I really liked the first half of ‘Manzil’ (Mandi Burman, 1960); the romance between Raju (Dev Anand) and Pooja (Nutan) had all the innocence of first love with the physicality of young hormones at play. There are stolen kisses and romping around on the floor, and holding hands quite naturally, and lots of cuddling. The family drama with the strict, uncompromising father Mehta-Ji (K.N.Singh) doing what he does best, with his raised eyebrows and stern voice, plays out quite well with a son who wants to be a musician and a father who wants him to join the family business. Everyone else around, mother, sister, family friends and Pooja herself, are sympathetic to Raju, not quite in tandem with Mehta-Ji but still believe that music can only be a pastime, not a profession, and I like the conflicts of that dilemma with Raju’s mother (Mumtaz Begum) and sister Shobha (Achala Sachdev) hoping that Pooja will be able to hold him to home and hearth, will seduce him into staying back, into not following his dreams. Pooja herself is torn between her love for Raju, and wanting his happiness, and wanting her own.
It helps that the film is beautifully shot by Nariman Irani. There are some truly cinematic moments. Raju goes to a bar, and lifts up a glass of drink, leaving a rim on the counter. His subsequent drinking is marked by a shot where the rim marks on the counter grow. Raju’s house in Simla is also well-used, the architecture of the hills where the first floor in the front of the house could well be the ground floor at the back, which lets Pooja and Raju slip out as they please, hand in hand, right into the forest. There is romantic banter across adjoining windows, and there is a masterful shot when Raju’s father finally gets Raju’s piano thrown out of the house. Raju storms into his room, ready to leave the house. We see the women, Pooja, Raju’s sister Shobha, and Raju’s mother, Pooja’s mother, all framed in one shot, at different places in the room, against the wall, against doorframes, sad, helpless, until Pooja, walks into foreground, towards camera, determined. Even in a terrible digital print, it is obvious, the black and whites must have been lovely, there is so much darkness, so much play with shadows, with light.
And the music by S.D. Burman, (lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri), is faultless. Teja has recently acquired a record player, which I have almost usurped. It’s the first record player I have had, and I am amazed at how wonderful music sounds on vinyl. And each one of these songs on an album, you would like to listen to. My favourite is
(Geeta Dutt, Mohammad Rafi) for the teasing and joy of a young courting couple who finds themselves alone at home.
Where the film completely loses its charm and credibility is in the second half. Raju’s entry into Bombay city, being looted by a thug on his first night, being befriended by a musical panwala (Mehmood) who turns in a stellar performance in a song,
are all very stereotypical, as is a famous nautch girl Titli Bai (Zaibunnisa) being enamoured by him, and actively creating a rift between Raju and Pooja. The DVD has also been mercilessly hacked in this portion and the jumps do nothing for the story. Titli Bai mysteriously disappears at one point. Raju becomes famous too easily.
The film picks up a bit again when Pooja gets married to Captain Prem Nath (Krishan Dhawan), and Shobha comforts Raju as he drinks. Later, she confronts Pooja. Again, the unsaid tensions between families, between people, the misunderstandings, are portrayed quite subtly. But the leap to a dramatic end, with the Captain’s mad leap into jealousy and out of a window are too idiotic to mean anything to the story.
A pity, I thought. It would have been really nice if the premise of a man trying to make it big in the music world and being torn apart by his family and his love, could have been explored more deeply, with all the nuances the first half promised. But the formulaic demands of a Hindi film do not allow for that. Instead we have an evil vamp and a conniving servant and a jealous husband. And the husband must of course die, before Pooja can get back to Raju. After it being established time and time again, that for some reason, Pooja is still a virgin.