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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Do Ustad (1959) – was Manmohan Desai making films in 50s?

do_ustaad Hindi movie enthusiasts will be overjoyed to know of the discovery of a previously unknown masala multi-starrer gem by the 70s spice-king Manmohan Desai. Advanced scientific dating techniques tell us that the movie was made in 1959 - proof positive that the maestro was active long before previously supposed.
OK all that isnt true. This is NOT a Desai film though he was making films in the late 50s. It has all the required masala ingredients (check out Beth's and Memsaab’s lists to find out what those are) and then some. All the hallmarks of a Desai film, in fact. I was only convinced of the non-Desai-ness of the film on reading the director (Tara Harish) and producer's name (Sheikh Muktar) in the credit list!
The movie opens with a courtroom scene that impresses you with the gravity of the situation. Jagannath (Sheikh Mukhtar) is on trial for jailbreak and murder and refuses to say anything in his own defence. When exhorted to explain the mitigating circumstances of his crime by his younger brother Raja (Raj Kapoor), Jagannath/Jagan (and the viewer) is taken several years back in an epic flashback.
Once upon a time there were two orphaned brothers – Jaggu (Master Daboo) and Raju. They had lost their Maa who left them her mangalsutra and little else. As true sons of Maa, they hung on to their mother’s mangalsutra inspite of living close to starvation. They do however, take the precaution of keeping one half of the mangalsutra each. Precaution against what? Well, Kumbh Mela or other such cataclysmic events that tend to separate families. It was just as well, since the two happened to separate very soon.
Honest but starving, the brothers were enticed into robbery by a BAD man and were nearly caught. While escaping from the police, Raju got on a train that carried him to lands unknown while Jaggu got left behind, searching for his li’l brother.
Jaggu properly upbraided Bhagwaan (God) for this misfortune and made haste to grow into Master thief Jagan (Sheikh Mukhtar) – a guy who has an army of faithful hoodlums under his command and carries out daring robberies under cover of the night. His latest feat baffles the police as he gets away with a million rupee necklace without leaving any clues except his size 12 footprint.
The police suspect another big thief Rajan/Raja (Raj Kapoor) of the daring robbery. Raja however, is very lucky. Not only is his foot smaller than size 12, he was in prison at the time of the robbery.
Jagan gets away with the robbery and returns to his daytime job – that of the rich and respectable businessman Jagannath. He is married to the lovely Munne-ki-maa (Sulochana) who is expecting the Munna (the poor kid had better not be Munni, the script cant take it!) and together they are living happily-ever-after in their home-sweet-home.
This world comes crashing down when Raja decides to go after a “game” from Indralok (heaven) called Madhu (Madhubala). He finds out that she is rich with capital C (cash) and goes to work on her. His conning technique is quite simple really. He just impersonates Raj Kapoor because he is *gasp* a look-alike of RK! So, Madhu thinks she is meeting RK when its really conman Raja who steals her cash and then helps her with the same money!
Madhu returns home to be confronted by her evil Chacha (her Uncle, not a 60s dance) who wants to marry her off to his puppet and control her property. Being the spunky girl that she is, she dons a Pathan disguise and runs back to Bombay. The Chacha in the meantime, advertises that she is absconding with Rs. 1,00,000.
The lure of lucre leads both Raja and Jagan to comb the city for Madhu whom they recognise inspite of her cute disguise. There’s a hilarious scene where Raja dons a burkha and claims to be the wife of the Pathan – now christened Abdul Rehman – and manages to sneak her away from Jagan. When a quick search of Madhu/Abdul Rehman’s belongings doesnt reveal the money, Raja romances her and then sells her off to Jagan for Rs.10,000!
Poor Madhu! Heartbroken but not defeated, she manages to run away from Jagan’s captivity and seeks refuge in the home of a friendly woman who just happens to be Munne-ki-maa (we never do get to hear her name).
Madhu is fortunate though. Ma not only takes her word against her own husband, she also helps Madhu escape. Then, Ma confronts her evil husband and tells him that she is leaving this world with her unborn Munna to wash away his (Jagan’s) sins.
The story takes several more bizarre turns. Jagan’s wife is saved from suicide by none other than Raja who for her sake forswears crime and turns straight (not that he was queer before, just crooked). He brings up Jagan’s Munna as his own. To earn an honest buck, he helps the police capture Jagan and earns the reward money. Madhu decides to go abroad with a dance troupe and becomes a famous dancer.
So what brings Raja and Jagan together to court several years later? How do they find each other? Does Jagan find out about Munna and Munne-ki-Ma? What about Raja and Madhu – do they ever make-up? Can Madhu ever forgive Raja’s cruel betrayal?
There are plenty of twists and turns, zany disguises, scenery chewing and rollicking great songs before the credits roll in. There is the divine Madhubala whose scenery chewing is most charming while Sheikh Mukhtar’s is definitely not! Sulochana is great in a slightly-less-motherly-than-usual role. Even Raj Kapoor is quite charming in the parts where he forgets to be earnest and emotional. A large part of RK’s charm in this movie is the songs where Mohd. Rafi’s mellifluous voice replaces Mukesh’s as RK’s playback – it actually changes the earnest tramp into a suave, charming guy! Check out Richard’s great post for some of the songs.
Some poster art from the film:
This one is a great made-in-50s 70s masala film and is fun through and through. A must-see for all true masala-fans!


  1. Well, I guess I should see it despite the presence of Raj Kapoor! I do love Madhubala though.

  2. It looks like this film has some great visuals. I especially like your screencap of Sulochana walking along the railroad tracks. I dunno, even though I liked Ocean's 12 quite a bit the whole "Julia Roberts is pretending to be a museum director pretending to be Julia Roberts" thing was almost a deal-breaker... Would I be able to swallow a similar plot with RK despite my fondness for the man? Hmmmmm.

  3. memsaab, me too! So long as she doesnt play tragedienne, I can watch grass grow if it has Madhubala in it! :-) As to RK, he isnt a big part of the movie but more of a second lead to Sheikh Mukhtar which makes it quite bearable. And the songs are great though the Rock-n-Roll was kind of wasted on RK.

    ajnabi, thought Raj pretending to be Raj was quite cute. But the movie has sooooo many impossible things that one more or less doesnt make a difference! lol And RK and Madhubala's comedy was quite fun actually. So I'd say, give it a shot.

  4. lol- the screecaps are hilarious- ur sense of humor is amazing! Also so love sheikh Mukhtar- totally inexplicable, but love him to bits :)

  5. Don't hv any prying to see Desai flicks.Though i knew he is a good actor but will look funny in today's world.

  6. Shweta, thank you! And I remember loving Sheikh Mukhtar too after watching his Qaidi No 911, but have got over it now! His filmography is surprisingly short - or imdb doesnt have all the details (which wouldnt surprise me).

    crazy on bollywood, Manmohan Desai was not an actor but a producer-director who was responsible for a lot of multi-starrer hits in the 70s and 80s like Parvarish, Amar Akbar Anthony, Coolie, Mard, etc. All his superhits had lost-and-found-families and lots of zany twists and turns which is why I compared Do Ustad to one of his movies.

  7. raj kapoor is the greatest actor.

  8. i love Sheikh Mukhtar, unfortunately he's not well known, does anyone know were i could watch Bahen 1941 with Nalini Jaywant- it seems an interesting film about a posssesive brother played by Sheikh

  9. Bahen sounds interesting. I hadnt heard of it before - in fact, I hadnt even realised that Nalini Jaywant had begun acting that far back!