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21 August 2015

Solva Saal (1958)

Directed by: Raj Khosla
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Starring: Dev Anand, Waheeda Rehman, 
Sunder, Bipin Gupta, Kammo,
Tun Tun, Jagdev, Bir Sakhuja
The Dev-Nutan and Dev-Waheeda pairings are two of my favourite hero-heroine jodis in Hindi films. It should come as no surprise then that two of the films I chose have Waheeda playing romantic lead opposite Dev, while in another, she is the vamp.  It's also rather nice to see a road movie in Hindi films. This one, like Chori Chori, traces its provenance loosely (very loosely*) to Frank Capra's It Happened One Night, even as it takes a detour (or two) in the telling.  

Laaj (Waheeda) lives with her siblings (two sisters and a brother), and her father Shankar Lal (Bipin Gupta). After her mother's death, the responsibility of the house and that of her siblings rests on Laaj's slim shoulders. Her father depends on her, and Laaj, a cheery soul, manages the bickering, squabbling youngsters just fine. 
Laaj is in love with her classmate, Shyam (Jagdev). At a college picnic, she waits for him to show up, only to be accosted by an irate boyfriend. Laaj is not very sympathetic (she insists he looks like a monkey when he's angry - I must confess that that's insulting a monkey) and the boyfriend doesn't seem in a mood to be friendly. 
Not even when she tries to coax him out of his sulks. It appears that Shyam has decided that he and Laaj shouldn't meet any more; her father is against their marriage, and it's not right that they meet like this. It is better they go their separate ways. Though Laaj brushes it all off as a joke in the beginning, her boyfriend's mood gets her to change her mind and agree to elope with him that night.
It turns out that Laaj's future is being decided for her. Their family friend, a doctor, has brought a proposal for Laaj. The boy is one in a thousand, he tells Shankar Lal; a proposal such as this doesn't come everyday. The boy has agreed to the match, and all Shankar Lal has to do is to go meet the boy's mother in Bangalore tomorrow and finalise the agreement. The doctor will bring Shankar Lal's future son-in-law to the airport. Shankar Lal would like to talk to Laaj about this, but is peremptorily overruled by his friend. 
Laaj overhears this conversation as she walks in, but silently walks upstairs to tuck her little brother in. She takes a cup of milk to her father as usual and is told to wake him up at 5 a.m. He is taking the morning flight to Bangalore. Rather unusually for a filmi father, Shankar Lal tells her that it may be that the decision he is taking about her life is wrong; but to please believe that he has only her happiness in mind.
Laaj is torn - her little brother's unconditional affection, her father's genuine interest in her happiness, the responsibility of her siblings, etc., war with Shyam's love for her. She quietly packs a suitcase with a change of clothes and her late mother's precious pearls, and after taking one last look at her sleeping family,  sneaks off to keep her assignation with her boyfriend. 
Shyam is waiting impatiently for her. Once they board the train, it is clear that his intentions are not exactly pure - he is quite irritated, for instance, that Laaj brought only one necklace with her.  It is a very expensive one, Laaj reassures him, and hands the necklace over to Shyam for 'safekeeping'. Shyam promptly tells Laaj that he's run out of cigarettes, and steps out on the platform. The train begins to pull out of the station as Laaj looks anxiously out of the window, and Shyam waits expectantly, safely hidden behind a pillar. Just as Shyam is ready to heave a sigh of relief, the train stops. Someone's pulled the emergency chain. 
Shyam climbs in, pretending that he was going to climb into the next compartment, the train having begun to move whilst he was buying cigarettes. He is angry with Laaj who, he thinks, pulled the chain, forcing him to get back on board. Listening with interest to their conversation are two of their co-passengers, who were ostensibly sleeping on the seats behind. 
One of them is Prannath Kashyap (Dev Anand), a press reporter; the other is Gogi (Sunder), a photographer. Gogi wonders why no girl ever falls in love with him; at least his parents find his face handsome. And what about Kashyap? He is a good looking fella; why hasn't any girl fallen in love with him? Why hasn't Kashyap fallen in love? Oh, that? That's because his heart is a vagabond, Kashyap tells Gogi. While others in the compartment might enjoy Kashyap's singing, Shyam and Laaj certainly don't. When they get up to leave, Kashyap decides to follow them; the girl's run away from home with stolen jewellery; surely there has to be a story there? If he doesn't file a story tonight, the editor is going to fire him. Gogi is not interested; he has an assignment at National Studio. So Kashyap hoofs it alone behind the runaways.

Shyam buys two first-class tickets on another train; taking advantage of Laaj's anxiety, he pretends he's seen her 'Doctor uncle' on the platform and persuades her to hide in the train's bathroom. As soon as she does, he quickly makes his way out of the train, taking her pearls with him. Kashyap, who's already suspicious of Shyam, watches him leave. Unfortunately for Laaj, by the time she emerges from the bathroom,  it is to see Shyam running across the tracks. She follows him, but trips on the tracks and is almost hit by another train. Kashyap saves her in the nick of time. 
She is quite indignant, and peremptorily orders him to stop the runaway. He equally promptly refuses - he's not her servant. Who the heck is the guy running away anyway? None of his business, Laaj snaps, as she takes off after her errant (and erstwhile) boyfriend. Unfortunately for her, there's a railing in front of her, and a taxi stand just ahead. It's clear that Shyam has made a quick exit. 

After some mild retort-fest between the two of them, Kashyap helps Laaj to the taxi stand, where a helpful taxi driver informs them that if the previous driver didn't have any overnight trips, he would drop off the taxi at the garage and then go home. He could take them there. The journey seems never-ending to Laaj. On the one hand is her boy friend's treachery, and the loss of her mother's precious pearls. On the other is a man foisted on her - maan na maan, main tera mehmaan - who continues to find humour in her plight, and pelt her with questions.
Soon (not soon enough for Laaj), they arrive at the garage; Shyam's driver hasn't yet put in an appearance, but their  driver, having overheard their conversation, is suspicious. It is clear that the man doesn't know the woman, there's been some talk of a stolen necklace - what if this becomes a police case? He returns to ask Kashyap who the girl is; well, says Kashyap, she's a girl. But who is she? Oh, she? Yehi toh hai woh... The taxi drivers gathered there are amused; Laaj is inimical. Her trials are almost at an end, though; Banta Singh has returned, and he had dropped Shyam off at National Studio. He readily agrees to take them there as well. 

Shyam is at the studio; he's meeting a dancer/bit actress named Neena (Kammo). She's not very pleased to see him at first; Shyam will damage her reputation if he keeps hanging around the studio. Shyam wants her to leave films and be his wife. (So apparently he does love somebody!) Neena has no intentions of starving for love, but Shyam sets her mind at rest. 
He can keep her like a queen, he tells her proudly; this necklace? It's worth Rs10,000! Shyam also tells her where he got the necklace. He reassures Neena; Laaj won't go to the police. He knows her type - she will give up her life, but she will not tell anyone what happened. Even so, Neena tells him, it is dangerous to hang on to the necklace. Why not sell it? She knows a jeweller.

Meanwhile, Laaj and Kashyap arrive at the studio; Kashyap asks Laaj to wait while he looks around to see if he can spot Shyam. If the latter catches sight of Laaj, he will escape again. He runs into Gogi to whom he confides the night's happenings. He asks Gogi to look for Shyam, and keep an eye on him until Kashyap returns with the police. Reluctantly, Gogi agrees. (He has a simpler solution than all this cloak-and-dagger stuff: if Romeo has run away with the necklace, then perhaps Kashyap should run away with Juliet?)
When Kashyap returns to Laaj, however, there's a setback. Laaj doesn't want to go to the police, or file a report. Neither does she want to tell Kashyap what the matter is, nor have him drop her home. When he gently insists that it is not safe, she snaps at him and leaves the place. Kashyap is by now quite concerned. He follows her, while Laaj, at the end of her tether, decides she cannot bear to face her father, and jumps into the river. Kashyap, who had been following her at a discreet distance, fishes her out of the water. 
After a small bout of hysterics brought about by the realisation that her father will be even more shamed by her behaviour, Laaj finally confides in Kashyap. He promises to help her retrieve her necklace. After all, it's only a quarter to 12, and she has to wake her father only by 5. There's more than enough time to achieve the seemingly impossible. 

But first, they need to get out of these wet clothes. There is a dhobhi's basti close by, and he importunes a washerman to dry their clothes and iron them. It would also help if they could get a change of clothes in the meantime. By now, Laaj has unbent enough to tell him her name. Her stress levels appear to have gone down as well, since she responds shyly to Kashyap's gentle flirting. 
It is clear that she is not as indifferent to him now. Especially not when she expresses a slight jealousy of the young washerwoman with whom he sings and dances. Doesn't he have any laaj (shame)? When Kashyap admits that it would be wonderful if 'Laaj' was in his life, Laaj is eventually moved to admit that she doesn't quite mind his interest in her.
Back at the studios, Neena's jeweller friend (Bir Sakhuja) has finally put in an appearance. She conspires with him to fool Shyam into thinking that the pearls are fake. While Shyam is still reeling under the blow, Neena bids goodbye to the jeweller. She then proceeds to reassure Shyam that to her, the pearls are as good as real.
Before Shyam can respond, Neena is called to the sets for a shot. Kashyap and Laaj, who have come back to the studio, are taken to be extras, and co-opted into a scene by a stressed-out assistant director. While they are being made-up for a shot, Neena runs into the jeweller, who wants his cut.
What cut? asks Neena. Didn't he just say the pearls were fake? That was for that donkey's benefit, he says. Well, she's not a donkey, retorts Neena, and waves him a cheery good-bye. She may have made a mistake, however. It doesn't look as if he's going to be as easy to handle as Shyam. Who, by the way, has been spotted by our friend, Gogi. 

Neena is on the sets, and so is the pearl necklace; Laaj and Kashyap (in a huge false moustache) are there as well. The jeweller is bent on getting his hands on the necklace, and Shyam is not as much of an ass as the jeweller deems him.
With all the dramatis personae in one place, the scene is set for the denouement. Will Kashyap and Laaj succeed in retrieving the necklace? Will Laaj reach home before her father realises she's run away? What about Kashyap? Laaj has begun to love him, but her father's got another boy in mind for her. Will true love triumph?

Much has to happen before we get the answers to these questions, but the journey, in the company of Kashyap ('Aap mujhe apna Naath keh sakte hain') and his Laaj, is a sweet entertaining one. There is a song, there is carefully-built-up suspense, there is an eventful chase, some thrilling action, a sorrowful parting before the sweet meeting, there's even a cameo by the director, Raj Khosla.
*Solva Saal may have taken elements from It Happened One Night, but unlike Chori Chori, for instance, it is more inspired than a remake. What it does have in common with its illustrious predecessor is that both were well-made, well-directed, well-acted films. (I would venture to add that in my opinion, the latter had better songs.) Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman bring a lot to this film, not least their very comfortable equation with each other. Waheeda makes her Laaj believable, being neither too 'innocent' nor too much of a smart-mouth. Dev is Dev, young and handsome, and very comfortable in his own skin. Together, they provide us with two characters whom we are willing to invest in, and whose romance is something we root for. 

Raj Khosla proves again that he can hold tight rein, and gives us a sweet romance which is alternately light and thrilling. Unfortunately for him, however, this film would prove the straw that broke the camel's back as far as his beautiful heroine was concerned. Waheeda had already locked horns with Raj Khosla while shooting C.I.D. The clash over costuming would continue here, and though Waheeda got her way, thanks to Dev supporting her right to be comfortable in the clothes she was given, she swore never to work with him again. A rift that lasted for a long time, until, as she narrates in her biography, they both 'grew up'. 

Whilst I could have done without the comic scenes (not a complete side-plot, thank heavens) involving Tun Tun, one can't help but notice what a fine actress she was, if only they could have stopped strait-jacketing her into the same roles. She also gets to sing a few lines here, prompting the assistant director to tell her (in the film) that she's better off looking to sing than act. Other than that minor quibble, a couple of hours pass pleasantly enough in the company of Dev and Waheeda and a sweet summer romance.

Tom Daniel's channel has a good print of this film, if anyone is interested.

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