‘Julie‘ was released in 1975. I was 10, and definitely not allowed into an adult movie, which its poster alone loudly proclaimed it to be. But what could stop the songs from reaching us? ‘My heart is beating, keeps on repeating, I am waiting for you’ was the rage for years, helped along by its singer, Preeti Sagar appearing on Doordarshan regularly, and singing it. Preeti Sagar with her fair skin and light eyes, and her long plaits and traditional sari never ceased to send a frisson of surprise down our spines when she began singing this very English song in her husky voice.
I had never felt curious about watching ‘Julie’ because Lakshmi was not an actress I was familiar with, nor was Vikram a big star. And the original notion of it being a sleazy film had stuck into my memory. So when I did watch ‘Julie’ recently on an appropriately rainy day, it was the right dose of nostalgia, a visit back to the 70s.
The village in which Julie lives could be the Kirkee of my summer holidays – the old cantonment style houses with the latticed verandahs, the dusty roads, the railway tracks and the small railway station, the water tank, the river and empty roads on which one could cycle around. Julie is an ordinary enough story of a young girl who falls in love and gets pregnant. But ah, the details. One could quibble over the fact that Anglo Indians are characterized into stereotypes – the drunkard father, the domineering mother, but the thing is that Nadira and Om Prakash make these characters, Margaret and Morris, so believable that they remind me of the uncles and aunties I knew when we were growing up.
Their house, the sofa set, the crocheted covers on tables, the games of carom, the mandatory guitar, everything adds up to creating a very believable world.
and Johny (I’m sorry, I didn’t get his name) live with their parents. Their father is a railway engine driver, warm and affectionate, but prone to drinking through the day. This has their family finances on edge and their mother always hassled. Frequent fights between their parents can cause the kids embarrassment amongst their friends, and humiliation at the hands of older people like the grocery store owner or the office manager.
Rajendranath plays a very different role from his usual loud comic buffoon, that of the lecherous shopkeeper who tries to take advantage of the family’s debts to cop a feel of Julie whenever she comes to his shop.
But his ‘Chhoti Memsaab’ and ‘Bade Saheb’-ing are indicative of the way Anglo Indians were still perceived to be more English than Indian, even by the members of the community themselves. Margaret certainly is contemptuous of all things Indian and her dream is to go away to England facilitated by her elder son, Jimmy who works away from home.
Julie has a best friend, Usha (Rita Bhaduri) whose mother Mrs. Upadhyay (Achala Sachdev) a superstitious, very traditional Hindu woman does not approve of Julie at all, in her short frocks, her sandals that she brings into the house, her offering of Christmas cake which Achala suspects contains eggs even though Julie says it doesn’t, since she has made it specially for them. While Achala’s more broad minded husband, Mr. Upadhyay (Utpal Dutt) tucks into the cake happily, Mrs. Upadhyay thinks the cake is a device for the Christians to tarnish their Hindu dharma and convert more Hindus into their fold. Julie herself likes the Hindu household more than her own, which smells of fish frying and other meats and drink.
Mr. Upadhyay tells her jokingly that Mrs. Upadhyay has 4 off-days from the kitchen, when she has her periods, she is considered unclean and cannot enter the traditional Hindu kitchen. These small details bring forward the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Upadhyay quite clearly along with the beliefs of the time.
The director K S Sethumadhavan uses these well entrenched prejudices to build a portrait of both households, Hindu and Christian, quite effectively. His handling is delicate and in the end, Utpal Dutt’s plea for humanity over religion and caste, make a strong case against these familiar attitudes.
Julie has a sort of boyfriend, Richard (Jalal Agha) who takes her around on his cycle.
She likes him, but does not love him. Richard is madly enough in love with her to take the crap she deals out to him, but he is saved from being a wishy-washy character by being quite malicious and bitter in his remarks to her, making her aware that he knows what exactly she is up to.
Julie has fallen in love with Shashi (Vikram), Usha’s brother, who comes home from the holidays.
Shashi too is smitten with her, as he has seen her after many years.
While Shashi as a character is limited to the hormonally driven boyfriend, the love between Julie and Shashi is so, so real, having little to do with knowing each other, but pure chemical attraction as is likely to happen when you are 17.
The two barely talk, and apart from some perfunctory ‘I love you’s thrown in, they begin smooching, leading up to sex, via the famous ‘Julie, I love you’.
Being the world of Indian films, this of course, means pregnancy for Julie. Shashi to be fair to him, does not know she is pregnant, because he has gone back to the city by then. Margaret is not only upset about Julie’s pregnancy per se, but also by the fact that she has done it with an ‘Indian’. The only way she can see out of the situation is to pretend to Morris and the rest of the family that Julie must work now to provide for the family, she has a job with the convent and has to go away. Morris doesn’t want Julie to leave college and work, but he shuts up when Margaret says she cannot run the house on his meager income, further depleted by alcohol. Margaret takes Julie to a distant auntie, (Sulochana, the old one, Ruby Meyers)
who refuses to give in to Margaret’s solution for abortion. Instead, Julie lives with her during her confinement and they give away the child to the orphanage after he is born. Morris meanwhile dies, leaving Julie who was his favorite, further bereft.
Once Julie has returned home, there is a wonderful scene when Julie hears a child wailing outside her room, and her breasts overflow with milk. Her younger sister, Irene immediately guesses why Julie was sent away from home. None of this is sleazy, by the way, but handled quite realistically. Julie, confused, wakes up her mother in the middle of the night, with a plea to get her child back.
The story of course, runs its course. But it does not create unnecessary melodrama and stretch the point.
Though Lakshmi was 23 in this film, she plays an absolutely gorgeous 17 or 18 in this film,
a mix of sexuality and innocence which she holds through the film, except for a couple of scenes after she learns of her pregnancy where she overdoes the crying bits. But Nadira takes your breath away.
She brings a complexity to her character, veering from anger towards her husband to a flash of helpless affection, to rage at her daughter to pity for her, doing it all with no pyrotechnics.
Surprisingly, ‘My heart is beating’ is not a love song, but one Julie sings at a family evening. All of them dance, and it is one of the rare moments of happiness at home.
The other love song, ‘Yeh raatein nayi purani’ is sung by Usha at the Railway Institute dance, where Julie and Shashi smooch oblivious to all eyes, and despite the fact that they hardly know each other.
There is a sparseness to this film, an unfinished feel that Sur talks about here, that reminds you of summer holidays, things said and unsaid, relationships that follow their own course, and young love. Just watch ‘Dil kya kare jab kisi ko kissi se pyaar ho jaaye’. I’m sure it will remind you of someone you knew and mucked around with years ago. Or maybe not so many years ago.
And may God forgive Ultra Video for their watermark.