Pagla Kahin Ka (1970)

Pagla Kahin Ka poster

I was supposed to be posting a review of a Jayalalitha film but I feel she has had quite enough publicity about now, and I shan’t add to it. Then I thought I would swap in something more upbeat as the world has been quite a trying place, but I remembered Pagla Kahin Ka. It has the perfect 70s cast, some great songs, and Shakti Samanta at the helm. But it’s a mostly sad story about love, friendship, and loss. I discovered this via the excellent Memsaab, and if you follow that link to her review you will also find a link to a subtitled download of the film.

Sujit (Shammi) and Shyam (Prem Chopra) are in a hotel nightclub band, and Jenny (Helen) is their featured artiste. Sujit and Jenny are madly in love and building plans for their future. Sujit proposes but Jenny is reluctant due to their different status. There are also rumours that Sujit is mad but Jenny doesn’t see his wildness as a problem.

Hotel boss Max (K.N Singh) is less enthusiastic about their union as he will lose his eyecandy and probably the associated income. Max and Shyam come to blows and Max is killed. Sujit takes the blame and pleads insanity, his sad past going a long way to convincing the judge despite his useless lawyer (Bhram Bardwaj). He goes to the asylum, leaving Shyam who is secretly in love with Jenny.

The asylum is full to the brim with overacting extras that make the place seem like a true Bedlam. Sujit is genuinely depressed and worried by his incarceration and his memories of his father who was committed following a breakdown. But that isn’t enough as he is meant to be an insane murderer and Shammi (over)indulges in some of his “crazy” acting. Shalu suspects he is faking and takes his case on.

That song is his answer when Shalu asks him what would happen if Jenny had forgotten him. Oh the foreshadowing…

Meanwhile Shyam seems to be keeping things from Jenny and trying to make her doubt Sujit, and also keeping Sujit isolated. Things come to an emotional crescendo when Shalu hints at her feelings for Sujit, envying Jenny her love, at the same time Jenni is being raped by Shyam who has had enough of waiting. As if Prem Chopra was ever going to play a wholeheartedly good friend! Poor Sujit. He only has two real friends, and now things can never be the same.

Sujit’s release coincides with Shyam and Jenny’s wedding. Jenny looks very pretty and utterly miserable and I was pleased to see the movie gives the “marry your rapist” solution the side eye. At the wedding reception Madhumati dances a love triangle themed song in a very Helen-y outfit. And Sujit, clueless about why or how or even what but still wishing his dearest friends happiness, has a multi instrumental breakdown.

Now genuinely losing it, he is unable to process the shock and betrayal he feels at losing the friendship and loyalty that had been his foundation. Shalu sees the shocking difference in Sujit this time and immediately grasps that something devastating has happened. The other inmates welcome him back, some gently chiding him and some seeing his return from a cruel and inhospitable world as inevitable. It’s a nice change of tone from the more comedic first stint and Shammi plays it beautifully. He is heartbreaking as Sujit tries but fails to grapple with the facts, knowing there is something seriously awry but unable to process it or do anything to help himself.

Jenny visits Shalu and tells her the truth, hoping that Shalu will help set things right with Sujit. Shalu is quite conflicted through all of this as she can now see her chance with Sujit but is bound to try and treat him. Asha Parekh smiles approximately three times through the film, but her chemistry with Shammi is spot on. She shows a gentle empathy and tenderness with him and despite some questionable doctor patient interactions, I was glad to see someone wholeheartedly for Sujit. And he does blossom under her care, eventually regaining his memories and feeling robust enough to deal with losing Jenny.

He is able to declare his love for Shalu. But he still sees Shyam as his great friend and Shalu decides she must dispel that illusion so he can really move on. And by move on, I mean move on to her.

Does anyone ever run up against Prem Chopra and survive unscathed? Not Helen, sadly. Sujit and Shalu appeared to need about, oh, a nanosecond to deal with Jenny’s fate. I understood the plot point needed to be resolved but that was callous. And without wanting to be too spoilery I was hoping that random tree was sturdy and her aim was good.

Anyway.

The soundtrack is a delight and Shankar Jaikishan run from rollicking cabaret numbers to songs of quiet yearning. Helen gets a couple of good dances in before marriage and sarees end her career, and I liked seeing Madhumati as a clear Helen substitute and dancing up a storm. Shammi has always had great musicality and while he sometimes overdoes the hairography he really sells the swooning romance of the ballads.

See this for a star cast in a not so typical story, and for the bonus of Helen in a substantial if thankless role. Despite the downbeat elements, ultimately this is a story about finding your happiness where you can and learning to trust (but not indiscriminately, and never Prem Chopra). 4 stars!

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