Oh well, better late than never. I got caught up in FilmFare yesterday and missed this post. But I am making up for it now!
Well, this is a fun movie! Not a brilliant perfect movie, but super fun. I put in that disclaimer because this is the start of Ramesh Sippy week, and eventually he WOULD make brilliant perfect movies. Just not this one.
But this is such a great movie! And it’s one of those movies where you are surprised at how delightfully progressive and not-serious it is. Stuff happens that, in a modern movie, would be all angsty and impossible and DRAMA. But in a movie from 1971, it’s just one song and we move on. Life’s fun, nothing bad lasts long, and the clothes are FABULOUS.
It’s also a movie with a nice balance of Masala versus focused. This is a love story, and it’s a very small simple focused love story. And then there is a tiny subplot of Bad People doing Bad Things, but it hardly matters. So we get fun fight scenes and Bad People costuming, but it doesn’t really interrupt the main storyline. It’s a more focused script than a lot of the 100 minute movies we get today!
Not that surprising, it’s a Salim-Javed movie! One of the first ones. Still a bit shakey, a little awkward how they insert the Bad People into the plot, but the story is really good. Maybe it’s also partly the cast that is throwing them? Shammi is always and forever going to play Shammi, he’s not a guy for a big poetic speech, he’s the guy for the cheerful song and playing with kids. Hema’s there too, but it’s kind of early in her career so she is gorgeous and lovely and all that but not really doing the big fun speeches like she did in Sholay. So it doesn’t have that epic meaningful words feel of later Salim-Javed. Which is also part of the “life’s fun”! lesson.
Really, watch this next time you feel a little down, it’s guaranteed to make you smile and get over whatever is worrying you.
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There’s one important lesson to learn from this movie. If you have sex with your boyfriend, the next day you will be pregnant and he will be dead. Every time. Guaranteed. Just don’t do it.
That’s the Moral of the Story, but it takes us a while to get there. First, we meet Shammi Kapoor as a single father to his adorable daughter, who lives in the family estate with his mother and works hard managing the property and so on. While playing with his daughter, he meets her new teacher, pretty Hema Malini. Later he takes his daughter over to Hema’s house and sees Hema with her adorable small son and learns she is a widow. The two kids are friends and go off playing together and get lost. Hema and Shammi look for them together and, in this emotional moment, Hema tells him how she had sex with her boyfriend Rajesh Khanna, and then he died, and she was pregnant (Sex of Death! And LIFE!). His family rejected her, but a priest took her in, and eventually helped her get the teaching job at the Catholic school where she now works. Hema and Shammi keep hanging out together and eventually, after a lot of thinking and internal angst, decide to forget their respective lost loves and get married. Everyone is happy, but then Shammi’s Evil Brother Roopesh Kumar shows up and poisons Shammi’s mother against Hema since she is a Fallen Woman. Shammi confronts his mother after she scared Hema off and makes her admit that HE IS ILLIGITIMATE HIMSELF!!!! Not “adopted” like everyone says. And then the villagers show up to confront Shammi because Roopesh raped a village woman who killed herself, Shammi beats up and throws out Roopesh, and then rushes to the train station to stop Hema who is about to leave with Rajesh’s father who has finally come around. Happy Ending.
I joked a bit about the “moral of the story”. The real moral is to not judge “fallen women”, because their lives can turn out fine. There’s Hema and her whole sad story, but then the late in the game twist that Shammi’s mother was in the same position as Hema and her husband accepted and adopted her illegitimate son. And finally the sad story of the village woman who killed herself after being raped. She didn’t have to do that! Her life could have continued, she could have found a way to go on. So I guess a double moral, to the other people around them not to judge fallen women, and to the women themselves not to give up hope because things get better.
The other moral is that Shammi is the BEST! In a way that is related to that whole “fallen women” thing. Since Shammi’s character is adopted/illegitimate, he is already seen as not quite part of society, a little bit damaged, which makes him already sympathetic with other people society looks down on. He has no judgement for Hema’s story, just sympathy. And his slow growing love for her and cautious decision to marry her is not affected by her past, he looks at her as someone has loved and lost just as he has.
Not only is there sex, there’s abortion! Shammi’s dead wife, in flashback, is revealed to have known that pregnancy would kill her. Her doctor gave her reasonable medical advice to end the pregnancy, and she chose not to, and not to tell her husband. Shammi’s reaction, once he learned the truth, was horror that she had not ended the pregnancy in some failed attempt to please him. It is her sacrifice that scarred him, not her death. This movie is all about female options! Women can have sex and have babies outside of marriage, and shouldn’t be judged. Women can have abortions for medical reasons inside of marriage and their husbands will support their decisions. Shammi just wants the women around him to be happy and alive and free.
And then there’s Evil Roopesh Kumar. He is the wild and Bad 70s city boy. He wears bright pastel clothing and has wild parties with white women. BAD! And again, MORAL! Roopesh is the legitimate son, the one who has had everything handed to him, and no one ever judges him. Therefore, he grew up to be a terrible person. While poor Hema is being judged and shamed for her “sin” of sleeping with her boyfriend, Roopesh can do whatever he wants and society looks the other way.
Along the same lines, there is the way the rape of poor Aruna Irani is positioned as SHAMMI’s fault, not hers or her rapists. Evil City People lead by Roopesh attack her, and Aruna sees Shammi in the distance and calls for help, but he thinks she is playing a game and ignores her. The film puts us fully in Aruna’s position in this moment, the same sequence could easily be shot from Shammi’s side as him happily driving a car and ignoring the silly village woman. It would be more dramatically rich that way, have this small moment and then it comes back to haunt us all (Shammi and the audience) later when we learn the truth. But instead, we are from Aruna’s side, furious at Shammi for not taking her seriously. The women are not at fault for the things that happen to them, it is society/men around them and their reactions that are the moment of choice between good and bad.
Let’s see, what else to say? I have never been in a situation where, because my clothes got wet, I felt there was no other option but to get a hotel room for the night and have sex. What is this strange fear of just going all the way home in wet clothes???? Shammi Kapoor playing the loving single father widower is super poignant since in real life he WAS the loving single father widower at this moment. This is a great movie for admiring Hema’s “Indian Beauty”, her body and face look amazing in simple saris and heavy eyeliner. And the train scene is a fun little variation on the end of Sholay, with Hema not getting on the train and staying with her lover, instead of being waiting on the train to get the heck out of the village with her lover.