As adultery and extra marital affairs continue to persist as beaten but popular themes in films and soap operas, here is a review of a film based on the same theme that became a huge draw at the box office. Under the deft direction of BR Chopra and brilliant editing by Pran Mehta, the film manages to engage you throughout. It is commendable that Chopra handled a delicate subject almost 55 years ago with all the sensitivity that it deserved.
Films such as Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Who 7 Din and Bewafa handled similar themes successfully; yet Gumrah has managed to remain in the public memory mainly for the way the screenplay was handled and for the legendary music by the under-rated Ravi. The film was loosely inspired by the real-life love stories of a famous hero and heroine of the 50s. Their love story had a tragic ending as the actress in question had to marry her brother-in-law after her sister died all of a sudden, leaving young children to tend for.
Inspiration was also taken from the real-life love story between a renowned lyricist and a playback singer whom he loved and who was the inspiration behind his world-class compositions. This love story too had a tragic ending as the lyricist drowned himself in alcohol and the singer’s career was nipped in the bud after she got married into a business family. The brilliant compositions of Gumraah have stood the test of time.
Meena (Mala Sinha) and Rajendra (Sunil Dutt) are college sweethearts. Meena has an elder sister, Kamla (Nirupa Roy) who is married to a renowned barrister Ashok (Ashok Kumar) and lives in Mumbai. Meena lives in Nainital with her father (Nana Palshikar, who seems to be a Chopra favourite). Palshikar has delivered a stunning performance as a father – very unlike Nasir Hussain whose dialog delivery and facial expressions in hundreds of Hindi films have often been mocked at.
Palshikar demonstrates great restraint though there were opportunities for him to get overly dramatic.
Kamla comes to visit Meena and her father and she tells Meena that she is in the family way again. Meena chides her sister for adding one more member to the population (mind you, this was in 1963); her sister already has a boy and a girl.
Rajendra meets Meena’s sister and the latter realizes that Meena and Rajendra are in love. She agrees to fix their marriage. Then Kamla has a freak accident from which she never recovers and passes away; Meena’s father requests Meena to get married to Ashok at least for the sake of her sister’s kids. Meena ends up marrying Ashok and relocates to Mumbai.
A year later when she returns to Nainital during the summer vacation, she meets Rajendra again. Since Ashok and Meena seem to be sharing a platonic relationship, the old flame is ignited. Meena starts meeting Rajendra regularly until one day Ashok lands up in Nainital unexpectedly. He gets wind of the clandestine meetings between Meena and Rajendra but maintains a discreet silence. He becomes friends with Rajendra who is known as a painter and a radio singer.
When he visits Rajendra’s home, he sees a portrait of a woman who looks deceptively similar to Meena. He gets the portrait packed to Meena as a gift.
After Meena returns to Mumbai, Rajendra follows her. Clandestine meetings continue. “4pm” is a time that Rajendra fixes for his daily meetings with Meena.
Soon enough a woman, who claims to be Rajendra’s wife (Shashikala) blackmails Meena that unless she is paid a ransom, she would spill the beans to Ashok. A petrified Meena keeps paying her the ransom until things reach a point of no return and Meena hands over to the blackmailer the diamond ring that Ashok had gifted her. The woman suddenly vanishes and Meena is under pressure to get the ring back at the earliest.
Finally, when Meena realizes that she is at the risk of getting exposed, she decides to commit suicide but Ashok arrives in the nick of the time and saves her. Then he informs Meena that the woman who was blackmailing her was his secretary and she had been blackmailing Meena at his bidding. He also tells her point blank that it is up to her if she wants to divorce him and get married to her lover. What decision will Meena take now?
There is also a subplot about a constantly bickering couple Suresh and Deepa (Karan Dewan and Shyama respectively). Shyama is loud as usual.
Misunderstandings between the couple reach a state where Deepa expresses her wish to divorce her husband. But soon enough the misunderstandings are sorted out and the couple reconciles. There is also a minor subplot between the Christian nanny in Ashok’s house and her love story with the cook (a young and slim Deven Varma). Varma later married Ashok Kumar’s daughter Roopa much against the Bollywood thespian’s wishes.
Mercifully, the child stars in this film are not precocious. Mala Sinha plays her role with panache. The cigar smoking Ashok Kumar is at his best (as always). Sunil Dutt delivers a brilliant performance as a lover who is unable to forget his ex-flame.
The dialogues are noteworthy. Rajendra tells Meena, “I draw portraits of nature because nature doesn’t cheat you unlike human beings”.
The last scene in the movie leaves a lasting impression. The songs were a rage in the 60s and continued to be loved by audiences. “Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se Ajnabi”, “In Hawaon Mein In Fizaon Mein Tujhko Mera Pyar Pukare”, “Aa Bhi Jha” and “Aap Aye To Baharein” are melodies that unwind you after a hard day’s work. Mahendra Kapoor and Asha Bhosale are at their best!
BR Chopra won a certificate of merit for the film. Shashikala won the Filmfare award for the best supporting actress while Kapoor, deservedly, won the Filmfare award for the best male playback singer. Pran Mehta won the Filmfare award for best editing.
The climax scenes were shot near Flora Fountain and one can witness how Bombay looked then! The shots involving Rajabai Tower, Churchgate station, Kamdar furniture remind you of the glorious days of Bombay in the 50s and 60s.
Watch Gumraah to simply walk down memory lane and cherish those wonderful memories.
(After working in the corporate world for close to two decades, Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam started her second career innings as a head-hunter. She is passionate about Hindi movies and loves retro music. When her family shifted to Chennai in the 80s, Bhagya had a taste of Tamil cinema too. In the long term, she plans a book on two of her favourite directors – Guru Dutt and K Balachander. She travels across the country on work and is based in Mysore.)