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Bambai Ka Babu: way ahead of its times

By Dinesh Raheja
April 18, 2003 16:52 IST
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Dinesh Raheja

From the moment the credits roll and a windshield frames your view of a wet road on a bleak monsoon morning, you know you are in for an atmospheric thriller.

After all, Raj Khosla was the stylish filmmaker behind such seminal Dev Anand suspenses as CID (1956) and Kaala Paani (1958).

But Bambai Ka Babu's (1960) credit titles and noirish beginning -- criminal Babu (Dev Anand) being fetched by fellow gang member Bali (Jagdish Raj) from jail, with police officer Malik (Manohar Deepak) hot on their heels -- is rather misleading.

Producers Director Music Stars

Raj Khosla,
Jal Mistry

Raj Khosla S D Burman

Dev Anand, Suchitra Sen

The film wears the fabric of a thriller. It derives maximum shock value not from thrills or stunts, but from the untried premise (never before, or again, dealt with such unabashedness) of a near-incestuous romance.

The film takes off when Babu refuses to participate in a bank heist planned by Bali. Influenced by his childhood friend Malik, Babu decides to tread the straight and narrow. Bali falsely assumes Babu is a stool pigeon. A scuffle ensues, and Babu fatally stabs Bali. Though he commits the murder in self-defence, Babu fears the worst and flees.

Babu's train journey and subsequent entrance into a small town several hundred miles away is filled with shadowy Kafkaesque figures that portend trouble.

A blackmailer Bhagatji (Rashid Khan) intuits that Babu is a criminal on the run and threatens to give him away, unless Babu agrees to impersonate the long-lost son of a rich household and plunder its treasury.

Now the film relaxes its pace and settles down to tell a disturbing but interesting story.

The rich man's bucolic household is peopled by a world-weary, greying man Shahji (Nasir Hussain), his blind wife Rukmini (Achala Sachdev), and their luminously beautiful daughter Maya (Suchitra Sen).

Shahji's household unquestioningly accepts Babu as their lost son Kundan. But Maya's presence proves to be a thorn in Babu's side. Convinced that Babu is her brother, she sings a clutch of catchy songs and plays matchmaker between her friends and him. But Babu, to her palpable discomfort, has eyes only for her.

To the audience and Maya's disbelief -- ambiguous incest isn't the most comfortable of subjects to watch -- Babu's hormones progressively displace common sense. During a jaunt in the garden, he plants flowers in Maya's hair. He openly cringes when she calls him brother.

When the benign mother shows him a necklace, a family heirloom to be passed on to his bride, he insists that Maya wear it, causing considerable consternation in the girl's mind. He tries his best to stall Maya's marriage plans, infuriating Shahji in the bargain.

Song Singers

Tak dhoom tak dhoom

Manna Dey
Dekhne mein bhola hai Asha Bhosle
Pawan jo chale to Asha Bhosle, Mohd Rafi
Deewana mastana hua dil Asha Bhosle, Mohd Rafi
Aise mein kachu kaha nahin Asha Bhosle
Saathi na koi manzil Mohammed Rafi
Chal ri sajni Mukesh

Baffled, Maya confronts him with a rakhi -- a symbol of a brother's vow to protect his sister -- but he refuses to let her tie it.

Before Maya lets her imagination run further, she overhears Babu's conversation with Bhagatji, where he reveals his true identity. He also swears love for his new family and Maya. She is relieved that Babu is not her brother, but a hapless Maya, for her parents' sake, cannot reveal the truth.

Meanwhile, Babu accidentally learns that Shahji's lost son is none other than Bali, the man he had inadvertently killed. This aspect of the plot later found echoes in the more successful Rajesh Khanna-Mumtaz hit Dushman.

Here, by the time Babu learns about the beauty of family values, sacrifice and truth, it is too late. To the strains of the climactic song Chal ri sajni, Babu leads Maya to her sasural, even as the song speaks the hero's anguish of letting go. To earn his redemption, Babu must pay by sacrificing his love for Maya.

Raj Khosla is bold enough not to pussyfoot around the issue of incest. In a scene where Suchitra Sen is desperately trying to reach a bunch of flowers, the camera follows Dev Anand's gaze unabashedly ogling the female form while she stretches and twists.

Khosla places the audience in the midst of the stormy star-crossed relationship. To his credit, the film acknowledges the civilising strength of the feminine race.

Dev Anand's eyes simmer with unconcealed passion. This is the rare occasion when his romantic image assumes a more adult feel and has an overtly sensuous tone.

Suchitra Sen is like a gust of fresh air in the film's breezier moments and extraordinary in the scenes where she is required to convey her pique at her supposed brother's odd behaviour. While she wrestles with her moral instincts, and with the knowledge of the improbability of a match even after she learns the truth, she makes her character's anguish palpable.


* Bengali cinema's premier diva Suchitra Sen worked in only half-a-dozen other Hindi films. She made several memorable ones. Besides Bambai Ka Babu, she was seen in Devdas (with Dilip Kumar), Musafir (Shekhar), Chandrakanta (Bharat Bhushan), Sarhad (Dev Anand), Mamta (Dharmendra) and Aandhi (Sanjeev Kumar).

* Raj Khosla and Dev Anand teamed up once again only 13 years later for Shareef Badmash.

* Dev Anand tackled the subject of incest once again in the B R Ishara-directed Prem Shastra. The film, like Bambai Ka Babu, didn't set the box office afire.


* Bambai Ka Babu was made at a time when S D Burman was not recording with Lata Mangeshkar, so Asha Bhosle's vocal allure added sparkle to Burman's beauties.

* Mukesh got to sing a rare S D Burman number in the sixties -- Chal ri sajni -- because it was a background song and Dev Anand did not lip-sync it. Mukesh imbued the bittersweet bidaai song with such force and finesse that it became a major success.

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Dinesh Raheja

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