Monday, September 15, 2008

SOORAJ BARJATYA: Music and Melodrama

More involved in distribution than film-making, Sooraj Barjatya has directed only a small handful of films – but several of them were such huge hits that he’s effectively made his mark on Hindi cinema as a director – specifically as a director of a specific type of film – the sentimental, schmaltzy, melodramatic ‘family drama’. Hallmarks of his movies include family celebrations (usually with gorgeous, heart-warming songs) and inter-generational conflict (typically resolved thanks to love, understanding and forgiveness – all done the desi way, of course).

Barjatya’s films always reflect – and even champion – so-called ‘traditional family values’ – values which are often decried as both unrealistic and anachronistic. Several of his films feature ‘arranged marriages’ between characters who, although they have no objections to spending the rest of their lives together, haven’t exactly had the opportunity to make such a life-changing decision with a person of their own choosing, after a reasonable period of discovery. The films also tend to endorse a model of marriage where the girl seems to set aside any aspirations or ambitions she may have had, in order to become the idealized ‘biwi aur bahu’.

In addition, Barjatya often seems to adopt the simplistic view (often seen in Bollywood – and also, by the way, in Nollywood (Nigerian cinema)) that 'Western' values are completely unwholesome and undesirable and worse, are some sort of raging virus out to destroy everything that the Indian family holds dear. This theme pops up in all the Barjatya films I’ve seen – the worst characters are those that try to look and speak ‘Western’ – they are immoral, greedy and uncaring about the needs of others.

I’m not going to weigh in on the debate as to whether there’s anything harmful or misleading in the ‘family values’ model adopted by Barjatya in his films – I think that everyone has a view on that. I will only say that as a lover of Bollywood films, I’ve learned to sift through the messages in various movies and to extract what (if anything) is of value to me, discarding whatever goes against my own worldview. And I will also say that my beliefs, I like to think, are pretty embracing of diverse views, and I sometimes (but by no means always) find that there’s value to be extracted from ideas that may at first go against the grain. And that’s a lot to say from someone who had nothing to say!

Before talking about the Barjatya films I’ve seen so far, I’ll just summarise what I love and (don’t love) about them. I like a formula that works, and his formula works for me – catchy, melodious music + beautiful, charming actors + some conflict + all-conquering love healing all wounds. I like it – it’s simple and it’s fun (for the most part). Let’s break it down.

The music: Barjatya uses music (and lots and lots of it) really well to heighten emotion and tug at those heart-strings, awakening feelings of nostalgia and tenderness. The melodies (usually provided by Raam Laxman) are simple, catchy (really infectious, actually), memorable and even sometimes shamelessly plagiarized (as in ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’). The song picturisations are usually really beautifully done, in my opinion. Schmaltzy and over-the-top as it sometimes is, I think the music is my favourite thing about his films.

The actors: Like every director, Barjatya has his ‘MVPs’ – actors that understand how to effectively capture and demonstrate the family-friendly messages infused through each film. Alok Nath, who’s almost a genius at melodrama in my view, has to be the most valuable Barjatya MVP, but there’s also (among others) the charming Reema Lagoo, Anupam Kher (whom I love), Ajit Vachani, Mohnish Behl, and his favourite ‘hero’, Mr. Salman Khan.

Mr. Barjatya is a bit more adventurous when casting young females, and he sure goes for the gorgeous: Bhagyashree – she of the lamentably underachieved career (‘Maine Pyar Kiya’), Madhuri Dixit and Renuka Shahane (‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun…!’ – Renuka is another whom I wish had done more), Kareena Kapoor (‘Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon’), Amrita Rao (‘Vivah’), Karisma Kapoor, Tabu and Sonali Bendre (‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’). Barjatya picks beautiful people, and that makes for many beautiful picturisations – from Madhuri and Salman in ‘Joote Dedo’ to Shahid and Amrita in ‘Hamari Shaadi’, to Tabu, Sonali and Lolo in ‘Maiyya Yashoda’, to Bhagyashree and Salman in the Antakshari medley from ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’.

Speaking of great picturisations, India itself is, I believe, a character in Barjatya’s films – the rich culture, the family traditions, the colourful clothing, and the scenic locations spread across the country. All his films that I’ve seen include scenes shot in the beautiful, picturesque, often rural areas of India. That’s another thing I love.

Barjatya is also fond of animals, it seems – from Tuffy the dog in HAHK, who ends up playing a pivotal role in the film, to Handsome the dove in ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’. And he has a distinct affection for the the name 'Prem'!

One thing I do like about Barjatya’s characters is that they all have distinct and different personalities – some are feisty and forward, others shy and reserved; some are plain-speaking, others diplomatic geniuses; some are bubbling with life, others inwardly seething. They are definitely not the most nuanced and complex characters (although I think some of them end up having a lot more substance than you’d at first think), in fact they are usually very broadly-sketched, but I guess I can forgive that within the context of what he does.

The conflict: There is always one – whether created by human weakness (as in ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’) or by bad advice from creepy friends (as in ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’) or by tragic accident (as in ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun…!’ and ‘Vivah’). As with real life, the conflict usually comes straight out of nowhere. Unfortunately, sometimes the conflict also comes off a bit contrived and/or unrealistic… but oh well.

All-conquering love: Ah… the all-consuming power of love, be it romantic or filial, able to straighten out every difficulty, obliterate every complication, assuage every human yearning, make people become exactly who the people they love want them to be…. Except, this works only in the movies! It makes for some nice, cathartic emotional resolutions though. It would be nice, I suppose, if a nod was made to the fact that things are never so nicely tied up in real life – but then again, isn’t that why we’ve got the movies?

Now to the Barjatya films I’ve seen so far.

HUM AAPKE HAIN KOUN…!’: I adore this film. It’s my favourite of the films Sooraj Barjatya has directed and just has a very special place in my heart. I wrote just about everything I have to say about it here.

‘HUM SAATH SAATH HAIN’: I’m one of the few people that actually really liked this film. Yes, it’s very saccharine in many places, but I think it had its heart in the right place. I love the songs from it and enjoyed the performances as well as the issues it tackled. I’ve written about it here and here.

‘MAINE PYAR KIYA’: This is a very sweet, charming film about young love. It’s very ‘typical’ of Bollywood romance – rich boy, poor girl, opposition from parents… but it’s very nicely done. A young, likeable Salman Khan and the adorable Bhagyashree play Prem and Suman, two young people who despite their differing backgrounds, find friendship, and later love, when Suman comes to live at Prem’s house (Suman’s father and Prem’s father are old friends). These two made SUCH a lovely couple, and the film-makers captured some really memorable moments with them.

Unfortunately, as the bond between Prem and Suman develops, the bond between their parents is destroyed by Prem’s father’s pride and elitism. Suman’s father’s pride is awakened in turn, and Prem must then convince him (as the Biblical Jacob had to convince Laban) that he is deserving of his daughter. Throw in the attempts of the greedy, Westernised Ranjeet, Seema and Jeevan (played by Ajit Vachani, Pervin Dastur and Mohnish Behl) to snatch away all that Prem and his family hold dear, and our young hero faces quite a challenge. Will he succeed? Anyone who knows Bollywood knows the answer to this question, but it’s still fun to watch.

The best thing about this film for me was the performances – especially by Bhagyashree and Salman, although they’re nicely backed by the rest of the cast. I do so wish Bhagyashree had built on the success of this film – I think she could have had a great career. The songs in this film are also really sweet (‘Dil Deewana’ is pretty, ‘Tum Ladki Ho’ is fun, and ‘Kabutar ja’ is delightful – I enjoyed the rest as well). Some aspects of the script could I could have done without, such as the strangely intense relationship between our lovers’ fathers (especially on Alok Nath’s side) – very amusing, but weird. Also could have done without the big fight at the end. But all told, this is a really, really sweet and charming love story.

‘VIVAH’: Sooraj Barjatya’s most recent hit, a charming courtship story starring Shahid Kapoor and Amrita Rao helped Barjatya regain the credibility he had lost with HSSH and ‘Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon’ (which I haven’t seen). It also sparked criticism from many who felt that its themes were obsolete and its female protagonist annoyingly submissive. While I don’t agree with all of it (I particularly disagree with the notion that Poonam’s shyness automatically makes her a mindless coward), I do have problems with some aspects of this film’s storyline.

Shahid Kapoor plays the sweet, sincere Prem, a young man whose father (played by Anupam Kher) apparently gets up one day, and out of nowhere, decides it’s time for his son to get married. Prem has his doubts, but like a good, obedient son, he meekly goes with his father to meet the selected prospective wife, the lovely Poonam (played by Amrita Rao). After only one brief and one-sided conversation, during which Poonam seems to be afraid to look up at Prem's face, she agrees to marry Prem. There is no discussion about her goals, desires and aspirations until after the decision is made. And even then, the ‘discussion’ (such as it is), almost explicitly subjugates her own future accomplishments to the chief role she will soon have as supportive wife and dutiful daughter-in-law. And through it all, Poonam is quietly acquiescent - and somehow it's a little difficult to tell whether it's because she's doing what's expected of her or because she's doing what she wants.

After this beginning (which, you can probably tell, I found pretty problematic), the bulk of the film is taken up by Poonam and Prem’s sweet season of courtship. I have to say I was won over at this point by the warmth and sincerity of the characters and the way they slowly establish friendship and intimacy.

I thought Shahid and Amrita had great chemistry, and I liked their characters’ mutual respect and the fact that neither was ‘fronting’ - Prem and Poonam were keeping it real. Their relationship takes time to mature, and both of them have to make an effort - I liked that as well. And it was immensely gratifying to eventually discover that Poonam, despite initial appearances, does, wonder of wonders, actually have a pretty resilient backbone and something even more endearing – maturity and wisdom along with a sense of fun.

I really, really enjoyed ‘Vivah’ – I loved the songs, I loved the romance, I loved the way in which it all unfolded, and I just thought that it was really lovely and sweet. But there is no doubt that unfortunately, I also found some aspects of it unacceptable.

I think that this ambivalent note is a really good one on which to end this post. While I like the fact that Barjatya’s films put family values front and centre, while I love the music and the emotion, and the beautiful people and scenery, and the whole formula; there definitely are aspects to that formula that can be difficult.

But I think that I am probably not the only movie buff that comes to this point with a number of films (whether they be products of Bollywood, Hollywood, or Nollywood) and has learnt to deal with it – extracting, as I said earlier, what works for me and pushing aside what doesn’t (of course, there are times when there’s nothing to extract because none of it goes down well).

I am of course conscious that some will use messages in films to continue to legitimate and reiterate (even if only to themselves) ceretain inequitable viewpoints – and even worse, that some more impressionable viewers may possibly find their viewpoints shaped by what they see on their screens… and of course at this point the whole ‘life imitates art imitates life’ circular argument rears its ugly but compelling head.

Phew… I went a bit deeper with this than I planned… funny how I returned to the same point I tried to avoid at the beginning of this piece. Time to summarise. I remain a fan of Barjatya’s work as a director – and even if he never directs another film, I will always be glad he made the films he did (especially HAHK – I love it so much).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

'SATYAKAM' - Dharmendra's Best Performance?

I’ve wanted to watch ‘Satyakam’ for ages… about 2 years now actually, ever since I first read a review that described Dharmendra’s performance in it as his career best. It wasn’t easy, but I finally got my hands on it. My next post was supposed to be about something light-hearted and frivolous…‘Satyakam’ is anything but. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not exactly a depressing, dark film – but it definitely made me pause and reflect, which I think was what Hrishikesh Mukherjee and his team intended.

Speaking of the late Hrishikesh Mukherjee, I am a huge fan of his work – he’s my favourite Hindi film director and I’ve loved all the films he directed (that I’ve seen so far). But ‘Satyakam’ was totally different from the others I’ve seen, which is interesting as it’s also the earliest one (1969) that I’ve seen. It’s not fun and light-hearted (like ‘Chupke Chupke’ or ‘Gol Maal’), and it doesn’t quite have the sweetness of a ‘Guddi’ or ‘Bawarchi’ or the heart-tugging (but nicely done) melodrama of a ‘Mili’ or ‘Abhimaan’. ‘Satyakam’ is measured and restrained. It unwinds slowly (perhaps a little too slowly at the beginning, actually) and its tone is reflective. I love the fact that it raises more questions that it answers, leaving its audience to ponder on the issues for itself.

Where is the balance (if there is one) between being ‘yourself’ and adapting to the harsh realities of your environment? How much of your true self is dictated by your genes and the circumstances of your birth, and how much is dictated by life experience and the pressures of everyday living? Are values important enough to live or die for? Does dogmatism always either devour itself or collapse into hypocrisy? Can one man really take on the system? Must there be a sacrifice of values for the sake of ‘greater good’ (however defined)? Where is the balance between personal honour and emotional truth? Is there even such a thing as truth, or is it really all about shades of grey and personal judgment?

Speaking of judgment, is it really possible to ‘temper justice with mercy’? What dictates the true value of a life? Where is the line between the protection and preservation of self and family interests on the one hand and the service of higher interests on the other? These are just some of the questions that ‘Satyakam’ raises. It doesn’t answer them all, but in raising them, it tells a compelling story of one man’s devotion to truth, the people he meets along his path, and how ‘successful’ he is at being the man he aspires to be. There is also an interesting subtext that I feel was a bit under-developed (or maybe I was just rather inadequate at unpacking it) – the relationship between Satyakam’s story and the story of a young and newly independent India, finding its feet, making its choices, navigating the constant socio-moral seesaw between concession and right, and arriving at its own destiny.

Satyapriya (played by Dharmendra) comes from a long line of honest, upright, truth-tellers. He has been raised in the long-held family traditions of honour, truth and respectability by his beloved and noble grandfather (played by the brilliant Ashok Kumar). While at college, he meets and becomes firm friends with Naren (played by Sanjeev Kumar in one of his first film roles).

After college, the friends separate and Satyapriya (‘Sat’) takes his first job as a project engineer. He quickly comes face-to-face with corrupt, self-serving, dishonest men. From Day 1, he firmly and boldly takes a stand against every practice that goes against his values, and of course, there are consequences. While dealing with this, he also meets the beautiful but sad Ranjana, a young woman cast out of honourable society due to the circumstances of her birth and destined (it seems) to become the plaything of wealthy men. Even her own guardian has no quibble with subjecting her to this future – as far as he’s concerned, she can hope for nothing better with her history, and life in ‘service’ to a rich, lecherous will at least fetch a handsome income.

When Satya becomes familiar with her circumstances, he wants to help but is torn between the demands of heritage and reputation, and the need to protect a helpless woman who cares for him (and who he comes to care for). In many ways, this proves to be a watershed moment in his life. What does Sat choose to do? How does his decision affect his relationships and his future? How does he come to terms with the fact that he will always walk alone? How does his fierce, black-or-white brand of personal integrity hold up against the challenges of his future? Does he find peace and personal fulfillment in the life he has chosen? Well, you'll have to watch this film and find out for yourself.

Although I said earlier that ‘Satyakam’ isn’t like any of the other Mukherjee films I’ve seen, it does have some of his hallmarks. As always, he is masterful at setting up moments and scenes that are so poignant and real that they stay with you long after the film is over. The film has the grace of his other films (but is less formulaic and more multi-dimensional than the others I’ve seen). I always love how Hrishikesh Mukherjee could capture something special and intimate in the most seemingly mundane, simple things. Another thing I love about ‘Satyakam’ is the fact that, with its subject matter, it could very easily have degenerated into an over-simplified preach-fest, with Satya hitting us over the head with melodramatic railings on the value of honour; but instead it’s restrained, dignified, and rich with subtext. I love that.

The cast of ‘Satyakam’ features some of Mukherjee’s ‘favourites’: David, Asrani, Ashok Kumar. Then of course, there’s the core cast: Dharam, Sharmila and Sanjeev. The choice of Dharmendra for this role, to my mind, must have gone across the grain – the role of Satya is no simplistic, hackneyed ‘handsome hero’ part – it requires real acting to capture the complex situation and emotions of this character – but Dharam does a bang-up job of it. He really is ‘Sat’ – he reflects the inner resolve and grapplings of his character beautifully and with great restraint, while also balancing this out with Sat’s charm, humanity, simplicity and honesty. It’s a lovely performance.

The rest of the cast is excellent as well – Ashok Kumar is fantastic as usual in his small (but pivotal) role, especially in the film’s final scenes, a young Sanjeev Kumar is simply brilliant as the sweet Naren – he perfectly embodies the ‘everyman’ that his character is – I loved how wonderfully he brought to life the love, and most importantly, the respect, that has for Sat.

Sharmila Tagore is also excellent as Ranjana – although I felt that her character wasn’t given sufficient dimension until much later in the film, she uses her acting chops effectively to keep the character from becoming a boring caricature, and when she does gets some ‘meat’ later in the film, she goes for it and really makes her character memorable.

Memorable... that’s the word I would use to describe ‘Satyakam’. When I had finished watching it, I felt like I had been put through the wringer. I felt like I had felt what each of the main characters had felt… I was saddened, but also uplifted. And most of all, watching this film was more than just a pleasant way to spend two evenings. That doesn’t happen very often.

And finally, you may be wondering, do I agree with the pundits who consider this to be my dear Dharam’s best performance? Well, it’s certainly the best I’ve seen so far. It doesn’t have any of the stylish, ultra-cool, Dharam-trademarks that I’ve liked so much in other films of his I’ve seen, but what it does have is deeper and more powerful, and makes me respect him more than I ever have (you gotta excuse a fangirl her schmaltz!)

Up next… a Director’s Round-up (been ages since I did one) on the undisputed king of ‘traditional family values’: Sooraj Barjatya.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


After writing this, I realised that it's a bit of a downer... not very auspicious considering that I haven't posted anything in months... but it's what's on my mind so I guess it has to be said.... Hopefully the next post will be all nice and light and cheerful....

Interesting how one can find parallels in the strangest places... when I heard that 'Sarkar Raj' was coming to a cinema near me, I knew I wanted to see it. I've been a bit starved of good Bollywood fare lately, and the prospect of three Bachchans doing some 'serious' acting in a Ram Gopal Verma thriller sounded pretty good to me. Because I am slightly anal about doing things 'sequentially', I of course had to watch 'Sarkar' (Ram Gopal Verma's 2005 film) first... and I really enjoyed it. I have talked about the fact that I like Ram Gopal Verma's work before on this blog, and for me 'Sarkar' was a really striking and stylish (typical RGV) piece of storytelling, with really solid performances.

Seeing 'Sarkar Raj' at the cinema was a lot of fun - I went with a bunch of colleagues from work, some of whom are not Bollywood fans and therefore came a bit reluctantly... everyone enjoyed the movie (phew!), and Abhishek Bachchan even gained a new fan! We got all wrapped up in the suspense and drama and generally had a good time together. I thought that the performances were very strong and the story was compelling and moved at a good pace.

The 3 Bachchans all did extremely well, I thought (I loved Amit-ji's scenes with Abhishek, they were really poignant and beautifully-acted in my opinion, and I thought Ash held her own as well), and the rest of the cast supported them well also. I liked how the film dealt with the complexities of family relationships and the emotions that govern them, picking up pretty well from where the first film left off. I also liked how the film delved even deeper into the motivations of the characters in their seemingly endless quest for power - I thought it was really well done.

My quibble (and it was a small one) was with the cardboard-cutout-ness of the villains - I found them a bit too caricatured, and that took away something from the rawness of the film, I thought. Caricature villains are alright in an OTT masala flick, but in a dark, edgy RGV film, I think they could've done with just a little toning down. Also, as is quite typical with RGV, I think that a couple of times he went a lil' overboard with the 'stylisation' of some scenes (but then, that very adventurousness, even when it goes overboard, is really one of things I quite like about RGV). Anyway, I thought 'Sarkar Raj' was a great watch and I'm actually quite looking forward to watching it again when it's released on DVD.

I am not going to say much more about either 'Sarkar' or 'Sarkar Raj'... I think that RGV's films tend to be the love-it-or-hate-it kind - if you have a big problem with onscreen violence or you find films about political intrigues, dhokhas and divided loyalties boring, then you probably won't enjoy either film - but if you fancy grappling with the difficult issues that these gritty, dark films tackle, then you'll probably enjoy them (well, perhaps 'enjoy' is the wrong word - let's say you'll probably find them interesting).

What I actually want to talk about is the parallels between certain aspects of the Sarkar films, and the life and times of a recently deceased national figure here in Nigeria. Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu recently passed away at the age of 80. Adedibu, known as 'the strongman of Ibadan politics' was a very controversial figure in Nigerian politics.

To some people (particularly the members of his party), Adedibu was a statesman, a philanthropist and a man of the people who helped to unify the Yoruba-speaking Western part of the country. Much is made by these advocates of the fact that Adedibu fed many inhabitants of the city of Ibadan daily meals for a number of years, completely free of charge. To many others, however, he was a troublemaker who actually worked to divide the region, by using an army of weapon-wielding goons to wreak violence, terror and havoc upon any members of the community who dared to disagree with his political views. Those free daily meals at Adedibu's mansion, some say, were not an act of charity - rather they were just a part of the 'incentives' used by Adedibu to 'mobilise' his band of thugs.

One thing is for sure, though, Adedibu was a political 'godfather', and he himself admitted boldly that he used his considerable political might to place his anointed godsons in positions of power. There is no doubt that Adedibu exercised a huge amount of influence in Oyo State, where he lived and (some say) reigned. For a man with no governmental position or constitutional power, it boggles the mind that he was (in my opinion) able to basically hound a state governor out of power and then replace him with his very own puppet....

At the beginning of 'Sarkar', there's a quote that says something about a power rising when things fall apart. I think that speaks just as eloquently to the real-life Adedibu situation in Oyo State as it does to the movie-world Maharashtra of RGV's movies, where the fictional Sarkar, the gunda-leader with no respect for the rule of law, holds sway. And I think it's sad... very sad.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Yay, I'm stoked to be doing another Dharmendra post (it's been ages)... and this one is also my first 'Faces' post, so... double-yay!

Being the die-hard Dharam fan that I am, I am always interested in his onscreen pairings. The romantic kind, I mean. So far, I've seen him opposite his beautiful wife Hema ('Sholay', 'Jugnu', 'Dillagi', 'The Burning Train', 'Seeta aur Geeta'), the lovely Mala Sinha ('Anpadh'), the sexy Zeenat Aman ('Ram Balram'), the graceful Nafisa Ali ('Life in a... Metro'), the intense Rekha ('Ghazab'), the charming Jaya Bhaduri ('Guddi'), the elegant Kirron Kher ('Apne')....

All of the above couples (bar none) I have loved (ok, so Dharam/Zeenat was unexpectedly a little bit weird, but still not bad). Dharam/Hema, in particular, is always cute, energetic and very charming, and is probably my all-round favourite. I have to say though, that for sheer hotness, my No. 1 'Dharam + 1' couple so far is probably Dharam/Sharmila. There's something about Dharmendra and Ms. Tagore together - they are both so gorgeous and stylish, they complement each other so well, you always believe in their mutual attraction, and they are both so sexy and good-looking. Really.

She has those fabulous dimples and that supreme mastery of the mischievous-sexy-and-yet-guileless look; he has those eyes, and that hair, and those... you know I could go on and on forever on what Dharmendra's got, so I won't.

My first taste of the Dharam/Sharmila hotness was with 'Chupke Chupke' (1975), a cute comedy about a newlywed couple playing an intricate practical joke on the dulhan's 'genius jijaji'. In 'Chupke Chupke', Dharmendra is the playful Professor Parimal Tripathi, an academic with a mischievous sense of humour, and Sharmila is his fun-loving college-student biwi, Sulekha. They are a cool, smart, middle-class couple - the kind you'd expect to find in this low-key, charming Hrishikesh Mukherjee film. And I think they're utterly adorable.

What I didn't know, until recently, is that years before 'Chupke Chupke', Dharam/Sharmila made a very different type of film together. 'Mere Humdum Mere Dost' (or 'Mere Hamdam Mere Dost' or MHMD, released in 1968) is more "conventional" Bollywood. In MHMD, Dharam is Sunil, a sweet, naïve young man from a humble background, and Sharmila is Anita, a shallow, spoiled rich kid who starts out teasing Sunil, but eventually falls for him (he falls first, but when he realises he's rich, he has second thoughts - because he has a weird phobia of wealth).

Rounding out the cast of major characters are the lushly gorgeous siren Mumtaz as Anita's faithful companion Meena, and Om Prakash as Dhand, a rather annoying busybody who plays a pivotal role in the prem kahani of our two leads (interestingly, Om Prakash is also in 'Chupke Chupke', as the well-fooled genius jijaji. And interestingly, both films end with his character speaking into the camera, saying something cute to the audience).

MHMD, as I said before, is conventional Bollywood - there is the familiar jodi-separated-by-wealth device, the familiar horrible and lecherous villain device, soaring romantic songs performed while running across the hills and meadows in lovely clothes, etc etc. The plot of MHMD is a bit ridiculous and has a lot of silly, random and pointless twists. But as the viewer, I somehow found myself forgiving it these flaws and just enjoying the ride for the most part... and I'll tell you why in a minute.

The major difference between the Dharam/Sharmila of MHMD and the Dharam/Sharmila of 'Chupke Chupke' is that in MHMD, they're really not very cool, not particularly smart, and... just not very bright. I mean really, the things Sunil and Anita do in the name of love just get progressively stupider and stupider. And even when Meena tries to help, even her ideas are hare-brained (Sunil and Anita are at least fools in love,but Meena has no excuse whatsoever).

Again, watching MHMD, I found myself forgiving all this foolishness. Kyun? Because they're hot. I mean, sure they're rather daft, but they're also young, amazingly gorgeous, sexy, uber-stylish, fun and utterly harmless. What's a little daftness compared to a ton of hotness? Eye candy to the power of a hundred. Nay, a thousand. They're so hot that they can afford to act any which way they want to - and do they? At some point in the film, Mumtaz performs a very memorable qawwali in honour of the lead couple - 'Allah Yeh Ada Kaisi Hai Haseenon Mein' (from what I understood, it means something like - 'Oh wow, the ways of these beautiful people!'). Indeed.

Not only do they look tres hot, the leads in MHMD also get to wear really cute sixties fashion - check out the back of one of Sharmila's cute cholis below - I love it.

(Sharmila does repeat one outfit in the film, which is of course anathema for a real Bollywood 'young heiress', but again, she's so cute that it's easy to forgive her). And our hero Dharmendra is in gorgeous, well-cut suits (as in the picture above), and a cute kaftan or turtle-neck here and there. Ultra fab. Dharam's clothes are all so gorgeous. Except for this silly smoking-jacket-and-lazy-cat look he tries on at a very memorable dinner - one of the very, very silly things he does for love and a marvellous example of Dharmendra's wonderful aptitude for comedy.

Something else that's really great about MHMD - the songs, by Laxmikant-Pyarelal. From soaring, romantic ones to slow, passionate ones to cheeky, sassy ones... there are great songs here, performed beautifully by Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and a few others. The soaring song from which the film's title is taken ('Naa Jaa, Kahin Ab Naa Jaa') is a brilliant example of Rafi's vocal virtuosity, and is beautifully picturised. I love all the picturisations in this film, actually - 'Chhalkain Jaam' has to be one of the best sharaab sequences I've seen so far, and in 'Huyi Sham Unka Khayal Aa Gaya' the camera focuses on Dharam sitting alone in a very bare room - and somehow it's enough. So even though I can't really recommend MDMH in the true sense of the word, what I can do is recommend the songs - watching the picturisations (almost all are available on YouTube) will allow you to enjoy the beauty of the actors and the music, without having to endure the film's flaws.

I say this because, as I mentioned earlier, MHMD certainly does have its negatives... the characters are really just caricatures, and the weakness and fragility of the female characters (as with many films from this era), as well as the unquestioning manner in which their feelings are ridden roughshod over by the male characters, can be really quite grating and appalling. Also, the storyline really is quite ridiculous.

But back to Dharam/Sharmila. It's quite fitting, I think, that MHMD came quite a few years before 'Chupke Chupke'... in the latter they are still extremely gorgeous (for me Dharam is crazy handsome in 'Chupke Chupke'and I don't think I've seen him looking cuter in any film so far; whereas I adore Sharmila's stunningly (over-)styled MHMD look - but I digress) but they are also older and wiser, more mature, more sophisticated. Less pretty, less doll-like, less 'whitewashed' (in 'Chupke Chupke' you can see their real skin, thank God!), more relatable, more human. But still ultra-fab. It's a great transition. And best of all, in 'Chupke Chupke', Dharmendra and Sharmila are playing partners (Parimal clearly respects Sulekha and they are presented as equals) in a plot that, while frivolous in terms of subject matter, actually makes sense.

Here are some pictures from both films... note the change in Sharmila's look, from the big hair and dramatic eye make-up with a full, nearly nude-toned lip in the late sixties, to sleeker hair, thinned-out eyebrows and darker, more defined lips in the mid-seventies. You can see the maturing of her face - it's slimmer, more defined and less 'soft' in 'Chupke Chupke' than in MHMD; and I say she looks totally gorgeous and fab in both films...

And here's my Dharam; at the time of MHMD he is stunningly handsome but almost 'too much' so; it's a little too 'perfect' - by 'Chupke Chupke' his face has matured really beautifully....

To conclude, one more picture... Sharmila and Mumtaz in MHMD....

PS I'm on the lookout for any other Dharam/Sharmila pairings (apart from 'Satyakam', which I'm already looking for), so any reccies would be welcome. Thank you!