Directed by: Anant Thakur
Starring: Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Pran, Johnny Walker,
Gope, Bhagwan, Indira Bansal, David, Mukri
Let me begin my ode to RK with Chori Chori. Even people who usually do not like Raj Kapoor, like this very faithful adaptation of Frank Capra's It Happened One Night. Director Anant Thakur and writer Aga Jani Kashmiri gave it the bite that localised the final product without weakening the original's charm. One of the first 'road' movies in Hindi cinema, it exploited Raj Kapoor's talent for comedy, and he had an able accomplice in Nargis.
Kammo (Nargis) is the spoilt daughter of businessman Giridharilal (a wonderful, wonderful Gope). When we first meet her, she is busy throwing plates at the uniformed bearer who takes her food into the cabin.
Then she throws a tantrum at her father. When her father refuses her demand (she wants to marry Suman whom her father deems a fortune hunter), she throws herself off the ship, and swims to the shore to the tuneful accompaniment of fisherfolk's song.
Can't say she is not enterprising. She manages not only to escape, but our intrepid heroine pawns her diamond ring and buys clothes and accessories (a nifty pair of sunglasses) and sets off to Bangalore where her true love awaits her.
Only, she has no clue how to go about it.
Kammo runs into Sagar (Raj Kapoor), a reporter, and their first meeting is not very propitious. Their subsequent interaction does nothing to improve their impression of each other. The bus journey from Madras to Bangalore begins with a spat over a seat. They continue bickering until night falls, when she unwittingly uses his shoulder to sleep on.
When she apologises, he graciously forgives her - Bahut si raatein bekaar gayi, ek aur sahi... but the uneasy peace doesn't last long.
When they make a pit stop, Kammo insouciantly tells the conductor to wait for her. When, after a song-and-dance through the fields, she takes her own sweet time to come back, she is indignant to find that the conductor did not obey her command. Sagar has since found out that she is an heiress, but is not impressed.
Giridharilal is not Kammo's father for nothing. He has promptly advertised her disappearance and offered a reward of sawa lakh (Rs1.25 lakh) for news of her whereabouts. We are also introduced to Suman (Pran); he is all that her father fears him to be, and more.
In the meanwhile, Sagar and Kammo have taken the next available bus to Bangalore. She is importuned by a would-be-poet much to Sagar's amusement. However, his chivalrous instincts (and a well-placed heel to the shin) cause him to rescue her by claiming she is his wife.
Her thanks are begrudging, and he claims he rescued not her, but the unfortunate poet. However, when the poet wants to claim the reward, Sagar takes on another persona - Sultana daku, a dacoit who has the blood of three other poets on his hands.
When the bus breaks down, Sagar and Kammo are forced to take refuge in a nearby-inn; since the innkeeper only lets rooms out to married couples, they perforce continue the farce. Sagar even resorts to unique ways to prove he has no ulterior motives in sharing a room.
All he wants is an exclusive story that will make him famous. But he still tries to warn her off Suman, much to her chagrin. Arguments and snarky remarks fly back and forth, neither willing to give a quarter. Their masquerade leads to some comic interludes when people, on trail of the reward, come looking to see if they are really man and wife.
But a fledgling attraction is growing, one that Sagar at least, is beginning to be aware of, though he is quick to nip it in the bud.
The next morning finds them on the road, and the spoilt heiress is in no mood to walk. Sagar is, by turns, irritated and enraged by her recalcitrance. She doesn't care. A lifetime of having her wishes catered to has led her to believe life owes her; but she's never come across someone like Sagar before, and unwittingly, her feelings are also changing. (It doesn't stop her from filching his clothes when he dumps her in a stream, though.)
Their bickering continues, even as their mutual attraction simmers unfettered. Kammo is very close to her destination, but her steps falter. Sagar is too cynical to be of any help, and their bickering continue as they vend their way, one reluctant, the other just wanting to get the journey over with. But soon, it is is time to part, and she is thinking less about her meeting with Suman and more about her parting with her rescuer. When she wonders whether Sagar will miss her, 'Sorrow is a weakness', he counters, and he prefers not to exhibit his.
When Kammo leaves, in tears, Sagar is forced to confront his own feelings. Yet, the morning finds Sagar absconding, Kammo abandoned, accused of immorality, and thrown out of the inn where they spent the night.
Is Sagar truly absconding? Why did he leave? What will Kammo do now? Does she go to Suman, or back to her father? And Suman? Will he give up his golden ticket? If Sagar truly loved Kammo, why is he asking Seth Giridharilal for money?
The film belonged to Nargis. It is Kammo who is the lead character. It is she who drives the story forward, and it is her reactions that set off the entire chain of events. Sagar only provides the foil, and Raj Kapoor is content that it is so. It is precisely because he is restrained that Nargis is free to take flight, and soar she does. Effortlessly. She plays the ditzy blonde stereotype with class, not allowing it to descend into caricature even once.
She is entitled, but clueless rather than snobbish, protected from the realities of life by her father's wealth. She is no pushover, and gives as good as she gets. She is also an unusual heroine in that she takes the steps necessary to get what she wants. She is the one who is setting off to find Suman, it is she who, when she realises that what she feels for Sagar transcends what she felt for Suman, tells Sagar that she loves him. Watch her in that one scene at the end where her father tells her that he has fixed her marriage to Suman. Shock, horror, and grief, all flit across her face.
Sagar is a snappy, sarcastic, hard-nosed reporter, who is willing to help the spoilt brat of an heiress in return for an exclusive. And Raj Kapoor is all that, and more. When he falls in love with her, almost against his will, one can see him trying to brush it off. When she tells him she loves him, he is conflicted - he wants to believe her, but is not sure he can. When she leaves, as he thinks, the hurt is hidden behind a demand to be paid an itemised bill. And yet, there is no melodrama; no accusations hurled at each other: just a request that he be paid for his trouble on one side, and a demand that he be recompensed and sent away, on the other.
The real-life involvement of the leads lends a certain piquancy to the romance on screen. And yet, this was the last film they would do together. Once Chori Chori was complete, Nargis left the RK fold, never to return (except for a cameo in Jagte Raho). In fact, Aaja sanam madhur chaandni mein hum was shot without the leads talking to each other. Yet, the song sequence crackled with tension on screen - they are just beginning to realise (on-screen) that they are attracted to each other; but one is running away to marry someone else, and the other was helping her do so. They weren't wholly acting; when Nargis is emoting to Chaand ki pehli nazar keh rahi hain pyaar kar zindagi hai ik safar kaun jaane kal kidhar, she looked like she really meant every word of it.
Pran, as Suman, was all that a gold digger should be - handsome, charming, and scheming. One can almost understand why Kammo would run away to marry someone like him.While Bhagwan, Mukri, Rajasulochana and Johnny Walker managed to work the side plots without making them too irritating.
And the music. Oh, the music. Shankar-Jaikishen must surely count this as one of their best overall scores. The picturisations, particularly of Jahan mein jaati hoon, also lend credit to the rumour that surely RK must have shot them himself. (Though that is probably unfair to the director; RK had a well-deserved reputation for not being a director on the sets, unlike his contemporaries.) Keeping in character with the overall flow of the movie, the female voice overrides the male. Raj, in fact, does not even get a solo; he only appears in the three romantic duets. Manna Dey gets to sing playback for RK, leaving Rafi to sing All line clear for Johnny Walker, and Sawa lakh ki lottery for Bhagwan. Lata Mangeshkar rules supreme over the female vocals, lending voice to both heroine and others.
And because it was an AVM production, we were also treated to two excellent classical dances by Kamala Laxman, and by Sai-Subbulaxmi. Bliss.
This was a film that just 'came together' for want of a better phrase. Script, dialogue, music, acting, direction, even the comic side plots, usually the bane of most films, just fell into place to form a whole that was greater than the sum of its (excellent) parts.