Once upon a time in masala filmland, families/siblings were routinely torn asunder (usually in Kumbh Mela, accidents or by the machinations of the evil villain) and brought together years later through inevitable coincidence. Sadly, families always seem to stay together these days. Be that as it may, as a card carrying member of Bollywood’s families-torn-apart-and-re-united party, I was, naturally, always alert to the possibility that I have missing family out in this big bad world. But it was in blogland that I finally met my long-lost masala sisters – Anu (Conversations Over Chai) and Madhu (Dustedoff). Anu and Madhu found each other years ago. My masala sibling-ness took a while to manifest itself – Anu and I both lived in Bombay, Madhu and I both live(d) in Delhi, all three of us had (mostly) the same thoughts about movies/songs/actors/books. But when Anu and I watched the same movie (five years apart) and found ourselves making the same comments on the film, it was time to face up to the truth – we were bicchdi behne indeed!
A re-union of masala sisters does not happen everyday. To celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime re-union, we decided to watch our favourite masala re-union stories. In order to spare you reading about the same movie thrice (of course, we all chose the same movie to review!) Anu decided to watch Yaadon Ki Baaraat (three brothers separated in childhood by an evil villain), Madhu went for Johnny Mera Naam (two separated brothers) and I settled for my favourite twin-sisters-separated-at-birth film.
A knock at Leela’s (Radhika Rani) cottage on a stormy night presages a life-changing event for her and her husband (Asit Sen). Two strangers – Abhi Bhattacharya (we never know his character’s name) and his pregnant wife, Rama (Dulari) – are travelling back to Bombay from Shirdi, when their car comes to an untimely stop outside Leela’s cottage. Naturally, Rama is overcome with labour pains. (A stormy night in the lonely countryside – this was inevitable.) The men immediately go to fetch a doctor, but Rama is even quicker – by the time they return with a doctor, the delivery is over! And Rama does not even realise that she gave birth to twins (She was so out of it that she didn’t even notice that second baby popping out?!). She and her husband are just happy with their one lovely daughter. It’s only after they’ve left that Leela shows her husband their new “daughter” – one of Rama’s newborn twins.
Fast forward a couple of decades. The separated twins are now Geeta (Hema Malini) and Seeta (also Hema Malini). The poor twin, Geeta, lives with loving “mother” Leela and earns her living by performing street acts with her partners Raka (Dharmendra) and Jhumroo (Master Ravi). When she isn’t performing or trying to cheat her partners, she just takes off to play marbles with the neighbourhood boys, much to her mother’s fury. Leela keeps trying to domesticate her darling daughter, but Geeta is unrepentant. She threatens to run away if Ma hits her once more.
The rich twin, Seeta, is living a miserable life in a huge mansion. Her parents died long ago, leaving her to the mercies of her timid Chacha Badrinath (Satyen Kapoo) and evil Chachi Kaushalya (Manorama). Her vast estate is administered by a lawyer, Gupta (?) who comes once a month to give her her monthly allowance, but takes no further interest in her. Poor Seeta is a domestic servant in her own home with only her helpless Daadi (Pratima Devi) and young cousin (Master Alankar) to love her. (She is so put upon that she cannot even afford a wig – and Hema without a wig is a very unusual Hema indeed!) As if Seeta’s cup-of-woe isn’t full enough, enter Ranjeet (Roopesh Kumar), Kaushalya’s evil younger brother. The poor girl must take time off from domestic chores to fend off his unwanted attentions!
In Seeta’s miserable life, there is only one hope. Once she gets married, her husband will directly control her considerable wealth and will (presumably) chase away the evil relations. With this in mind, Daadi asks lawyer Gupta to find a suitable match for Seeta. He comes across Ravi (Sanjeev Kumar) – the quintissential vilaayat-returned, Bharat-loving young man, on the lookout for a Bhartiya Naari wife. A meeting is arranged between Ravi and Seeta. Ravi’s parents (Kamal Kapoor and Ratnamala), also along to “see” the girl, are more impressed with Seeta’s cousin, Sheila (Honey Irani), because she is draped in a sari and talks of her domestic concerns. Seeta, poor girl, is poured into a mini-frock and pencil heels (Hema should’ve worn minis more often.), and lands up dropping tea all over her enraged prospective ma-in-law. The match is off before it is even fixed!
After Cinderella’s unpromising meeting with Prince Charming, Seeta is endeavouring to come to terms with a bridegroom-less life. But then things come to a breaking point. One night, a drunken Ranjeet tries to assault her. When her screams wake the household, he accuses her of stealing his wallet and brutally beats her. This spurs her on to her first proactive action – she decides to run away and end her life. But when she jumps into the water to drown herself, Raka is at hand to save her. He takes her home to Leela who has been fretting over Geeta’s absence all day. So Seeta is now Geeta, and a very domesticated, and cultured Geeta she is. Everyone thinks the near-death experience has changed “Geeta” but we know otherwise!
Whilst Seeta is living it up being Geeta, where is the original? Busy being mistaken for Seeta, of course! She is picked up by the police on a missing-person’s complaint from Seeta’s evil family. The police manage to hold on to her (at the cost of one wrecked police station) till Badrinath and Kaushalya pick her up. They are all smiles and “dear child lets go home” at the station and the adventurous Geeta decides to go home with them. But the moment they have her in their car, Kaushalya shows her true colours. The acrobatic Geeta makes a spectacular getaway. (If I am ever kidnapped, I will insist on a convertible with it’s hood down, too – so much easier to escape from.) On the run from the Chacha-Chachi and the police, she stows away in Ravi’s car. Ravi is on his way to Poona and is enchanted by his charming stowaway. (She’s still a saree short of his ideal woman, but at least she is in an ‘Indian’ skirt, this time). He insists on taking her home to his parents, and this time “Seeta” is Ma-Pa approved.
So Geeta is busy falling for Ravi and Seeta is equally busy falling for Raka. And while Leela and Raka are very happy with the new “Geeta”, Seeta’s family have a surprise in store for them. Their new “Seeta” returns blows with blows and puts them all in their places. So far so good. But what happens when their respective families realise that the girls were switched? And will the girls realise their twinliness? More importantly, will Seeta get to wear any wigs at all?
I love this film to bits and was wondering why I do not watch it more often. It reminds me of why I like Hema Malini so much – she is so charming and fun in it! Plus, she does most of the rescuing of damsels and heroes in this, and she also gets to swordfight and manhandle the villain. How often does that happen in Hindi films? The menfolk, though their names appear prominently in the cast, do not really have much to do in the film. Dharamendra gets to do some drunk-ing and dishooming, while Sanjeev Kumar gets to play the charming lover boy, which he does very well. Its Seeta and Geeta’s film all the way and I wouldn’t have it otherwise!
One thing that did strike me as a bit unusual was that the film did not supply the Bhartiya-naari loving hero (Ravi) with a proper Bhartiya Naari wife. While Geeta is draped in saris, by the end, and stops earning her living through acrobatics, there is no indication that she is either domesticated or ever likely to become the shy, traditional young woman of Ravi’s dreams. It appears that even Seeta has learnt to fight back a bit – she gleefully joins in the fight at the end and seems to be enjoying getting in a few blows of her own. Woman power, zindabaad!