(okay, if you speak Hindi, and have seen this film, that title is hilarious! Or at least, I find it funny) There was a “Best of Shammi” collection on sale at my local DVD store and I couldn’t resist. So be prepared for a fair number of Shammi films over the next few Fridays. Although I don’t know if any of them will be able to measure up to this one!
Oh Shammi Kapoor, where have you been all my life! Or more accurately, “Oh Shammi Kapoor movies! Where have you been all my life?” Because it’s not just about Shammi himself, wonder though he is, it’s about the kind of films that were created in his image, or that he created his image for, one way or the other. Silly modern happy fluff with lots of great set designs and costumes and wonderful heroines.
(See? The title of this post is hilarious!)
This movie was in my “Best of Shammi” set, but really it is “Best of Sharmila”. She is the true star of the film, down to the multiple costume changes, double role, and songs built around her. Shammi is just there to provide cheerful shaggy support to her journey.
And that’s wonderful! I am so excited today to have as much as a heroine with a recognizable job, or a willingness to rebel against her father. And here’s Sharmila, independent jetsetter looking for love in a fabulous Parisian apartment, 51 years ago. Oh, and she is introduced as having already had 3 failed love stories, and that doesn’t even come up again! Today, if a woman has love in her past, it has to be explained and over explained, or argued away, or even made into a whole emotional journey for the film (Dear Zindagi), instead of just being “oh well, they didn’t work out, and she is looking for love again”.
And all of this without turning her into a horrible person! She is friendly and kind and loves her father, and she won’t kiss before marriage. She just also likes to date and dance and wear modern clothes and go on fabulous vacations. As who wouldn’t? I also think Sharmila in this movie may have my ideal “if I could trade places with any one movie character, who would it be?” kind of life. The clothes! The nightclubs! The travel! The bouffant!
(You can see why Karan Johar wanted to imitate it)
I could go on and on about how refreshing the female character is, and all the gender dynamics (Shammi falls for her because of her independence, not in spite of it), but really the gender stuff is just part of a larger message of globalization. This film came between Sangam‘s revolutionary overseas sequence, and DDLJ‘s revolutionary NRI hero, and it is the perfect balancing point between them. Showing a modern young India, comfortable abroad while still not necessarily at home there.
But to get into that fully, I need SPOILERS. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
We start with Sharmila. Because, like I said, she is the real “hero” of the film. A young woman traveling alone to Paris because she is looking for love and Paris is the place to find it. But, she isn’t a hard-hearted evil person just because she is rich and modern. She is greeted by her father’s Parisian business manager and the Sikh driver he has hired for her, and immediately calls him “Uncle” and insists that both men call her by her first name, “Deepa”, instead of “Ma’am”. She is kind and warm and relates to people, while still being confident and having no problem traveling alone and wearing cool modern outfits. Oh, and her new “uncle” and driver aren’t exactly shocked by this. Pleasant surprise, but not shocking. They are prepared for this rich modern woman to be nice and warm and loving along with independent. They arranged for a gorgeous modern apartment for her, but also a lovely young desi student to share it with her since obviously she will want to make friends. Which she does, Sharmila is delighted to have another young woman to share all this luxury with.
And then Sharmila gets a backstory! Heroines never get backstories! But she does. Explaining to her new friend that she came to Paris because her heart had been broken by Indian men who just seemed to love her for her money. So she is starting fresh in Paris, ready to fall in love again, this time pretending to be poor.
This is the bit of the film when it changes from “Indians-At Home Anywhere!” to “Indians-Always a Little Bit of India No Matter Where They Go”. See, to be “poor”, Sharmila dresses up as a sort of gypsy street dancer type. Which doesn’t exactly makes sense in the Parisian context (not a lot of poor Indian gypsy street dancers there). But is a gorgeous triumphantly proud visual, this iconic Indian image running through the streets of Paris. See, this film doesn’t need to give the over-emphatic explanations of how much better Indians are than anyone else like Sangam did in it’s overseas portion. But it also isn’t ready for the NRIs who disappear into the landscape like DDLJ. No, this India is there, moving through the world, but also still essentially itself.
Oh, and then plot happens. Sharmila meets a Frenchman who speaks a little Hindi, he rushes to tell his friend Shammi Kapoor that he has met a beautiful Indian woman who claims all Indian men just want money and don’t know how to romance, Shammi is intrigued and chases down Sharmila and charms her, pretending to be a Frenchman-who-speaks-Hindi, not Indian.
This whole section is just delightfully delightful and lighter than air. I wonder if this is the kind of feel Aditya Chopra was going for in Befikre? That very French (or 1960s Shammi Kapoor movie) feel that nothing really matters that much and romance is everything. We are never quite sure when Shammi switches from wanting to teach a lesson to the woman who doesn’t believe Indian men can romance to being actually in love with her. And it’s not clear when Sharmila starts to find him charming instead of irritating. But it doesn’t matter really, because there is waterskiing and helicopters (Shammi is possibly a helicopter salesman? Or guide? Or just owns a lot of them?), and a random section in which Sharmila acts as a nurse.
Just to run through this plot very quickly so you can get a sense of how eventful and yet inconsequential it is, Shammi starts romancing Sharmila, initially believing her story that she is poor. Then he goes to her house with flowers and learns she is the employer not the employee, but it doesn’t seem to matter or come up again. Shammi chases Sharmila and her friends down when she goes on a picnic with Pran (Pran is evil and wearing a blonde wig. Pran is also clearly supposed to be Prem Chopra, but I guess Prem was busy so they had to make do). And then keeps chasing her when she decides to dedicate her life to good works and give up on love, and goes to be a nurse in Switzerland (why? Doesn’t matter! She looks good in a nurse’s cap). Finally, after a lot of flirtation and back and forth, Sharmila goes off with Pran to teach Shammi a lesson, he gets her drunk and takes her back to her room, Shammi tricks him into leaving her alone and in her drunken state, she confesses her love. Shammi, a gentleman, puts her to bed and spends the night on the floor. The next morning, Sharmila leaves with her friend/campanion, having left behind a note saying she is terribly ashamed of her behavior and doesn’t want to see him again. Shammi chases her down (again) and sings her a love song from a helicopter and then whisks her away in that same helicopter. Finally, misunderstandings over, he proposes and she accepts.
But again, none of that matters. All you really need is “Sharmila and Shammi fall in love and get engaged, Pran is there too and is bad.” The rest of it is just spectacle, seeing Sharmila in a nurse’s uniform, Shammi in a helicopter, and so on and so on. Well, I shouldn’t say “just” spectacle. Spectacle is important! It makes us happy, keeps us entertained. And sets the tone for what kind of a movie this is and a story it is telling. Our hero and heroine are funny happy people who are having a funny happy love story. No need for a lot of angst over falling in love or courtship, sometimes it can just be happy and natural and easy. With helicopters.
And then it gets WEIRD! Pran, angry at having been jilted by Sharmila, goes to a nightclub and is introduced by his scary bookie to “Suzy”, a French-Indian nightclub singer also played by Sharmila! And a plot is hatched, to replace Sharmila with Suzy, marry Suzy-Sharmila to Pran, and steal all her money. It’s not a great plan.
But who cares about the plan, the other stuff is so fascinating! First, there is this whole band of evil desi gangsters in Paris. Which is just never even discussed, there is no big “why did they turn evil? Is it because they were removed from the motherland? Were they exiled and not really Indian because of their evil?”, no, some desis are bad and some desis are good and some of them live in India and some of them live in Paris.
Second, Suzy! Who isn’t “good”, but isn’t really bad either, she is just cheerfully willing to make some money. And, she’s still played by Sharmila! Classy heroine Sharmila Tagore, happily doing the “Item Girl” role. And it isn’t even a thing! There was soooooooo much made of Katrina doing “Chikni Chameli” and Kareena doing “Fevicol Se”, and here we are decades earlier and one of the leading stars is wearing a swimsuit and doing a sexy nightclub number and generally playing a “bad woman”.
Oh, and then there’s a twist! Well, two twists. First, Shammi and Sharmila (the “real” one) had a fight the night before. He shows up to apologize and almost immediately realizes that this isn’t the “real” Sharmila. Not because she looks different or dresses different or anything like that, but because he knows the woman he fell in love with and this isn’t her.
Oh, and when he confronts her with it, of course “Suzy” is already in love with him and offers to help him rescue Sharmila, if he will marry her, “Suzy” instead. Which is surprising! Not that she is immediately in love, it is Shammi after all. But that she wants to get married. She may be a sexy nightclub singer, but she still wants to get married. The two things can exist together. The virgin-vamp line is very faint in this film.
And, TWIST! Shammi tells Sharmila’s father (who has just arrived in Paris) the whole story, and he immediately says “Rupa! Sharmila’s long lost twin! It must be her!” SO AWESOME! The sad-bad sibling and the good-happy sibling formula, but for our heroine, not our hero!
And it plays out all the way. At the last minute, the sisters are reunited, “good” Sharmila immediately offers to sacrifice anything for her sister, but “bad” Sharmila actually does sacrifice, trading places with her so she can escape while the “bad” Sharmila remains in captivity in her place. Just like in any separated siblings movie where the “bad” brother at the last minute gives up everything for the sake of the “good” brother.
Final comment about the finale, it also plays out at Niagara falls! So this movie goes from Paris to Switzerland to Canada with no stopping. Like I said, this is India abroad with no barriers. The whole world is there for them to play with, and then fly away in their helicopters back to India.