Some films benefit from being firmly of the past. Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati is a 1969 ‘romance’ that relies on pestering and stalking to cement the main romantic pairing. Distance and the lens of ‘then’ make this less unpalatable for me than a modern film that still relies on these notions. Bhappi Sonie gathers a charming hero, a reprehensible villain, a great soundtrack, an appearance by Helen in an acting role, and a whole lot of ‘they did what?’ only in films logic, and somehow the result is fun and melodramatic.
Deepali (Babita) enters and loses a beauty competition. Ajit (Prem Chopra) consoles her with a smooth line or two, and decides he might quite like a rich, pretty wife. Unfortunately for him he has a girlfriend, Sherry (Helen), who is pregnant. Nothing a short sharp shove off a cliff can’t solve, although there is time for a club number first.
Sherry is saved by Preetam (Shashi Kapoor) and his friends. After a spot of mistaken identity Preetam also meets and falls for Deepali but she is in love with Ajit. Preetam decides to irritate her into loving him. Normally I would find this objectionable but when the alternative is Prem Chopra, I think stalking is the lesser evil. Preetam and Deepali eventually get together but fate and Ajit intervene. Multiple mothers and the whiff of incest or faux-cest add another layer of complexity. And there is more Drama and Act!Ing! in the last 15 minutes than many films contain in their full running time.
The denouement is interesting. Most of the deception is justified by referring to a mother’s feelings or a woman’s duty to another woman. Even Sherry forgives Ajit because, you know, that’s what women are meant to do. Sigh. No one seems overly concerned with common sense or with the fallout from their decisions. Rama and Kaushaliya did what they did because of their superior sensitivity and feminine intuition and are beyond criticism. Just as well Preetam was a bit of an airhead and unlikely to sustain lasting damage. But I did appreciate the explicit endorsement of the mother who raised a child being as much a mother as the one who gave birth to the child.
Confession: I don’t particularly care for Babita. She is in many films I have enjoyed immensely but she is never the reason for liking a movie. Deepali is a spirited girl yet she doesn’t really do much apart from snipe at Preetam and simper at Ajit so she isn’t any more than The Heroine. I liked her forthright style when putting Preetam back in his place though Deepali doesn’t seem spiteful.
When Preetam behaves himself she is happy enough to have a conversation or accept his help, but she is clear that her love is for Ajit. Until it isn’t. Babita’s performance is hampered somewhat by the vast amount of frosty blue eyeshadow she wears, and she was at the mercy of a vengeful yet slapdash hairdresser.
Shashi is perfect casting for Preetam. He ranges from lovelorn swooning to silly pranks and gets more Ma drama than you can poke a stick at. Preetam struck me as a more of a manchild than a determined stalker. He just couldn’t quite see how anyone could find him resistible and also wanted to assure himself he had tried all he could to get the girl.
That he knew nothing about her to inspire this except what she looked like is beside the point. Shashi’s charm carries a lot of the story so if you don’t buy that, the first half of the film would be a struggle. Once things get more dramatic, Shashi emotes fiercely and often hilariously, and the pace accelerates towards the final showdown.
An urban middle class stalker romance doesn’t immediately hint at tribal shenanigans but since almost everyone is a keen hunter, we get a bonus comedy jungle interlude.
The gorgeous Laxmi Chhaya appears as a tribal princess, and is hooked up with Preetam’s bestie, perennial bachelor Ram Bharose (the sweetly daft Rajendranath) for her troubles. The support cast is rich with excellent character actors. Om Prakash is Deepali’s uncle who seems to be more in love with Preetam than she is, Dhumal plays the king of the jungle, Sudhir and Snehlata get substantial screen time despite having little to do with the main plot, Sulochana and Kamini Kaushal play Preetam’s mothers. Babita’s father, Hari Shivdasani, has a small role as a filmi doctor too.
I love everything about that song. I really like Kalyanji-Anandji’s tongue in cheek dramatic sensibility that plays beautifully with this very filmi drama. And Shashi’s muppety style works a treat with the bouncy Western infused dance music. I also like that we see Laxmi’s transformation into a groovy city chick in that song.
Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati is a dated but entertaining muddle of romance and drama. The visuals are retro and stylish without being exceptional, and the performances are on a similar scale. See it if you like the appealing cast or have an interest in filmi medical ethics and philosophy. And if you don’t like regressive attitudes to the role of women, have a drink handy and warm up your eyerolling muscles. 3 ½ stars, mostly for Shashi and Helen.
Here, have a bonus screencap of Prem Chopra with a teacosy on his head.