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Friday, 27 April 2012

And she learns to love (Dillagi)

Love can seriously do wonders. It has the capacity of changing worlds in a moment. One brush with the sentiment and you can start feeling woozy all of a sudden. A person with no romance in his soul can actually turn out to be quite a lover when he has his first exchange with the wondrous feeling. And a woman who is famous for being the strict and dry spinster can actually start enjoying her encounter with love. So many facets this feeling has. And it's such a joy to know that there is love in this world. In every nook, every cranny...

Basu Chatterjee's 1978 romance, Dillagi, is a quaint little wonder set in a small town. It deals with everyday people and their lives. Amidst all the humdrum of daily living, the director places two souls whose lives are changed by love. This film turned out to be such a sweet sensation that I'd recommend it to everybody. It's soft, sensitive, funny in parts and most importantly happy. It reinforces my belief in love and that when it is time, every person meets the person who he or she is bound to fall in love.
Newly appointed professor Swarnkamal (Dharmendra) joins duty in a girls' college. The day he walks into the college, the students notice his encounter with Phoolrenu (Hema Malini) and how interesting it is. Phoolrenu might be beautiful, but she is a tough nut to crack. She is the dry spinster who is not even remotely interested in love or any branches of the feeling. She admonishes the girls for being so love-struck all the time and any mention of love makes her squirm. She is the sole-earning member of her family and has to provide for her mother and brother who is studying in college. It is comprehensible why she is so. The daily grind of life has extracted all the juices of tenderness from her. She comes to the college, is a martinet to the girls (they call her Carbon Dioxide, an ode to the serious Chemistry she teaches) and goes back to the hostel where she is again the strict hostel warden. But soon her life will change.
And, Swarnkamal will change it, though very unobtrusively. He is everything that Phoolrenu is not. Happy, amiable and always ready to chat up the girls. He is young but not irresponsible. He teaches Sanskrit and that too the romantic texts of Kalidas. His manner of teaching and interacting with his students finds favour with all the girls in the college. They lovingly call him 'jijaji' (an ode to the friendliness with which he interacts with his students) and one of them, Charu (Preeti Ganguly) even gives him her heart (with comic consequences of course).
Swarnkamal is not just a teacher, he is a master in the matter of romance. He knows how to handle Phoolrenu. It is obvious from the word go that he likes her immensely and is bound to make her his own. It will just take some clever manoeuvrings. Phoolrenu is vexed at the way he teaches; he loudly reads to his students the Sanskrit love texts of Kalidas that contain extremely graphic descriptions of physical love. She is of the opinion that he is out to spoil the girls and fill their heads with romantic nonsense. But the day her colleague Geeta (Mithu Mukherjee, I had no idea, spoke such good Hindi) remarks that since she has had no lover yet at even this age, she has become non-responsive and irritable, it hits her hard.
Is Phoolrenu really insensitive? Is she really incapable of love? Swarnkamal doesn't think so. He relentlessly pursues her in his own way; not the robust lover here, but the soft intellectual and patient kind, hoping to get a positive answer.
Gradually Phoolrenu changes. First she is irked at the way Geeta dances with Swarnkamal during a function. She imagines herself as Shakuntala in place if Geeta. This means she is jealous but it is beyond her to show that off. Soon she doesn't mind when Swarnkamal pays her frequent visits at the hostel for some reason or the other and even offers him tea.
Swarnkamal uses a clever ploy to test her feelings. He visits her ancestral home in Kashipur and sees for himself that she is happy to see him. Yes, Phoolrenu is no more the insensitive soul incapable of feeling romantic. She too now wants her share of love. She has decidedly made her choice for a life partner. BUt the matter is not settled yet. She will make Swarnkamal go through another series of incidents before the knot can be tied. And this unravelling of events is engaging, comic and bears results.
Dillagi stars Dharmendra in a very unconventional role of a sensitive, and heavily romantic professor who knows how to get his gal. But is remarkable about the treatment is that there is no melodrama, or chest-thumping in what he does. His is a very restrained character and Dharmendra is top class at it. Though I'd much rather not have him carrying around a rose all the time, but I think one can forgive such misgivings.
The music of the film (by Rajesh Roshan) is tepid. Not that I complain. The narrative is so interesting that I'd rather have no songs to cut into the plot. The film is better off without them. Perhaps only a few songs, speaking of Phoolrenu's true state of heart could have just been planted.
One thing did baffle me of course. why would Chatterjee waste an actor like Shatrughan Sinha with such a miniscule role. He deserved better for sure.

Hema Malini is a revelation here. She starts off playing the serious Chemistry teacher who doesn't understand love. But slowly she too gauges the emotion and starts changing. The scene where she reads a love letter written by a student is finely done. She quirms at the graphic language and drinks gallons of water to soothe her frayed nerves. It only shows how removed she is from the reality called love and physicality. Her character is multi-dimensional. On one hand she does develop feelings for Swarnkamal but she is too much of a stern teacher to admit to herself that she loves him. She feels jealous when she sees Geeta dance with Swarnkamal but she does nothing to get close to him. Then there are those scenes in Kashipur where she waits endlessly for Swarnkamal to arrive. And you can see the joy in her eyes when at last he does. Every little scene in Dillagi is beautifully done.
Basu Chatterjee was taking on a difficult text when he decided to direct Dillagi.  For, Bimal Kar's story has a very nuanced approach in terms of the feelings of a woman and the whole perspective of love as seen from a man's and woman's point of view. But he did a commendable job. Go see for yourself...


  1. Saw this eons ago - and don't remember the nuances of it. But I remember finding it unusual and likeable!

  2. Hi Sharmi, saw this one really long ago.. just remember a scene or two. But your review now wants me to search and watch it. Asap!

  3. @Dustedoff: Yes it indeed was unusual. Quite refreshing I must say!

  4. Love this movie so much. kalidas has never been funnier!!!Funny yet realistic. It goes on its own pace with no rush and is evenly entertaining.

  5. @Anonymous: Yes, quite entertaining!

  6. @Sharmi: It seems to be an interesting movie. I will catch up :)

  7. @Sreenath: It's up on YOutube. Enjoy :)

  8. Bimal Kar, you say, made the original? Which Bengali movie was this based on?

    1. @Anonymous: No no, Bimal Kar wrote the Bengali story on which this film was based.

  9. I really like this film a lot.It has a calming effect on ones nerves.
    Everyone acted well. It is like one of Hrishikesh films. Hema Malini was good, as you say.
    Dharmender as a Sanskrit teacher was as interesting as rain in the desert. :-)


  10. @Pacifist: Yeah he was really offbeat and charming :) Except of course the rose thingie!

  11. @Sharmi: I watched Dillagi on Youtube yesterday and enjoyed it. Thanks for the recommendation. Yes, except the rose thingie everything else was great :) The length of movie on Youtube was 1hr 55m, which is not typical of Hindi films. It makes me think most of the old Hindi movie rips on Youtube are VCD versions on 2 CDS, which are cut to make them fit on 2 CDs. Lot of times, the video companies are lazy and just transfer the VCD version to DVD rather than re-encoding from master tape. Movies like Teesri Manzil in which 1/2 hr footage is missing have suffered because of this. I would love to get uncut versions of so many classics like Teesri Manzil, JPKHH etc.

  12. @Sreenath: I've seen the uncut version of Teesri Manzil and I can understand your feelings!

  13. @Sharmi: I saw the uncut VHS version of Teesri Manzil several times but that was long ago. I really need the uncut DVD version. There are many other such movies that I already own but would buy again if the video house released new uncut versions. It is a good business model for the video house to re-release uncut versions of old classics. I will be one of the first ones to buy them. Eros, Ultra -- Are you listening?

  14. @Sreenath: Seriously they need to listen.

  15. I saw this in my school days and still remember many parts of it. I was a light entertainer and there are very few in that genre

  16. Hi, Am trying to hunt for the youtube link for Dillagi, not able to find it. Could someone help me please.