Rangeen Raatein (1956)

The main reason I wanted to see this film was that it starred Shammi Kapoor and Geeta Bali—and her not in a mere item number, as in Mujrim, but in a much more substantial role.
Unfortunately, what I didn’t realise was that it’s Mala Sinha who’s paired with Shammi Kapoor in Rangeen Raatein, while Geeta Bali is in the role of a man [what was the director Kidar Sharma thinking of?!]

Anyway, to begin at the beginning. The ‘rangeen raatein’ (‘colourful nights’) of the title are the nights of glitter, glamour and entertainment promised to the far-flung villages of Kumaon by the ‘Moti Bai Touring Talkie’, which is referred to [rather ambitiously] by the police as a ‘carnival’. They have a trio of girls who sing and dance; and a bunch of men who indulge in rather more nefarious deeds.

It is these deeds that have drawn the attention of the local police. The daroga, chatting with a subordinate, is derisive of carnivals such as this, which—with their scantily-clad women and iffy morality—are ruining the innocence of the simple villagers of these hills.

The simple villagers, in particular, being Mala (Mala Sinha) and her brother Gulu (Geeta Bali [Why, why, why?]) Mala and Gulu live with their cantankerous old mausi (? This actress looks very familiar, but I can’t place her. She resembles Mridula Rani a bit). When the story begins, the mausi is just leaving on a pilgrimage, and is ordering everybody about…

…and, in between, is hurling insults at poor blind Kamla (Chand Usmani), who happens to live with this little family. Mala tries to shush her aunt, but Mausi makes no bones about her feelings towards Kamla: Kamla, in her opinion, is a worthless, useless burden on all of them, and the sooner she leaves their home, the better.

When Mausi finally gets onto the cart and leaves, there’s a collective sigh of relief [also from me. Maybe the story can get a move on now]. Mala, in one of their affectionate sakhi moments, happens to ask Kamla about her past. Considering they seem to be bosom buddies, this seems a little odd. Didn’t anybody—especially Mala, who is so chummy with Kamla—think of asking her before?

But. Kamla explains.

Once upon a time, Kamla used to live in Nainital with her uncle, who was a hakim. Kamla could see at that time, though her eyesight was bad enough for her to have to wear spectacles.
Kamla’s uncle had an assistant named Gulab (Rohit Tony; [this guy surprised me. I think he’s quite good-looking, and he isn’t a bad actor—but I don’t remember seeing him in any other films. Does anybody know what happened to him?]).

Gulab, when he wasn’t busy drinking or gambling (two vices for which we see the hakim actually caning him on his outstretched palm), he was flirting with Kamla. Kamla, shy and demure, was initially of the “hato, jaao ji” bent of mind, but was soon won over. She, in turn, managed to win over her uncle too, and since he thought Gulab was actually good at heart, he agreed to the wedding.

So, says Kamla, she and Gulab were married, and Kamla went to live with her new husband and his mother. But the new mother-in-law, despite the fact that Kamla’s dowry had been Rs 14,000 instead of the 10,000 that was demanded, wasn’t happy. When Kamla, wearing her specs [and I’m paraphrasing the dialogue here] would do the cooking in their kitchen, her saas would fly into a rage and beat her.
[Hmm. Why? Did she fear that Kamla would drop her specs into the daal?]

The long and short of it was that Kamla was thrown out of the house and came back to live with her uncle, the hakim. Soon after, a letter arrived from Gulab, letting Kamla know that he had left her. [Considerate of him to have bothered to tell her]. Kamla, now hopelessly despondent, swallowed one of the poisons from her uncle’s medicine chest. He managed to save her life in time, but her eyesight—already bad—went.

Thus, Kamla, blind and poor and with no-one to call her own. We aren’t obliged with an explanation of how she landed up in this village, but we’ll have to be satisfied with that.
Mala and Gulu are much affected by this tale of woe, and decide to set about trying to track down the errant Gulab.

They soon [and without much effort on their part] discover that Gulab is part of the Moti Bai Touring Talkie, and will be passing by their village in a couple of days’ time. Mala and Gulu think up a plan to get Gulab back for Kamla. They, along with Kamla, will stand by the roadside. Gulu, Mala and their pal Bulbul (Tun Tun) will make a lot of noise—playing a bugle, beating a drum, etc—enough to draw Gulab’s attention. He will, of course, see Kamla standing by the roadside looking delighted at his coming, and he will stop.

What a smart plan.
It does not, of course, take into consideration the fact that Gulab:
(a) may be concentrating too hard on his driving to look closely at people standing beside the road
(b) has, by his own admission, in that long-ago letter, left Kamla. He’s hardly likely to change his mind just because she’s with a couple of noisy villagers.

In any case, Gulab is too busy chatting with Moti Bai (? Another actress I know I should recognise, but can’t). Moti Bai, though obviously much older than him, is openly flirtatious. Gulab does nothing to discourage her, either.

Anyway, Gulab, Moti Bai and Co. carry on down the road, and soon pull in at a large village where they set about staging a show. Now we discover exactly what the men in this troupe are up to: they kidnap village girls (why, it’s never said; probably to be sold off in some faraway city). They’ve abducted a young woman here too, and are keeping her locked up until it’s time to move on. She’s been crying and pleading to be allowed to go to her baby, Natthu [this poor child is in for some very hard times].

It turns out that this woman’s been deserted by her husband [were Kumaoni husbands really so fickle back in the 50s? First Gulab, then this one].

We—and the weeping girl—now meet one of the men who’s among the kidnappers. This is Moti Singh (Shammi Kapoor! Finally!). He seems as hard-hearted as the rest of them, and the girl’s sob story doesn’t have any effect on him.

Just at this moment, the local police (who’ve been keeping an eye on Moti Bai and her gang) raid the place. Moti Bai, Moti Singh, etc are arrested. Gulab urges the kidnapped girl to run away through the open window, saying this is her chance to escape. She jumps out and begins to run across the stream outside.

One policeman, seeing someone splashing through the stream, fires into the dark—and accidentally kills the girl.
When Mala tells Kamla about this death, and the baby’s being virtually orphaned, Kamla begs her to bring Natthu home. She will look after the poor motherless baby, at least till Mausi returns. [Even Kamla has the sense to realise that Mausi won’t take kindly to yet another poor soul being taken into the fold].

Gulu, meanwhile, offers to stand bail for Gulab, so that Kamla’s husband can come home to her [what touching faith!]. Gulu also—and this I found pretty inexplicable—pays up his hard-earned money to get Moti Bai, Moti Singh, and the rest of their cronies freed too. He even tells Gulab that Kamla and Mala are waiting at home for all of them to arrive, so that they may be fed and looked after.

[…which, of course, is all a ploy on the part of the writer to get Moti Singh within range of Mala].

Gulab tells Gulu that he and Moti Bai will follow later; Moti Singh and Revdi (Shammi), who is one of the company’s dancers, will accompany Gulu in the meantime. There is a wince-worthy scene in which poor Gulu is obliged to carry Revdi [who is no Twiggy] across a river.

Moti Singh and Mala soon meet—she happens to pitch a bucketful of water at him—and there’s instant chemistry. He flirts, she pretends a rude sort of indifference, but it’s obvious that they’re well on the way to falling in love.

When Gulab finally comes to Mala and Gulu’s home, Mala helps dress Kamla up prettily so that Kamla can meet her husband. But Gulab is as cold and unresponsive as ever [why am I not surprised?]. He tells Kamla that he’s not interested in her and that their relationship is at an end.

Kamla tries to plead, then resigns herself to smiling beatifically while constantly saying how Gulab will always be her true love. This woman gets on my nerves with her pativrata ways; she’s irritating in the extreme.

Both ‘heroes’—Moti Singh and Gulab—are not exactly hero material. They’re criminals, they’re untrustworthy, and other than their looks, there’s very little to be appreciated there. Worst of all, they don’t even care much for the respective women in their lives. Gulab rejects Kamla outright, and Moti Singh, while he flirts outrageously with Mala, takes a long time to realise that this is love, and that it requires something more than just a clandestine rendezvous now and then.

Where will this tale lead? Will the two jodis find happiness? And what of Moti Bai and her criminal activities?

Writer and director Kidar Sharma (also known for Baawre Nain and Chitralekha) is not at his best here; the scripting is choppy, and the story moves in fits and starts. Kamla’s incessant pleading with Gulab to take her back becomes boringly repetitive after a while, whereas other equally important elements of the plot—such as the romance between Moti Singh and Mala, or Moti Singh’s battle with his own conscience, or Moti Bai’s criminal activities, are given too little time for them to be really believable.

Ultimately, this one’s pretty typical of pre-Tumsa Nahin Dekha Shammi Kapoor films: not very well-written, and with a hefty dose of tragedy [I’m warning you!] included. Recommended only if you’re nutty enough about Mr Kapoor to want to see each of his films.

What I liked about this film:

The music, by Roshan. The songs of Rangeen Raatein were all new to me, but many of them were really nice. My favourites were More baalma o more saajna o, Ghoonghat hataaike nazrein milaaike, and Bahut aasaan hai chilman se.

The authenticity of the setting. Rangeen Raatein was actually filmed in Ranikhet (in present-day Uttarakhand), so everything—from the slate-roofed village houses and terraced fields, the pine woods, and the cattle in their sheds, to the costumes of the actors—are all very pahadi. Just watching this film made me want to go on a trip to Uttarakhand again.

One very sensual scene; in fact, in all the Shammi Kapoor films I’ve seen, I’ve never come across a scene as sizzling as this.  

What I didn’t like:

The script and pace of the film; too much time is devoted to repeating the same thing (Kamla’s love for Gulab) over and over again, while nearly ignoring other important aspects of the story. I’d have liked it to be a little better balanced.

Kamla, who really got on my nerves after a while. I could have imagined that a blind village woman, deserted by her husband, would be miserable; but Kamla’s unfailing cheerfulness became downright jarring pretty soon. I wished she’d stop smiling in that long-suffering way of hers, and just own up to being unhappy.

The treatment of children and animals. There’s a scene where a burning cigarette is tossed into a parrot’s nest, and two scenes where poor baby Natthu is flung about in what must have been really painful for the child.

Two little bits of trivia:

Tun Tun both acts and sings in Rangeen Raateinand is credited twice. She’s listed as Tun Tun along with the other members of the cast; and she’s listed as Uma Devi among the playback singers. She doesn’t have an entire song to herself, though; all she does is sing a couple of lines towards the end in Main ek shola, aag ka gola.

Geeta Bali, on hearing that Kidar Sharma (who had been a mentor to her) was going to be shooting in Ranikhet, asked for a role in the film—because she wanted very much to visit Kumaon. Sharma couldn’t give her the heroine’s part, because Mala Sinha had already been signed on for it. So Geeta Bali was given the role of Gulu. The shooting in Ranikhet (in April 1955) resulted in Geeta Bali and Shammi Kapoor falling in love, and getting married four months later.

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50 thoughts on “Rangeen Raatein (1956)

  1. Somehow I knew this was going to be your next review! I watched this a long time ago – back in the days of VHS tapes, my father picked up a dozen or so cassettes from a shop near his office. This happened to be one of them, and I remember interspersing WTH? with What on earth was the director thinking of?

    Thankfully, I had placed my coffee mug on the table beside me, or you would have owed me a new keyboard, Madhu. This is one of your delightful reviews where reading your asides was much more fun than watching the film itself. Thank you for my morning laughter. :)

    • Now how on earth could you have guessed this was going to be my next review? I had actually started off watching another film – I saw 20 minutes of it, then decided the print was too bad for me to get any decent screen shots (and the film was one which offered loads of scope for delicious frames!)… so I decided to watch Rangeen Raatein instead.

      Glad you liked the review, Anu! You’re right, this was one “What the-?” moment after the other; it was just so haphazard and choppy and weird. The premise of the bad man eventually trying to repent was laudable enough, but the way it was handled was terrible. And Geeta Bali didn’t deserve to be slotted as Gulu. Even if she couldn’t be the heroine, at least she could’ve been a woman!

    • He is hot, but not as much as in Dil Deke Dekho, Junglee or Professor. Rangeen Raatein is available on Youtube, though. Here you go:

      It’s not a very good print, but still. I’ve seen worse.

  2. I am so sorry, that you didn’t know that Geeta Bali was not paired with Shammi in this film. I could have warend you! I came to know of this film some years back, when Greta asked me if I have access to the songs from this film. Short time afterwards, clips of the songs started appearing on youtube. Thus I knew that Geeta Bali plays a man’s role in the film.
    Teh reason behind the travesty from the version that I heard says Geeta Bali insisted on being with Shammi Kapoor in this film, since they had freshly fallen in love with each other. Kidar Sharma didn’t want to cast her as an heroine, since she didn’t fit the role and other roles were also fixed, so she took up the role of Mala’s brother.

    “were Kumaoni husbands really so fickle back in the 50s? First Gulab, then this one”
    I think in rural areas such things happened quite often all throughout India. And also luring young girls from villages with promise of good jobs in the cities and then dumping them in prostitution, happens even now and not only in India but throughout the world. Human trafficking is heinous crime, but often goes unpunished!

    I think I will give this film the miss! Thanks for the warning!

    • I came across two versions of how and why Geeta Bali played a man in this film – one is the version I’ve mentioned in the post (which is approximately what Shammi Kapoor’s own site seems to indicate – that they fell in love while shooting Rangeen Raatein, rather than that she insisted on being in the film because Shammi Kapoor was in it). The other version is what you’ve written.

      Yes, I agree that just dumping a wife (and children) wasn’t all that uncommon back then in the rural areas. It still isn’t, actually. By the way, have you seen Welcome to Sajjanpur? There’s a slightly similar case in that too, where a young woman is left in the village by her husband, who goes off to Bombay and keeps writing that he’s saving up to get her there… and keeps writing for years.

      • >where a young woman is left in the village by her husband, who goes off to Bombay and keeps writing that he’s saving up to get her there… and keeps writing for years.

        In this case, he’s ‘actually’ saving up to get her there, and in the end is somewhat helped by the hero to do it anonymously. They show him even trying to sell off a kidney to get money :-(

        • Yes, I know. I didn’t want to say it just in case somebody hadn’t seen the film, since that would be a spoiler… ;-) You don’t get to know the truth till nearly the end of the film.

    • Stay down. ;-)

      Actually, I’ve yet to come across any Shammi Kapoor films from before his Tumsa Nahin Dekha days that I really like. I watched Hum Sab Chor Hain too many years back to remember it, but I think that wasn’t bad. Rangeen Raatein isn’t bad, but it’s not good either.

      • Oh gosh! -climbs back up- But Shammi and Mala?! Really?!?! That’s… unusual. BUT GEETA BALI. REALLY?! :( Doesn’t she take off her disguise? Or is it… really… a… O__O”

        I think I’ll try out Hum Sab Chor Hai. You guys were discussing it on the comments of your tributeish post to Dev. I read all that. :)

        • Shammi and Mala? What’s unusual about that? They were paired in Ujala and in Dil Tera Deewaana as well.

          I did a little looking around yesterday. I think Ultra has released Hum Sab Chor Hain, (and have uploaded some scenes on Youtube), but the entire film will probably have to be hunted down – maybe from Induna or something.

          • I dunno, I just haven’t really heard of that… but come to think of it, yes, Dil Tera Deewana. Phew, I need to brush up my knowledge on Shammi’s films! But that’s good! I’m gonna go watch it as soon as I’m done with my huge to-do list.

            Do you know how to change the header of the blog, Dustedoff? I wanted to work on it (And I’m doing something special for Dev’s birthday, which is on the 26th!), but WordPress is just frustrating now. And whew, I’m planning something for Shammi’s birthday too! Lots of work!

            And I have to find my lost iPod (It means so much to me! My wallpapers of Dev and those late-night notes I typed out, and the collection of games, and the eye candy… and admittedly, I had messed around with contacts and added all my favorite actors as “contacts”. Heehee.) as well.

            I’m having a sorta Teesri Manzil craze now. I just… love it. :D I love “O Mere Sona Re”. Once my bag’s straps broke just like in the song. And my worksheets were all over the floor. So I was gathering them up and then I thought of the song, and then I started laughing so hard that my worksheets all blew away!

            • I love O mere Sona re too – one of my favourite songs, and it’s picturised so well!

              You can change the header of your blog through your blog dashboard. Open the dashboard, and on the left panel, you’ll see an ‘Appearance’ button. From this, there’s a drop-down menu, which has a ‘Header’ link. Click there, and it allows you to upload an image file for the header.

  3. Agree with everything in the review. I might have disliked this film if it was from the 60s or in color.
    They are adding more films on that site, they have added Chor Bazar and this one which I think you were searching for a long time?

    • I think I had mentioned the prints of some of these Old and obscure films on that site (Lehren retro) being somewhat manageable.
      Majority of the original videos of the very rare old Indian songs or I should say ‘lost’ songs have the logo MM Video, that is from Karachi,Pakistan. I wonder what are Indians doing with their prints? are they kept in some museum?
      Here is an all time classic but I have not seen the ‘Indian’ version yet

      another example is ‘meri jaan meri jaan sunday ke sunday’ on Youtube.

      • Chris, you’re a veritable mine of delightful discoveries! I have seen some of the films that MM Video have uploaded (the Dev Anand-Nimmi starrer Sazaa, for instance), but I hadn’t come across Meri jaan Sunday ke Sunday. Thanks for telling me about this!

        I was placing an order on http://www.induna.com the other day, and they’ve expanded their catalogue considerably since the last time I visited the site. Lots of obscure old films that weren’t there before! Thank goodness.

        • Lot of the rare films are available on Friends video ,but we know how they work. They are not easy to get either.
          The ‘lost’ films that I alluded to were like these

          this film is called ‘Nadaan’ and has Dev Anand and Madhubala!! I was wondering looking at songs like these that such films actually exist and they are obscure?
          There are songs with film titles like Actress,Bus conductor,Private secretary,Forty days ,Village girl,etc. (I’m not kidding, search on this channel – http://www.youtube.com/user/amitajai/.
          Note the name of the music director of that song from Nadaan – Chic Chocolate. who is he?

          • Chris, ‘Chic Chocolate’ was a very famous Jazz musician (trumpeteer, I think) whose real name was Antonio Vaz. He was known as the Louis Armstrong of India. He assisted Madan Mohan and C Ramachandra and was a very important part of the latter’s music team. Naresh Fernandes has a write up about musicians of that period – you can read about it here.

            http://www.mail-archive.com/goanet@lists.goanet.org/msg24873.html

            There was also a wonderful video about all these Jazz musicians, I’ll see if I can find it.

            • Thank you for this, Anu! (and you needn’t apologise for ‘inundating’ the comments space – more comments, especially when they add to our knowledge of old cinema, are always welcome!)

              I had heard of Chic Chocolate too – the first time I came across him was as assistant to Madan Mohan in Bhai-Bhai. I remember having read about him being called the ‘Louis Armstrong of India’, though I was under the impression he played the sax. I could be wrong, though.

          • Ah, yes. I’ve heard of Naadaan, though I haven’t seen it. A friend gave me a copy of Bus Conductor a couple of years back – it’s not that great, Prem Nath past his prime, though Shyama is lovely as always. If Village Girl (aka Gaon ki Gori) is the Noorjehan starrer, then that film is on Youtube in its entirety too.

            I do wish somebody would upload one of those really old films. I so want to see Ruby Myers as the Bambai ki Billi! But I have a feeling the films of that era are either locked up in the archives, or gone forever…

    • Yes! I went and had a look at their Youtube channel and bookmarked quite a few films to watch, the very day you told me about it. Thanks, Chris. :-)

      You’re right, I’d been looking for Boyfriend for quite a while. I did find it last year – a not-bad DVD version, too – but didn’t really like the film much. Despite Shammi Kapoor, Madhubala, and some good songs. The original Kismet is much better.

  4. I wish I had known you were planning to watch Rangeen Raatein”, Madhu. I would have steered you in other, more Shammi-satisfying directions.:-) Given the talents involved (Shammi, Geeta, Kidar Sharma, Roshan, etc.) it’s mystifying how they managed to produce this unremarkable mess of a movie. Ah well, at least you can say you’ve seen the movie where Geeta Bali plays a man. :-D

    • Yes, I am surprised that, considering the people involved in this film, it turned out to be so underwhelming. I’d have expected a lot more out of this bunch.

      “I would have steered you in other, more Shammi-satisfying directions.:-)

      Tell, tell! Please. I’m always eager for suggestions. :-) (Incidentally, I’ve just bought a VCD of a film you’d recommended. Am looking forward very eagerly to watching it!)

  5. Really strange to have Geeta Bali act as a man. Did she pass off as one, or was she obviously bosomy and hippy?
    This only shows the things that were acceptable then. Of course the other way round was more the norm with men acting as women.

    I confess the story you’ve narrated sounds pretty off beat and interesting with the hero being grey (or more black). I guess that should satisfy me and not make me hanker after the film itself LOL

    Was the chemistry great between them (I know you’ve mentioned about it, but I couldn’t make out if it was meant for that particular water thgrowing scene or was it ib general. I like them both so much.

      • Thank you for clarifying that! I honestly did think, when I read that first comment, of Shammi Kapoor and Geeta Bali, and was thinking, “No – no homosexual undercurrents there.” :-)

    • No, Geeta Bali wasn’t bosomy and hippy, because she was clad in very shapeless, heavy clothes – a sort of tweedy jacket and loose pyjamas and a muffler wrapped around her neck. It made her look like a sort of bulky man, but the look was belied by her small, pretty hands. She was very obviously a woman playing a man. When the film started, I thought ‘Gulu’ was just pretending to be male (in connivance witj Mala et al) and would emerge as a woman after Moti Singh had arrived (I’m going the Love in Tokyo way, now)… alas, no. It played out so differently.

      I liked the chemistry between Mala Sinha and Shammi Kapoor. I wish the film had concentrated more on them, because the Chand Usmani-Rohit Tony couple only had one set of things to say to each other in each scene they shared: “Mujhe vaapas le lo/mere paas vaapas aa jaao” and “Ab mera-tumhaara koi vaasta nahin”!

  6. The narrative did sound interesting, at least the way you’ve written it. :) Pity though it’s a nondescript film. I’d like to watch it though for Ranikhet, and Geeta Bali playing Gulu.

    • The setting actually reminded me of your photos of Kaphal. :-) You’d like that aspect of it, at least – and it’s not a terrible film, just not as good as most of Shammi’s later films.

  7. Madhu! What can I say? I Skip reading all these stories if I can possibly help it but by Golly You sure can write!!! It is the way You put it across that made Me persevere & I am so glad that I did & enjoyed the Story as well You should have been a Producer/Director of Films & You would have been the Best!!!

    • Edu, thank you so much! That is one of the sweetest things anyone’s ever said to me on my blog. Bless you – you’re a gem. But you already know that, don’t you? There are so many of us out here who love you to bits. :-)

  8. Dustedoff, I am a regular silent reader and enjoy your posts. So this marks my first comment. This movie must have been very painful to watch – Geeta bali in male role !! What a waste of feminity. On a related note you must do a Top 10 Disappointing movies – So much expected and nothing to enjoy. Where does this movie rank? I am fresh from watching “House Number 44″ and dont want to watch Rangeen Raatein immediately.

    • Thank you for commenting, Ravi! (and for reading, even if you don’t comment) ;-)

      Yes, I’ve been toying with the idea of a ‘ten most disappointing films’ post for a while now – but I don’t know where to begin! Honestly, I think the most painful film I’ve ever sat through – from the pre-70s era – was the Nanda-Jeetendra starrer Parivar: it was simply awful. There are others, too, that I don’t like for various reasons, but in many cases (as in Rangeen Raatein, actually), there is something to act as a counterweight. In this case, the music was great, the ambience was wonderful, and the basic premise wasn’t bad. Except for the choppy script, and the crazy idea of having Geeta Bali act as a man, it wasn’t unbearable.

  9. The actress who plays Moti Bai I think is Nazira, she was also there in Baawre Nain. The movie’s only claim to fame was casting Geeta Bali as a man, it was a rather brave thing to do and involved a huge risk. I can’t think of any other Bollywood movie where this was done.

    • It’s been a while since I watched Baawre Nain (and I must admit it wasn’t one of my favourite films!), so my memories of it are hazy. But you could be right.

      I haven’t come across any other Bollywood film (or, actually, any other film) where an adult actor or actress played someone of the opposite sex. Fairly common, especially in old Hindi films, for little girls to play boys (remember Daisy Irani, or even Sarika? Boys in quite a few films), but not adults…

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