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Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Supporting it strong (Beti Bete)

One thing's a given when you sit down to watch a L V Prasad film; there will be a plethora of twists and turns in the life of the main protagonists, family members will be separated by a freak stroke of fate, while one sibling regales in wealth, the others will have tormented livelihoods, there will be umpteen occasions when the members will come face to face with one another without each realising that they are related and most importantly every crease will be ironed out as the climax approaches.

In Beti Bete, every one of this rule is maintained. But what I liked about this film is that even after the script is predictable, some elements in the storyline departs from the hackneyed. In this 1964 enterprise, the director makes his supporting cast more strong than his lead stars. In fact, this is perhaps one of the the very few films where you would like to see what happens in the lives of the supporting stars. For instance, I'd much rather see how Lakshmi (Jamuna) strives to make ends meet, battling against every odd that comes her way. It is really heartening to see her win her stance with dignity and bravura. Then, it is more rollicking to witness how Mahesh (Mehmood) falls in love with Sarla (Shobha Khote), rather than how Ramu (Sunil Dutt) and Saroj (B Saroja Devi) grow close to one another. This is also one film where one song that is not a romantic ditty rule throughout. This song, initially a lullaby, becomes a soulful melancholic number that binds and brings together the long lost siblings. In short, Beti Bete is one film where the director deviates from the tried and tested tracks.
Raghu (Jayant) is a poor widower who struggles to make ends meet for his family comprising three children, Lakshmi (Baby Farida), Ramu (Master Shahid) and Munna. He is heavily under debt and is labouring away to repay his loans from his landlord. The landlord's wife Paro (Dulari) however, feels for the sad plight of the three children and helps them with food. But the landlord is rather cruel and constantly is behind Raghu to get his money back. It is quite weird to see Jayant, who is a giant of a man, grovel in front of anybody! Even when he is near his children, he looks like a huge huge giant!! But Jayant is spot on with his expressions as the loving father who is forever struggling to provide for his little ones. One day, fate strikes a cruel blow when Raghu loses his eyesight in a freak accident at the factory where he is labourer.
While he is crying over his sad luck, he overhears his landlord saying that he should have been dead rather than blind. That way his children would have been taken care of by an orphanage. This triggers him to desert his children. Lakshmi, Ramu and Munna are now left to the elements. While experiencing hardships day in and day out, you really start feeling for these children. And more remarkable is how brilliantly they perform their part. Baby Farida is excellent, Master Ramu is very sweet and the baby is as babies should be!
Then you have the brilliant lullaby that carries with it a melancholic tinge. Aaj kaal mein dhal gaye is a soothing stroke from Shankar Jaikishan and Lata Mangeshkar's (later Mohd Rafi's) soulful rendition makes it perfect. While being reflective of the tragic circumstances in these children's life, it also harps on the sorrows of separation.
Troubles multiply for the trio and they are thrown out of their home. While travelling in a train, Lakshmi and Munna are separated from Ramu, who lands up with a theatre company. Lakshmi and Munna are given refuge in a rich man's house, where Lakshmi works as a maid. But tragedies are far from over. Munna is kidnapped (not before Madhu, the son of Lakshmi's employer, puts his own gold chain around Munna's neck) by a crook. This gold chain will act as a talisman of recognition later. Munna is saved by two local men from the crook, who brings him up as their own. Lakshmi, resigned to her sad fate, stays back at Madhu's, and grows up to be a responsible and abiding woman, though a tad weepy. Madhu falls in love with her and promises to marry her after returning from his studies abroad (Sudesh Kumar looks quite good as the good doctor).
Ramu (Sunil Dutt) grows up to become a successful stage actor with a melodious voice. But he has to run away from his theatre group because the owner of the company wants to get him forcibly married to his daughter. He lands up in the house of an eccentric (in a good way of course) man, played by Agha, who is sold on Ramu's singing. His daughter is Saroj, who as is expected, is quite taken aback with Ramu's handsome's disposition. As time passes Ramu and Saroj serenade to one lovely track after another (isn't is amazing how Sunil Dutt gets to be with the rich people always! He did it is Waqt, he does it here, too). I love the song Naino wali tere naina; it's teasing, tempting and has a naughty quality to it. Then there's the dramatised version of Radhikey tu ne bansuri (a fabulous song) where you get to see B Saroja Devi dance and Sunil Dutt emote to perfection.
As luck would have it, Agha is happy with the alliance and readily agrees to get his daughter married to Ramu, after having promoted him to the post of a manager in his company. But here we see Sunil Dutt in grey. He is rude to Mahesh, who comes to him for justice, is nonchalant towards Lakshmi who comes to him for help and also lacks the integrity that one looks for in a hero (or rather in Sunil Dutt).
Mahesh saves Sarla (who is Madhu's younger sister) from two goons and they both fall in love. But, Sarla's father opposes the match. So, Mahesh pulls one trick after another to get close to Sarla. He wards off Shankar (the irritating Rajindernath), who is hell bent on marrying Sarla. In the process we see him waltzing to Gori chalo na hans ki chal with Sarla to the best effect.
Many misunderstandings arise between Mahesh and Ramu and the brothers are pitted against each other. Here, Mahesh comes across as a better man than Ramu. He saves Lakshmi from a lecherous old man, does the good deeds all alone, while Ramu is just whiling away his time singing songs and romancing Saroj (Agar teri jalwa is also not even a great song).
But, as is expected the missing piece falls in place in the jigsaw and all frayed nerves are calmed. What is good is that the film does not resort to too much melodrama before the denouement. A tried and tested formula executed with a deft hand, that's what this family drama turns out to be...


  1. I do like family dramas, and this one was quite likeable.
    I remember the stress and strain I went through.......till the children were settled in their new homes and grew up. Pheeeewww!! It was an emotional rollercoaster, even though one knew that nothing would happen to the children.


  2. Hi Sharmi,
    You sounded as if you liked that movie! Indian cinema does like such family dramas, doesn't it? There must be a certain type of audience ready to pity children who have battled their way through life, and who once grown up "deserve" to receive compensation for their plight.

  3. @Pacifist: Yes, me too. I totally sat tight till the situation of the children got better :)

  4. @Yves: Yes, I did like the film because it was really well executed. Try it sometime :)

  5. "also lacks the integrity that one looks for in a hero (or rather in Sunil Dutt)."

    Hah! Too true - I always tend to think of Sunil Dutt too as a very good man. Other than the fact that he invariably played men with a well-developed sense of integrity (not unusual, though: the anti-hero was quite a rarity back then)... he still strikes me even otherwise as a good, upright person.

    Will look out for this movie. Sounds like a good, old-fashioned 'reunion' one! :-)

  6. This is a remake of 1955 Telugu hit Santhanam. Lata Manageshkar sang the famous Telugu lullaby song Nidurapora Thammuda in the original movie.

  7. @Dustedoff: I often got to hear that Sunil Dutt was actually quite a good man in real life too. His onscreen personas were also so goody goody. See this film. I think you will like it. It's up on YOutube. A real old fashioned Reunion one, as you rightly said :)

  8. @Sreenath: Really?? Am not surprised though. Because the production seems to be right down from the south!

  9. I tried watching this once, lured in by the promise of Sunil Dutt and the lovely songs, but could not make it past the first 30 min. Guess I need more determination and perseverance to get to the better parts!

    And Dustedoff, Sunil Dutt did not "invariably play... men with a well-developed sense of integrity" - his onscreen persona was pretty evenly split between the charming idealist (usually a teacher) and the blood-thirsty dacoit!

  10. @Bollyviewer: Yes, the blood thirsty dacoit we forgot. Have to see Mujhey Jeeney Do soon :)