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26 April 2016

Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958)

Directed by: Satyen Bose
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Starring: Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar, 
Anoop Kumar, Madhubala, 
Sajjan, Veena, KN Singh, 
Sahira, Mohan Chhoti, 
Cuckoo, Helen
Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi is non-stop fun, and a perfect Sunday-evening watch. With all three Ganguly brothers joining hands in a madcap roller-coaster ride, Chalti ka Naam Gaadi is one of the best screwball comedies in Hindi. It’s not just the brothers, either. Kishore Kumar also got screen goddess Madhubala, who has certainly exercised her flair for comedy before, to let her hair down and by God! does she match his over-the-top antics?

This film has remained one of my favourite all-time watches, and while I often complain that I don’t have the time to watch all the movies I want to watch, Chalti ka Naam Gaadi is one that I end up watching randomly. And never mind that I know the plot. Wait, what plot?
The film, opening with crazy titles chasing each other, begins with a car – a classic 1928 Ford Model A stuck in traffic. The three men inside the car – three brothers, Brijmohan (Ashok Kumar), Jagmohan (Anoop Kumar) and Manmohan (Kishore Kumar) – are unable to get the car to start. Brijmohan feels that the car is behaving badly because there’s a woman across the street who’s laughing at their inability to get the car moving. So they huddle together, and come up with a brilliant plan – make faces at the woman. Disconcerted, she quickly turns away, and the brothers break into laughter.  Of course, the jalopy is now good to go, and we get… Babu samjho ishaare… 
Brijmohan owns a garage, and his brothers work there as well as stay above it. It’s soon established that Brijmohan hates all women with a vimand a verve, and that it’s his life’s ambition to keep his brothers safe from their wiles. The younger two haven’t travelled down the same path, but are too afraid of their brother to come out and say anything openly.

Having given Maujiya (Mohan Chhoti), the helper, the evening off to go watch the circus, Mannu is forced to take the night shift. He is fast asleep when a young woman (Madhubala) comes in to get her car repaired. 
It’s a rainy night, she’s drenched, is sneezing fit to wake the dead, and is in n0 mood to put up with Manu’s expostulations about not being able to repair her car in the rain. Finally, as Manu gives in and begins tinkering with the car, she tries to dry off as well as she can. The car is finally repaired, but not before Mannu annoys her terribly. 
He does impress her with his vocal skills, however, though she thinks him totally weird. It's only when she drives off that he remembers she didn't pay him for his services. She'd left her purse behind, however, and Mannu is sure she will return. He falls asleep waiting for her.

The next morning, his brothers find him sleeping down in the garage. When Brijmohan learns that the young woman had decamped without paying, he orders Mannu to take the money from her handbag; the handbag does not contain any money, however; it has a few cosmetics and an invitation to a show. Brijmohan sends Mannu to the venue so he can recover the money. Unfortunately, the 'invitation' is actually a stage pass, and it is in the name of  a 'Miss Renu'. Mannu is refused entry. Reluctant to return without his payment, Mannu finds Renu's car at the venue, and decides to wait for her. Having had his sleep disturbed the previous night, Mannu falls asleep in the back of the car, dreaming of pursuing Renu for his wages - paanch rupaiyya barah ana (Rs5.75 - a rupee originally comprised 16 anas). 
Meanwhile, Renu has reached home, and gone up to bed. Mannu, waking up, finds himself in the deserted garage, and has only way of escape - through the house. He enters the kitchen, and spotting some fruit there, remembers he's hungry. He's spotted, and chased, by the household help, and in his bid to escape, stumbles into Renu's bedroom. She is coerced into helping him escape.

Mannu's night of adventure is not yet over; escaping from Renu's home, he stops to take a breather, when a car drives up and stops nearby. Some men get out of the car and, leaving a corpse by the wayside, drive away again. A shaken Mannu returns home. 

The next  morning, he narrates his night's adventures to his brothers. As they ponder over whether Mannu should go to the police to tell them what he'd seen, Jaggu reminds him that he still hadn't recovered the money that's owed him.
While Brijmohan is sure that all women are cheats, Mannu is equally sure that Renu will come by to pay her dues. An angry Brijmohan, sure that they won't see the money, sends Mannu off to work on the cars. An amusing mix-up happens when another lady comes to the garage to get her car fixed, but Renu telephones at the same time wanting Manmohan to go to her home to fix her car - it's in need of repair again. This time, Brijmohan sends Jaggu; perhaps he will succeed in getting Renu to pay for the repairs. 

Jaggu is inordinately scared of women; when he gets to Renu's house, it is to find Renu's friend, Sheela (Sahira) fixing the car.
His anxiety is crippling, and he ends up drinking 10 glasses of water to ease his nervousness, and not repairing the car after all. Renu calls for Mannu to come repair her car. Afterwards, she drops him back to the garage, and Jaggu is aghast (and envious) at their patent friendliness.
Seeing his obvious shock, Mannu cannot resist exaggerating. (He does put his brother out of his misery at the end.)

Meanwhile, Renu is shocked to find that her father is contemplating her marriage - to Kunwar Prakashchand, the younger brother of one Raja Hardayal Singh. She has a reprieve, however - her father will do nothing against her wishes.

Renu decides to go meet Mannu at the garage; only, he's still sleeping when she arrives.  Waking up to see her in his room, Mannu is frightened stiff. What if his brothers see her in his room? Renu is not bothered - after all, Mannu had stumbled into her room in the middle of the night. 

Mannu tries chasing her away, but Renu refuses to go - she's come to pay the paanch rupaiye, barah aane, and she will pay it. While Mannu and Jaggu (into whose room too Renu has gone into) cower outside, Renu ventures into the lion's den. 
While the brothers are still pondering over what a woman is doing in their bedrooms, Renu finds a photograph in Brijmohan's room. In order to hide its importance, Brijmohan allows Renu to take Mannu with her. They end up spending the day together. It frustrates Renu, however, that Mannu doesn't seem to understand her feelings at all. She tries to make him jealous by telling him of her impending nuptials. When that doesn't seem to work, she leaves in a huff. When she reaches home, it is to find Raja Hardayal Singh (KN Singh) with her father. 
Back at the garage, Mannu is disconsolate. His brothers are curious, and Brijmohan is quick to warn him of the dangers of flirting with wealthy young women. His brothers should stay far away from women - they're the root cause of all that's wrong with the world. Mannu doesn't agree; besides, if that is so, why does his brother keep a woman's photograph under his pillow?
Reluctantly, Brijmohan explains. He'd been in love with the woman in the photograph; unfortunately, he wasn't her equal, and she had ditched him to marry someone from her own socio-economic class. He doesn't want his brothers to face the same situation. 

Meanwhile, Raja Hardayal Singh is enjoying a mehfil, when he's interrupted. One of their associates has been arrested with diamonds in his possession.
Hardayal Singh doesn't turn a hair - the diamonds were imitations. Besides, he has a new scheme to put into motion. Renu is the only daughter of a very wealthy man. If his supposed younger brother, Prakashchand (Sajjan), can marry her, that wealth can soon be theirs. Renu's father suffers from high blood pressure; who knows how long he'll live? 

Hardayal Singh has, in fact, played a similar game earlier. He'd married Kamini, the only daughter of a wealthy father, who suffered from heart disease. His father-in-law had died soon after, helped on his way by his loving son-in-law, and he, Hardayal Singh, had earned about 7-8 lakhs from that scheme. But money needs more money. Hence, this new scheme.

They are interrupted by the news of Kamini's escape - she's mentally deranged, and has been confined to her room for years. Hardayal Singh drags her back to her room.
It turns out that the unfortunate Kamini (Veena) is Brijmohan's lost love; she hadn't betrayed him, she had been forced into marrying the man who murdered her father. And now, though she's perfectly well, her husband has had her declared insane so she will not go to the police. Hardayal Singh orders her to be taken to her father's deserted mansion - there, she can scream to her heart's content. 

The next morning, 'Kunwar' Prakashchand is introduced to Renu, who is the more composed of the two. Prakash tries his best to endear himself to his proposed bride, paying her compliment after compliment, all of which she counters.
Meanwhile, back at the garage, Mannu is rather down in the dumps. Jaggu, realising that Mannu is still sad about Renu, advises him to go meet her. Matters rest there, until Jaggu and Mannu land up at a motor rally the next morning. Renu is there with her husband-to-be, Sheela is waiting for Jaggu, and Mannu is present as well, which makes Renu very happy. 

Soon, the brothers' old jalopy (driven by Mannu) is overtaking the others.  
Of course he wins, much to Prakash's dismay and Renu's delight, which she manages to hide very successfully when she meets Mannu after the race. Since Mannu is still dense, she takes great pleasure in introducing him to Kunwar Prakashchand. It is only when they leave that Mannu remembers where he's seen Prakash before - he quickly grabs Renu so he can tell her about it. 

Renu, sure that Mannu is jealous, confirms that she's to be married to Prakash. But she's soon disabused of the notion when when Mannu tells her of his suspicions.
What to do now? They decide they cannot go to the police without proof, so the best thing to do is to investigate the matter themselves. 

To make matters worse, Prakash, seeing Renu laugh and talk to Mannu, decides that this is not behaviour to be tolerated in his future wife. He has not taken Renu's measure before laying down the law, however, and she flounces away huffilys awa, breaking whatever 'engagement' he thought was between them. 

She's not the only person displeased with Prakash. Hardayal is also quite disapproving. Prakash's meeting with Renu was business, not love.   
Will Raja Hardayal's plan succeed? Will Mannu and Renu discover the truth? Or will Prakash see through their inept detecting? Is Kamini really mad? What about Brijmohan and Jaggu? Will the path of true love find them as well? 
Much more zaniness is to happen before the film draws to a close, and you get the answers to these questions.  

Chalti ka Naam Gaadi isn’t so much a coherent movie as it is a collection of whimsical vignettes, interspersed with beautiful, and sometimes, comical, songs. It was rumoured that Kishore Kumar produced this film so as to avoid paying income tax, and that he was heartbroken when it became a runaway hit.
Brothers Ganguly are in their element here, their interaction underlined by crack and sizzle. This was one film where I didn’t mind Kishore Kumar’s completely physical comedy. He seemed to be enjoying every minute of the shoot, and he cracked me up. The situations are completely loony (think of him dreaming about gatecrashing Madhubala’s stage performance, and getting Paanch rupaiyya barah aana out of it), but you buy into the premise, and soon, you forget logic.
Ashok Kumar was at his prickliest best as Brijmohan, the eldest brother. The eternal misogynist, he’s brought up his younger brothers to hate women, and is quite aghast when he learns (through tattle-tale Jaggu) that Manu is in love. From burning the calendar because it has a woman's picture to challenging Manu to a boxing match where he lays him low, it’s all par for the course for the man who, having lost the love of his life, now despises all womanhood. However, all that is balanced by his immense love for his brothers, and his deep desire not to see them hurt as he was.
Anoop Kumar was a revelation. His pusillanimity in the face of his elder brother’s anger, his envy when his brother relates a totally made-up adventure, his nascent love for Sahira,  he makes you both amused and irritated at the same time.
Madhubala. A vision to behold at the best of times, she seemed to light up the screen every time she appeared. Her trademark giggle was given full rein here, especially in the scene where she and Kishore keep giggling while whispering grave secrets to each other so as to throw the villain off their trail. 
She got to display her talent for comedy here, matching Kishore step for hilarious step, both verbally and physically. She also plays the femme fatale well, all coy and desirable as she beguiles a bemused Sajjan into staying on until Mannu arrives. 
Chalti ka Naam Gaadi has aged surprisingly well, and despite some old-fashioned techniques, the film is a blast. You can watch it on Tom Daniel's channel here.

1 comment:

  1. After a long long time..am venturing to your movie review kingdom...

    superb narration..it is almost a virtual movie watching experience.

    yes..i love this movie very much...i had watched this movie during DooraDarshan days...on a sunday evening...wonderful movie..and you had given every bit of this runaway hit movie. Kishor and his brothers awesome and a million watt smile gal madhubala...wah...no words to say.. A complete entertainment movie..

    Thank you for a wonderful writeup.


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