Raj Khosla directs Sunil Dutt and Sadhana in a courtroom procedural with a bit of a twist. Despite the melodramatic conceit at the centre of the plot, this is a sensible and well plotted film that is very satisfying.
Geeta (Sadhana) is lying ill in a very ornate room. The doctor sends a cable for her husband Thakur Rakesh Singh (Sunil Dutt) to come home immediately as the prognosis is poor. The Thakur arrives home – he puts his head down and power walks past the other passengers, urgency in every step. He opens the car door before it even stops. But it is too late and Geeta expires in his arms.
Rakesh mourns, sunk in grief, listening to ‘their song’ – Mera Saaya (My Shadow). Nothing seems to reach him. Until the inspector shows him a photo of a suspected female bandit who is the very image of Geeta.
The woman claims to be Geeta, which of course the Thakur rejects. But she seems to know so much, and looks so much like his recently deceased wife. When she goes on trial, her only defense is that she is Geeta not Raina the bandit, so the judge gives her some leeway to prove her identity. Since her husband is a famous lawyer, she wants him to represent her. But as he is a witness for the prosecution, instead she decides to defend herself and has him called as a witness.
How could she know so much about him? And about Geeta for that matter? And she looks so much like Geeta that he cannot help but feel drawn to her. The words of their shadow song have extra meaning for Rakesh now he is seeing the image of his wife everywhere, in memories, dreams, and in the dock. But who is she? And is she really a killer?
The servant, Sargam (the minxy Kumud Bole), seems to be up to something. And an old lady got arrested so she could pass a note in jail to Raina (and then ate the evidence). There are stories within stories and the evidence seems to point first one way then the other. I often find filmi law a bit unconvincing but the arguments within Mera Saaya are fairly logical. The avuncular judge (Jagdish Sethi) is a genial man. He is interested in a fair hearing for all rather than pushing a predetermined agenda, so he encourages the questions and reminds witnesses of their obligations. The dialogues have the ring of truth and the questions and revelations fall out so that the plot complications are developed and resolved in a sequence that helps reinforce the central question as well as hinting at the solution. There are questions I might have asked in addition to the ones in the script, but not many that I wouldn’t have thought relevant. Plus, you just can’t argue with a Significant Mole.
Sunil Dutt is quietly compelling as Rakesh. He desperately wants a reason to believe his wife still lives, but is a rational man and knows he cremated her. There are flashbacks of Rakesh and Geeta together, their happiness juxtaposed with the dreary days of waking alone. Even in the most confrontational moments in court Rakesh acts with his integrity and tells the truth though it might undermine his own position that the woman is an impostor. Dutt and Sadhana are warm and physically demonstrative in the flashback scenes. Rakesh’s loss and anger at the sheer presumption of this woman taking his wife’s name are born out of an equally passionate grief, and Dutt delivered with restraint. It’s a lovely, intelligent performance.
Sadhana plays her double role with gusto. Geeta is the sweet and dutiful wife, but she has personality and a cheeky streak. Raina is suspected of being in league with the local bandit gang leader. Nothing about her story makes much sense, but when Raina is trying to persuade Rakesh that she is his Geeta her desperation seems genuine. Both characters have enough similarities that Rakesh cannot outright say that Raina is nothing like his wife. But there are a few things that don’t add up and Sadhana’s expressions convey that there might be something dubious going on. Like her co-star, she focusses on delivering a balanced and believable characterisation that helps sustain the mystery.
As befits the story, this is not a movie chock full of big item numbers but the soundtrack has plenty to offer. The songs range from romantic ballads to more boisterous fare.
It was quite handy that Raina had a dark past as a dancer (and a good use for Asha Bhosle’s flirty upbeat vocals). The songs are often used to amplify the characters emotions, like giving Rakesh a glimpse of his happy past before the present crashes back in.
The support cast is generally excellent. I really liked the scenes between the police inspector (Anwar Hussain), the family doctor (Shivraj) and the prosecutor (K.N Singh) as they would sit around in the evenings and talk about the case, what they thought would happen, and how Rakesh was bearing up. They were gossipy, opinionated and yet pragmatic. Bankeji (Dhumal) and Munshiji (Mukri) are the comedy sidekicks – less entertaining although I was mildly taken aback by the casual references to Bankeji’s opium use. Ratnamala is warm and caring but quite ineffectual as the aunt. And while I am trying to avoid spoilers, Prem Chopra has a small role so you can guess who one of the bad guys is.
Partly filmed on location at the Lake Palace, Udaipur, this is a beautiful looking film. Sunil Dutt and Sadhana bring their characters to life and give a solid emotional core to the story. Plus there is a lovely lush soundtrack by Madan Mohan with the golden trio of Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and Mohammad Rafi lending their vocals. 4 ½ stars!