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!

Kashmir Ki Kali

This is one of my favourite Shammi movies, although I’ve never been able to clearly decide why I prefer it over some of his other equally fabulous films. Maybe it’s because there is plenty of Shammi shimmying and trademark contortions going on? Or perhaps because Sharmila is beautifully innocent and the love story is sweet with a fantastic soundtrack? Whatever the reason, it’s always a film I watch to the very end and enjoy every second.

The film opens with Seth Rajiv Lal gaining control of his father’s businesses. He is a millionaire’s son and wants to give the business profits back to the people who actually do the work. His mother is appalled by this regrettable instability in her son and decides that the most appropriate way to curb his socialist tendencies will be to marry him off. Almost overnight, the house is full of prospective brides and their hopeful parents but Rajiv manages to get rid of them all by a not very convincing display of madness.

Deciding that he has to get away from his mother and thus avoid more potential brides, Rajiv leaves to visit the family holiday home in Srinagar with his friend Chandar (Anoop Kumar). Along the way he has to spend the night on the veranda of a small hotel as the rooms are full with Champa and her friends who have come to dance at a local fair.  Rajiv’s first meeting with Champa isn’t too auspicious as she empties a bucket of water over him and his smoking stove, but her kindly nature is revealed when she later takes him a  blanket to stop him from freezing overnight.  It’s not long before Rajiv has succumbed to her charms, but he is a wealthy man and she is a flower seller who has no time for the indolent rich. At their next meeting, he pretends to be a driver so that she will look more kindly on him.

There is a slight diversion here as the family caretaker Bola Ram (Dhumal) has rented out Rajiv’s house to a party of 3 girls and their guardian Rama Devi (Tun Tun). In an attempt to get rid of them all Rajiv reveals his true identity and then immediately has to pretend to be the insane friend of Chandar, who in turn pretends to be the real Seth Rajiv, to make sure that Champa doesn’t find out the truth. This allows for some mix-ups between the three girls, Chandar and Rajiv as the former try desperately to snare a rich man as a husband, Chandar enjoys the attention, and Rajiv only has eyes for Champa. Confusing? Well, not really, as most of the time Rajiv just acts insane unless he is with Champa, so it all makes sense – honestly!

This is a wonderful song where Rajiv romances Champa while sailing on the lake – only Shammi could get away with these contortions in a boat!

Just as Ravi and Champa are falling in love, intrigue is added as local bully Mohan threatens Champa’s blind father Dinu. Mohan is also determined to marry Champa and  warns Dinu that he will reveal the truth about her parentage if he doesn’t get his way.  The plot thickens as Mohan does some investigating and finds out exactly what did happen the night that Champa’s father lost his sight.

There are many complications on the way to the film climax but naturally there is an old family servant who reveals the truth just before she dies and almost everything is explained by the end. The obstacle of Mohan in the way of Champa and Rajiv’s romance does make for some great disguises such as this one at a local fair.

While the story is improbable at best, there is so much going on that the many plot holes don’t really matter. I adore Shammi in this film. He cavorts around with plenty of trademark hair twitching, and looks to be having the time of his life. And really, who can blame him when Sharmila looks so totally fabulous. This is one of her very early films and she does look very sweet and natural as a Kashmiri flower girl,  instilling her with grace and beauty which contrasts well with Shammi’s more over-the-top persona. She has a wonderful collection of massive earrings and hair adornments. I would love to know how she managed to dance without them either hitting her face or getting caught in her hair as this is a skill I’ve never mastered!

Pran is suitable slimy and conniving as the villain, although I do wonder how he always knew the right place to be lurking at precisely the right time. Nasir Hussain does a very good job of being blind Dinu here and in the flashback scenes is very convincing as the alcoholic father. I’m not entirely sure that Dinu’s blindness was enough of a reason for him to change his ways, but there were enough shades of grey in his later actions to make him a more plausible character. The comedy track with Chandar, Bola Ram, Rama Devi and the girls works well for me within the main story, although with so much else happening in the plot it probably was an unnecessary addition.

Another highpoint of the film is the soundtrack. Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bholse are perfect as the playback singers for the two leads, and the music by O. P. Nayyar is beautiful.

This is probably a film more for the Shammi fan as he really does throw himself into the role with great gusto and it might be a little too much for anyone not accustomed to his mannerisms. But Sharmila is excellent, the pair have good screen chemistry as a couple together and the story really does have almost everything. A 4 ½ star film for me.

Temple says: I like Shammi but I don’t think this is his finest work. Every time I watch this film I remember, just a bit too late, that I hate the first hour. Shammi is just so annoying with his zany animal noises Paagal Act!Ing! and Sharmila looks about twelve years old and that creeps me out a bit. But once all the characters are settled in Kashmir, things improve greatly. The location is one of the biggest attractions for me – I love being able to see places that I may never get to visit and the lake scenes are very pretty. The O.P. Nayyar soundtrack is beautiful and all the songs are delightful, especially Isharon Isharon which I think is a perfect romantic duet. After the first hour, for some reason Sharmila looks less like a schoolgirl, there does seem to be some appreciable non–creepy chemistry with Shammi, and her Kashmiri costumes are beautiful. Shammi drops a lot of the OTT mannerisms and goes for brooding romantic instead which is more successful and more appealing in this kind of story. Well, he does wear a hot pink burqa in one song but cross-dressing is par for the Kapoor course. I much prefer him in ‘Evening in Paris’, ‘Rajkumar’, ‘Bluffmaster’ and ‘Teesri Manzil’ where he is a bit less self consciously whimsical and more character focussed. The story is the typically convoluted romantic comedy blend with none of the surprises actually coming as much of a surprise to anyone but the lead pair. See it for gorgeous scenery, lovely costumes, a wonderful soundtrack and count your blessings that on DVD you can skip the boring bits! 3 stars