I’ve been on a murder mysterywatching spree of late. For a change of pace, I thought I’d watch something romantic. But what to watch? That’s not a decision to be taken lightly. Ergo, I spent several (happy) hours on youtube, trying to decide what to watch! After much research and mental debate, I settled on watching a Madhubala film – even if the film is bad, Madhubala makes up for many filmi flaws. Once the all-important decision was made, it wasn’t hard to decide that a re-watch of Ek Saal is exactly what the doctor ordered. It’s my favourite Madhubala movie, it has her paired with another favourite – Ashok Kumar – in my favourite kind of romance – the bad guy reformed by TRUE LOVE!!!! Who wouldn’t be reformed by love of Madhubala? Certainly not our revered Dada Mani.
The movie opens with a grim scene – a doctor (Mahmood, in an uncharacteristically serious avatar) telling a stunned father (?) that his daughter has only a year to live.
Cut to the happy daughter – Usha (Madhubala) – celebrating her birthday at her grandmother (Pratima Devi)’s place in Lucknow. The irony of the wishes – Tu jiye hazaaron saal (may you live a thousand years) – is completely lost on the suave society burglar Suresh (Ashok Kumar). He is intent on stealing grandma’s 10 grand necklace.
Unfortunately for Suresh, the robbery is complicated by the appearance of the Wodehousian detective, J. B. Pinto (Johnny Walker). Suresh is forced to hide the purloined necklace in Usha’s purse and lands up flirting with her to get it back. Usha is not at all taken with Dada Mani’s charming smile (Excuse her please, the woman has a tumour on her mind!) but he still manages to get back his spoils. Suresh’s flirting hasn’t escaped the eagle eye of his partner, Rajni (Kuldip Kaur), who is more alive to Usha’s loveliness than Suresh. He assures her that he is a businessman and unlikely to fall in love. (Geez dude, have you looked, I mean LOOKED at Madhubala?!!!)
Her birthday celebrations over, Usha returns home to her father’s estates near Bombay. Unbeknownst to her, her father – Colonel Sinha – has engaged a new estate manager who is none other than Suresh (with some forged qualifications). Suresh’s plan is to win Col. Sinha’s confidence and lay his hands on the estate’s liquid assets. This plan receives unwitting aid from Usha who finally wakes up to Suresh’s charms and falls head-over-heels for him. (Dada Mani triumphs over brain tumor’s sense-deadening effects. Yay!)
Suresh isn’t too keen to play along until Col. Sinha offers to pay him a monthly retainer to keep his dying daughter happy. Usha is deliriously and heartbreakingly happy in Suresh’s love, and her father’s consent for their union. Suresh’s note-counting dil (and equally mercenary brain) is very alive to the advantages of prolonging her life – the longer she lives the more money he earns. So, he begins to look for a cure, or at least a way, to prolong her life. Of course, he doesn’t realise that he is in a movie and the only fail-proof cure for everything in movieland is LOVE.
Suresh’s partner, the evil Rajni, isn’t convinced that the Suresh-Usha romance is all playacting on his part. She is scared of losing him to Usha. So she employs detective Pinto and his assistant (Minu Mumtaz) – to find out about Suresh’s real feelings! Even Holmes would be puzzled at how to read a lover’s mind, and Pinto is definitely not in the same league as the legendary sleuth. As it turns out, this is just the pointless comic diversion and we may safely fast-forward to the more interesting bits.
The more time Suresh spends with her, the more he is impressed with Usha’s goodness and the strength of her love for him. (Umm… being Madhubala has nothing to do with it, huh?) His conscience begins to trouble him for deceiving her. But just when Suresh is beginning to realise that his feelings for Usha go a lot deeper than his monthly retainer, Rajni reveals ALL to Usha. Poor, heartbroken Usha collapses, and her ek saal looks like its coming to a premature end! And poor, poor, Suresh who’s about to lose his new found love in more ways than one. How does it all end? Hint: this isn’t a Dilip Kumar film, so watch without fear! 😉
Madhubala is at her beautiful best. She teases, she laughs, she cries, she loves, and shines through it all. Ashok Kumar is great as usual and so charismatic! When I read Manto’s anecdotes about how he used to be mobbed by women fans, I found it hard to imagine (hey, I grew up watching him play benign grandfather!). But after this movie, I doubt no more! Here he is Ashok Kumar ‘the hero’ and the charismatic ‘star’. Kuldip Kaur (according to Manto she was very much the-lady-behind-the-man for Pran) was absolutely made for the role of evil vamp – heaven help the man who stands in her way!
This is a perfect movie for those Sunday nights when you don’t want to face up to the Monday just round the corner. Or any other day when you just want to curl up on the couch with a good movie, complete with great actors and lovely songs.