Thursday, September 24, 2009

Afsana (1951) – spiced up Vendetta!

Afsana (1951) Year: 1951, Place: Bombay, India.
Writer I. S. Johar (and I thought he was just a comedian!) decides that its time Marie Corelli’s Vendetta leaves Italy to find a new home. Also, he decides that there isnt enough melodrama in the Victorian revenge potboiler! So, he does what any masala writer worth his salt (or garam masala) would do – he adds twin brothers separated at a young age, and also mixes in childhood sweethearts for good measure. The result is a highly entertaining and engrossing afsana (story).

Ratan and Chaman are look-alike twin brothers who are busy having fun, acting in plays and playing with their friend Meera (a chirpy, kiddie-Tabassum!). Meera has a decided preference for Ratan and the two even play at husband and wife in their lets-pretend games. Unfortunately for them, a fair comes to town and the kids are eager to visit. Meera’s blind father (Chaman Puri) tries to stop her, but she will go to the fair with Ratan. Poor kid. She isnt to know that fairs never mix well with twins. The inevitable happens – a sudden storm strikes the fair and in the resulting mayhem, Ratan is lost, presumed dead.
Meera grows up (Veena, now) mourning Ratan while Chaman (Ashok Kumar) tries his best to win her affections. Unfortunately, he isnt Ratan, and Meera will have none of him! So, Chaman consoles himself with Raseeli (Cuckoo) – a dancer in his theatre - and spends the rest of his time being nasty to his servants and hanging out with childhood friend Chatpat (Jeevan).
Raseeli realises that Chaman loves Meera, and in a bid to make him jealous, goes to meet rival theatre owner Sampatlal. An angry Chaman goes to Sampatlal’s house and hits him, just as the man is having a heart attack. Sampatlal drops dead and Chaman, thinking that he killed the former, flees to Mussoorie. The police, also believing that Chaman killed Sampatlal, issue Wanted ads for him.
Several miles away, in another household we meet Ashok Kumar (Ashok Kumar II)! He is a judge in Gorakhpur. We learn from him that he was brought up in an orphanage after losing his memory. So there was (a) twins separated as kids in a fair, and now, (b) amnesia, too! Methinks it cant get any better than this – but it does!!!!
Judge Ashok is a saintly character, both literally (behold the Sri Aurobindo beard) and figuratively. He is married to the beautiful Leela (Kuldip Kaur) and his best friend is Mohan (Pran). You think that its the wrong company for a saintly judge? You’re right. The lovely Leela likes gold that glitters with a capital G, and an honest judge isnt much use in that department. Rich businessman Mohan, however, has plenty of gold (and romance) to spare. In the guise of Ashok’s best friend, Mohan lavishes his gold on Leela who reciprocates with love – an affair thats been going on for a while.
Things are at such a pass when Ashok has to go to Mussoorie for an official tour. Leela refuses to accompany him, hoping to spend some quality time with Mohan. So Ashok checks into a hotel in Mussoorie, all alone. As decreed by the Law of Filmi Coincidences, fugitive Chaman is staying in an adjacent room. Also, Chaman is the only one to spot the likeness between Ashok and himself. I had to resort to section 2, chapter 8, in the Guide to Suspension of Disbelief, to get over that one!
Still scared to face the LAW, Chaman is quick to take advantage of this resemblance. He engages Ashok in a friendly game of cards and manages to drug him with a lethal dose of sedatives. He then proceeds to shave off Ashok’s beard and exchange clothes with him. The changeover complete, he leaves Ashok to die as Chaman, while he himself sticks on a beard and drives off as Ashok in the latter’s car.
Chaman is involved in an accident and “Judge Ashok” is presumed dead. In Mussoorie, Ashok is rescued from his drugged stupor and nursed back to health under police protection. Everybody is convinced that he is Chaman! By the time he recovers, the police discover that Sampatlal died of a heart attack and Chaman is exonerated of the murder charge. Ashok’s claim that he is not Chaman but Ashok, are dismissed as drug-overdose-induced mental instability. After all, Ashok ‘died’ in an accident!
Unable to convince people in Mussoorie, Ashok goes off to Gorakhpur to surprise his wife and best friend with the joyful news of his survival. But its he who gets a surprise. He finds out about Leela and Mohan’s affair and how they carried on behind his back. A heartbroken Ashok wanders around in a daze and is found by Chatpat who has been looking for Chaman. Ashok is unable to convince Chatpat that he is not Chaman, and decides to assume Chaman’s identity, since Ashok’s life is clearly a lost cause.
So Ashok takes over Chaman’s life under Chatpat’s guidance. His altered character and inability to recognise any friend or acquaintance is attributed to drug-trauma-induced amnesia! (Bolly-medicine zindabaad!). What is going to happen next? Will Meera stop singing sad songs long enough to recognise her childhood sweetheart? Will the new Chaman forget his past life and betrayal by Leela and Mohan? Will Cuckoo dance some more? Will Jeevan show any signs of his wickedness? If you’ve read Vendetta, you can guess what follows - or perhaps not, since there are some masala add-ons.
There are lots of plays/stage shows in the film that either reflect or foreshadow the events of the story – art imitating life-in-art! Surprisingly, the plays/shows actually look like real live performances with stage sets and no unnecessary costume changes! (‘Surprising’ because I am more used to 60s and later stage shows in films, where costumes and sets change at least half a dozen times in one song!)
The film did strain my suspension of disbelief at some points but I was able to overcome my weakness by concentrating hard as recommended by the Bollywood Guide to Suspension of Disbelief! And there were lovely songs courtesy Husnlal Bhagatram’s music, which were an even greater help (check them out in the playlist at the bottom of the post).
One thing that I was NOT able to ignore was Veena’s ringlets. She had her hair arranged in ringlets throughout, with one ringlet hanging over her right temple and cheek – pretty much like a black horn! In one scene Ashok Kumar even tried tucking it behind her ear – I waited with baited breath, but he was unsuccessful! And speaking of Ashok Kumar – Dada Mani was great as always. I need to find more of his hero roles and recommendations are most welcome. Of the rest of the cast, I liked Kuldip Kaur a lot. She had a pretty meaty part and did it full justice, and looked beautiful to boot.
Overall, its an engrossing entertainer, even for one who’s read Vendetta and knows exactly where the afsana (tale) is headed! Those of you interested in checking out Vendetta, you can read it here (the book is now in public domain). And here are the songs from the film:
A BIG thanks to Memsaab for recommending this film and telling me where to find it!

29 comments:

  1. All those summers when I was a kid, and we all went blithely to the fair -- never knowing the dangers we so narrowly escaped. I'd think twice now, I tell ya!

    And super-YAY for Marie Corelli. I haven't read "Vendetta," so now I have both a movie and a book to add to my lists. Timewise, that's not such a good thing, but lifewise, I can't complain about cup running over, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I just rewatched it recently, and it is a good one! My main problem with it was Veena, actually---I love her, but she was a little too icy-cold in this. I loved seeing Pran and Kuldip paired, since according to Manto they carried on a long-term affair as well in real life. And I had some issues with the ending that didn't sit well...maybe I'll write it up one of these days :) But overall, a very stylish and well-done movie (much better, as I said earlier, than Dilip's remake in the 70s, Dastaan)...

    BTW, IS Johar has written a few pretty entertaining films. I like him as a writer better than a hero/comedian...I'm just about to write one up where he wrote and starred opposite Geeta Bali (Mr. India, 1960)...

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have to see this, this was BR Chopra's first hit directorial venture, i'm a big fan of the man as far as Ashok Kumar as a Hero goes, look out for him in the 1940's film Kismet (1943) don't know if you've seen that, but its considered the first hindi film with an anti hero. Unfortunately its not on dvd with subs but Induna have a vcd

    http://www.induna.com/1000005973-productdetails/

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anarchivist, be thankful that Manmohan Desai, B. R. Chopra et al never caught you at the fairs!

    I had fun reading Vendetta long ago - dunno if I will be quite as interested in the tale of a hero wanting revenge against a wife who *gasp* dares to have an adulterous affair, now!

    memsaab, Veena was very very stagey (and curl-y) in this! And her profile looked too much like Nargis's. So ya, she wasnt my favorite, here. The ending could have done with better writing/plotting - it was too abrupt a twist in Leela's (Kuldip Kaur) character and too abrupt an end altogether.

    Re I. S. Johar, one lives and learns. I had no idea he was a writer, too. I do love his comedy, probably because unlike his contemporary comedians - Mehmood and Rajendra Nath, for example - I didnt get to see so much of him!

    bollywooddeewana, I do have Kismat and I love it. The print is terrible, though, and the film is mercilessly chopped up, too. I remember seeing it on Indian TV as a kid and have loved it ever since. So it had to go into my Ashok Kumar collection!

    This film, according to the Yash Raj DVD, was also B. R. Chopra's first film as a producer-director! Definitely check it out - I am sure you'll like it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yay for public domain! I really want to see this now (after I read the book of course--Mom's old rule still applies), but Ashok's Face of Shock always gets me. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Maybe I'll watch Afsana first, then...

    Corelli's Wormwood, btw, is one of my all-time faves, and would have been a natural black and white Bollywood movie. One sip of absinthe -- and your life is ruined forever!! Sooo melodramatic! Ashok would have lent it some dignity, too. :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Somehow, other than Ashok Kumar and Pran, I found much of the cast a trifle too theatrical for my taste. And the songs were just too many - even though some were nice enough. But, interesting story (I wonder which was the first Hindi film to use the twins-separated-in-childhood theme? Any ideas?)

    ReplyDelete
  8. ajnabi, if Dada Mani's Face of Shock is your tipple, you should definitely try Mahal where he Face of Shock's every few minutes over Madhubala!

    Anarchivist, just read the synopsis of Wormwood. That kind of melodrama beats even Bollywood NAHIIINs!!! :-D

    dustedoff, I thought even Ashok Kumar was a bit stageyer than he usually is. But then, I think the Chopras' (BR and Yash, both) directorial ventures arent exactly characterised by subtle acting. Nobody here was quite as grating as Raj Kumar in Waqt (Yash Chopra directed) or Salma Agha in Nikaah (B. R. Chopra directed) - so it was all good. The songs were a lot, but except for Veena's weepy numbers that I forwarded (they were lovely but unnecessary), I enjoyed them all. Guess I am all prepared to watch 40s films now!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Ooh do start watching 40s movies! I am very lonely on that front :) Start with Kismet so I know what the story is about!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I love that first pic of Ashok Kumar at the desk and the painted background screen. Very picaresque!

    Although it's much better than its remake, Dastaan, I remember being a tad bored by Afsana - too much fake angst. As for the music, the Lata number, abhi to main jawan hoon, is an all-time favorite.

    Since you've entered 40s cinema, I have a reco for you - the 1946 Dilip Kumar starrer, Milan. Based upon a Tagore short story, it's a wonderful film.

    ReplyDelete
  11. God, I LOVE this movie! Even more than the Dilip Kumar remake which was hampered by The Dilip Kumar Tragic Gace of Betrayal.

    I don't know what it is about Ashok Kumar and I always feel like a pervert about it coz I think of the guy as my movie grandpa, but I adore him as a leading man. I believe he always felt awkward about it but I think he was a double dose of awesome sauce.

    PS - HAHAHHAHA @ Aurobindo beard.

    ReplyDelete
  12. memsaab, 40s films are rather hard to watch (Kismat excepted) but I am determined now! So Kismat and other 40s films WILL make it here, soon.

    Shalini, the Abhi to main jawaan hoon number is way too short (barely one and a half minute long) but lovely, and Pran-Kuldip's extremely awkward dancing is hilarious to watch.

    Can you tell me some more about Milan? imdb comes up with Nauka Doobi, which, if I remember correctly, is a Tagore novel of the same name.

    Amrita, "double dose of awesome sauce" is Dada Mani to a T! :-D He is really really good as a leading man (AND character actor AND movie grandpa). I dont think Dilip Kumar comes anywhere close to his awesomeness (inspite of being super handsome in his young days) - so his remake of Afsana isnt going on my to-watch list anytime soon!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I always wanted to see this movie.
    Everybody, who knows the movie raves about it.
    Good, that you brought the film to my notice.
    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I wouldnt exactly rave about this film, but its pretty entertaining and fast paced. So, I am sure you'd enjoy it, too.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Bollyviewer, yes Milan is based on Tagore's story, Nauka Doobi or The Shipwreck. If you've seen Ghunghat with Asha Parekh, Bina Rai, Pradeep Kumar, etc., Milan is the same story...just a lot better. The yound Dilip Kumar is one attractive fellow!:-D

    ReplyDelete
  16. Yes, young Dilip Kumar is a VERY attractive fellow, indeed! I have seen Ghunghat but I much prefer Tagore's novel - the film has a lot of gratuitous sermonising on the duties of women that were not (as far I recall) part of the novel. Hopefully the earlier Dilip version is closer to the text - if not, then young Dilip should make up for it!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I must see this sometime.

    By the way, as some of you know, you can count me in at the '40s films club. I seek those '40s films out desperately, though it's so hard to find all the ones I want on DVDs with subs...

    And even I can see that young Dilip is a very attractive fellow. If you haven't done so yet, you should check him out in Mela (1948), which I watched a couple of weeks ago. (No insult intended, but I don't think Nargis is as pretty in that film.) I guess he's just as attractive in Jugnu (1947), though I don't have as clear a memory of him in that because my eyes and ears were glued to Noor Jehan. (Plus I did a lot of fast-forwarding since there were no subs. :)

    ReplyDelete
  18. Richard, you're probably a pro at 40s films by now! Any fun recommendations?

    And Nargis never did strike me as pretty. She's kind of charming, but not at all good looking - a strange exception in the bevy of beauties that were the top actresses back then!

    ReplyDelete
  19. All very interesting and relevant comments above.

    Regarding Afsaana's remake, Dastaan, I had read somewhere that Dilip Kumar was reluctant to do the movie but finally relented owing to his friendship with BR.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Filmi chat is such fun, Nasir! Thanks so much for your input.

    Guess the Chopras wanted to recreate the Naya Daur magic with Dilip Kumar. Was the film successful?

    ReplyDelete
  21. Naya Daur? It was a silver-jubilee hit movie, with a novel story of man versus machine and the via media solution.

    For one, it was the beginning of a new romantic pair of Dilip and Vyjayanti and the ending (sadly) of Dilip-Madhubala romance. O.P. Nayyar was in his elements along with Sahir Ludhianvi with all those superb songs such as MAANG KE SAATH TUMAAHRA, etc. It also marked a new chapter for the playback singer, Asha Bhonsle after some 10 years of playback singing then.

    Naya Daur was one of the highest grosser of 1957 and critically acclaimed too.

    P.S. Though there are many good scenes in the movie, the one I liked best is that between mother (Leela Chitnis) and her son (Dilip). I haven't come across such expressions in any bollywood movie that portrays the shyness and fumblings of a son when marriage is broached by his mother.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Nasir, I was wondering about Dastaan - the Dilip Kumar-B. R. Chopra remake of Afsana. I know Naya Daur was a huge hit. Sadly, I have yet to see Naya Daur - I somehow missed watching it on DoorDarshan in the good old days, and now its been sitting on my to-watch pile forever. I hope to get to it soon.

    ReplyDelete
  23. where can i find a dvd of this movie?

    ReplyDelete
  24. Anonymous, both induna.com and nehaflix.com carry the DVD.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Dastaan?

    Dilip Kumar's Dastaan was a flop and hence the reluctance on Dilip's part to initially refuse the film.

    Those were the heydays of Rajesh Khanna "the Phenomenon". I remember reading in a film magazine that he actually celebrated the said flop by hosting a huge party in the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. That thereafter he had a string of six or seven flops in a row is another story!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Dilip celebrated his flop with a party?! But he doesnt have many hero-roles after Dastaan - not enough to generate 6-7 flops. Or did you mean that Rajesh Khanna celebrated the flopping of Dilip's film?

    ReplyDelete
  27. While browsing the internet, I came across my reply that was probably not clear.
    It was Rajesh Khanna who celebrated Dastaan's flop in the Taj Mahal Hotel. It was after this that Rajesh Khanna had to face a string of flops of 7 movies of his and according to some reports 9 movies, beginning with Mehboob ki Mehendi. According to an insider info, Mehboob ki Mehendi was actually kept in the cans for quiet some time but was released when someone in the distributor's office curiously came across it and got it released.
    Now some reports incredulously do say that Rajesh Khanna desired flops to "get a feel of failure" after huge success and that God heard his prayers.

    ReplyDelete
  28. That sounds very crass of Rajesh Khanna! How can Dilip's flop be of any material interest to him? O well... I just looked through Rajesh Khanna's list of movies in and around Mehboob Ki Mehendi (1971) - most of them were big hits, I thought. But that could be because I heard the songs a lot on radio and saw/heard about the films a lot on DoorDarshan back in the 80s. Which of his films were big flops around 71-72?

    ReplyDelete