6 November 2019

Bheegi Raat (1965)

Directed by: Kalidas
Music: Roshan
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Starring: Ashok Kumar, Meena Kumari, 
Pradeep Kumar, Shashikala, 
Kamini Kaushal, Rajendranath, 
IS Johar, Hari Shivdasani, 
Moni Chatterjee, Ulhas, Raj Mehra
There are times when I begin watching a film and know, within the first frame or so, that it’s going to be a train wreck. Despite the presence of my favourite actress. I’m adding this to my ‘films you must avoid at all cost’ list, but since I’ve taken one for the team, I figured I would ‘review’ it. With many, many asides.
A young woman, Neelima (Meena Kumari), discovering that her uncle has sold her off to an old lecher, escapes by running off into the stormy night.  Fortunately, she’s rescued by a kind, benevolent lady. 

Meanwhile, Vineeta (Shashikala), a rich, entitled young woman is hell bent on marrying Ajay (Pradeep Kumar), the entitled son of a rich industrialist. (Why? There’s no accounting for tastes.) And to that extent, is willing to have her father spend lakhs to buy him for her. 
When Ajay slaps her in public, a humiliated Vineeta gets her father to revoke his offer to Ajay’s father unless Ajay apologises. And when he refuses to do that, she’s none too cowed – one day, he’ll come crawling back, and it will be her turn to teach him a lesson.
Ajay is an ‘artist’, and will not sell his soul for filthy lucre. And since good ol’ dad hasn’t informed laadla beta of his impending bankruptcy, Ajay slams out of the door, forsaking his daddy’s riches. (Slamming out of the house in anger would have been all the more effective if he hadn’t also taken a car to run away in – a car, I assume, that his father paid for.)

Ajay rushes off to Nainital, which is where Pushpa (Kamini Kaushal) –  who, instead of being the madam of a brothel (as is usually the case with kind, benevolent ladies who rescue damsels in distress), turns out to be a woman who is in loco parentis of her young niece has taken Neelima. 
Pushpa, who is crippled, needs a governess for her motherless niece;her brother Anand spends all his time in London. And so, Neelima takes charge of the little girl. 

Neelima's and Ajay's first meeting isn't very auspicious - he very nearly runs over her charge. Subsequent meetings don't endear him to her either. (Honestly, he's more creepy than charming.) One evening, however, the strains of a violin pull Neelima to a neighbouring cottage.  She's surprised to see Ajay and somewhat amused by his discomfiture. However, it's her turn to be discomfited when she spots her portraits in Ajay's portfolio. Her pique doesn't last long though, and she leaves, more kindly disposed towards Ajay than before.
Back home, Vineeta is vowing vengeance, and Pritam (Rajendranath) becomes an unwitting pawn in her schemes to destroy Ajay. In Nainital, however, Ajay and Neelima are busy billing and cooing like two turtle doves in a cote. Cue song (which makes me think Roshan fell asleep while composing...
...but Meena Kumari looks très pretty here.)

Enter a very suave Anand (Ashok Kumar) Anand is charmed by Neelima who treats Anand as Pushpa does. In fact, so comfortable is she with his presence that she even scolds him for having a shot of brandy. (Because, of course, alcohol = bad.)
Anand inadvertently runs into Ajay the next morning, and they become very good friends. When he realises that Ajay is a painter, Anand asks him if he would paint a portrait for him. 
Ajay readily agrees until he realises that the portrait is of Neelima. Angry and suspicious, Ajay tells Neelima he’s sure Anand is in love with her. Neelima retorts that Anand’s feelings are not her responsibility (Atta girl!). As she turns to leave, Ajay apologises, but Neelima is not a pushover – if he truly loved her, she tells him, he would trust her.
The next day, however, Anand informs Ajay that he will call Neelima there. Could Ajay draw the portrait without letting Neelima know that he, Anand, had asked for it? Ajay agrees. Neelima is furious when she finds out but is forced to be complicit. 

On New Year’s Eve, Anand persuades Neelima to go to the club with him.  While Anand goes off to procure some coffee for the two of them, Ajay turns up like a bad penny. Even as Neelima demurs, he forces her to go away with him. (He does a lot of that throughout this movie – not pay any attention to what she wants.) When he proposes to her, Neelima is overwhelmed. (I would be, too. Though not for the same reasons!)
When Anand returns with the coffee, Neelima is missing. As he goes in search of her, he chances to see the newly-engaged couple. (And poor Anand, who had quit drinking because Neelima asked him to, goes back to swigging whiskey with a vengeance.)

The next day, Ajay takes Neelima on a visit to a mountain shrine. (No, they don’t get married there. Yes, they do get caught in a downpour on their way back. These filmi storms are very convenient. But they are far better prepared than most Hindi film protagonists. They actually have luggage. Which begs the question – who takes a packed suitcase on a day trip? And who packs blankets and shawls if they do? Also, why is this particular cave filled with erotic sculptures?)

Unlike most Hindi film heroines, Neelima seems none too bothered about spending the night with the man she loves. After all, she tells him, she would like to spend the rest of her life with him. (I mutter ‘no accounting for tastes’ under my breath. Also, I’m wondering why she’s drenched, but he’s not.
After exhorting him to come closer to the fire, Neelima sings the song that led to my downfall. (No, it's not what you think - I just followed this song into this movie.) Ajay is suddenly discovering that his cravat is too tight. (I’m distracted by the fact that lovely Meena is wrapped in a blanket but is still wearing her – matching – heels.)

Furious at the world and most especially Ajay, Anand deliberately taunts him the next morning, and challenges him to go wild game hunting. After some rhetoric about what constitutes bravery, Ajay acquiesces. 
Anand is thrilled. Until he discovers that Neelima is tagging along. Anand’s behaviour is so weird that even (self-absorbed) Ajay notices. Neelima, on the other hand, is pissed off at both of them. When a most convenient forest fire breaks out, the trio make a run for it. Only, when they reach the jeep, Anand drives off with Neelima, leaving Ajay to be chased by a herd of elephants also fleeing the fire. Neelima turns around to see Ajay nearly trampled by an elephant, and begs Anand to stop (I was silently hoping Anand would keep going!). 
Anand seems perfectly willing to let his rival die but good sense prevails and he picks Ajay up.

Ajay returns to his cottage to find his father, Vineeta and Pritam waiting for him. His father finally breaks the news – he will be forced to file for bankruptcy if Ajay doesn’t agree to marry Vineeta.

Meanwhile, Anand is about to confess his feelings for Neelima when Pushpa falls unconscious. Her condition is critical enough that the visiting doctor advises them to shift Pushpa to Bombay. Quickly, Neelima makes preparations to leave.

Back to Ajay, whose wedding to Vineeta is being solemnised. Once the pheras are over, Vineeta’s father hands over the promised money to Ajay’s father. Only, the bridegroom is not Ajay, but Pritam. Vineeta is furious. So is her father. But Ajay has escaped Vineeta’s clutches. For now. (All I can think of is, ‘What a tool!’)
Meanwhile (yes, there are many ‘meanwhiles’), Pushpa has been admitted to Tata Memorial Hospital. She has ‘rheumatic arthritis with a rheumatic heart’. Whatever that means. One day, Vineeta, who doesn’t seem to be too bothered about having married the wrong guy, runs into Neelima, Anand and his daughter in the lobby of the hotel they are staying in.
Knowing what buttons to push, she proceeds to fill Ajay's mind with insinuations. (Why he should believe a woman who has reasons to hate him, I don’t know.) Vineeta has yet another suggestion – Ajay should announce his engagement to Neelima. Ajay thinks it’s a great idea. He comes to meet Neelima just in time to overhear her conversation with Anand. Jealous and suspicious, he confronts Neelima and insists that if she doesn’t come for the scheduled engagement party on Sunday, she can forget him. (Idiot! Why on earth would a woman like Neelima want such an insecure bastard?)
Unfortunately, Pushpa dies (on the day of the engagement) but not before trying to extort a death-bed promise from Neelima. Thankfully, she doesn’t give in. (Atta girl!) While coping with this sudden calamity, Anand receives a call from Ajay – to remind Neelima that her engagement is that evening. Neelima is furious that Ajay fixed the date without even asking her, but Anand persuades her to go.
Rushing to get to the venue, Neelima is hit by a car, and lands up in hospital instead. Anand calls Ajay to let him know, but the call is intercepted by Vineeta, who uses this incident to foment more trouble.

There’s more to come – including a ‘song at the engagement’ scene that would cause any normal human being to be kicked out of the venue. (‘Why, oh why, does Neelima think this idiot is worth a second of her time?’)

The only thing I liked about the movie was that the female protagonist was – most of the time – accorded an agency. She’s allowed to voice her desire and not be punished for it. More importantly, the film itself makes no moral judgements about this perceived fall from the ‘good woman’ pedestal. Similarly, forced to declare their impending wedding due to moral policing, it is Neelima who, for valid reasons, makes a decision based on circumstances. Again, the movie gives her agency – she’s no pawn. Though manipulated by the two men in her life, Neelima struggles to find the best way to keep her own self-respect, while at the same time, honouring her commitments the best she can. I do wish she had found the gumption to kick Ajay out in the end. But Meena Kumari played Neelima with such maturity, allowing just a tilt of her head or a flash of her expressive eyes to display the tiniest of nuances in each scene. 
Vineeta, too, is an interesting character – she’s very clear that she doesn’t love Ajay, nor does she want his love. But she wants him, and she’s willing to pay for him. When she’s scorned, she makes it her mission to ruin him. There’s a stunning lack of remorse and what’s more, she doesn’t really pay for it in the end either. Shashikala had a meaty role and she played the vamp with such sass that one couldn't help but admire her single-minded determination to wreak vengeance. Besides, she really rocks the trousers and tight kameezes and furs.
As you can tell, my general takeaway is that such unusual female characters deserved a better film. Because all that is wrong with the film can be encapsulated in one word – Ajay. He’s a selfish, entitled git who acts like a petulant brat when he doesn’t get what he wants. He sees nothing wrong in publicly assaulting a woman (annoying though she is); switching bridegrooms to get out of a wedding he’s too spineless to object to, while at the same time, taking the bride’s money under false pretences; emotionally blackmailing the woman he supposedly loves into coming for an engagement party that she hasn't agreed to; possessive and suspicious at every turn; declaiming his ‘love’ for a woman at her engagement to someone else….

Anand doesn’t fare too well either – falling in love with a woman because she resembles your dead wife is creepy enough; trying to kill the man she loves so she will be yours is downright psychotic. But he redeems himself, and Ashok Kumar is actor enough to make you believe in his essential goodness.

Some of the questions that arose while watching this movie:
  • Why is Rajendranath always in drag? In this film, he’s in a one-piece women’s swimsuit. Why? 
  • Why does Pradeep Kumar wear more makeup than Meena Kumari? 
  • Why does Ashok Kumar always lose the girl to a far less talented, good-for-nothing pest?
If anyone knows the answers, please feel free to enlighten me. And if, after reading this, you’re still enthused about the film, please do watch – at your own risk.

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