Such a fun silly movie! With random serious bits at the beginning and end. But mostly silly and fun. And sexy.
There was this brief few year period when Shammi Kapoor was the hottest thing going. His goofy teenage sexy love story energy hit the sweet spot for the new post-Independence generation. They were getting Elvis records from overseas, they were wearing cool new polyster clothes, and they had grown up with popular movie music and happy love stories. They wanted something modern and fun and light and sexy. And Shammi was here for them.
The Era of Shammi was so short, the early movies still had an odd hangover from the serious 50s. And then the late movies were already beginning to feel dated and too happy for angry modern 70s India. There was a brief time right in the middle when Shammi could just be Shammi, but it only lasted about 4 years. Bluffmaster to Brahmachari, that’s the sweetspot.
Professor is one of those earlier movies. It was still a big hit, and Shammi is dreamy, all of that is great. It just doesn’t have the peak lightness of the peak Shammi years. There’s this irritating Moral Message stuck on to the front and back of it, his later films don’t even bother. But you can just kind of ignore those Moral Message sections and be happy. Heck, fastforward the whole opening until Shammi goes in disguise, and the final speech, and you’ve got a nice light romance anyone could love.
Still some slight flaws to it. In every Shammi movie I’ve seen (which is like three, so it isn’t a complete sample), it’s a bit hard to follow when his character turns from “flirty teasing” to “I’m in love for realsies!” I think it’s just because the “flirty teasing” part is so much fun, it’s more fun to watch Shammi play with a girl when his heart isn’t involved, when it is just what boys and girls do, than when he switches to sincere courtship. So we end up having the “flirty teasing” lasting right up to the “confession of love and commitment” part. There’s no yearning, there’s no poetry, there’s no proving his love. It’s all wriggling his fingers at her and tilting his head on the side and running scams. That’s the case here for sure, and the balance is even more off than in other films of his I’ve seen. I truly couldn’t follow when his behavior switched from “I’m going to get one over on her because she got one over on me” to “I love love love her”.
Also, this movie didn’t trust me to just be okay with Shammi as much as I was. Kind of the opposite of his grand-nephew Ranbir’s movies, where I am supposed to be on the side of Ranbir even thought he is doing terrible things to the women around him. this movie had to bend over backward to explain why Shammi was playing these games, and why it was okay, and how he felt bad afterwards. Just relax, movie! I don’t mind that Shammi is tricking everyone! It’s what he does!
So yes, this movie could have been better if it had been during Peak Shammi and let it’s Shamminess fly. But while the movie around him may not have been Peak, Shammi himself definitely was. Such charm, such charisma, such joy! Nothing held back, nothing ever ashamed or changed, a complete overwhelming onscreen charmer. If you need a little of that in your life, check out this movie.
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Great plot, very simple. Shammi is offered a job as a tutor but learns the employer only wants an elderly man. So he goes in disguise as an elderly man. The employer, Lalita Pawar, wants on older man to tutor her young nephew in the same household as her wayward nieces, Kalpana and Parveen Chaudhary. Kalpana torments and teases Shammi in his disguise as an old man, so he meets her again as himself and torments her in turn. Over time, they fall in love. Lalita takes Old Shammi with her to the city to help her solve a legal difficulty with Kalpana’s inheritance. Old Shammi pretends to be ill and asks his “nephew”, Young Shammi, to help. Old Shammi is giving kind advice to Lalita about how to deal with her nieces, and trying to sweeten her up a bit so she will be kinder to him, with the result that Lalita falls in love with Old Shammi. Meanwhile, back home, Parveen has started an affair with Salim Khan who impregnates her. Lalita and Kalpana and Old Shammi return home and Lalita announces she will get Young Shammi engaged to Kalpana at the same time she herself gets engaged to Old Shammi. Shammi tells Kalpana the truth and convinces her to go along with the engagement so they can be together. He also saves Parveen from attempting suicide after Salim leaves her. Lalita learns that Shammi is false and suspects him of impregnating Parveen. Shammi is thrown out of the house but still cares about them, drags Salim over to see ill Parveen and convince him to marry her. Big fight scene, Lalita yelling, suddenly snaps with guilt for her failure to care for her nieces, Shammi gives her a speech about how she can be a true parent to them, she just has to open her heart. Lalita listens and understands and opens her arms, Kalpana and Parveen run to her, Happy Ending.
As I write it out, I see that there are really two themes here and unfortunately they got a bit tangled, leading to a confusing narrative. On the one hand, we have a fascinating very Guru Dutt tale of parent and child. Parveen and Kalpana and their brother are the children of Lalita’s estranged brother. He married for love and moved to the city and became rich. She stayed in the family estate holding firmly to old-fashioned values. Parveen and Kalpana are modern young women struggling to follow Lalita’s restrictive rules. Lalita, with her village mentality, sees all their simple rebellions (like, wearing pants) as terribly dangerous and gives them no freedom. Shammi’s character is the bridge since he is a young person dressed as an old person. The funny thing is, so long as he is wearing his “Professor” disguise, he can say reasonable young person things and Lalita will listen to him. It’s the surface that matters to her, not the content. This all culminates when Lalita learns she has been listening to a young man and her mind cracks and she looses faith in her values. The solution is for Shammi to point out that she was listening to him because, down deep, she had all the tools herself all along. She shouldn’t have doubted her instincts and looked for an older man to guide her, she should have trusted that she has a loving heart and can understand her new responsibilities simply by loving them.
That’s a nice story! Not very fun, not sexy at all, but a nice little lesson about how the older generation has to learn to listen to the younger generation, instead of only taking them seriously when they wear disguises. But then along with that nice little lesson, we have a totally fun silly sexy plot that overlaps.
As the “Professor”, Shammi cannot stand Kalpana. That’s important, it isn’t a “oooo, sexy, I get to see you at home because I am pretending to be an old man”. Instead it is “ooo, I am so frustrated with you! Because I get to see how terribly you treat your tutors!” He can’t fight back after her sister and she trick him into going into the wrong bedroom, or her friends trap him and sing and dance around him, because he is stuck being the “professor”. He has to put on his dress as a young man to fight back. That’s where it gets sexy. Normally a young man would have to be a bit “hands off” and gentle with a young woman, he wouldn’t know the metal of her, wouldn’t know if she would take his teasing lightly. But this time, Shammi can go full bore hard after Kalpana right from the start, steal her scarf from a changing room and threaten to reveal she is sneaking around town buying modern clothing to her guardian, and not feel guilty about it. He knows she is tough, he knows she will laugh it off, he knows he can come on strong. That’s the fun bit, having Professor Shammi know Kalpana as this impossible misbehaving student, and that colors how Teenage Flirt Shammi starts flirting with her.
I guess the messy bit comes when Salim Khan impregnates poor Parveen. It’s not that it doesn’t fit with the rest of the film, it’s that it fits in about 5 different ways and the movie can’t quite decide which it means the most. Is this a parallel with Honorable Shammi and the way his romance with Kalpana remained within acceptable boundaries? Is this about Parveen not trusting Lalita enough to ask her advice? Or is it about Lalita putting in so many rules that she left Parveen open to temptation? Is it about Modern Young People and the terrible things they do? Or is it just completely random and the filmmakers wrote it in because they wanted a thing about pre-marital sex and it fitted as good as anything?
Parveen’s little romance is well-done, except for the end bit of course where the impregnator who abandoned her is forced to marry her and now everything is Happy. Don’t DO that! If a guy really doesn’t want to marry your pregnant daughter/sister/niece/whatever, then don’t let him marry her! This is guaranteeing her either a horrible life, or a short life when her in-laws kill her. Abortion is a thing. So is single parenting. Oh right, the romance. Parveen meets him normally, his cricket ball lands at her feet and she hands it back, but then Lalita sees them together and yells at Parveen for being too friendly. Salim clearly sees the situation and turns it to his advantage, the next time they meet he invites her to a party and teases her about not coming because she is afraid of her aunt. She comes to show him she is not afraid, and when she refuses when he asks her to go off with him alone, he pulls the same trick. Until we are seeing them meeting in a cave outside town like it is a regular thing. Makes total sense, cute boy, says the right things, sex is fun, he loves me, this all happens easily enough every day. And then he gets tired of her and starts missing their meetings and telling her not to be a drag and expect him to be around all the time. Also happens easily enough every day. She finds out she is pregnant, writes him a letter, he panics and claims the baby isn’t his. Yep, young men are weak, totally tracks. She tries to kill herself, and Shammi stops her. Because Shammi is a good person. The film doesn’t have to underline good versus bad too much, we have seen it. Shammi flirts too, and used his knowledge of Kalpana’s aunt to help his romance along. But he never crossed that line, never even thought about crossing a line to where his needs were more than hers. So when he learns Parveen, a nice young woman he barely knows, is pregnant, he is kind and understanding to her and furious with the boy. And then of course tries to force him to marry her, because that will solve all the problems.
Maybe the issue is that Parveen’s pregnancy storyline started out about Lalita but ended up being about Shammi? It’s just odd somehow, doesn’t fit the flow of the storyline. Just like Lalita’s storyline of going from bad to good doesn’t fit with the light romance of Kalpana and Shammi.
I do like Lalita’s storyline, it’s interesting and different. She isn’t just a “misunderstood” parent, she is truly a bad parent in the beginning. Her rules for her nieces are far too restrictive, she pulled them out of college and is planning to have them study at home and then get married. We even get a little indication that Parveen liked to learn and it is boredom with being out of college that drove her into a romance. I was primed for a reveal that Lalita was stealing their inheritance, that she didn’t care about them at all. But then we learn she is going to the city to sort out their inheritance, and it’s a good thing, Shammi is helping her, she cares about making sure the children get their money. She decides to marry Kalpana to Young Shammi, also good, she is ready to marry her niece to a young man she knows is kind, not just any old person. She’s a bad parent not out of evil or hate, but simply not knowing any other way to be. Watching her give in to the wisdom of Old Shammi and learn to be better is sweet. Even her tiny romance with Old Shammi is sweet, there is far less making fun of the silly old woman who thinks she is in love and far more just making fun of the situation where she has unfortunately fallen in love with someone who is younger than she believes him to be.
Lalita’s story is good in isolation, Shammi’s romance with Kalpana is a delight in isolation, Parveen’s pregnancy story is mostly good in isolation, but it is an odd mix when they are thrown together. Don’t go into this film expecting perfect tonal consistancy, and narrative structure. Do go into this film expecting great Shammi sexiness, interesting statements about early 1960s India, and lots of great costumes.