Thursday, October 21, 2021

Film Flashback: Ae Meri Zohra Jabeen & the timeless mega-starrer – Waqt

With memorable music, a star-studded cast and despite the most improbable storyline, the 1965 Yash Raj film Waqt remains literally a family favourite, writes Deepa Gahlot

It was in 1970 that Yash Chopra set up his own production company, Yash Raj Films – the YRF logo now being mainstream Hindi cinema’s calling card wherever Bollywood spreads its entertainment wings. The company, now headed by his son Aditya Chopra, is celebrating 50 years, though it was three years later that Yash Chopra’s first film under his home banner came out, which was Daag. Till this time, his elder brother BR Chopra produced films for him.

After assisting his brother, Yash Chopra started his independent directing career with two serious black-and-white films—Dhool Ka Phool (1959) and Dharmputra (1961), both making a case for communal harmony; both were appreciated but neither set the box-office on fire.

Then, in 1965, he burst into full showman mode with the multi-starrer Waqt, and henceforth stayed resolutely mainstream. The film reinvented the lost-and-found formula that remained popular for decades; he got together an enviable cast of stars, put them on lavish sets, dressed them in sumptuous costumes (by Bhanu Athaiya), gave them great songs (Sahir-Ravi), memorable lines (Akhtar-ul-Imaan), and made sure that over half a century later, the film still delivers emotion, romance, action and entertainment neatly packaged.

Family saga

The film begins with Lala Kedarnath (Balraj Sahni), inordinately pleased with his success — he is about to inaugurate his new carpet and dry fruits shop on the birthday of his three sons (only in Bollywood could three boys, a couple of years apart, be born on the same day!). The function to celebrate that includes the memorable serenade Ae Meri Zohra Jabeen, from Lalaji to his blushing wife Lakshmi (Achla Sachdev).

He scoffs at the prediction by an astrologer warning of rough times ahead, claiming he has written his own destiny; when he tells his wife of his grand plans for the future, he tempts fate. An earthquake hits, destroying his shop and home and scattering his family.

Torn asunder

The youngest boy Munna (who grows up to be Vijay – Shashi Kapoor) remains with the mother, while the rest go missing. At the rescue camp, Lakshmi is told that her husband is dead. She ends up doing menial work in people’s houses and then taking in sewing.

The oldest son Raju (later, Raja – Raaj Kumar, who has the immortal line “Jaani ye chaku hai, lag jaaye to khoon nikal aata hai)” ends up in an orphanage, while middle son Babloo (later, Ravi – Sunil Dutt) is found on the road by a rich couple, who take him home and raise him as their own.

Lala Kedarnath manages to find out where Raju is, but when he goes to the orphanage he discovers the boy has run away, because of the ill treatment and beatings by the manager (Jeevan). In a rage, Lala kills the man and goes to jail. Raju becomes a pickpocket and then a smart thief, working for Chinoy Seth (Rehman). He falls in love with Meena (Sadhana) and decides to reform, only to find that she is all set to marry Ravi, who is now a lawyer.

When he decides to kill Ravi, he learns that he his long-lost brother. Meanwhile, Meena’s parents break off her engagement with Ravi because they are told he was picked up off the street.

Meanwhile in Delhi, Vijay is having a college romance with Renu (Sharmila Tagore), who happens to be Ravi’s foster sister. He has to move to Bombay to seek treatment for his ailing mother and finds employment as a driver with Chinoy. Kedarnath, released from prison, comes to Bombay in search of his family. In typical movie fashion, he does run into his sons, but they do not recognise one another.

Revelation and murder

Raja decides to reveal to Ravi that they are brothers, at a party hosted by Chinoy. An employee misbehaves with Meena, and Raja threatens to kill him. Later, when Chinoy ends up murdering the same man, it is convenient to dump the corpse in Raja’s cupboard and frame him. The sole witness, Vijay, is silenced with money for his mother’s medical care.

Raja is arrested and Ravi defends him in court. In a dramatic court sequence, he proves his brother’s innocence. Lakshmi arrives in court looking for Vijay, is spotted by Kedarnath; all brothers are already there, so there is a tearful reunion, and a happy end with Lala Kedarnath & Sons resurrected. But the boastful Lala has been taught his lesson — the fate of humans is controlled by time — Waqt.

The film had an almost three-hour running time, but not a dull moment. The high-powered cast was supported by Motilal, Shashikala, Surendranath, Leela Chitnis, Sumati Gupte, Madan Puri, Manmohan Krishna, Mubarak, Jagdish Raj…obviously, no expense spared.

Add to that the lovely songs Aage Bhi Jaane Na Tu, Chehre Pe Khushi Chhaa Jaati Hai, Din Hai Bahaar Ke Tere Mere Iqrar Ke, Hum Jab Simat Ke Aapki—and the film is a timeless ode to the best of Bollywood.

Deepa Gahlot
Deepa Gahlot is one of India’s seniormost and best-known entertainment journalists. A National Award-winning fim critic and author of several books on film and theatre, she has had an extremely successful run as head of theatre and film at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, during which she helped nurture several original productions.

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