What is awesome is how at the very outset the director shows the college professor having the conventional opinions against a prostitute, who he considers a fallen woman. That young men should be wary of such women is evident from how and what the professor lectures. Mohan is a normal brought up on the ethics and taboos laid down by society. As you listen to him criticise the prostitute, you realise that he has been tutored in conventional modes. But then, that he will not change is outlook is not guaranteed.
Mohan's mother has been behind him to get her a pretty and dutiful daughter-in-law. But even though Mohan is a loving son, he has been pushing the thought behind just as any young man probably would. Ailing and infirm, Mohan's mother's health steadily declines. Then comes a day when she is so ill that Mohan has to search for a woman who can face his mother as an impromptu wife. A woman who would be willing to pose as his better-half for a certain sum of money. Thus, the script needs Jeevan Ram (Radhakishan), the wily, astute yet extremely comical neighbour to come forward and help Mohan. He promises to get his cousin to play the wife's part but what he does, greedy for double income, is use the help of Champabai, a local courtesan who holds court before many faithful patrons.
Champabai rids herself of her garish attires that is synonymous with courtesans and gets in clothes that are supposed to make her respectable. Question is, is her soul now respectable too? She meets the ailing woman and his son. The first meeting shows her as a conniving woman playacting to perfection. The kind words of the victims do not affect her. She is all set to win her game and flee with the loot.
But gradually Champabai changes, the first hint of change being when Mohan looks at her adoringly. All she can think is how handsome he is. Probably if her position was different, she might have become his lover. Probably this is the first time when this woman has desires that are genuine...
The final weapon of change is the harsh and cruel remarks made by her patrons when she playfully dresses up as a newly-wed bride to entertain. A prostitute in a bride's clothes? Is that possible? When Champabai's visitors laugh and hurl at her ridicules and insults, she realises that a prostitute shouldn't have dared to become a respectable bride. These people are just too accustomed to her singing and shimmying to Babuji tum kya kya kharido ge. Society, responsible for making her what she is today, will not give her a chance to reform herself... What a brilliant scene!
As is with B R Chopra's films, the endings are hardly sad. This too has a hopeful and halcyon end. But the journey is worth the watch. Champabai's story is definitely interesting.
The drama and tension is interspersed with brilliant comic interludes by Radhakishan, a crazily good character actor. His nasal twang, his facial expressions, his quick retorts, his grimace, his lies, his cheekiness, everything is so wickedly funny. You know he is slimy piece of rogue but you cannot hate him. You cannot love him, too. But yes, you will lose out on all the fun if you chose to ignore him. Radhakishan is kickass in the film.
Leela Chitnis plays the regular ailing mother, who is loving and doting. Sunil Dutt is very handsome and is sensible. He soon falls in love with the young woman coming to visit his mother because, firstly because she is a sweet person who is gorgeous, and secondly because he knows his mother will love the match. It is heartening to see him change his outlook towards courtesans when he hears Champabai's tale. He decides that this woman should now get her due. That is really reassuring...