Google moves in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform. You ask for information on a new film, and before you know it, you are knee deep in photographs of your favourite B/W onscreen couples! One such search led me to pictures of young Dharam and Sharmila – one of my favourite onscreen pairs. They are both incredibly good looking, excellent actors, and have several great films together. Anupama (The Incomparable One) has long been a favourite of mine, and tops my list of Dharam-Sharmila films. I love well-done romances and they’re seldom as well done as this gentle coming-of-age story of a timid and shy young woman. And no wonder. When Hrishikesh Mukherjee gets together with the likes of Rajinder Singh Bedi, Kaifi Azmi and Hemanta Kumar, one can really look forward to quality cinema.
Once upon a time there was a very happy couple – Mohan Sharma (Tarun Bose) and his new bride Aruna (Surekha). They were very much in love with each other. As happens with deliriously happy couples in Bollyland, they are soon expecting a baby. Unfortunately, this happy event ends not-so-happily – complications during the delivery lead to Aruna’s death. Mohan, inconsolable in his grief, blames the baby, Uma, for his wife’s death. He hates the little girl, and the poor child is brought up by Aruna’s nurse, Sarla (Dulari), virtually out of Mohan’s sight.
In his grief, Mohan becomes a workaholic by day and a drunk by night. While sober, he makes his dislike of Uma very plain, but in his drunken moments, he lavishes gifts and affection on her. With such a Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde for a father, its no wonder that Uma grows up to be a very withdrawn and timid young woman. She barely speaks and is terrified of most people.
The alcohol and work eventually take their toll and Mohan is advised to take a break from both. His friend Suresh Bakshi (Brahm Bharadwaj) invites him to Mahabaleshwar for rest and recuperation. So Mohan temporarily moves to Mahabaleshwar with Uma and Sarla. There they stay with Suresh and his manically cheerful daughter Anita/Annie (Shashikala) in a huge mansion. Suresh, like Mohan, lost his wife soon after Annie was born. But the contrast between Annie and Uma couldn’t be greater. Annie has all the confidence and natural exuberance of a much loved child. Uma, on the other hand, has all the timidity and lack of self-esteem that comes of knowing herself unwanted and unloved.
To Mahabaleshwar also come Arun (Deven Varma), his friend Ashok (Dharmendra) and Ashok’s mother and sister. Arun is a vilaayat-returned engineer, and a son of Mohan’s late friend. Naturally, best friends always pledge to marry off their kids. And so, Uma is to be married off to Arun. Ashok is quite unlike his friend. He is a poor and idealistic teacher, struggling to support his vidhwa Maa (Durga Khote) and kunwari behen Gauri (Naina). And his father does not seem to have provided him with a betrothed at birth.
When the exuberant Annie meetsArun, she promptly invites him and his entourage to stay with them at their gigantic villa. This is where Uma’s life begins to change.
Ashok, the sensitive poet-writer, is soon drawn to the shy and quiet Uma. With gentle perseverance, he tries to bring her out of her shell. His Mom and sister also develop an attachment to Uma. She basks in the warmth of her first real friendship and begins to fall for Ashok (And who can blame her? He looks like Dharam and sings like Hemant Kumar!). Ashok pursues his acquaintance with Uma when they return from Mahabaleshwar (atta boy!), and succeeds in getting her to utter her first few words in the film! Cautiously, Uma begins to reach out to him and his loving family. Their blossoming romance is a joy to behold. Inspired by her, Ashok writes his novel Anupama – a book that will later determine the course of their relationship.
Ashok-Uma’s is not the only romance brewing. Arun is drawn to Annie – once he’s got over his initial shock at her manic cheerfulness! Annie is equally drawn to Arun. The cheerful and young-at-heart Uncle Moses (David), fosters their relationship and encourages them to plan for marriage. But Arun is promised to Uma! Try as he might, he can’t work up the courage to tell Uma’s intimidating father that he wants to marry Annie, instead.
What happens to these tangled relationships? Do Ashok-Uma and Arun-Annie find their happily-ever-after? Will Uma let go of a lifetime of striving for her father’s approval and strike out for her own happiness? Will Annie stop overdosing on her “be cheerful, be perky” tonic? I suggest you watch the film and find out yourself!
Its a lovely film with a beautiful story, satisfyingly well told – all the hallmarks of a good Hrishikesh Mukherjee film! The characters are very believable and the film depicts them all so sympathetically. The stunning black and white cinematography adds depth and feeling to the emotions swirling through the film. On a more frivolous note, there is so much pretty in the film. From the gorgeous lead pair to the lovely Shashikala and handsome Deven Varma – they are all so beautiful! Plus, it has the best music out of all of Hrishi da’s films. Check these out: Lata’s joyful Dheere dheere machal and lovelyKuchh dil ne kaha;the exuberant Asha numbersBheegi bheegi fiza andKyon mujhe itni khushi de di;and Hemant Kumar’s haunting Ya dil ki suno duniyawaalon.
Dharmendra is superb as the principled and sensitive writer. Not once does he go over the top. Even his “we are poor but happy” speech sounds sincere and heartfelt. His character is also very well written. I loved that though Ashok does his best to woo Uma and give her some faith in herself, he also gives her room to grow and make her own decisions.
Sharmila is equally good as the shy Uma. Uma barely speaks in the film. All of her emotions – her silent fear of her father, her striving for his approval, her growing satisfaction with Ashok’s affection (Sharmila makes full use of her dimples to convey half-smiles as only she can!) – are conveyed beautifully through Sharmila’s expressions and body language. I have just one gripe with Sharmila’s Uma – I wish she’d left off her bouffants as Hrishikesh Mukherjee apparently requested her to. The well-coiffed hair add a touch of glamour that detracts from Uma’s quiet and simple character!
Of the rest of the cast, I found Shashikala’s Annie rather grating. Her bubbly enthusiasm and cheerfulness was very, VERY overdone, especially since the rest of the cast put in a pretty understated performance. My favourite, apart from the leads, was David. He was adorable as the jocular and fun Uncle Moses, and had just the right mix of avuncular and friendly to make him the best confidante in matters of the heart!