Ek Baar Kaho (1980) – a tryst with romance

I am very partial to well-made romantic films, and this one ticks all the boxes on my checklist for well-made romances: Dishy hero? Check. Melt-into-a-puddle romance? Check. A mature, grown-up couple? (No, I am not referring to their ages!) Check. Romance in the hills? Check! Coherent, well-crafted story? Check. Well-written dialogues? Check. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture!

Ravi Varma (Navin Nischol) is a busy industrialist of the kind that you wish existed in real life – he cares about his workers and the environment, and he is not always focused on turning a profit. When his friend Dr. Pinto (Suresh Oberoi) bursts in on an important meeting, flashing a chest X-ray on an overhead projector and uttering dire warnings about an over-tired heart, Ravi is un-moved. (He can see his lungs are all clear, in spite of his smoking. And he knows something Pinto does not – you cannot see the heart on an X-ray film!). He is BUSY! But Pinto insists that Ravi must reduce his workload and take a month off. When Ravi’s team also agrees with Pinto, an angry Ravi stalks out.

Pinto finds Ravi in a lonely corner of the house, with his inevitable cigarette. He must work, he explains to Pinto, what else has he got left? Pinto tries expostulating. One cannot run away from memories, he tells Ravi. The only way to be rid of them is to look them in the eye. Before Ravi can respond, he gets a phone call from Dr. Puri (Madan Puri). It turns out that ‘Papa’ Puri has found a prospective bride for Ravi, and will be in Bombay with her in a day. Ravi is not happy – marriage is clearly not his thing. Ravi takes a sad-background-song break and comes up with an idea to escape marriage – he’ll take Pinto’s advice after all! A few weeks’ rest, in a place where Papa Puri cannot find him, is preferable to being married off for life. So that is how Ravi comes to visit Mountain View, his hill-side bungalow in Darjeeling, after eight years.

What Ravi does not realise is that his eight years’ absence have brought a lot of changes to Mountain View. His caretaker, Hanuman Singh (Jagdeep), and the chowkidar, Buta Singh (Rajendranath), have turned the bungalow into a very profitable hotel. Whilst an unsuspecting Ravi is on his way to Darjeeling, Hanuman is briskly selling tickets for a New Year’s Eve party. Just then, a group of young men – Amit (Dilip Dhawan), Jaspal (Anil Kapoor) and friends – arrive at Mountain View Hotel, looking to stay for a couple of weeks. Hanuman starts checking them in when they’re interrupted by a visibly angry Professor Aarti Mathur (Shabana Azmi). She reminds Hanuman that her group has booked the entire hotel for the next few days, and he is not at liberty to take any other guests. She brings her group of (female) Botany students to Darjeeling annually, and makes sure they are not in contact with young men whilst they are under her care. When Hanuman reminds her that the women are not occupying all the rooms, Miss Mathur shoots back that if he lets the boys stay, she’ll put the police on to him.

Whilst Aarti and Hanuman battle over whether or not the boys should be accommodated at the hotel, Amit, and one of Aarti’s students, Aparna (Kiran Vairale) start chatting over Urdu poetry. Aparna ask Amit if he remembers Qateel Shifai’s latest poem. He does. As he recites the romantic Zindagi mein to sabhi pyar kiya karte hain, main to marke bhi meri jaan tujhe chaahoonga, Aarti comes on the scene and mistakenly thinks that he is propositioning Aparna. A tight slap makes an immediate connection with poor Amit’s unsuspecting cheek. The misunderstanding is soon cleared up, not very amicably though, and the disgruntled young men depart. Unable to get hotel rooms, they pitch a camp outside the hotel gates.

In the midst of all this hullaballoo, Hanuman learns that Ravi is about to arrive! The ‘hotel’ needs to become a bungalow again – in twenty fours hours. How to do that? Aarti and her students must depart, pronto. Hanuman tries to evict them, but has to bow to the superior force – Aarti insists that the girls’ rooms are paid for, and they’ll stay, otherwise they’ll call the police! (The way she threatens police action and Hanuman bows to the threat, you’d think they have a lot of respect for the constabulary!) Hanuman must think laterally to get out of this jam, and he does.

When the girls return from their field trip that evening, they’re informed that Ravi, a previous owner of Mountain View, is coming to stay. Hanuman then proceeds to unfold Ravi’s sad tale – some years ago, the poor man lost his beloved fiancée in an accident. In his grief, he lost his mental balance. His fortune dissipated and Mountain View had to be sold off. He has just come out of the mental asylum now, and thinks he still owns Mountain View. Hanuman worked for Ravi’s family for years, and out of loyalty to them, he is going to look after Ravi now. The house will look exactly like it did in Ravi’s time, and everybody will pretend that Ravi is still lord and master here. Its the least Hanuman can do for his former master. Aarti is visibly moved by Hanuman’s generosity and promises to help with the subterfuge. Not even Hanuman’s account of Ravi’s violent behaviour with knives dents her determination to stay on and help!

Ravi duly arrives the next day. On the way home from the station, Hanuman spins him a tale of how the girls and their professor were camping outdoors, and had to be given shelter at Mountain View to save them from the cold. Ravi isn’t too concerned. Its a big house and he only needs a little space. Let them stay, he tells Hanuman.

Back in Bombay, Dr. Puri finds Ravi gone and demands information about his whereabouts from Dr. Pinto. In the ensuing conversation between them it emerges that Ravi lost his parents in an accident in Darjeeling. When he later also lost his fiancée, Dr. Puri’s daughter, in a car accident, he was convinced that anybody he loved would die. Since then, he’s immersed himself in work and cut himself off from any close relationships. That is why Dr. Puri is so keen to get Ravi married – marriage will cure him for sure! (I wonder how they cure a sick person who is already married?)

In Darjeeling, Ravi, lost in reliving old memories, unwittingly lends colour to tales of his insanity. He tells Hanuman that he cannot face the rush of memories in Darjeeling, but he’d rather not return to “Dr. Pinto’s paagal khaana”. While the girls are deliciously scared, Aarti is deeply moved by his “plight”. Normally stern and reserved, Aarti is unexpectedly sweet to Ravi and keeps reminding the girls to treat him as a normal person.

When Dr. Puri unexpectedly arrives to take Ravi back to Bombay, Aarti thinks that he is being hauled back to a mental asylum. She is reminded of her mentally disturbed father who was railroaded into an asylum, against his wishes and hers. Deeply sympathetic to Ravi’s “situation”, she pleads with Dr. Puri to leave him in Darjeeling. When Puri is adamant about taking Ravi back to Bombay, she impulsively tells Ravi that she would like to help him. Ravi takes her at her word and sneaks into her room that night, asking for a hiding place! Aarti lets him hide in her room and the next day, takes him on their field trip, keeping him out of Dr. Puri’s clutches.

The misunderstandings created by Ravi’s “insanity”, and the enforced intimacy of staying in the same house, serve to bring Aarti and Ravi closer. They unwittingly reveal things about themselves that they normally keep hidden – Aarti is a sweet and loving person beneath her tough exterior and Ravi reveals the insecurities hidden under his busy businessman persona. By the time Hanuman’s subterfuges are finally revealed, midway through the film, these two are well on their way to a warm friendship, and more… It takes them a while to figure it out, though. Dr. Puri and I are way ahead of them there – our romance sensors are flashing green all the way!

The unfolding romance is a joy to behold. Both Aarti and Ravi are haunted by ghosts of the past and unable to believe that they can be happy again. In Ravi’s company, the reserved and old-before-her-time Aarti learns to loosen up. She slowly regains her joie de vivre and learns to be more optimistic. Ravi, for his part, learns to live in the present again. These two are clearly made for each other, but can they put their past behind them and reach out to each other? What do you think?

In following Aarti-Ravi’s romance, I’ve neglected to mention the other romance which is also brewing – there is the besotted Amit who continues to spout poetry at an equally besotted Aparna. I wonder what they’ll do when they run out of Qateel Shifai’s kalaams. They’ll need to find a new shaayar to take them through marital life! Do I recommend Ghalib? Faiz?

Shabana Azmi is superb as the ultra-responsible and taciturn Aarti. Her Aarti is strong, upright, and reserved, but she is also a very lovable person. When she thinks Ravi is about to be dragged off to a mental asylum, you can see how disturbed she is. When she begins to like Ravi, you can see it in her face, the faint smile she wears when she thinks of him, the way she looks at Ravi. Shabana Azmi has the knack of making her onscreen characters her own, and here, too, I cannot imagine anyone else playing Aarti any better.

Navin Nischol looks gorgeous in a tall-dark-and-handsome-hero way and is fairly good as Ravi. He broods to great effect and does convey Ravi’s insecurities and his growing interest in Aarti rather well. But he falls rather flat in the dramatic bits. Thankfully, there are very few dramatic bits, and Nischol is dishy enough for me to overlook them.

Jagdeep was jarringly un-funny – his Hanuman Singh was incredibly over the top in a film where everybody else was going in for an understated performance. Dilip Dhawan has been a favourite of mine since his TV serial days, and his Amit is pretty likeable. I wonder why Kiran Vairale didn’t turn up in more films – she was very cute here. The big surprise was Anil Kapoor – till I saw this film, I had no idea that he started out in bit parts.

Adapted from Come September, this film essentially follows the same plot, with some changes. The former was a romantic comedy, with the caretaker’s shennanigans and the resultant misunderstandings occupying centre stage. In Ek Baar Kaho, they are just a backdrop to the main story. All the leads are given interesting backstories and the film explores the developing relationship between them. So, while it stays quite close to the Come September plotline, its a very different film, and, dare I say, a much better one? (I love Come September, Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida, but I could do without 60s’ sexism.) So if you haven’t watched Ek Baar Kaho already, do watch! Its available for free viewing on youtube.

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29 Responses to Ek Baar Kaho (1980) – a tryst with romance

  1. Anu Warrier says:

    I know I have seen this, bollyviewer, in my Doordarshan days. But I have no recollection.of the plot at all. I’m glad you recalled it to my memory. Love your captions. 🙂

    • bollyviewer says:

      Thanks Anu.

      I saw it back in the DD days, too, and it was an instant favorite. The romance is very M&B, in a good way, but I was mostly surprised to see such a well made, non-sugary film from Rajshri Productions. I guess it helps that the Barjatyas did not direct.

      • Anu Warrier says:

        Bollyviewer, the Barjatyas have a bad rap. Until young Sooraj came along to direct, they made simple films, sure, and rather sweet ones with not-very-villainous ‘villains’ but they never had any diabetes-inducing OTT scripts. Think of Chitchor, Upahaar, Piya ka Ghar, Saudagar, et al. They made a niche for themselves producing what was called ‘family films’. Nice films, usually rural or middle-class based, and no dhishoom-dhishoom. 🙂

        Anil Kapoor started his career as one of the sons in Hamare Tumhare and then as the lead in a Kannada film Vamsa Vriksham and in Maniratnam’s Pallavi Anu Pallavi. When he decided to shift to Hindi full time, he played bit roles – in Hum Paanch and Shakti before hitting relatively big time with Mashaal.

        Didn’t a young Dilip Dhawan look dreamy??? I’m off to watch this at first opportunity! It’s available on YouTube.

        • bollyviewer says:

          I forgot about Upahaar and Piya Ka Ghar. (Chitchor, for some reason, felt like a low-budget version of Maine Pyar Kiya!) Will stop picking on pre-Sooraj Rajshri films. 😀

          I remember seeing an Anil Kapoor interview recently where he talked about how, after all his struggle, he landed up playing the friend of the second hero in this film. So when he was offered plum roles in South Indian films, he jumped at it. The rest is history… But I first saw this film in the 90s, when he was already a big star, so it was a surprise to see him in such a minor role.

          Dilip Dhawan was quite dishy, but I thought he looked more interesting as the scruffy “Guru” in Nukkad. Here, he’s just a tad bit too boyish for my taste.

          • Anu Warrier says:

            Ok. I watched it. You are to blame for the work I now have to do late into the night. 🙂 Lovely movie; and I was wrong. I haven’t watched this before. I must have mixed it up with something else.

            This was Come September mixed with An Affair to Remember, no? 🙂

            But beautifully adapted, and the melodrama was very low key. Me like. So thank you for bringing this to my notice.

            • bollyviewer says:

              O Good. Now we’re even (almost). You got me to watch Satyakam (not to mention all the hours I spend hanging around your blog). It is a pretty memorable film, so I was surprised that you had forgotten it after watching.

              I never thought of the An Affair To Remember angle – it IS Come September plus AATR!

  2. dustedoff says:

    Oh. My. Goodness. I’ve never even heard of this film, let alone seen it – and it sounds right up my street. You know me, I’m such an utter romantic (when it comes to well-made films that end happily, not the Casablanca variety). And I do have a very soft spot for Naveen Nischol. Off to bookmark this on Youtube and watch it soon.

    • bollyviewer says:

      If you haven’t seen it, you should! I’d love to hear what you think of it. It does have its share of tragedy, but everything comes right in the end. And unlike Casablanca, it does not need any suspension of disbelief to believe that the leads here are in love with each other! 😉

  3. Miranda says:

    Is anyone else starting to see a pattern here? This combined with Chupke Chupke makes me think that I really should have taken up botany as my field . . . not only do you get lots of field trips to exotic locales, but humorous romance WILL find you at some mountain hotel.

    But in all seriousness, I’ll pretty much watch anything with a smart woman playing smart . . . or just wearing glasses like a boss (sometimes one has to make due with symbols over substance).

    So many funny captions, too. “Please Ma’am .This is a filmi house. Don’t bring books here!” cracked me up.

    • bollyviewer says:

      Hehe Miranda, I was thinking that I lost out by not joining a Botany program, too! I mean, Dharmendra, Navin Nischol… On the other hand, my Mum did do a degree in Botany, with all the field trips in the hills, but never met anyone. So either all the romantic men on Botany trips went into films, or they went to tropical jungles instead of hill stations!

      The smart woman with the boss glasses is quite happy to lose the glasses to the hero in a game of shoot-the-matchbox-into-a-glass, but still, it’s nice to see a filmi leading lady who has a career. (Yup, one must clutch at straws in a romantic cause.)

  4. Shalini says:

    I’m delighted to see Ek Baar Kaho get some love in the Hindi Film blog world. I thought I was the only one who’d seen the film. I share your love for it and for all the reasons you mentioned.

    Shabana and Navin N. aren’t favorites but they really sell the understated romance. I was particularly struck by the kindness and respect with which they treat each other…especially in the climax which was so much better than the one in Bheegi Raat.

    Didn’t care much for the music, but Bhappi tried, bless his heart. 🙂

    • bollyviewer says:

      And I thought I was the only one to have seen it! 🙂

      I love your point about how kind and respectful Ravi and Aarti are towards each other. They are good to each other through their courtship, and even when he thinks she stood him up, there are no recriminations – only a genuine desire to understand why. He doesn’t even sing any bitter songs about the perfidy of his beloved! The music is nothing to write home about, but the songs could have been much better if Bappi Lahiri did not insist on singing himself – he has a singularly unpleasant voice. The sad Yesudas number at the end isn’t too bad.

      I haven’t seen Bheegi Raat. It sounded too much like a tired, tear-jerker, triangular love story, in spite of the lovely songs. Worth watching?

  5. Ruchi says:

    I wonder how they cure a sick person who is already married?
    Baccha ho jaane do, sab theek ho jayega!

    I had watched this movie a long time ago and remember being disappointed with the last part, which seemed to drag somewhat. Especially after the romantic first part.

    • bollyviewer says:

      Of course, after marriage it’s the “baccha” cure! 😀 Based on my movie-watching experience, I’d say marriage is the cure-all for men and motherhood the cure-all for women in filmland.

      The last part could have been different, but after multiple watches, I’ve actually grown to like it! After all, how many films can boast a physically disabled woman living happily-ever-after (an incurable disability, too!)?

      • Ruchi says:

        That is one experiment I would like to repeat – see if I start liking the end after multiple watches! And yeah, the disability – she did cure her eyesight for him, didn’t she?

        Actually, Bollyviewer, I would love to read a list on ‘disappearing glasses in Bollywood movies’. 🙂 Is it true or only my perception that in Hindi movies it is only the heroines who have glasses, which duly disappear when they fall in love and thus, become feminine?

        • bollyviewer says:

          It was all the fault of 80s fashions. If only they’d had prettier glasses, she wouldn’t have had to give them up. 😉

          On the rare occasion that the hero does wear glasses, he does not lose them. Guys do not need to look pretty! Having said that, I think Hrithik Roshan does lose his glasses in Kaho Na Pyar Hai – Hrithik #2 wears glasses that he gives up when he pretends to be Hrithik #1. And, if I remember correctly, in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Deepika’s glasses come and go. I am going to have to do some serious research on filmi eye-glasses here!

          • Filmbuff says:

            Once the romance starts, the glasses disappear to be replaced by contact lenses conveying a sense of regaining their lost self esteem – ha -talk about perpetuating clichés. some of the most confident people wear chashmas!

            • bollyviewer says:

              No no, they do not regain their self-esteem after romance, they lose their brains! 😉 (One scientific article I read, long ago, showed a direct relationship between glasses and intelligence – the higher your myopia, the higher your IQ.)

  6. Filmbuff says:

    Glad to read a review of this movie. Like most people I too saw it ages ago in India and loved it esp Shabana’s acting, Navin’s dishiness and the direction (Lekh Tandon – Raveena Tandon’s dad who also directed a no of other movies that I have recently seen on DVD – Anhonee?). However a recent re-watch on You Tube didn’t make much of an impression – I felt that the main movie centering around the shabana/navin love story is an hours narrative – everything else seems to be a long dragging CSP. Yes Dilip Dhawan indeed was a handsome guy – wonder why he didn’t shine. I too have read Anil Kapoor’s interview recalling this movie about how he had to jump up and down along a train – had to do 2 bit roles struggling to find his place which took him to SI movies and later back in hindi.

    • bollyviewer says:

      The main romance was actually the best part of the film. I could’ve done without Jagdeep’s comic side plot, but I don’t see how they could’ve set up the romance without it. Lekh Tandon should have tried reining in Jagdeep a bit, so his comic shennanigans were actually funny… For the rest, I must admit I have a very soft spot for this film (you wouldn’t have guessed that! 😉 ).

  7. Filmbuff says:

    I am not surprised that you have a soft spot for this movie. I do too and it is or rather was one of my fav movies until the recent re-watch. The main romance was indeed the best part of the film esp the direction and like shalini says the way they respect each other. Thank you for letting me know about this film being available on Youtube. A general comment about Rajashri movies – many of them were golden jubilee hits at their time – some how only a few have retained their appeal. Geet Gata Chal had fab songs and was supposed to be a very big hit – according to sources a sudden unexpected rural based story those days. I saw GGC on doordarshan ages ago. A recent re-watch didn’t work so well. I guess as we mature things that appealed in our younger days don’t appeal so much now

    • bollyviewer says:

      Yes, it’s amazing how tastes change with time – not just in movies, either. I remember watching Hum Kisise Kam Nahin as an early teen and thought Tariq was quite good looking – something I find very hard to take now! 😀 As a kid I did not much care for Rajshri films – they weren’t bright and shiny enough for me back then. Guess Sooraj Barjatya also felt the same way, because once he took over, Rajshri films have become very glamorous.

  8. Filmbuff says:

    Well you are not alone – I too felt that Tariq was a good looking guy as a school kid but found him very funny on a recent re-watch of that song yeh ladka hai allah kaisa hai deewana from . I loved the songs from Rajashri movies. The only movie of Sooraj B I liked was maine pyaar kiya. Rest of all are so so. Most of his movies meander along with songs and sugary goodiness and with a silly or small incident becoming a climax in the last quarter of the movie – yawn. Rajashri used to encourage talented directors, editors and musicians – eg Ravindar Jain – his sawan ko aaney do songs are really fab.

  9. Heena Parmar says:

    awsum movie, kind and respectful ravi & Aarti for each other…. nice movie……. where dis movie has been shooted….. i mn shooting location……………

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