I am a fan of Meena Shorey’s. I find her a delight to watch: those eyes are very expressive, her smile is wonderful, and the characters she plays seem to be invariably feisty, self-assured young women who are resourceful and witty. Just my type. I’d already watched (and adored) Meena Shorey in Ek Thi Ladki and Dholak, so when my father offered to lend me his VCD of Ek Do Teen, I pounced on it. Meena Shorey with Motilal. Directed by Roop K Shorey, and with music by Vinod. Could it get any better?
Ek Do Teen starts off promisingly enough. Roma (Meena Shorey) and a bunch of her friends have been visiting one of their group, Asha (the also-delightful Yashodhara Katju), who has recently got married. Yashodhara’s husband Shekhar (a very young Iftekhar) is a Superintendent of Police. The girls pull his leg quite a bit, so he leaves the scene pretty quickly.
After a song and dance [a group of women get together and don’t sing a song? Can that ever be? This time it’s Bela-bum-beena aaya hai saawan ka mast mahina; a good saheli song], the party comes to an end. Roma, who lives nearby, decides to walk home, and this proves her undoing, because two robbers leap on her and try to grab her bag.
A woman with more sense would probably have thrown the bag at them and run for her life, but Roma opts to take them on—and is abysmally outnumbered. Obviously. She fights back, but when one of the robbers pulls out a lethal-looking dagger, Roma catches one glimpse of it and faints right away. [Okay, I take back my words about Meena Shorey playing feisty and smart women].
Fortunately for her, just as the robbers are trying to pick her up and carry her into a dark alley, rescuers arrive. These are Motilal ‘Moti’ (Motilal) and his friend Heeralal (Majnu), who were driving past in a car and pull up when they see what’s going on. They chase off the robbers, and finding Roma unconscious, ponder over what should be done with her. Moti finally figures that the best thing would be to take her to his home, where a doctor can be fetched and she can be looked after until she recovers.
This they do, and Roma, when she does come to her senses [and after the mandatory “Main kahaan hoon?”] gives Motilal a patient hearing when he tells her how she happens to be in this strange house, with these two strange men. She is soon convinced that they mean her no harm—and that, in fact, she should be grateful to them for their help.
There is instant chemistry between Moti and Roma, with shy glances and gentle smiles on both sides. Moti, though, realises that there are more practical considerations: would Roma like to phone home? She does, to inform her father Sir Mansukh Lal (?), who nearly has an apoplectic fit when he hears that some man has taken his daughter off to his home. Before Roma can explain things, her father gets the address of Moti’s house from her, and bangs the phone down.
A short while later, a furious Sir Mansukh Lal arrives at Moti’s home, intent on rescuing his daughter from this den of vice. He’s yelling blue murder and promising to tear Moti apart limb from limb, with Moti and Roma trying to reason with him but not succeeding at all.
Hearing this commotion, downstairs comes Moti’s father (?), in an irritated and deeply suspicious frame of mind.
Who is this girl? He asks Moti, and Moti blabbers that she’s a girl he’s brought home. Oh? [Cold look at Roma, followed by more fury directed at Moti]. “No, no,” Moti hurries to clarify, “she was unconscious at the time. [Which, of course, puts the fat straight in the fire]. The two old men have a massive quarrel and come close to fisticuffs, until Mansukh Lal drags his [to him, errant] daughter home.
But, as I’ve already mentioned, Moti and Roma have fallen in love, and their love progresses swiftly, through meetings and phone calls (eavesdropped upon—and with the participation of—Asha and Heeralal on either side).
Roma’s father, when the topic of a Roma-Moti match is broached, puts his foot down very firmly. No; he will not let Roma marry a no-good, who-knows-what.
Thankfully for the two lovebirds, this obstacle is soon removed. Moti, creeping into Mansukh Lal’s house to meet Roma, is mistaken for a burglar, and the cops are sent for. Who should arrive but the SP, Shekhar—Asha’s husband, and (as it turns out), one of Moti’s best friends. [An SP, going to arrest a common thief? Ah, well. We live and learn]. Shekhar is able to assure Mansukh Lal that Moti is not just an honest and upright man, but that his father is also a crorepati. All those beautiful millions will someday be Moti’s.
This turns the tables, and Roma’s father is very eager to say yes to the match. So Moti and Roma are engaged to be married, and there’s much happiness all around. Everything is ready, and they’re about to send out the invitations when Moti’s father suddenly falls ill. [He seems to have had a heart attack, but it’s never actually spelled out].
Now that he’s on his deathbed, the old man realises that he should have a last chat with Moti. He politely asks the others—Roma, Mansukh Lal, Asha and Shekhar—to leave the room, and tells Moti that he has three pieces of important advice for Moti. So important, that Moti must promise to always follow them. [If they were so important, why not pass them on earlier? As it turns out, the advice, in fact, should probably have been imparted to a youth, not to a man who’s at least in his mid-30s].
Anyway, this is what the old man tells his son:
1. Never drink alcohol; it makes you lose all sense of logic, gets you into gambling and bad company, and ends up bankrupting you.
2. Stay away from wicked women. [“badchalan auratein” is how he describes them, which is really rather vague, leaving Moti to draw whatever inferences he would like].
3. Never confide in a woman. Women are a loyal and good lot, but they are incapable of respecting confidences, says Daddy.
[What a nasty generalisation that is. I can’t wait for this old man to cop it].
Thankfully, having uttered these idiotic platitudes, he does kick the bucket, but with one last request to Mansukh Lal: that Moti and Roma be married as soon as possible.
This is no bother to anyone, so the wedding date is fixed. On the evening they’re going to be married, Roma is busy getting ready…
…while Moti, in the company of Heeralal, is trying to spend some of the money he’s inherited. “There’s so much money here,” he says despairingly, “how shall I spend it?”—which doesn’t sound like a huge problem to me. But Heeralal is more than willing to help. Basically, this is all a stupid digression of the script to allow:
1. A very good song-and-dance by Cuckoo, followed by a brief flirtation between her and Moti, which enables Moti to discover that she is a total fraud.
2. A slapstick free-for-all in a night club, caused by Moti pretending to drink; and
3. The arrest of Moti in connection with this free-for-all.
Naturally, the wedding doesn’t take place, and Mansukh Lal ends up having to come and bail out his future son-in-law. Roma, who’s thoroughly miffed now [this is the second time her wedding has had to be called off], comes to Moti’s office to confront her beloved and try and knock some sense into him.
Moti, far from being repentant, decides to act out a farce to test out the last of poor old dead Daddy’s theories. He’s already discovered that drink and ‘badchalan auratein’, as Daddy said, are best avoided But how about that bit about not confiding in a woman?
So Moti and Heeralal concoct a plan whereby Moti phones Roma, asking her to come to his home to meet him. When Roma arrives, it’s to find his room door locked.
Through the door, though, she can hear Moti angrily telling Heeralal: “You stole a cheque of Rs 75,000 from me! If you don’t return it, I will kill you!” Some indistinct babbling from Heeralal. Then a scream. Roma’s eyes are starting from her head by this point, and she’s hammering away at the door, pleading for Moti to open it.
Moti, meanwhile, has emptied a bottle of blood [I didn’t know you could get them on the market easily—and that too at room temperature. Wouldn’t it coagulate or separate or whatever?] all over the carpet. He also has a huge knife, which he smears with blood.
To add verisimilitude to the scene, he smears blood on his own shirt, and on Heeralal’s clothes. Heeralal is made to change into a fresh set of clothes, and is told to hurry off to Ambala, where he is to disguise himself and stay at a hotel, calling himself Seth Ghanshyam Das.
While Heeralal exits through a back door, Moti lets Roma in. When she sees all the blood and gore, she starts freaking out, and Moti confesses to her that he has killed Heeralal because Heeralal had stolen some money from him. He spins a yarn that he’s chopped up Heeralal’s corpse and burnt it. [Quick work, that, considering he'd been yelling threats at Heeralal just a few minutes earlier].
Roma must not tell anyone. Remember, not a word. [I can see where this comes from. That idiotic bit of advice from the old man].
And [this is where I was really disappointed] Roma, after days of trying to keep it to herself, eventually blurts out the ‘truth’ to her friend Asha. She makes Asha swear that she won’t utter a word to anyone, and Asha tries her best to obey. But it all gets too much, and she too ends up telling her husband that Moti has murdered Heeralal. And, Asha’s husband, Shekhar, being a cop, goes and arrests Moti.
With the result that Moti is tried for the murder of Heeralal, and all that circumstantial evidence—the blood-stained clothes and knives, the vanished Heeralal—piles up against him. Instead of trying to defend himself, Moti quarrels with his own lawyer in court and ends up parting ways with him. He then asks the judge if he may plead his case himself, and is immediately granted permission to do so. [This has to be the most farcical court I’ve ever come across, even in Hindi cinema].
Moti now has Roma summoned to the witness stand, and she—under his interrogation [he isn’t a lawyer, by the way, just in case you were wondering]—blurts out everything that had happened. What she had overheard that night, what she had seen, what he had said. As a result, Moti is sentenced to death. [Um. Without Heeralal’s corpse having been found? And did anyone even analyse those bloodstains?]
So Daddy’s third theory is proven right, and Moti is going to hang for the pleasure of having discovered that. What next?
What I liked about this film:
Meena Shorey in the second half of the film, where she is far more the go-getter I’d expected from the star of Ek Thi Ladki and Dholak: spunky, resourceful, and funny. In one song (Ek do teen hon toh karoon aitbaar), she even lifts Motilal up in her arms for a while!
The songs, with lyrics by Aziz Kashmiri and music by Vinod. The Cuckoo number, Tu jabse gaya pardes, is good old-fashioned dance club style; Lo phir chaand nikal aaya is soulful and beautiful; and Chal meri gaddiye tu chhuk-chhuk-chhuk is the quintessential train song, picturised on Roma, Shyama (Kaushalya, acting as Heeralal’s love interest), and Heeralal. Perfect.
What I didn’t like:
The sheer silliness of much of the first half of the film. Even considering that this was supposed to be a comedy, it was just too over the top to be believable. For example, if Moti did want to test Roma’s ability to keep a secret, why not try for something less likely to be suicidal? And there’s the fact that this entire thing about women being untrustworthy and unable to keep from gossip really got my goat. Terribly sexist.
Verdict? Ek Do Teen is all right, if you’re willing to suspend all disbelief and don’t mind pointless idiocy at times. Otherwise, stick to Ek Thi Ladki (or, better still, Dholak—which is even more fun). If you do want to watch Ek Do Teen, it’s available on Youtube, here.