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12 January 2015

Daag (1973)

Directed by: Yash Chopra
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Starring: Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore, Raakhee
Prem Chopra, Madan Puri, Achala Sachdev, Manmohan Krishna
Iftekhar, Master Raju, Baby Pinky
I first watched Daag when they showed it on Doordarshan. I've watched it a couple of times since then, and most recently, watched it before my visit to India. At that time, I took a few screencaps and forgot about it. Coming back and having reviewed Parinayam, I felt the need to write up a film that is all fluff. Not serious, not depressing, just entertaining. Daag fit the bill. (If I had the time to watch it again, I probably would have, but since I didn't, I have to rely on my memory and the few notes I had jotted down while watching it to reconstruct the story.)

Sunil (Rajesh Khanna) and Sonia (Sharmila Tagore) are college-mates. (Yes, please suspend disbelief.) By the time the credits roll, it is established that they are in love with each other, and that it is the end of the academic year.
Events happen in quick succession - the year ends, they part, Sunil gets a job, he has to leave immediately, and after teasing Sonia a little bit, he promises to ask her uncle (Sonia is an orphan) for her hand in marriage.

It leads to an amusing interlude with her mamaji (Madan Puri), KC Khanna, who is a lawyer, and assumes that Sunil has come to him for legal help.
It turns out that Sunil is an orphan too; hence his coming alone to seek an alliance. Once all misunderstandings are cleared up (the uncle thinks that Sunil seeks to marry one of his daughters), the uncle is all for the alliance, but the final verdict, he tells Sunil, is in the 'judge's' hands - his wife's.

On his way out, Sunil bumps into Sonia's aunt (Achala Sachdev). Unlike her husband, she is not very enamoured by Sunil's hail-fellow-well-met demeanour. Not only that, she has just returned from fixing up Sonia's marriage with her aunt's son. 
Mamaji demurs; Sonia has chosen her own life-partner. And much to her maami's chagrin, Sonia is not the demure, well-brought-up damsel who will bow her head to her elders' diktats. (Can't blame her, especially when the chap the aunt wants her to marry is one of the most loutish chaps I've ever seen!)
She insists that she will only marry Sunil, come what may. Even her maami's avowed strictures do not faze her. (Sonia has awful hairstyles, however.) And after a rather public avowal of their intent to stand by each other, Sunil and Sonia get married in a small ceremony. Despite his wife's acrimony, mamaji arrives to bless them and to give Sonia her mother's jewellery.
Soon after, the newly-weds are off to Kulu, where Sunil is due to take charge at his new place of work. They arrive at the estate late at night, drenched to the skin. (It was bright and sunny when they landed - I don't know how far they had to travel from the airport for it to be night when they reach the estate. I also find these sudden downpours rather fascinating.) To find only Kapoor Junior in residence.
Dheeraj Kapoor (Prem Chopra) informs them that his father was away from home and will return late. But he offers to accommodate them in his room for the night; Sunil and Sonia are duly thankful. It is clear that the young Mr Kapoor is up to no good. (Well, it is Prem Chopra, what did we expect?)

However, the night passes in peace. The next morning, Sunil makes the acquaintance of Kapoor Senior (Hari Shivdasani). Mr Kapoor takes Sunil along to the factory with him, and asks Dheeraj to follow along with Rs50,000 -  the payroll. Back in their room, Sonia notices that Sunil has left his wallet behind. Amusedly wondering when he will discover its missing, she goes off merrily to have a shower.

Dheeraj, who's just been waiting for an opportunity, goes up to his bedroom to ostensibly take the money for the workers' wages from the safe. Then, under the pretext of needing his hands free to close the safe, he asks for Sonia's help.
Sensing his intentions, Sonia asks him to leave the room with the inevitable consequences. Fortunately for her, Sunil returns to collect his wallet. Unfortunately for them, Dheeraj dies in the scuffle.
Fortunately (or so Sunil thinks), it is an accident. Unfortunately, Mr Kapoor, grieving his son's untimely demise, uses his wealth and clout to charge Sunil with robbery and murder. This is just the beginning of their misfortunes. Sunil is found guilty of Dheeraj's murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
While being escorted to jail, Sunil is incited to violence by his fellow prisoners who impugn his wife's character. He gets into a scuffle with them in the back of the prison van. The van is struck by lightning, and the distracted driver unable to control the vehicle, it crashes into a ravine. Sunil and all the other prisoners are declared dead.

Sonia, widowed and bereft, is soon beset by another news - she is pregnant. Her uncle is sympathetic, but her aunt, already angry that Sonia defied her to marry Sunil, is worried about the scandal that will not only attach itself to Sonia's unborn child, but will also taint Sonia's cousins' prospects.
When her uncle and aunt end up fighting over her right to live there with them, Sonia quietly leaves their home. Somewhere far away, she gives birth to the baby, and then taking him with her, travels even further where, she tells her newborn son, even her memories will not shadow them.
And so it happens. Her baby is now a little boy (Master Raju) and Sonia is a teacher in a school. His best friend is Pinky, whose mother, Chandni (Raakhee), is on the school's managing committee. One day, Chandni finds the managing committee in an uproar. Somehow the shadows of Sonia's past have caught up with her. The parents do not want the wife of 'a killer' teaching their children. If news of her past becomes public knowledge, then parents are going to remove their children from the school. The school's reputation is on the line. They want her removed from her job. But Sonia has one defender - Chandni.
However, even Chandni's impassioned defence does not bring the required results. Despite some of the other committee members showing their support for Sonia, the Principal insists upon removing her from her post. Though saddened, Sonia is not desolate. She thanks Chandni for her support, and tells her that when one door closes, others will open. She will find something to do.
Chandni is fascinated by her self-reliance. She has an idea - what if Sonia comes to live with her? Not as a guest, but as a companion. She lives with her father and her daughter, Pinky. Her husband, Sudhir, is often away on business. If Sonia agrees, then she will have a companion, Pinky will have a playmate, and Sonia can take care of both children. A grateful Sonia agrees. The decision is a boon for both women.
Until later that night, when Chandni's husband comes home.
So Sunil did not die in that long-ago crash. Why didn't he come to Sonia if he had escaped then? Why is he now known as Sudhir? And when or why did he marry Chandni? What will Chandni do when she learns the truth about Sunil and Sonia? How can Sonia deal with this deep betrayal?
 So many questions... do watch the film if you haven't already. 

Daag was the highest grosser of the year and won two Filmfare trophies: Best Director for Yash Chopra and Best Supporting Actress for Raakhee, apart from three nominations — Best Actor for Rajesh Khanna, Best Music for Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Best Male Playback Singer (Mere dil mein aaj kya hai) for Kishore Kumar. Ironically, Sharmila wasn't even considered for the Best Actress award. Which is a shame, since she owned this film.

I'm not a great fan of Sharmila simpering on screen; her chulbuli avatar grated on my nerves. (But then, many actresses' 'innocent, girlish' avatars made me want to pull my hair out by its roots. For some reason, film-makers associated 'girlish' with positively simpering, and it was enough for me to dislike the adjective 'girlish' as well.) But when her characters attain a certain gravitas, as they invariably did, she was fantastic. There is usually a strong core to her characters, and within their parameters of behaviour, she is 'strong'.

Here, too, Sonia is a strong-willed, determined character. From the first scene, where she defies her aunt to marry the man she loves (no blatant dramatics, just a quiet statement of what she will and will not do), to the part where she leaves the safety of her uncle's home rather than wreak havoc in his marriage and in her young cousins' lives, she has agency. She makes her own choices, and lives by them - quite happily, in fact. Yes, she is a widow and a single mother but there is no martyrdom in her becoming a school teacher, or bringing up her son. (As in, she is not shown at the ubiquitous sewing machine, or crying buckets over her son as she puts him to bed.)

When she finds out that husband has married again, there is one scene where she shows her deep disgust at his betrayal.
But after that, she quietly picks up her son and leaves. However, she is shown to be equally willing to listen to his explanation when he offers one, and is compassionate enough to think of the woman who sheltered her when she was in trouble. Even her scene with Chandni, where the latter accuses her of having an affair with her husband, was handled with restraint.
It is a fine line to walk between being self-reliant yet troubled rather than martyred, and between being compassionate and a self-sacrificing doormat, and Sharmila managed the former with great ease. (Now if she had only toned down her hair and clothes and vivaciousness in the first few scenes, she would have been perfect.)

This was Rajesh Khanna's film as well. It is not easy to play murderer and bigamist and gain audience sympathy. And while his reasons for bigamy are all filmi-weird, he makes it believable in the moment, and that is what counts. Rajesh Khanna was at the height of his stardom when Daag was made, and it is to his credit that he signed a remarkably woman-oriented film, one where his character was written so ambiguously. Of course, there is always redemption and washing away of the daag at the end, but still, it is not a 'hero material' role. Perhaps it is because he did not shy away, at that point, from doing roles that did not actually gild his stardom. Perhaps it was because Yash Chopra had directed him in Ittefaq, one of the finest roles of his career, and he felt he could trust Chopra to give him a good role.
Whatever his reasons may have been, this was the period in which Rajesh Khanna could do no wrong. His chemistry with Sharmila is as electrifying as ever, his mannerisms had not begun to grate on people; indeed, there were far less mannerisms in this than in his later films. This was classic Rajesh Khanna, and he nailed the duality of Sunil/Sudhir, and what is more, played them with sympathy.

Raakhee had made her Hindi debut barely three years before (in Rajshri's Jeevan Mrityu). I'm not sure that her performance was award-worthy; I found her reasonably competent but raw around the edges. She had not yet honed the craft that would make her an actress of repute in later years. More probably, it is because her character was half-baked - at least to me. She did do the best she could with the material she was given, so that is there. Plus, she is incredibly easy on the eyes.

Prem Chopra, Madan Puri (in a rare non-villainous role), Iftekhar, Manmohan Krishna, et al are their usual competent selves. Achala Sachdev did well in her wicked-aunt role, and I remember being very angry with her when I first watched this film. (I was still a kid then and prone to reacting to characters as if they were real people.) Master Raju and Baby Pinky were not as annoying as children usually were, but I could have done without either of them.

All in all, an entertaining film with lovely songs (Sahir got a chance to be completely cynical and bitter in Jab bhi jee chaahe) and well worth a watch. What do you think?


  1. Nalini Ikkandath12 January 2015 at 11:18

    Yes, Daag is a very watchable film. When you sit down and think it over of course, the holes are very obvious but at the time you do find them acceptable. And then Sharmila, once her bouffant (or whatever they call it) comes down, is a favourite of mine. All Rajesh Khanna's movies made during those 4-5 years were great. I would like to remember him by those movies only.

  2. Obviously Daag was a very important film in my journey (and obviously it's one of my favorite RK performances). I can't stop rambling on about it (and few know what I'm talking about), so I'm thrilled that you've reviewed it. For all that it stretches the powers of belief, it's also strives to be mature in portraying relationships and conversations. It's not realism, but it's a weighty melodrama that gives a lot of screen-time to a woman who is not a pushover. That scene you praise, in the greenhouse during the storm, when Sharmila tells her husband of--that to me, sets the tone for the rest of the film. I mean, if you didn't respect single-parent Sharmila before... When I initially wrote something about it, I think I focused a lot on the relationship between Sharmila and Rakhee's characters--one of mutual emotional/financial support, if not exactly a friendship. I think I said something about this being rare in older Hindi films (which tend, in my opinion, to overemphasize competition between female peers). With a lot more filmi-experience, that still holds true for me. In the end, the female bond is a bit undermined by the false "love triangle," but I think Yash Chopra's direction and attention to the women as people (not just stereotypes) makes up for that. Plus it's a gorgeous film--this is the definitive Himachal Pradesh in my imagination (don't confuse me with the facts).

  3. I saw the movie when it released, and was captivated by it. When I saw it again much later I could see the 'not so captivating' parts of it. But still, it is a good film to watch, lots of melodrama going on.

    I love the iconic dialogue "Sonia me kya hai jo mujh me nahi". "Sonia meri biwi hai" haiiiiiiiii....

  4. Like this film more than some of the other better films of Rajesh Khanna of that time. His 'mouche' was supposed to be fake, like the disguise from Apna desh? didn't look real.

    that cynical song was inspired from this song from 1969 Pakistani film apparently, Is it?

  5. I think these sort of films were not meant to be analysed so closely. It is a mirage, something that sweeps you away from reality for three hours. And yet, inside, there is enough for a viewer to draw parallels.What I liked about Yash Chopra's heroines is that they were pretty strong women, with their own agency.

    (I agree completely with you about Sharmila and her bouffant. *grin*)

  6. It was funny - when the earlier comment first showed up in my inbox, it showed up as posted by Filmi-Contrast. And it was truncated; then, it changed to 'Guest'. I'm glad you persevered. :)

    a lot of screen-time to a woman who is not a pushover.

    Yes, I just made that point in my comment below. Chopra's heroines may have been traditional, but they were not martyred doormats. Small though the roles were sometimes, they still were decisive about taking charge of their own lives. I liked that.

    I thought the Sharmila-Raakhee part of the film was the weakest. He definitely didn't spend much time exploring the nuances that would make their inter-dependence evident. I mean, Sudhir shows up the first evening Sonia has moved into Chandni's house!

  7. Oh, there is definitely 'not so captivating' parts in it, Ava. But on the whole, I think it has withstood the test of time.

    Raakhee screeched her way through that dialogue. And it was so unrealistic since they had ostensibly spent 5 or more years together by this point of time. I don't see why she suddenly wanted her 'husband' right then. :)

  8. I remember watching this one only once, years ago on TV - and being quite fascinated, since it seemed to me an unusual sort of film (I don't think I'd seen Grahasti till then). I mean, bigamy - and that too by the male lead - seemed like so bold. I ought to rewatch it, actually; have completely forgotten the songs or even how the film ended, though I do remember a good bit of the first half or so.

  9. Yes. Rajesh Khanna makes it clear to Rakhee that their marriage is just a cover to provide legitimacy to Rakhee's son. But yet, Rakhee hopes to make Rajesh hers. Remember that scene where Rakhee prays to god, she wants a boon, to make her husband truly hers. But her flowers are blown away. Showing that God will otherwise. Hehe :)

    Of course, even if they were not having sex, he was her territory, in a way. It hurts her that Rajesh Khanna should choose Sharmila over her, for sex.

  10. Chris, I tried to reply yesterday but Disqus was behaving oddly. Anyway, what I began writing in response was that RK's mouche was definitely fake! He was also shooting for Namak Haram, wasn't he? He didn't have a mouche in that.

    Perhaps Jab bhi jee chahe nayi duniya basa lete hai log was inspired... The melody itself is nowhere the same, though, and the lyrics, apart from the first two lines are not the same either. So this could be real inspiration - to take the essence of that song and create something entirely new out of it that fits another context...

  11. I remember watching this one only once, years ago on TV
    Probably the same time I watched it. :)

    It was unusual - a bigamist for a hero, a self-respecting single mother, a strong heroine, quite a restrained melodrama (if that is not an oxymoron; I think Chopra welshed out in the end, but I can see how that is also a kind way of solving a knotty problem, so that is there. Watch it if you have the time; it is quite entertaining. I promise you, you won't be bored. :)

  12. I know that; it just seems odd that she is praying for RK to be hers nearly 6 years after the fact. One would think she would have been attracted to him long before.

    I agree with your last paragraph though.

  13. You know filmi wives, they cannot make such wishes unless there is a camera around. :D


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