Every time I revisit a film, I discover new layers to that particular work of art. Masaan opened new doors with every re-watch, but when I took out Jyoti Swaroop’s Padosan (1968) after more than a decade on the eve of Saira Banu’s birthday, it turned my childhood upside down. My parents never tired of the jugalbandi between Mehmood and Kishore Kumar, but the underlying problems of the movie were somehow brushed under the carpet.
True, Padosan does leave us in splits in parts, but even after putting aside the cynical hat and convincing myself that it is a product of the times, this millennial is also going to dwell on where exactly the movie went wrong.
Based on a Bengali story Pasher Bari by Arun Chowdhury, Padosan begins with a fifty-plus Pratap Singh (Om Prakash) expressing his desire to get married again to his family priest. A mention of an 18-year-old looking for a groom gets him all excited. However, a big hurdle is sitting in his own house- Singh’s 26-year-old nephew Bhola (Sunil Dutt).
Bhola is the token good boy of the 1960s Bollywood. He cringes at the mention of Prem Granth and swears by Sansar Shastra, according to which 25 is the perfect age to get hitched. Sensing that Bhola would get offended by his decision, Pratap Singh sends him to a nearby park to chill. Therein, he is introduced to a beautiful Bindu (Saira Banu), who is busy swimming with her girl gang. Bindu is feisty, wears western clothes and wears her confidence on her sleeves.
Bhola is impressed by this “jalpari”, and pledges to make her his wife. Meanwhile, learning about his uncle’s intentions he storms out of the house and goes to stay with his aunt. Luck follows him as Bindu turns out to be his neighbour. Then begins a tug-o-war between Bhola and Bindu’s music teacher Master Pillai (Mehmood), a sleazy character who has set his eyes on the student.
Bhola learns that Bindu is “attracted” to Pillai’s kala (skill). In steps a paan-chewing Vidyapathi (a terrific Kishore Kumar) to impart lessons to Bhola only to find out that he is tone deaf. The guru comes up with a plan – he lends his voice while Bhola lip syncs. Bindu is impressed. But every lie has a shelf life, and the plan backfires. In a rage, Bindu decides to marry Master Pillai, and the climax left me very, very disappointed.
Consent is a word that Pillai clearly hasn’t come across in any dictionary. Despite being pushed off harshly, he can’t keep his hands off Bindu.
In an initial sequence when he sings Saawariya, he jumps around Bindu’s bedroom and keeps making excuses to come close to her. Instead of throwing him out of her life, Bindu decides to choose Pillai to teach Bhola a lesson.
Let’s come to Bhola. When he accidentally stumbles upon Bindu and her gang for the first time, he tries to flirt with her. Bindu proposes that he gets married to her friend Rita instead. She is dusky, so Bhola mumbles, “Even my mama isn’t going to marry you!” Seriously?
From the time he set foot in his aunty’s house, his only “job” is to look into Bindu’s bedroom to see what she is up to. When a trick backfires and she slaps him Bhola lands at his guru Vidyapathi’s feet, only to be advised that he should slap her back for no fault of hers though.
No doubt Mehmood delivers a compelling performance as the South Indian guru and Sunil Dutt is endearing at times, but these character flaws do rob the essence from the actors.
The absolutely stunning Saira Banu looks gorgeous in colourful sarees, bouffant and winged eyeliners – a look which many actors drew inspiration from later on. Her character starts off on a very positive and fresh note and she plays it with ease. Bindu speaks her mind about what is right and wrong, she sings and dances when girls of her age are “getting married”. She even gives it back to Bhola’s aunt when her life choices are being criticised. But it all comes spiralling down when Bindu falls in love with Bhola. Along with the transition in attire (Bindu suddenly starts wearing a lot of sarees) there is a sea change in lyrics too - Main Chali Main Chali gives way to Sharm aatee hain magar, aaj yeh kahana hoga / Abb hame aap ke kadamo hee rahana hoga.
Bindu goes to college, but when her results show that she has flunked, her face glows with a sense of achievement. She proudly tells the love of her love, “Had I passed I would have had to study further. Not anymore.” Her passion for music too hasn’t been deemed important to delve into. She croons to two songs, but there isn’t one sequence wherein we see her practising or even performing with her guru.
I was expecting Bindu to pack some punches when Bhola is about to slap her. Nothing of that sort happens. Initially, she tries using Pillai as a shield, and then she starts bawling. Alas!
For all its shortcomings, there’s some hope in Padosan, though. The face-off during Ek Chatur Naar still brings a smile to my face and Mere Saamne Wali Khidki Mein carries with it a lot of warmth.
The film is also popular for the behind-the-scenes rivalry between two maestros - Manna Day and Kishore Kumar. Padosan pays a sweet tribute to folk theatre and folklore. Vidyapati runs a theatre group and his whole life revolves around drama. No wonder all his solutions are pretty over-the-top. Even Mere Samne Wali is a parody on background singing in Hindi films.
Mehmood, Kishore Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Saira Banu - with such a talented cast the treatment could have been much better.
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