Ramesh Sippy Week: Seeta Aur Geeta, A Film So Memorable I Didn’t Bother Rewatching It!

This may have been a mistake. I’ve seen this movie 3 times at least, and I did a quick fastforward last night, but I didn’t rewatch it straight through. Usually no one cares/remembers enough to correct me when I make mistakes in this situation, but it’s Seeta Aur Geeta, so I have a sinking feeling that my ignorance will be apparent to many many people. Oh well, forgive me! And correct me! And understand why I am speaking in general terms about the plot instead of saying “the first time so-and-so meets such-and-such, they say…”

When my sister was in grad school, her roommate from Eastern Europe vaguely remembered seeing Indian films in his childhood, specifically there was some movie with a ceiling fan that he really REALLY loved. After hearing that from one person, I’ve started keeping my ear to the ground, and I think I have heard it from other eastern Europeans, and people from elsewhere in the non-Asian parts of the world. In the 70s-80s, there was an established trade route for Indian films all over the world, that’s something I don’t need to confirm anecdotally, it’s just fact. But what I am getting through anecdotes is that, somehow, Seeta Aur Geeta was that one movie of the era that you, a small child who didn’t regularly watch Hindi films or even speak Hindi, would remember and just absolutely LOVE.

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We’ve talked before about the kind of “Krishna Hero” idea, the trickster hero who breaks all the rules in a joyful way. It’s not about being a bad boy, so much as being a “naughty” boy. He’s a conman, a flirt, and he does the crazy rule breaking things we wish we could. But on the other hand, he has his own code of honor, and justice. And over the course of the film, he grows up a little bit and realizes the world is bigger than his tricks, although he is still not trapped by the rules. Just like little boy Krishna growing into big Prince Krishna, or Bahubali 2 growing into a king, or Jai and Veeru in Sholay growing into Heroes. This movie is exciting and different, because it has a trickster HEROINE.

Hema in this film looks at the world and sees how she can make it work for her, she flirts like crazy, she does tricks, she laughs at danger, she doesn’t care what people think of her so long as she feels sure she is right. And she will lie, trick, threaten, whatever it takes to punish the Bad People, and win her True Love. On the other hand, when the plot turns serious (very very late in the film) she also reveals her essential decency and kindness.

This is a super rare kind of female role, and Hema plays it beautifully. Hema is a good all around actress, but in a role like this you realize why she was a Star. Because truly, it’s a hard role to play! Childish, but also adult. Immoral but still lovable. Able to reveal her thoughts to the audience, but not to the characters onscreen with her. She had this movie, she also had Dream Girl, and I am sure many other roles where I haven’t seen her. She could play the “regular” sacrificing heroine if she had to, but the fun wild heroines were where she shone. Sridevi is the only actress besides Hema that I can picture really grasping this persona, no wonder she remade Seeta Aur Geeta in Chaalbaaz.

Because it is a female Krishna, somehow Hema’s character is even better than the male version. Maybe it is the way the sexuality is downplayed, or the way the violence is played for laughs, or just the AMAZING costumes. But for whatever reason, of all the childlike Krishna lead characters, it is Hema in Seeta Aur Geeta that the children of the world love and remember.

Now, I saw this movie as an adult. And as an adult woman, Hema was fine, but Dharmendra and Sanjeev Kumar were FOINE!!!! (sp?) What I am saying is, to support this female lead film with a female double role, they cast two very juicy and contrasting male leads. Totally a bad boy/good boy dynamic.

Dharmendra has earrings and a leather jacket (let me fan myself for a minute), and Sanjeev Kumar makes amused/confused faces and smiles at things a lot (this is all I want from Sanjeev Kumar onscreen). Naturally, our trickster female Krishna heroine is going after that Good Boy because it is far more fun to seduce a good boy, than play with the bad boy. But the audience, not made up of female Krishna’s necessarily, can sit there and happily dream over the bad boy.

This is another Salim-Javed script, and another Ramesh Sippy film, and another Hema Malini role, this time with Dharmendra added. It’s fun to look at these early films as building towards Sholay, looking for the little breadcrumbs along the way. Hema was in place now, Ramesh was going to use her to the utmost and not just as window dressing like in the first movie. Plus Dharmendra was now added, and the crackling Hema-Dharam chemistry on full display. And Sanjeev Kumar, half the Sholay cast was ready to go. Salim-Javed still weren’t though. This script is a magic of construction, everything comes together just so, but it still doesn’t have those powerful lines, and massive Social Statements, they would get to later. And it doesn’t have the depth. This is a children’s movie, in the end, while Sholay was a movie for Adults.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Yes yes, I am aware of Ram Aur Shyam! Let me get there! Dilip Kumar in the 1960s famously went to a psychiatrist who told him, to cure his depression, he needed to sign a comedy. I thought this was a silly story for years, but then I did Sex Week to cure my February blues and it really worked! So yeah, a dark fictional world can bring you down and a light one can cure you, for real. Anyway, Ram Aur Shyam was the first famous double role/mistaken identity movie. And yes, it is a remake of an NTR Telugu film, LET ME GET THERE!

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Anyhoo, Seeta Aur Geeta is more or less Ram Aur Shyam but with the genders flipped. But also, kind of not? Like, the original set-up is the same. A gypsy woman helps a rich woman give birth and keeps one of the twin babies for herself without telling anyone. Years later, the gypsy baby has grown up carefree and fearless and happy and has a grumpy friendship with a local of the same age. The rich baby has been orphaned and grown up weak and cowardly and is now abused by his/her jealous relatives. And then the rich baby runs away from home at the same time the gypsy baby is on the run from the police for a minor infraction, they get confused and the gypsy baby goes home to the rich house and whips everyone into shape and ends up romancing the “proper” rich baby’s arranged fiance/e, while the rich baby goes to the gypsy house and ends up winning over the touch best friend with his/her sweetness. And then there’s a big fight scene. And a double wedding. THE END.

As you can see from that description, it is essentially already the perfect film. A great plot that crosses the line of “unbelievable” and circles all the way back to “has it’s own kooky logic”. Great fish out of water humor from both directions, great fun role for the lead in two very different parts, and great romances from both directions as the romantic partners try to figure out how the person they thought they knew has changed. Plus, ends with a double wedding!!!! Best Possible Ending. Well, second only to the birth of another set of twins.

The gender flip immediately shifts the weight of the film. In the original, we had cocky Dilip playing a kind of familiar hero role, and then the hilariousness of seeing him play a sweet sensitive abused coward. The fun wacky strange memorable part was seeing a Hero play a coward. In the female version, the fun wacky strange memorable part is seeing a Heroine play a street tough con artist. The boring “good” heroine gets only a few scenes and most of the time we are starring at Dharam Garam anyway.

There’s already a social message in the original, that the “rich” twin turned out to have the terrible life while the “poor” twin was happy, but again the gender flip shifts that. Our heroine who is locked in the house, who wears sari, who is sweet and has all the female virtues, is the one who suffers and is miserable. The heroine who is out on the streets working all day every day is the one who is happy and confident and strong. It’s an extreme version of reality, our working heroine is a gypsy street performer (not an office worker) and our “homely” heroine is scrubbing floors like a cinderella and being whipped, not doing light housework. But it’s still saying “going out in the world and earning your own money makes a woman healthy wealthy and wise, staying safely in the home makes her miserable and endangered”.

And then we have the way the actual plot was ever so slightly tweaked. Street Hema is found by Rich Hema’s family and escapes them, immediately seeing they are evil, only to land up in the car of sweet doctor Sanjeev Kumar who previously met Home Hema as a potential fiancee. Sanjeev Kumar saw there was something weird when he met Home Hema and confirms it with Street Hema’s experience of the family. He “rescues” her in the best sense. Hema is tough, she escaped on her own, but Sanjeev is the one who finds the legal documents and gives her the educated manly tools to help her save herself. That fine line of acknowledging the power men have in society, while not making them the “savior”. I have to admit, I haven’t seen Ram Aur Shyam, but I can’t imagine that the rich girl was required to help Street Dilip figure out how to defeat his evil relatives, that’s something a man can do on his own.

And there’s the dramatic sacrifice at the end. Street Hema learns that Home Hema is being held captive and is forced to play drunk at a party and destroy her relationship with Sanjeev, convince him to leave her so she will be free to marry Evil Man her family has chosen. The sinfulness of a drunken loose woman is specifically gendered, as is the female pain of losing her love. Especially for Street Hema, who has always been in control of her own life, to play a woman losing control is devestating.

Finally, there’s my terminology “street” Hema and “home” Hema, which only makes sense because it is in the city. The original was in the country, not the city. Putting this story in the city makes it different, both Hemas were in the same place all along, and the reality of city life is that two people can be right next to each other and never overlap. It also puts “home” Hema and her troubles in a different light, she is surrounded by people, but doesn’t feel safe going to any of them for help. Most of all, it puts the rapid class leap of “street” Hema in a new light. She starts out as a gypsy in fancy performing clothes, but once she comes into her new position, she quickly gets a kicky modern 70s wardrobe (and hair!), learns how to roller skate, goes to sit by hotel pools, and is over all the perfect modern rich woman. This is city living, class can be leaped with just a few new clothes.

But most of all, it’s the change I talked about in the beginning, making our “Krishna” hero into a heroine. Street Hema woos confused/bemused Sanjeev Kumar (including scarring off sexy other women), she defeats her relatives, she rescues her poor Grandma, she goes through torment when she realizes her sister is kidnapped and endangered and she must sacrifice her love, and then once she is in control again and breaking into the kidnappers lair to rescue her sister, she confidently defeats the goons (with the assistance of her loyal followers, Dharam and Sanjeev), culminating in a straight up Errol Flynn style swordfight with the big bad! There’s even that moment when she has him defeated, but honorably steps back to let him pick up his sword again. Hema is not a heroine overcoming her fear and rising to the occasion, she is a straight up Hero, fearless and confident of success and always perfect. How wonderful! How delightul! How absolutely perfectly Ramesh Sippy!

19 thoughts on “Ramesh Sippy Week: Seeta Aur Geeta, A Film So Memorable I Didn’t Bother Rewatching It!

    • Yes, Ramudu-Bheemudu (1964). However, the first Telugu movie with double role and swapping positions was “Iddaru Mitrulu” in 1961. I got to know only today that this movie too was a remake of a Bengali movie.

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      • Iddaru Mitrulu starred ANR, and wasn’t it the first production for Annapurna Productions (their home comapany)? Yes, it was based on a Bengali novel. A lot of Telugu films were in those days, and ANR starred in most of them.

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        • I dont think it’s the first. AFAIK, Donga Ramudu was the first production and ANR was only a partner whereas Dukkipati Madhusudhana Rao was the producer in the titles. Later in 70s, when ANR shifted to Hyderabad, he started Annapurna Studios banner.

          A lot of Telugu movies (esp. by Vijaya banner) were based on Bengali novels and later remade into Tamil and Bengali – like Devadas. But, this movie was a remake of Bengali film as per wiki, hence I was surprised.

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  1. MARGARET. OT but I need you to commiserate with me. Shub etc. is playing here in one chain of theatres, several of which are close to me, but ONLY this weekend at times when I already have other things planned that cannot be canceled. Why do they do this to meeeee?

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  2. I love this movie so much and it’s been so hard to get a good copy on DVD! And it doesn’t usually stream anywhere in good quality. I am so excited about any potential remake in the future! (I would cast Bhumi in the role for some reason). What is the status of the Farrah Khan remake of that over film based on 7 Brides for 7 Brothers…I was so excited about the prospect of Hrithik and Anushka in the leads which was floated at one point…

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    • Boy, I don’t know who I would cast for a current one! That kind of light silly fake-but-not-fake acting is really hard to do. The actresses now are so boringly “realistic”, I want one who can do the crazy facial expressions and physical humor. Maybe Kriti? I know I’m the only one who saw it, but she did a lot of kind of over the top fun stuff in Arjun Patiala.

      On Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 8:59 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I really do like Kriti, too! She has so much potential. Wish I had heard better things about Arjun Patiala overall…I really wanted to like that one. If Jacqueline could pull off the more dramatic moments, I might like her in a Seeta remake. She wasn’t terrible in Brothers, but she could totally pull off the comedic stuff. Too bad Rani never did a remake of it…she would have been perfect. Alia and Kangana could probably pull it off. Anushka would also be interesting but I have no idea where her career is going right now.

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        • I was thinking of Rani as another actress who played a “female Krishna” kind of role in Aiyyaa. I would love to see her in a Seeta Aur Geeta part if it was rewritten to be slightly older. A young Juhi would have worked too, she was great at physical comedy.

          I don’t know if Alia or Kangana could do it! Comedy is really hard, and I haven’t believed them in the few physical comedy things I’ve seen them do. Kangana fell all the way over to mannered and clownish in Rangoon, and Alia I just feel like she is trying too hard when she tries to be funny.

          On Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 9:47 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Oh, and looks like Rohit and Farah officially announced a movie together last year, as of November it was rumored that it was Hrithik in Satte Pe Satte but then he dropped out, then Farah did a clarification that no one has been officially signed or officially dropped out. So it’s still simmering away on a back burner and may or may not happen. If it was a potential Hrithik project, he may be reconsidering his options now that he has two hits from last year. Could still end up with Farah, but I am sure he has more projects coming his way now than he did before.

      On Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 8:59 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I still hope this one happens with Hrithik in the role…I think it might be a great career move (he should also continue to do the action films but he needs some family fun films too). Anushka would be great in the female lead and they are a jodi that I would really like to see. Or him and Deepika.

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  3. Your plot recall is very impressive! I think the only correction is that Street Hema blew up her wedding all on her own as I understood it, out of guilt at tricking Sanjeev. And the evil aunt’s brother Roopesh Kumar seems to kidnap and try to force the marriage all on his own, too, without any help from the family. Oh, and Home Hema has more than a few scenes, we spend the whole first part of the movie watching her be miserable and whipped, that was kind of hard to see, for me.

    Otherwise, this is a very silly movie. I spent a long stretch in the middle thinking about how compelling it is as the audience to know something important that the characters don’t, it creates such a strong feeling of suspense until the truth is revealed. I really wanted the Hemas to be in on the secret, though, like in The Parent Trap. Otherwise their choices to stay with the wrong family are hard to believe. I think they held off the reveal a bit to long, and then rushed it. The ending fight scene is epic, in a comic way. So many goons! Wherever was he keeping them all?

    This might be a crazy question, but they do marry the guys they fell in love with, right? The wedding was still photos that flashed by fast, and then in the wedding night comic switcheroo it looked for a moment like Home Hema married Sanjeev and Street Hema married Dharmendra.

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    • Oh, I am remembering that stressed feeling now! I really wanted Street Hema to know about Home Hema so she could rescue her. Which is a tribute to the script construction, that I was thinking of them as such different people, and I was counting on Hema to rescue Hema, not thinking of the men at all. If I remember right, they do give a nod to why they would stay. Home Hema is obviously so traumatized that she can’t think straight and is just enjoying being with a mother who loves her. But Street Hema finds the Grandma, right? So if she was originally planning to just stay for the adventure, that goes away once she is trapped staying to save Grandma. It’s not a great reason, and I would think that I would be wondering more about who my doppelganger is and why we look alike, but they do some vague sketched in reason which is more than other scripts do.

      I just rewatched, and there is this cute bit when Street Hema refuses to be the “good wife” and be tied to Sanjeev to follow him around the fire, so that’s definitely the right wife at the wedding. And then they play a little joke on their husbands that night, which makes me feel better about Home Hema. That she has a “naughty” sister who is going to drag her into silly practical jokes for the rest of their lives.

      Bonus trivia for you as a newbie: The evil cousin is Honey Irani, Farhan and Zoya Akhtar’s mother. And sister of Daisy Irani (who played Boman’s mother in Happy New Year). She was only like 16 in this, they were a family of bit players and child actors so this kind of small role was perfect for an Irani, and she and Javed Akhtar fell in love on set. Leading to Javed sending Salim over to talk to their mother, leading to Salim trying to lowkey torpedo the marriage in a scene later reworked and used in Sholay. And I already told you about the love triangle on the sets of Sholay that ended with Hema picking Dharmendra and Sanjeev drinking alone, that started on the sets of this movie. Both men were all about Hema, Hema hadn’t made up her mind yet, but by golly when I look at how she reacts to Dharmendra versus Sanjeev I feel like it was already too late for her. Sanjeev was a very nice men, but Dharmendra is Garam Dharam.

      Here’s Honey with Hema (the lovely ladies at cinemachaat identify her wrong in their screenshots which unfortunately are the most common google search results). She really does look 16, now that I look at her!

      On Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 10:37 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Interesting! I did wonder about that girl – it’s a thankless part – but not to the point of looking her up.

        Thanks for clearing up the marriage, that’s a relief. I had a moment at the end of wait, don’t tell me they just retreated to the “appropriate” pairing after all that!

        Agree about Hema and Dharmendra, no question.

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        • Yeah, it made sense to me when I learned she was only 16. It’s a decent part for a teenager trying to make it in adult roles, and if she hadn’t married Javed, it could have turned into more and more “best friend” and “sister” parts. Nothing wrong with that.

          On Fri, Feb 21, 2020 at 12:49 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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