Aa Gale Lag Jaa

There is a scene that gets me every time. Shashi Kapoor heartbroken, on roller skates, in a white safari suit, playing the accordion and yodelling (thanks to Kishore Kumar and RD Burman) as he sweeps around an empty skating rink at night. It should be ridiculous and yet it’s strangely affecting. And that sums up my feelings for this fabulous Desai film. Aa Gale Lag Ja is convoluted, goes off the rails at the end and relies heavily on coincidences, but I find it beautiful and touching as well. I recently re-watched it with the the excellent company of Beth and Ira, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to revisit this masala classic for Kapoor Khazana.

I love the leads, it has one of my all time favourite soundtracks (indeed, it changed my views on accordion solos), and the writing is far more interesting than I expected from a retro filmi romance. And they don’t waste time on building up to a song – they just go for it.

Shashi Kapoor is Prem, a poor but honest roller skating enthusiast. He lives up in the mountains so roller skating, as well as life, is very challenging. The beautiful Sharmila Tagore is Preeti, a minxy medical student.

I appreciate Shashi’s wobbly attempts to skate. It lacks flair, but he is endearingly earnest. Sharmila is very good at fake skating and her pretend waterskiing in Evening in Paris was also excellent. I also applaud her efforts to look like she is gliding majestically under all that Spare Hair. The wig is bigger than she is! Prem is poor, Preeti is rich, they’re both good looking and there is no doubt about the results. Especially after he sells himself to science for an afternoon so Preeti can test hypothermia treatments on this most willing of guinea pigs.

After a song related mishap, the two spend a night fighting off hypothermia.  What an amazing coincidence! Given that Shashi’s innate hotness seems to dry out his clothes in no time flat, the ‘cure’ did raise some questions.

This episode has sparked much debate about whether Preeti was conscious, was it consensual, why didn’t someone keep their pants on … I say she looks rather pleased with herself the morning after and does not strike me as a woman with regrets. My diagnosis is that she woke up, saw what she saw and thought ‘Hello!’

The youngsters want to marry but Preeti’s father Hirachand (Om Prakash) pulls a few swift moves to alienate the lovers. Preeti fell pregnant to Prem That Night and is sent to a sanatorium to have the child in secret. Hirachand and Prem’s ailing mother (Sulochana) play their parts in the drama and Preeti believes the child was stillborn. In a typically filmi twist, Shashi acquires his own son and loses his Ma. Everyone judges everyone else, and the misunderstandings send the protagonists off on their separate paths.

Apart from a spectacular display of acting – Shashi looks so joyous, and unperturbed yet loving, as that baby bawls its head off – this song is quite lovely and sets up the very caring single parent family.

 

Prem and son Rahul (Master Titoo, one of the few dreaded child artistes I like) have a really lovely relationship. Prem felt no need to marry a substitute for Preeti just so there was a woman to look after them both. He embraced his parenting role and did the best he could. I do think there could be a case for child cruelty when we consider the poor kid’s wardrobe, which features purple and ruffles as well as some hideous short and vest ensembles, but apart from that Prem was a thoughtful and loving dad.

Preeti crosses his path again, and has no idea that Rahul is her child, or that Prem had always loved her and never moved on. Prem thinks that Preeti jilted him to keep her luxe lifestyle and that she never cared about her child.

The ‘will she won’t she realise’ tension is heightened as her fiancé Amar (Shatrughan Sinha) takes over treatment of the crippled boy and so the families draw closer. Shotgun’s entrance is so amazingly filmi, I can’t believe I almost always forget he is in the film until that moment! And his treatment of what he decides is a psychological rather than physical condition is unconventional to say the least. The contrast between Prem and Amar’s economic circumstances couldn’t be more pointed.

Despite the high level of coincidence and near revelation, the performances of Shashi and Sharmila along with Master Titoo made me care so much about what would become of them. Shashi shows his pain and anger, but also his love for both Preeti and his boy. Sharmila is poised and beautiful, and she shows the uncertainty and hope when she sees her old flame. I also really like that the story is about a man who becomes a single dad while the woman moves on with her life and has no idea she has a living child.

Preeti lives with her father, who of course knows about the child, but there are no great histrionics about her lost honour or anything. She has had a long engagement to Shotgun and her future seems assured. Om Prakash is shown as a lonely old man in his opulent home, and the development of his relationship with grandson Rahul is fun as they bring out each other’s competitive and playful traits.  The winning enthusiasm of the child and his belief that his mother will come back for him one day makes his grandfather realise the gravity of his deception. There’s a lot of quiet heartache in amongst the more dramatic antics.

As for the who’s who and what of the story…There’s a Significant Song, a secret photo, Ticky (Amar’s sister, played by Ruhi) loves Prem, Prem loves Preeti, Preeti loves Prem (again), Amar loves Preeti, Rahul just wants everyone to be happy. We have the flaming roller skates of death, and then the happy roller skates of ever after. Almost everyone ends up on wheels at some stage, even the token thugs who hang around menacing young ladies.

But the mad masala trappings never really get in the way of the story so I think Desai and Prayagraj must have had some robust conversations of their own to make sure they kept the balance right. The dialogue by K.B Pathak is marvellous, shadowed with meaning and laden with emotions. When Prem and Preeti meet again, and he sees her as the rich girl who has done well for herself, the polite bitterness is pitch perfect. There is great use of eavesdropping, particularly in a ‘musical chairs’ scene that throws the protagonists into proximity and under stress where much is explained in small bites of barbed civility.

And then, I’m left with that image of Shashi on roller skates playing the accordion.

See this as a great example of Manmohan Desai’s masala excellence, for the beauty and appeal of Sharmila and Shashi, for the marvellous songs by R.D Burman and for the passionate and romantic love story that produced a happy family but didn’t feature a wedding.  5 stars!

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13 thoughts on “Aa Gale Lag Jaa

  1. Every time I watch this film, I like it more and more. It gets more interesting and complex, too! Excellent points about the non-judgment of Preeti and all those small, tense moments. LOVE.

    Plus, you know, The Shirt.

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    • ah yes The Shirt :) It is a surprisingly complex film when you start thinking about it, and it has Shashi on skates. That may be the answer to why do I love this film.
      It was great watching this with you and Ira as we seemed to pick up on different things and it made me really think about the relationships. And question myself as to why and how I can forget Shotgun is in it. Cheers, Temple

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  2. Sigh. What can I say when I’ve already admitted to this being one of my biggest pleasures in spite of concern rape? It’s a movie full of stupid people doing stupid things and I still love it to bits. And I refuse to apologize! REFUSE!

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    • Hmm. I don’t see ‘concern rape’. I think they were both sheepish but pleased with the night’s events…and we never see enough detail to infer that anything untoward happened. The conversation the next day, and the way the relationship unfurled after that night, leads me to think it was all consensual and they were happily looking forward to a future. Preeti wasn’t portrayed as damaged goods, or a victim, so I think she set her dad straight about what happened and that’s why he behaved the way he did. There is some poor decision making, but I don’t know that I would call all of them stupid. People did pay for various actions, but the price was often self inflicted rather than imposed by external judgement so there was some good character development happening. I think it’s great to have such a fluffy masala everything on wheels extravaganza have such an interesting take on a relationship at the core. I love it, completely without the guilt issues :) Temple

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      • It’s true the concern rape is really played well in this instance (what a sentence!) when compared to something like the famous hymen tearing scene from GJS for eg, and yes, from Sharmila’s expression the morning after, Shashi wasn’t the kind of guy who coasted on his pretty face in the bedroom, so yay for her.

        I guess the reason for my squicky feelings is that prior to that scene, even though she was very flirty with him, she isn’t as into the relationship as he is. And, of course, later on we realize she’s actually half-engaged to a man she’s known all her life, etc. Within this murky context, she’s shown in a state of hypothermia-induced shock where she can’t even respond to his questions when he remembers the lecture and gets into bed with her. So the question of consent and when exactly did the vigorous rubbing turn into vigorous sex is decidedly sketchy especially given his apologetic demeanor the next day, even if she’s all Oliver Twist at the supper table about it.

        Maybe I’m overthinking it, but it’s squicky! But presented so well, I didn’t even understand the squickiness until I saw it again as an adult. Good job there MM Desai! :D

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      • Oh see I thought the 7 year engagement took place after the pregnancy thing so she was unaffiliated and free at the time of The Incident, and therefore it didn’t have any significance in my interpretation (also they were running off to tell her dad the next day and get their own wedding sorted). And I also decided that things happened when she was warmed up. coherent, and had had a nap so was refreshed. The apology seemed quite natural given that a one nighter wasn’t really standard filmi romantic nice people behaviour. So no squick for me at all. And he may have been doing apologetic spooning rather than vigorous rubbing. We shall never know!

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  3. Temple. I very much like your straightforward and unangsty ‘Hypothermia. Hello’ rationale. I will adopt it from now on. Do you think you could provide a similar something for the ‘Beat the Child to Cure Paralysis’ treatment? – the other somewhat disturbing approach to medicine in this movie (apart from the whole 70′s chain smoking in the hospital touch). I also love this film and apart from the Significant Song, which I think was beautifully done, the other bit that stands out for me is the verbal showdown between sassy child and grumpy grandfather. I do however, maintain there was a very sadly missed opportunity for a flaming rollerskating dance extravaganza (with or without accordion solo).

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    • Hi jenni. I have been thinking of how to rationalise the medical treatment dealt to Rahul and I just can’t. Beth and I did speculate as to whether a certain Doctor House may have been inspired by this film. Who knows?

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  4. Ah a dash of masala is good for one’s soul, be it masala-dosa, masala-chai, masala-veggies or masala-Shashi… Its fun remembering all these oldies I watched on DD eons ago. I have glimpses of recall and then it all fades away in a filmi-fog! This calls for some re-watching…
    cheers. Suja

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    • Hi Suja :) I so agree with you – a dash of masala is good for the soul. I loved all the songs in this film, and they really did play an important role in furthering the story. I hope you do get to see it again, and enjoy it! Temple

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  5. Re: the accordion. I don’t know how or why this extremely dorky instrument became so popular in India but considering the number of fab songs attached to it, I can’t really complain. Also, I kind of miss our old accordion playing heroes. At least they had musical skills! I envision strict Bollywood stage parents sending their little darling out to learn the important things in life – horse riding, roller skating, shaking in one place (or dancing, whatever you like), technicolor dressing, and learning an instrument for serenading purposes. Look at the louts of today, zipping about in convertibles and lucky if they know how to walk. Bah! I say.

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