashnath faints with the shock and falls down two flights of stairs, as result of which he becomes impotent. (Or sterile, it’s not very clear. The doctor starts off by saying Kailashnath can never be a husband; then he changes it to “can never be a father”. Question#1: Isn’t there a difference? Or have I got my knowledge of male physiology wrong?)

The doctor declares that Kailashnath can never be a father

Seven years pass. Kailashnath has moved to a village called Pawangiri high in the Himalayas. Here, he’s set up a mountaineering institute and has vast apple orchards. One of the students at the institute has come all the way from Africa. His name’s Amar (Sanjay Khan), and he soon has a run-in with a village girl called Somna (Sadhana). Somna and her mother (Durga Khote) live on Kailashnath’s estate and tend to his orchards.

Amar meets Somna - and has a tiff with her

Somna and Amar bicker childishly (Question#2: Why does this pre-empt falling in love? Okay, not a Ek Phool Do Maali specific question, but still). Meanwhile, Somna has also been getting her share of unwanted attention from a local thug and smuggler, Shamsher Singh (Shyam Kumar).

Shamsher tries to paw Somna

After much idiocy (and lawbreaking: Amar steals apples from Kailashnath’s orchard to get Somna into trouble; she breaks into his room and tries to make off with all his belongings), the inevitable happens: Somna and Amar confess their love for each other. (Question#3: Whose bright idea was it to stick patently fake flowers in the ground in this scene?)

Somna, Amar, and lots of fake flowers

While these two are billing and cooing, Kailashnath has been ruing the fact that he can never be a father. He confides in his friend and doctor (David), who suggests that Kailashnath adopt a child. Kailashnath refuses; it won’t be the same.
To make matters worse, two beggars—an old man and a girl—come by, singing a morbid song urging those `blessed’ with children to give generously to the poor. This cheeses Kailashnath off no end.

The two beggars

[Aside: There’s a rather extended comic side plot involving the doctor, his wife (Manorama), their daughter Shobha (Shabnam) and Shobha’s ineligible boyfriend, Bahadur (Brahmachari), who’s a shopkeeper. It’s all rather irritating and serves only to detract from the main story].

The doctor, his wife, Shobha and Bahadur

But back to the plot. Kailashnath has figured out that Amar and Somna are in love, and urges Somna’s mother to agree to the match, which she does. A song (Sajna, sajna, o sajna, tere pyaar mein main gayi kho sajna) follows, with Somna cavorting about in a deep orange and uncharacteristically skimpy outfit. Just as the song ends, it starts raining hard. Amar and Somna run for shelter into a cave. You can guess what happens next.

A dance that gets washed out

Far away, in Africa, Amar’s parents (Brahm Bhardwaj and Praveen Paul) are gushing over Somna’s photo and making plans for the wedding. (Question#4: Why Africa? The only indication that they’re in Africa is an African maid doing the dusting in the background. If Amar had to have a home far away, peninsular India is distant enough from the Himalayas).

Amar's parents discuss the upcoming wedding

…And Amar is leading a mountaineering expedition to some unnamed peak. He bids Somna a fond farewell, and promises they’ll get married once he’s back—by then, his parents will have arrived too.

Amar gets ready to go off mountain climbing

With Amar temporarily out of the picture, Shamsher Singh kidnaps Somna and tries to rape her, but is thwarted by Kailashnath, who turns up just in time. Shamsher Singh is tried and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. As he’s led away, surrounded by policemen, he pauses to cock an eyebrow at Kailashnath and make a distinctly threatening remark hinting at revenge. (Question#5: Why don’t the police react to this? Or do they just think he’s cracking a joke, ha-ha?)

Shamsher Singh threatens Kailashnath in court

Amar and his gang are up on the mountain, making progress. (Question#6: Why have they pitched their tents on snow when there’s bare earth just a couple of feet away?)

On the mountainside

Far downhill, Somna is sitting in the doctor’s clinic. She overhears the doctor discussing a young woman’s symptoms and then congratulating the woman on being pregnant. Somna realises with dismay that her symptoms are the same as the other woman’s, so she must be pregnant too. (Question#7: How can a doctor, on the basis of whether a woman feels nauseous and wants to suck limes, diagnose pregnancy with such confidence? Aren’t tests in order? And how about patient privacy? The doctor’s waiting room and his office are the same room).

The doctor diagnoses pregnancy, and Somna overhears

And then disaster strikes in the form of an avalanche. Amar is among four mountaineers who are buried under the snow. Somna is devastated and tries to commit suicide, but Kailashnath asks her to marry him instead. He promises that their marriage will only be in name; he will give her and her child the protection of his name but will not demand any euphemistic `rights’. Somna finally agrees, and they are married.

Kailashnath stops Somna from killing herself

Sometime later, Somna’s mother receives a telegram addressed to Somna. It’s from Amar! He didn’t die (well, obviously), and is now recuperating in a hospital. The old woman takes a unilateral decision to protect Somna’s marriage, and goes off to tell Amar that Somna died after hearing that he had died. Amar is so shocked and unhappy, he goes away to Africa.

pomna's mother lies to Amar

Somna has a baby, and Kailashnath begins to dote on the kid. He thinks of it as his son, his heir.

Kailashnath's love for Somna's baby

Six years pass. Somna’s child, Bobby (Bobby, billed as `the wonder child’, for reasons I haven’t begun to fathom) is the apple of Kailashnath’s eye. The beggars are back again, and Kailashnath is more kindly disposed towards them. (Question#8: How come in six years the beggar girl hasn’t changed much? She’s just got dirtier, not older)
Kailashnath is very proud of Bobby, and life with Somna is comfortable. All’s well.

But then the unexpected happens. Amar returns to Pawangiri while Kailashnath is away in Delhi. Without knowing who Bobby is, he quickly grows fond of the child and becomes Bobby’s hero, replacing the absent Kailashnath in Bobby’s affections.

Bobby makes friends with Amar

Pawangiri’s a small town, and with Bobby and Amar spending a lot of time together, it’s only a matter of time before Bobby drags his mother to meet `Unkill’. What happens when Amar and Somna discover that the other isn’t dead? What happens when Kailashnath returns? How do these two emotional triangles—two men and one woman/one child—get sorted out?

Ask me if you want to know; spare yourself the pain of seeing the film.

What I liked about this film:
Two songs: Yeh purdah hata do, zara mukhda dikha do, which is pretty tuneful, and Chal chal re naujawaan, a medley of parodied Hindi film songs—the lyrics are fairly amusing.

What I didn’t like:
Just about everything else. The comic side plot is irritating; the beggars get on my nerves; and the main theme—the tussle between the biological father and the man who’s brought up the child—is badly handled and melodramatic. And the less said about Bobby the better; that kid is a pain in the you-know-where. If I’d been Amar, I’d have been very happy to let Kailashnath bring up the brat.
(Question#9: Why did Balraj Sahni and Sadhana, both of whom were generally very discerning when it came to choosing roles, do this film?)

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35 thoughts on “Ek Phool Do Maali (1969)

  1. Well, don’t you miss those days of not being intellectual, and not thinking at all about a film, after seeing it? :-)

    The snow and the flowers, really funny! Yes, whose idea was that? Obviously, the art director had gone off to find a Somna for himself while the shoot was on.

  2. memsaab: And you know what was the worst thing about it? I’d been looking forward so eagerly to seeing this! When the seventymm guys informed me that this was the next film they were shipping, I got excited big time. Ugggghhh.

    Banno: Absolutely! I’ll settle for something like Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, Dil Deke Dekho or Teesri Manzil – with good songs, unpretentious stories, and no blatant social messages – rather than tripe like this. And would you believe it? – Ek Phool Do Maali is actually better in the first three-quarters or so than in the last quarter, where it goes even more rapidly downhill. I hadn’t thought it possible.

  3. O ooo. Pressed the “submit” button before I meant to!

    This one is similar to a Biswajit starrer – I think it was Hare Kaanch Ki Choodiyaan. In fact I seem to remember a few other such stories from the 60s. This is probably the best of the lot, in terms of star cast and songs. I loooove the songs (it took me years to figure out the originals of the parodied songs in Chal chal re naujawan) – and once again there was a great Manna Dey song on Balraj Sahni! Anyhow, I’m glad I didnt get to see it ever. :-D

  4. bollyviewer: Oh, Lord – yes, I remember Hare Kaanch ki Choodiyaan. I saw that when I was a kid (and much more forgiving of bad film-making!) and I still remember not liking it one bit.

    And yes, that is John Wayne on the header. That shot’s from a 1933 film called The Big Stampede, one of the many he made for Leon Schlesinger in his pre-star days.

  5. Okay, here goes!

    Warning! SPOILER:
    Kailashnath comes back home to find himself being rejected by Bobby, who’d much rather spend time with Amar. Bobby takes Somna to meet Amar, and both are shocked to find the other alive – but Somna doesn’t let on to Amar that Bobby’s his son; in fact, she does her best to get Bobby away from Amar – husbandly devotion, you know. Amar guesses, though, that Bobby’s his child (mainly from the fact that Bobby and his blood group is the same. Sheeesh…)
    Anyway, it ends with Shamsher (who’s now out of jail) turning up and trying to wreak revenge by kidnapping Bobby. Both Amar and Kailashnath (with Somna hopping about ineffectively in the background) try to rescue Bobby and subdue Shamsher – they manage, but Kailashnath is fatally wounded. So convenient, because after that Somna and Amar get married (like they should, since they’ve once slept together.. ;-)) and begin bringing up Bobby to think of himself as Kailashnath’s son.

    SPOILER ends.

    Ho hum.

  6. Aaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrghhhhhhhhhhh @ “bringing up Bobby to think of himself as K’s son”…there is SO MUCH wrong with that, I don’t even know where to begin!

    Again, thanks for watching this tripe so I don’t have to! *throws EPDM into trashcan*

  7. “throws EPDM into trashcan”

    Just the place for it. I’m still amazed at myself for having actually sat through all that tripe. Well, I guess I did get curious about how it would all end. But a rerun? No thanks!!

  8. I think parents went to see it. Songs were very popular.
    Sis No.3 , and she was about 3, finished off the beer left over in Dad’s class when no one was looking:
    Result, we had an all night session of her kicking her legs and arms about and singing loudly “Yeh Pdra (note mispronunciation) Hata Do”….until we were ready to strangle her…
    (slept out in the garden in those AC-.ess days with mosquito nets)
    P.S. This story gets told at every fmly meeting…

  9. LOL!! Thank you for that story, bawa. At least something to smile about in connection with this movie! Awesome :-)) … and I love the bit about ‘Pudrah hata do”: toooo good!

    Thank you so much – I’m still grinning.

  10. I am glad I haven’t seen it; or was too young to remember if we were taken along for the movie:)….sounds like a torture session.

    the “pudrah” was the highlight!!!

  11. Well, i don’t understand! It doesn’t seem worse than any other standard hindi movie. At least you can see Sanjay, Balraj AND Sadhana.

    Is it really that bad?

    Yeh padrah sounds like songs the way I and my cousin used to sing hindi songs. for e.g., jab jeep chale aana from Chitchor. And we were not drunk!

  12. You know, I do think Ek Phool Do Maali was much worse than your average Hindi film… I don’t mind flights of fancy and complete escapism, but I think what really irritated me was the melodrama of it all, and that made me get even more nitpicking!

    The `Jab jeep chale aana’ is a gem – I hadn’t heard that one before, but my mother remembers a servant in their home who sang “Le gayi dil budhiya Japan ki”!

  13. But aren’t the majority of hindi movies melodramatic?
    But on the other hand you have seen the movie. I haven’t!
    And you have right ot your opinion! :-)

    “Le gayi dil budhiya Japan ki” is hard to beat! :-O
    Old japanese geishas might want to use that song!

  14. Oh, believe me, this one was much more melodramatic than a lot of other Hindi films!
    And the `le gayi dil budhiya Japan ki’ actually makes me think it’s quite complimentary to Japanese women… if a budhiya could make him fall for her, think what the younger women could do! ;-)

  15. Hello. Had a rare day off from work and found your site through Memsaab’s. It’s wonderful! Hope I’ll find time to read more here. This film actually sounds pretty good to me. Sanjay Khan is a good actor. Thanks very much!

  16. Thank you so much for the compliment, and I do hope you find the time to drop by.

    I have to admit I haven’t seen much of Sanjay Khan, but he’s nice looking enough to compensate for whatever he may have lacked in acting ability! ;-). And no, trust me, this film is really quite a pain.

  17. Melodrama in small doses is okay by me, but frankly, I think this one went overboard in a big way – and there was too much else that I thought very dumb. But yes, the songs were pretty hummable!

    I have still to figure out why the film appears to have been such a hit in Romania…

  18. Can anyone tell me what the original songs are in the parody song from Ek Phool Do Mali? I cant figure out the first 2, but have all the rest. Would be most appreciated.

  19. Oh Lord this film was terrible. I was tricked into thinking it would be good because of Balraj Sahni and Sadhana; but I was WRONG. The second half of the film was unbearable, sooooo much melodrama (at least it made me smile and laugh, even though I’m sure that wasn’t what the difference was aiming for). Like your last question, I’m also surprised that Balraj Sahni and Sadhana are in a film like this, their films are usually pretty good (well the ones I’ve seen anyway).

    And it pains me to say this, because I really, really, really like Sadhana, but the woman can’t dance. There I said it! She tries, but dancing is not her strength, she just looks like she’s doing some vigorous excercise to me (although to be fair, most heroines from this period can’t dance IMO–with the exception of Vijayanthimala and Asha Parekh, but they’re trained dancers anyways so the fact that they’re able to dance well is to be expected).

    Well, before I get too carried away and off topic–I really wish I’d seen your review before I committed over 2 1/2 hours to this drivel… Oh well you live and learn lol.

    • Yes, Sadhana was no good as a dancer. See her in Aaja aayi bahaar from Rajkumar, for instance – not a favourite song of mine, but also not pleasant to watch because the dancing is really more like calisthenics than anything else. Which makes me wonder: why, if an actress wasn’t a good dancer – a Waheeda, Vyjyantimala, Asha Parekh or Padmini – make her dance in the first place? It’s not as if there have to be dances. Surely a good script writer could have worked the situation in such a way that it didn’t need a dance.

      I wish I’d read a review of this – an honest one – before I watched the film. It was sheer bilge.

      • I agree surely have worked around the lack of dancing talent. I mean, I would much rather just see them wearing some stylish clothes walking, hopping, skilling around some nicely landscaped field of some sort. No dancing required! I’m perfectly content just staring at their pretty faces lol.

        Conversely I’ve always thought it was such a waste when they had heroines who were known to be good dancers not dance.

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