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Friday, 8 October 2010

Treading untried territory (Bombai ka Babu)

Come to think of it, there are quite a few films where Dev Anand has portrayed characters undergoing immense mental turmoil. There's Hum Dono, Asli Naqli, Guide and Kala Bazaar. But, in Bombai ka Babu, his character tilts towards the dangerous territory of incest. A full-bodied man, Babu has to suppress his passion for a beautiful woman only because he is duping her family pretending to be their long-lost son. And in doing so, he is supposed to be her brother. With a plot as fascinating as this, Bombai ka Babu is obviously a thrilling experience. You sympathise with this angst-ridden young man as he is forced into the crime world and stay riveted when he helplessly tries to clear his ground before the charming Maya.

But then, nothing less is expected from a director of Raj Khosla's repertoire. A man with a taste for the unique and a penchant for thrills. His 1960 thriller adapted from O Henry's The Double-eyed Deceiver keeps you hooked from the very first frame as Inspector Malik's (Manohar Deepak) jeep follows Babu's car after he is released from jail. Throwing light on the underbelly of Bombay, Khosla traces Babu's introduction to crime. A strong social message that says that society is not ready to forgive a juvenile who did a petty wrong. He is stigmatised for life as he is not rich enough to rinse himself off the blame with money like his rich friend. And even after being released from a correctional home, he is not given a second chance by 'respected' citizens even though he is hardworking and honest. It is this sad truth that is reflected in Manna Dey's Tak dhoom tak dhoom, an otherwise buoyant song that is reminiscent of a popular Bengali folk number. With SD Burman composing the superlative tracks, that is hardly surprising. In this awesome song I am struck by the fabulous expressions of Dev Anand and one particular line, "Jitna mera mol hain, ho na tera mol rey." So poignantly true...
Babu is a victim of circumstance. Absconding after murdering Balli (Jagdish Raj), his compatriot in crime, Babu takes refuge in the ramshackle shelter of Bhagat in Jogendranagar, whose keen nose discovers the truth about his guest. Little does Babu know that he will soon be plunging into a territory that is more dangerous than before. Forced to hoodwink Shahji (Nazir Hussain) and his blind wife Rukmini (Achla Sachdev) as Kundan, Babu agrees to the grey game half heartedly. His reluctance towards the plan comes from his decision to absolve himself of his sins. But then, Bhagat gets the better of him. While gulling Shahji and Rukmini is a cakewalk, Maya (Suchitra Sen) is a different ball game altogether. A luminous beauty as a sister? What is Babu to do?
Initially unaware of the intensity of his feelings towards this charming woman, Babu soon gauges his attraction for Maya. Especially in the scene where he catches furtive glances of her while she is trying to pluck flowers from a high branch. His eyes narrow and you can feel him relishing the sight of the woman. His deliciously wicked looks betray the passion he has for her now. His remarks towards Maya's beauty is but an admission of his feelings. This is the same man who playfully danced to her tune in Asha Bhonsle's Dekhne mein bhola hain a few days ago. This joyful song was 'inspired' from Eruvaka sagaaro, a Waheeda Rehman hit track from the 1955 Telegu film Rojulu Marayi. The similarities are pretty obvious.
The film just gets more engaging once Babu fights with himself to restrain his feelings for Maya. He tries to  camouflage his love sometimes but then he is just a healthy man. Maya, all smiles and enthusiastic with her sisterly affection, is baffled by Babu's obsession. And why won't she be? After all he is her brother? A relation  that is sanctimonious and tied by blood. Anything different from it is sin-- incest. I love the scene where Babu rushes with a necklace to Maya's room. He wants her to wear the necklace, which should rightly belong to his wife. Maya is flummoxed by his wish and rebukes him for it. But, she does not know that this man desires Maya, is passionate about her and loves her. How on earth will he explain things to people here? In Babu's words and thoughts, we see his predicament and his troubled soul. Time is running short. Babu has to decide things fast.
Then there is the rakhi scene where Dev Anand's dialogues are sheer whiplashes. And, of course those eyes that belie his dilemma. Every scene that depicts Babu's true feelings for Maya are remarkably well done. For instance, the dream sequence where Babu confesses to Maya. I so love to think that this dream would come true. Then there is the fabulous Diwana mastana hua dil (Mohd Rafi and Asha Bhonsle). Problems multiply when Maya's marriage is fixed. It is then that Babu realises that he will soon be left all alone, with no one to love or care for him. His sorrows surface in Mohd Rafi's Saathi na koi manzil.
Maya also has problems galore. Here is this man who is her brother, but his behaviour is so different from that of brothers. She is stupefied by his words and actions and senses that something is amiss. Suchitra Sen, a marvellous actor that she was, really makes Maya a credible entity. And her eyes speak volumes. She looks charming (though she was past her prime in moviedom) and especially ethereal in Aise mein kachu kaha nahin jaye. And yes, she does look good beside the very handsome Dev Anand.
Chance luck brings Babu to the real truth about Kundan and from here he traverses towards the path of redemption. This is the third aspect of Babu's character growth in the film. Saving his new family from disgrace, he chooses to bury his heart's desires for the sake of the old Shahji and his wife. Babu here is a changed man, a reformed soul. The niggling doubts that were troubling him throughout have been laid to rest and there are graver duties to fulfill than winning over Maya. Though he feels a tinge of sadness over losing her, he rises to the occasion by protecting his family. He bids adieu to Maya with Chalri sajni (Mukesh) knowing full well that this is the right decision he has taken. Kudos to Raj Khosla for conceiving this bold plot with such an untried end...
So, how good is Dev Anand as Bombai ka Babu? Perfect, I'd say. Never seen him play such a complex character. His face is roguishly attractive on one hand and exuding sweetness on the other. His body language has the immaculate mix of hesitation, apprehension and panache. Khosla captures in the otherwise frolicky Dev Anand a brooding intensity and simmering passion. And the incest side to the story becomes commendable because of this brilliant actor's histrionics. Making hearts flutter, this Babu sure knew how to rule...

14 comments:

  1. @Sharmi: Delighted to read your review of the movie I loved. Such a bold film in 60's from Raj Khosla. Dev Anand was brilliant as a lover going through turmoil. When I first watched this movie I was totally amazed about the subject but totally sympathized with Babu. At the end when Mala is getting married and Mukesh is singing Chal Ri Sajni, I was literally moved. Movie had such a nice and sensible ending.

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  2. Yes, such a good, good movie. Before I saw Bombai ka Babu, I'd always associated Raj Khosla with thrillers, so I'd imagined this one would be the same. But Bombai ka Babu, while it does have the crime angle, uses it in such a beautifully social-individual way... fabulous. And the music is superb! (Another of my favourite songs is Dekhne mein bhola hai).

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  3. This is one of my favorite films, and the one where I actually began liking Dev Anand (I always found his "dancing" very annoying before). Everything is just perfect, including the end. The end, by the way, reminds me of another O. Henry story - A Retrieved Reformation. There too a diligent police officer draws off the pursuit when he realises that his quarry has reformed.

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  4. @Sreenath: I thank you to egg me on to write about this film. I had seen this one a long, long time back with my father. Two days back I saw this film once again and fell in love with every frame. :)

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  5. @Dustedoff: This is seriously one of the very different Raj Khosla flicks. And the thrilling bit is so well connected with the emotional drama. Awesome songs and awesome acting by Dev Anand. And, he looks yummy :)

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  6. @Bollyviewer: You know I studied one short story in standard 11 called something like "Jimmy Valnetine" or something. I just cannot remember the name. It also had a master crook reforming himself for the love of a girl.
    Regarding Dev Anand in Bombai ka Babu, a really brave effort to do a role that was so different from his frothy image.

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  7. I remember reading somewhere that this film flopped because the audience could not accept the hero pretending to be the heroine's brother. Many years later B.R.Chopra made Zameer with a similar story line but he took care to unite the hero Amitabh Bachchan with the heroine Saira Banu. Interestingly Saira played Shammi Kapoor's daughter in Zameer. after having played his heroine many years ago in Junglee

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  8. @Shilpi: Yes, I have seen Zameer and I found it undigestible. I do not like Amitabh Bachchan (I know his fans will hate me for this) and Saira looks absolutely old and beaten. And the film was very loud. Shammi Kapoor's daughter is Saira...uugghh... after Junglee!?!?
    This film, on the other hand, is lovely because of its cast, acting and bold theme that was very new in those times :)

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  9. @sharmi: I listened to Telugu Eruvaka Sagaro so many times but didn't realize "dekhne mein bhola hain" had the same tune. Thanks for pointing it out.

    This movie may not have been a commercial success because of it's anti-sentiment theme but it's a brilliant movie nevertheless!

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  10. @Sreenath: I myself did not know this. Learnt about the inspiration recently. And yes, I loved the film and thought it was much ahead of its time :)

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  11. The hero of O Henry's A Retrieved Reformation is Jimmy Valentine! So you do remember the right story. :D

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  12. @Bollyviewer: Yaaayyyy...My tummy was churning because I could not remember the right thing. Thank you so much for filling the gap :)

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  13. Hey! watched it this noon. And I am mighty impressed by Raj Khosla! That was way ahead of its time! Heroine addressing the hero as 'Bhaiyya' half the movie - this is something unheard of! brave on Director/ Writer's part. I love each and every scene of this movie. Sply, those having Dev and Suchitra - they had chemistry (So what if he is her supposed bhaiyya?!) Suchitra Sen in "Dekhne mein bhola hai..." is spontaneous with those expressions and free flowing in "Deewana mastana...". Loved the way she emoted her awkwardness and dilemma.
    Songs are beautiful.. actors are beautiful, story is beautiful but the best part is the ending - very convincing. (But, did it go well with the audience then?)

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  14. @Punya: I too wonder about that! I'm sure the audience took it with a pinch of salt but today it is known as one of the best Dev Anand classics. Loved the film absolutely :)

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