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23 February 2023

Chhaya (1961)

Directed by: Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Music: Salil Chowdhury
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
Starring: Sunil Dutt, Asha Parekh,
Nirupa Roy, Nasir Hussain,
Lalita Pawar, Mohan Choti,
Krishan Dhawan, Achala Sachdev

I first watched Chhaya when they showed it on DD. Then, a few years ago, while I was trawling through YouTube to find something to watch, I came across the film, and promptly watched it again. A handsome Sunil Dutt, a very pretty (and not as irritating) Asha Parekh and great songs – what more do you need for lazy Sunday evening?

Poor (literally) Shyamlal (Krishan Dhawan) has just been informed by the doctor whom he meets on the way home that his little daughter Munni is now fully recovered. However, he says, Shyamlal’s wife Manorama (Nirupa Roy) is suffering from an illness that is eating away at her. The good doctor has been treating Munni without taking any fees, and now, he comforts Shyamlal as best he can.

When he reaches home, Manorama is praying to God – not for wealth, but a job for her husband, two square meals, some simple clothes, and most importantly, peace of mind. Shyamlal, who loves his wife deeply and feels guilty that he has not been able to take care of his family, tries to persuade her to go live with her uncle in Lucknow. Just until he gets a job. Manorama refuses. She isn’t going anywhere.  


But soon, their fortunes take a turn for the better. The very next day, Shyamlal gets an appointment letter – he has a job! It pays Rs300 a month! Now, he can afford to treat Manorama’s illness, and give her everything she desires.


With his first salary, Shyamlal buys Manorama's medicine, oranges, and balloons for his little daughter. But on his way home, a car screeches to a halt, and the balloons float up to the sky. [Poor Shyamlal!] Manorama is forced to turn to her only living relative – the uncle in Lucknow.

But sorrows always come in droves – Manorama discovers that her uncle died eight months earlier. The man who bought the house is not interested in helping her. Destitute, Manorama has nowhere to turn. Days pass. Wandering with Munni in tow, Manorama is in desperate straits. Especially when the lack of food dries up her milk.

A doctor at a charitable dispensary tells her that the baby is malnourished. If she doesn’t get good food, then the baby will die. Manorama is desperate enough to leave her baby at the doorstep of a grand mansion. Perhaps the owner will take pity on the babe.

When the owner arrives, he’s shocked to find a baby at his front door. But the kind-hearted man, a childless widower, is charmed by the little babe that fate brought into his life. Despite his Man Friday’s reservations about the baby’s religion and caste, Jagat Narain (Nasir Hussain) decides to adopt the child. He had been planning to sell his businesses in Lucknow and return to Bombay. His wife had passed away six months earlier; now, he can tell everyone that this is his child. Who’s to know?

Meanwhile, Manorama has had second thoughts. Ill or not, destitute or not, she wants her baby back. But when she returns to the house, Jagat Narain is just setting off to find an ayah for his little daughter. Fortunately for Manorama, he agrees to hire her as his daughter’s ayah, and is very happy to see the baby stop crying as soon as Manorama picks her up.


Finally, the day arrives when Jagat Narain is to leave for Bombay with Munni – much to Manorama’s distress, he isn’t planning to take her along. But Shivu, who has also been retrenched by Jagatnarain, speaks in her favour. If Munni has an ayah in tow, people are more likely to believe that she’s his daughter. The three of them – Jagat Narain, Manorama and Munni (who has been named Sarita) – arrive in Bombay.

They have barely settled in when Jagat Narain’s long-lost cousin, Rukmini (Lalita Pawar) and her son, Lali, turn up bawling and wailing, begging for refuge. Rukmini is surprised, however, when she sees Manorama and the baby, and tries to fire her. Fortunately for Manorama, Jagat Narain will not allow any meddling in his household affairs.


Rukmini insists on taking care of Munni because, she says, Munni shouldn’t be left alone with a maid servant. However, when Munni cries in the night, it is Manorama who runs to soothe the baby. An angry Jagat Narain ticks Rukmini off, telling her she should let Manorama do her job. This doesn’t endear Manorama to her.

Years pass; despite Rukmini’s open antagonism, the little household manages quite well indeed. Sarita (Baby Farida) and Lali (Mohan Choti) are the best of friends, though Sarita is always making fun of him. Manorama chides her – he’s her older brother – just as she chides both children for criticizing Rukmini. Soon (through the course of a song), Sarita is all grown up (Asha Parekh), and is the apple of her father’s eye. 


When she wins the first prize for dance at her college (school?) her proud father presents her with a piano. Manorama advices her to pay attention to her studies – they should be more important than a hobby, she says. Jagat Narain agrees; he will hire a tutor for Sarita to help with her studies, and also someone to teach her to play the piano. 


Rukmini, of course, has to put her oar in – her younger brother-in-law’s son plays the piano very well; should she ask him to come? Sarita, who has little patience for her aunt’s ways, answers rather pertly, at which she’s quickly admonished by Manorama. [Why, I don’t know. Rukmini really does need a set down – quite a few, in fact.] Jagat Narain advertises for a tutor – an old one, in accordance with Manorama’s wishes, because Sarita "won’t listen to a young man." [Why she thinks Sarita will listen to an old man, I don’t know.]

Meanwhile, in another part of town, a young poet, Arun Kumar ‘Raahi’ (Sunil Dutt) is entertaining his friend, ‘Dard’ (Asit Sen). 


The latter has come for Arun’s poem for his magazine, ‘Sada Bahaar’. Arun lives with his two sisters; the elder one (Achala Sachdev) is widowed. Arun is unemployed and his sister is worried – the poetry obviously doesn’t bring in any money, despite being published.

Dard has bought some samosas to inspire Arun; an advertisement in the newspaper in which they are wrapped catches Arun’s eye. It is the ad inserted by Jagat Narain. He promptly applies for the post of tutor. But when he arrives at her house, he’s mistaken for the piano teacher (since he’s a young man). The misunderstanding soon gets sorted out, but when Sarita informs him that he can’t be hired as her tutor because he’s too young for the job, Arun tells her a bit about his circumstances. Manorama, overhearing, can’t help but sympathize. 


Jagat Narain is sympathetic too, and when Manorama recommends hiring the young man, he promptly agrees. So, Arjun begins tutoring Sarita and the two of them become very good friends. One day, when Arun arrives, Sarita is reading Raahi’s poetry. While Arun pooh-poohs his poetry, Sarita speaks up in his defence – he’s a famous poet, she tells him, and his poetry is very popular. [If he's as popular as she says he is, with people standing in line to buy his books, then why is he so poor? Even given that poetry doesn't pay very well?]


Arun tells her that ‘Raahi’ is his childhood friend, and that his real name is ‘Gangaram’. Sarita begs him to take her to meet Raahi. Arun says he’ll ask; who knows if Raahi will agree? He’s a short-tempered man who is quick to take offence.

Meanwhile, Ramu/Romeo (Ashim Sen) has arrived, ostensibly to teach Sarita to play the piano. However, Rukmini soon tells him her real reason for inviting him – Jagatnarain is a very wealthy man and Sarita is his only daughter. If Romeo plays his cards right, then all that wealth could be his.

One day, Sarita sneaks off to meet ‘Raahi’ on the pretence of going to a friend’s birthday party. Arun follows her but stays hidden, keeping up the [rather unnecessary] pretence of Raahi and he being two different people. [Why doesn’t she recognize his voice?] Later, he even sends her a letter excoriating her for ‘playing with his feelings’. When Sarita, in turn, gets upset with Arun, he insists that Raahi is a fat, ugly man, who is also a libertine. The matter rests there.

Until one day, Sarita arrives with her friend, Jayashree, the sister of Sada Bahaar’s owner, to meet Raahi. Luckily, Arun, who sees them arrive, has to time to tell Dard that he will not meet them face to face. But he gives in to Sarita’s pleas to recite his poetry for them – upon one condition. He will recite it from behind the closed doors. Sarita quickly agrees, and joins him in the lovely ‘Itna na mujh se tu pyaar badha’.  


She’s thoroughly besotted with the man [whom I would have thought weird at the very least.]. When the song ends, she asks him if he will respond to her letters; yes, he says, provided she write to him in verse. She reluctantly agrees.

Arun is beginning to fall in love with her as well. But, one day, giving in to his younger sister’s pleading, Arun takes her to watch a movie. And who should be there at the theatre but Sarita with Romeo. Sarita, upset, leaves at once. 

So upset is she that when Arun comes for her birthday party, with Raahi’s latest book as a present, she ignores him and flirts with Romeo.


Unaware of the reason for her anger, Arun sings ‘Aansoo samjhke kyun mujhe’, which at least has the effect of making Sarita’s heart melt towards him. [Given that neither of them has even spoken to each other of their attraction – or even showed any signs of it yet – much less have a relationship, this must be the weirdest heartbreak song ever.]

Matters are back to normal the next day, however, when Arun comes to tutor Sarita. Their conversation veers to Raahi again, and Sarita coaxes Arun to write a letter for her in verse. 


To which he responds. [So, Arun is basically writing to himself and responding to himself.] Unfortunately for him, the game is soon up – Sarita, who needs Arun’s help to respond to Raahi, visits his house and discovers that Arun and Raahi are one and the same person.

Where is all this going to end?

Well, if you have watched enough Hindi films, you know how it will end, but in the meantime, the lovers have other problems to worry about – the difference in their economic status, for instance. Sarita's parentage, for another.


Chhaya is not one of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ‘great’ films; the last half an hour, especially, is unnecessarily melodramatic. Nasir Hussain clutches his heart and gets to blub a bit though Nirupa Roy does get to do a little more than play a regulation mother who misplaces her child (even if she does find her almost at once). I would also have liked to have seen a little more of Sarita’s relationship with her mother/ayah. Sarita is fond of her ayah but baulks at calling her mother. When Arun addresses Manorama as 'aap', Sarita is amused - she's only an ayah. Sarita is written as a rather shallow young woman, and there's nothing in her narrative arc that gives her any depth.

Sunil Dutt and Asha Parekh look stunning together...

but I would also have liked a little more build up of the Arun-Sarita romance, which was equally shoddily written. I can understand Arun falling for Sarita, but Sarita has spent the better part of the first half of the film besotted by the mysterious ‘Raahi’, and her subsequent transfer of attention to Arun (even before she knows he's Raahi) is both hasty and inexplicable. Rukmini and Lali do nothing for the plot, though poor Lalita Pawar gets to be a strident witch in the pre-climax scene. Ashim Sen, usually likeable, is irritating as Romeo and vanishes without so much as a by-your-leave towards the end. In fact, for someone ostensibly invited for the express purpose of wooing the heiress, he does nothing of the sort. [But that could also be because the print I watched (Ultra) had scenes missing, and dialogues cut off mid-way.

All in all, not great but not bad. I would watch solely for Asha Parekh and Sunil Dutt, and for Salil Chowdhury's music.

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