There are films that hook you from the first scene and draw you into make-believe land. There are films that make a deep impact and leave lasting memories. And then there are films like Naach Uthe Sansaar (the world begins dancing), that do none of the above! In keeping with its name, there is much singing and dancing in the film. The hero (Shashi Kapoor – yay!) spends a lot of time tapping a drum, shaking a leg, and lip-syncing to Rafi’s voice. The heroine (Hema Malini) isn't far behind in the dance department but comes up as an also-ran in the singing and angsting stakes. There is a lot of cute romance, too. But still, the film falls far short of being a solid entertainer.
Our hero Karmu (Shashi Kapoor), is a happy-go-lucky inhabitant of Uthup - a village deep in the tribal-zone of Bihar. He is an embodiment of Old King Cole’s soul. His drum and his dancing feet are never far from him! Our merry-young-soul Karmu dreams of marrying a woman with a body like green paddy and eyes like jackfruit seeds. No, no. We are not waiting for a futuristic genetic ghoulash to play the heroine. This is Karmu’s idea of beauty! The good news is that he forgets about his weird imaginings once he meets his dream girl. But before he meets his dream girl, we meet his family and friends. There’s his widowed Mom (Leela Mishra), his best buddy Tirthu (Rajendra Nath) and his wannabe sweetheart Soma (Simi Garewala).
Soma loves Karmu a lot, and leaves him in no doubt about her feelings. But Karmu is strangely reluctant to take the hint. Is it because her eyes are not like jackfruit seeds, or because she is dressed in leftovers from the Siddhartha wardrobe? Whatever the reason, inspite of his mother’s blatant liking for the lass, Karmu refuses to say “I do” to Soma.
On a trip to a nearby market town, Karmu meets Nanki (Hema Malini), a fiesty tribal from a neighbouring village. Their relationship gets off to a sticky start when Nanki purloins a radish from his cart and he objects, vociferously. But when Nanki dances to the beats of his maadak (a sort of tribal dhol/drum) that evening, its pure love-at-second-sight for Karmu. After a little wooing on his part, and some initial coyness on her part, Nanki agrees that she likes him too. So, a romance is on… There follow stolen moments at night, lots of singing and dancing, and cute billing and cooing. Karmu’s good luck rubs off on his friend Tirthu, who also gets lucky in love. He woos Nanki’s friend Mittal (Aruna Irani), who accepts him because “an empty headed husband would be much easier to control than an intelligent one”! But lady, do you really want to spend a lifetime with Rajendra Nath?! O well… their romance is mercifully brief.
Back to cute Nanki-Karmu - the two are so happy with each other that tragedy is bound to follow. But the first casualty of the tragedy isnt Nanki or Karmu, its poor Soma. She finds out that Karmu is in love with someone. Heartbroken, she gets drunk (sadly, she forgets to sing a daaru song) and propositions him. When he firmly repulses her, she leaves the village for good – doesnt even return to sacrifice her life for him!
Then comes the lovers’ first major set-back. One night, when Nanki sneaks out to meet Karmu, her absence is discovered at home. Her father Mahto (Tiwari) is furious. Nanki is forbidden to meet Karmu and locked up in her room. Unaware of the dark cloud on his horizon, Karmu blithely goes home and sends his Mom to talk to Mahto about his marriage to Nanki. Maa goes to talk to Mahto and is promptly shown the door. Karmu, apparently, isnt rich enough to deserve Mahto’s daughter. And here I was thinking that his face was his fortune!
Karmu is caught unprepared by this turn of events. When Maa tells him how she was insulted by Mahto, he decides to go and seek retribution. Strangely though, he ends up sneaking into Mahto’s house and attempting to free Nanki. He is inevitably discovered. Mahto and his sons beat him unconscious, and then dump him in the jungle. Tirthu stumbles across the wounded Karmu in the jungle, and takes him to be patched up by the village missionary priest (Rajan Haksar).
A patched up Karmu goes home with but one thought in mind – he needs to get rich enough to win Nanki’s hand. Inspite of Maa’s disapproval, Karmu goes to the city to earn money. Nanki manages to escape from captivity and follows him to town. The two are just happily re-united, when her family shows up. What happens next is a mystery, since the next scene suddenly switches to Nanki back home with her father (VCD edit?!). Karmu, in the meantime, sings and dances in town to such good effect that he returns home with a suitcase full of cash. Not that it wins him Nanki. The film is still shy a few reels, and they need to be filled up with more drama.
The film squanders most of its potential. It could have had an interesting love triangle with Karmu-Soma-Nanki, but the Soma thread is abruptly cut half-way through. Mahto’s opposition to Nanki-Karmu’s marriage could have led to some interesting conflict – but it just leads to an endless cycle of Karmu-Nanki partings and re-unions. The story basically keeps wandering into dead ends and there is very little by way of interesting dialogues or fun stuff to make it interesting. It was so unengaging that my attention wandered quite a bit, inspite of super gorgeous Shashi!
One thing that did catch my attention was the costumes. Men and women, both, had such lovely cottons on – beautiful Orissa ikat prints and some great embroidery. Karmu had a strange change of costume once he went to town – from tribal chic, he suddenly graduated to town dandy. But I was a lot more bothered by his hair - it kept changing length, and expanding into horrifying side-whiskers that appeared and disappeared at random!
On the plus side, I loved the songs. Its such a pleasure to have a 70s soundtrack with just Rafi as the male playback. The songs were bursting with joy, and Rafi’s voice did full justice to it. Here’s a sample: Tere sang jeena, Dhoom na kum dhum, Aaja re aaja.
Though I was very pleased to find a “new” Shashi film (as always), I wouldnt recommend it to anyone but a diehard fan! Watch it only if you absolutely must watch every Shashi or every Hema film. The rest of you can easily afford to skip it.