Friday, April 25, 2008

Bombai Ka Babu (1960)

This is an old favorite of mine that I feel compelled to revisit every so often. The movie was directed by Raj Khosla of CID (1956), Woh Kaun Thi (1964) and Mera Saaya (1966) fame, and according to IMDB this was his 5th straight direction of a Dev Anand starrer. The movie stars, besides Dev Anand in his Gregory Peck style hair-puff days, a lovely Suchitra Sen, the usual assortment of character actors and wonderful music by S. D. Burman.
The movie tells the story of Babu (Dev Anand), a small time crook in Bombay who accidentally kills fellow crook Balli (Jagdish Raj). Horrified by what he's done, Babu flees and doesnt stop running till he reaches Jogendranagar, a small town in the Himalayan foot hills.
In Jogendranagar he comes across Bhagat (Rashid Khan) who is quick to nose out Babu's secret and take advantage of it. He ropes Babu in for one of his nefarious schemes - Babu is to play Kundan, zamindar Shahji's long-lost son, and steal Shahji's considerable wealth. With the alternative being prosecution for murder, a reluctant Babu agrees to the scheme.
Babu enters Shahji's house as Kundan and is accorded a prodigal's return by Shahji (Nazir Hussain) and his blind wife Rukmani (Achla Sachdev). He is accepted unquestioningly and nobody appears to be interested in proof of his identity! Everybody, except for his "sister" Maya (Suchitra Sen). And she merely asks him about his life after he was lost as a 5 year old, and how he found his way back home after all these years. They are all begging to be duped! Find it a bit hard to swallow? When watching a hindi movie it doesnt do to question such minor details....
Babu is obliged to spend the next few weeks playing the dutiful son. This is where the foolproof scheme starts to unravel. Babu is increasingly attracted to his beautiful "sister" Maya and finds himself falling for her. Maya on her part, senses this and tries to head him off. Finally she comes up with the bright idea of tying a raakhi (sacred thread tied on a brother's wrist by a sister) on his wrist to tie them together in a fraternal relation. Right, one thread is going to change his feelings forever! Babu/Kundan angrily refuses, making it clear that he has no fraternal feelings for her.
Maya is disturbed, but considering her mother and father's attachment to Kundan, she keeps her own counsel. She follows him one day when he goes to meet Bhagat and learns the details of the plot. Does she expose him? No, she waits for him to make a move so she can stop him. She clearly hasnt heard of the pre-emptive action.
Babu is caught between a rock and a hard place - he finds it hard to betray the affection of his "parents" and yet can neither reveal his true identity nor accept being Maya's "brother"! Mercilessly chivvied by Bhagat, he finally decides to go on with the original scheme. When he breaks into the household safe, though, there is a big surprise in store for him. At the back of the safe, he finds newspaper clippings giving a description of the long-lost Kundan and the distinctive piece of jewellery that Kundan was wearing when he was lost. Guess what it was? A ring carried by Balli - the man Kundan killed! A bizarre co-incidence? Movie-lore is so full of such co-incidences that for the seasoned bollyviewer, disbelief is quite impossible! You may well wonder what happens next. For those of you who are curious enough to find out, I'd recommend watching the movie!
The movie is extremely well-made and tautly edited with minimal filler scenes - the finished product keeps you glued to the screen to the last moment. Dev Anand, though no great shakes as an actor, manages to convey Babu's horror at the murder and his mental anguish at loving Maya. Suchitra Sen is wonderful as the charming Maya who is intelligent enough to see through Babu's schemes yet compassionate enough to forgive him for the sake of her parents. Her Hindi accent leaves a lot to be desired but her wonderfully expressive face and screen presence more than make up for it. Nazir Hussain and Achla Sachdev were very convincing as the affectionate parents while Rashid Khan was satisfyingly cunning and manipulative as the wicked Bhagat. The songs composed by S D Burman deserve special mention - each of them is a gem. The classical duet Deewana mastana hua dil, the effervescent Dekhne mein bhola hai, the philosophical Saathi na koi manzil and the quintessential bidai (departure after wedding) song Chal ri sajni ab kya soche - were all top notch and beautifully picturised. The female playback was all Asha Bhonsle which was surprising considering that he usually preferred Lata Mangeshkar.
According to imdb, the movie was a rip off of a O. Henry short story - A Double-dyed Deceiver. It also reminded me of another O. Henry favorite of mine - A Retrieved Reformation. Neither of these stories had the brother-sister angle, though. The incestuous connotations of Babu's love for Maya is considered to be the reason why the movie didnt do well at the box-office in the conservative 60's. For my part, I think that it adds to the tension of the story, giving it an extra dimension that lifts it above the run-of-the-mill lost-and-found movies.

4 comments:

  1. This one's in my "to watch" pile, near the top...now I can watch it and not have to write about it! :-)

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  2. O memsaab, is there any old Hindi movie that you havent watched or plan to watch! And I thought I knew all sorts of obscure old ones!!!!

    You really must write about Bombai Ka Babu. I cant wait to see what you say about it. :-)

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  3. I love this movie, entirely, in everything, even forgive Dev for being in it! Am so glad to see you sharing the enthusiasm!

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  4. I think this was the first movie that I really liked Dev in. After that it was easy to like him inspite of his lack of acting skills and totally dorky way of dancing/walking! The guy has the best selection of movies from the B&W era - romance, comedy, mystery, thriller - every genre. Its just hard to resist the appeal of those movies - and Dev kind of sneaks in with that package!

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