It all started when my sister and I were watching Biswajit and Rajshree cavorting in Do Dil (1965). They both played such vanilla-smelling
dumb sweet and simple characters, with nary a bright spot between them, that I couldn’t help but compare them to Mr. Bingley and Jane Bennett (if you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice yet, what are you waiting for?). Once Jane and Bingley were cast, it was absolutely essential that we cast the rest of the leads too! Naturally, that meant we had to pause the film while we debated the relative merits and demerits of our choices. Here’s how it went…
Sis: But who will be Darcy? Dharamendra is the best romantic leading man in the 60s, but he wouldn’t do arrogance very well. And he was kind of thin in '65.
Me (hesitantly): Rajendra Kumar?
Sis (dubiously): Yeah. Maybe. Who else? If it were the 50s, Ashok Kumar would be the best. He was so charismatic and such a good actor. But Dadamani was too old for Darcy in the 60s.
Dadamani as Darcy was a completely new idea for me, and one I liked instantly! So naturally we had to have two P&Ps – one where he played Darcy and one where someone else told Biswajit/Bingley whether or not he could marry Rajshree/Jane. That decided, the search was on for the 60s Darcy.
We spent several happy hours debating, casting and rejecting names before we settled on our list.
Pride and Prejudice, the 1965 version
Darcy Sunil Dutt! He was handsome; tall enough to be "such a great tall fellow, in comparison with myself" that Bingley/Biswajit would pay him all the deference Austen thought was Darcy’s due; and he was quite capable of projecting both intelligence and aristocratic arrogance.
Elizabeth Sadhana. Her only serious rival was Tanuja who would make a lovely, vivacious Lizzy, but she looked very young in 1965 - too young to be courted by Sunil Dutt! Sadhana, on the other hand, would know just how to refuse Mr. Darcy and let him know that "You could not have made the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it.
Jane Rajshree. She is lovely, dances beautifully, and usually projects a personality that is sweet, but not overly intelligent – perfect for Jane who has never struck me as being over-endowed with intellect.
Bingley For me, Biswajit has always had the onscreen personality of a wet-noodle. He never comes over as a very forceful personality. Even in Do Dil, where he was quite sweet, he looked rather simple and dense. I have no trouble imagining him being talked out of loving Jane by a more forceful Mr. Darcy!
Wickham Shashi Kapoor. With that dimpled, crooked smile, the charm oozing from every pore, he would certainly make a "valuable son-in-law" for Mr. Bennett. When Mr. Bennett tells people that Wickham "is as fine a fellow as ever I saw. He simpers, and smirks, and makes love to us all", don’t you just know that he is speaking of Shashi?
Lydia Saira Banu. Lydia is pretty, loud, silly and absolutely convinced that she is cute as a button. Plus, you know she will grow up to be even more shrill and annoying. Ergo, a role tailor-made for Saira Banu. You disagree? Check out Shagird, and you won’t disagree for long!
Mr. Bennett David. We debated the rival merits of Om Prakash, but he tends be a bit too loud and Mr. Bennett was anything but. David had been channelling Mr. Bennett’s sarcastic humour and keen intelligence for so long by 1965, that I can’t help but feel that he is the one for this role. I can just see him obstinately refusing to leave his study, and telling Mrs. Bennett how well acquainted he is with her nerves.
Mrs. Bennett This was the hardest choice of all. The 60s had so many good looking Moms knocking around, and all of them were excellent actresses. In the end, the choice fell on Achla Sachdev, 'coz in 1965 she was a zohrajabeen (Venus?) and abhi tak hai haseen (still beautiful). Mr. Bennett was right to think that his daughters’ would-be beaus may take one look at her and forget all about the young ladies!
Mr. Collins My first choice was Rajendranath since looks-wise, he is exactly like my mental picture of Collins. Unlike Collins, he is always a buffoon who never takes himself seriously, and always has a heart of gold. So I thought of Kishore Kumar, who was quite capable of being both annoying and serious though usually not at the same time. And Mr. Collins is the most seriously annoying man you’re ever likely to come across in a romance! After a lot of serious discussion between sis and yours truly, Rajendranath finally won out. He had the looks, and surely a good director and a great script can take care of the rest?
Miss Bingley Simi Garewal. Miss Bingley is beautiful, stylish, very well aware of her own worth, and supercilious to boot. Look at Ms Garewal – she is beautiful, stylish, very well aware of her own worth, and has been known to carry off haughty and disdainful, with ease, too. Need we look any further for our favourite vamp?
Miss Darcy Mumtaz. I have this mental image of Georgiana Darcy – she is tall, graceful, shy and hasn’t yet outgrown her puppy fat. Now look at Mumtaz in the mid-60s. She is a tall, graceful, adolescent young lady who can do bashful or cheeky with equal ease. Do we want anybody else playing Georgiana? Not me!
Pride and Prejudice, the 1955 version
Elizabeth Madhubala. Do I even need to justify my choice? She was vivacious, she was charming, she could be flirty and, best of all - she could pull a man’s leg and he’d be grateful for it! I can just imagine her twinkling up at Darcy, telling him that it is now his turn to come up with some conversation since she’s said her piece already!
Darcy Ashok Kumar. So he isn’t tall and he isn’t handsome. But he has truckloads of charisma, he is a superb actor and can do supercilious, sinister, obsessed, avuncular – the works. So Darcy should be a breeze for him and clever camera work can take care of the height issues. Besides, I am darned if I will even consider any one of the three greats of the 50s (Dev, Raj and Dilip) – Dev is the only one I like, and though he is handsome enough, I doubt if he can be sober, serious, snobbish and not give in to the temptation of breaking into a romantic number.
Jane Nalini Jaywant. She has all the qualities of a good Jane. Beautiful? Check. Syrupy sweet? Check. Dumb? Check (she made a career out of playing mentally deficient!). And she looks older than Madhubala – so a perfect Jane. Of course, the 50s were chockful of actresses that would do very well for Jane – Nimmi is the first one that comes to mind. Her propensity for having melodramatic meltdowns onscreen, and always seeming to be on the wrong side of the insanity divide, rules her out, though.
Bingley Bharat Bhushan. As in the case of Jane, 50s could throw up a ton of actors who could and did do a good Bingley, but nobody with as much success as Bharat Bhushan. He was always silently falling in love with a girl he either could not or would not marry, and dissolving in tuneful tears as a consequence. So he has all the necessary training to be a good Bingley, already!
Lydia Meena Kumari. While she specialised in earnest roles, even at the start of her career, the tragedy queen did do silly rather well. And she wasn’t averse to being flirtatious onscreen, either. So I think she could carry off Lydia with relative ease. The only other actress I could think of was Shyama – she could do beautiful and wilful very well, but she looked too confident and grown up for the immature 16 year old Lydia.
Wickham Rehman. He may have already started to put on weight, but he was still very handsome and rakish in the early 50s - the perfect person to oust Darcy from a girl’s thoughts. I thought about Shammi Kapoor, but he was just too thin and earnest in the early 50s for something like this. So Rehman it is…
Mr Bennett Nasir Hussain. The early 50s may have had other patriarchal figures, but Nasir Hussain is the one who played the benevolent pater familias for so long (well into the 1970s!) that I cannot readily think of anybody else. He’s practically played Mr. Bennett countless number of times, so the guy gets the job on experience alone!
Miss Bingley Kuldip Kaur. The vamp we all love to hate, she is beautiful, she dislikes our heroine and wants the hero all to herself. Reminds you of someone? Let me jog your memory… It’s Kuldip Kaur from Ek Saal - there she wanted Dadamani to forget all about Madhubala and fall for her! Need I say more? She’s clearly been practising to play Miss Bingley.
Mr. Collins Gope. One of the few comedians in Hindi films who could successfully combine the comical and the sinister and often played comical villains. He may be a trifle large for Mr. Collins, but I cannot think of a better actor in the 50s to do the comical, annoying and potentially villainous (I can so see Mr. Collins refusing to let the Bennett women stay on at Longbourn after Mr. Bennett’s death) character we (and Elizabeth) love to hate.
Miss Darcy Nutan. Georgiana Darcy is young, tall, bashful, and intelligent. Look at Nutan. Isn’t it a part tailor-made for Nutan? She even practised running away from home. Can you see anybody else play Miss Darcy?
It looks like Bollywood had several actors playing characters from Pride and Prejudice in one form or the other, over the years. Why oh WHY did they not make the film? O well, their loss is our gain – we can spend hours making our own versions! So who would you cast in your P&P?