Kalpana has some of the best dance performances that I have ever seen by the two younger Travancore Sisters in a Hindi movie; it’s got the best-ever soundtrack by O.P. Nayyar (with some of the nicest singing by Asha Bhosle and superb performances by both Mohammed Rafi and Manna Dey); the best acting performance I have ever seen by Ragini (and Padmini is very, very good also); and the best dance competition anywhere (so I have decided – Padmini vs. her sister is even better than Padmini vs. Vyjayanthimala!)… So how could I not love it? Of course, I love it. Because of the music and the dancing, it is delectable from the very start…
Though I suppose if I am reviewing a movie, I should judge it also by things like plot and character. On those fronts, it isn’t bad, though maybe not nearly as great… As far as I’m concerned, Ashok Kumar’s character, Amar, is generally not very interesting. He seems a bit dense, as he doesn’t understand when people fool him, he completely fails to understand the emotions of the wonderful women who enter his life, and he is not all that strong in dealing with some of the social predicaments presented to him. But on the other hand, Ashok plays the character very well (as we would expect of him). His facial expressions, especially, often are quite good, and in the lighter part of the movie, near the beginning, he is pretty funny too.
Speaking of the lighter part, it is interesting how this film goes from very light to rather bleak (for the most part), and what happens when that transition takes place. That is one reason why this time around, I am actually going to do something of a chronological plot summary. Doing such a summary, I also will have an excuse to show most of the dances – and it is refreshingly easy, at least right now, to find all of the dances for this film.
The film begins when Amar is on vacation in a beautiful and peaceful (for the moment?) Kashmir… Our hero is trying to paint a portrait of the beautiful landscape, but the portrait seems to be missing something that would give it life, as his butler tells him. And as if by magic (the butler even thinks it’s the work of a fairy!), Kaplana (Padmini) appears to provide him a beautiful subject to paint into the beautiful landscape.
A fairly light-seeming love affair progresses for a while, and Kalpana keeps mentioning to her mother, Kishoribai (Achala Sachdev) that at last she might have found true love. But there’s something more ominous going on as Kishoribai keeps telling Kalpana that she better tell this man all about herself, implying that there is some dark secret in her past and her identity. (And if you are a fan of Hindi movies and you haven’t been able to guess at this point or at least a little later what that secret is, you might be as dumb as Amar.)
In any event, this affair kind of reaches its end for the moment when Amar’s vacation is over at the same time that Kalpana’s family receives a mysterious telegram, causing them also to move on.
But Amar’s luck is pretty good because, on the way back, he ends up sharing a train car with a rather entertaining dancer named Asha (Ragini).
Actually, as becomes even more clear when you know the lyrics, Asha is giving him a little trouble, showing off something of an attitude…
But as in many of these movies, the girl who is acting hostile to the hero is doing so because she is about to fall in love with him. Additionally, Asha has a good reason a little later not to remain hostile to Amar, because he turns out to be the principal at the school where she wants to audition for a dance teaching job, and of course he is on the committee that decides her fate there. When Asha discovers this at the question-and-answer session, she becomes very nervous, and acts kind of flaky, but Amar urges the rest of the committee to give her a chance and judge her by her dancing, and then we are treated to a dance (which I posted the other day and a few times before) that is Ragini’s all-time best solo dance performance - i.e., the one that at first glance doesn’t look like a solo dance performance – “O Assalaam Aalekum Babu…”
Shortly afterwards, Kalpana turns up again to do her own acclaimed dance performance (with a partner played by none other than Gopi Krishna!), since it turns out that she has, herself, become a famous stage dancer.
When Kalpana reenters the picture, her love affair with Amar not only resumes but becomes even stronger. Part of the reason for this is that Kalpana discovers that Amar is a widower with a small daughter named Munni, and Munni causes Kalpana to feel intense maternal instincts.
Of course, an unfortunate rivalry soon develops between Kalpana and Asha. There is little question from the start regarding whom Amar prefers, but there is some misunderstanding that takes place which causes Asha to be convinced that Amar really is in love with her and there is really no one else. This part seems to be dragged on a bit too long, with Asha being the dense one this time around. But the misunderstanding is finally cleared up somewhat by a meeting over drinks among all three of them, Amar, Kalpana, and Asha. During the ensuing conversation, Kalpana tries to be as friendly as possible to Asha, telling her that as devotees to song and dance, they worship the same god (although she makes her message a little confusing at first by saying the “worship the same god” part before explaining the song-and-dance part); then she invites Asha to join in some dance competition with her. The actual competition never materializes, but we see the most wonderful competition going through Asha’s head later that night, in either a dream or waking dream that happens in the middle of a scene of Asha lying down in bed and looking miserable. As a reflection on the earlier conversation, this dreamed dance is actually very clever, because it shows the two women doing bharatanatyam to show their love for their god. Moreoever, the dance itself is a dream indeed! As I’ve said, I am convinced now that it is the greatest dance competition that I’ve seen in any movie, and it is the best Padmini-Ragini dance in any Hindi film (or possibly any film – though when you consider some of the Tamil movies, that is a tough one to decide). The vocals behind the dance are quite unique in a few ways, one being that they consist of two male singers singing for two female dancers. Plus, this is an unexpectedly classical number for O.P. Nayyar, who shows that he could be very adept at this kind of music too, creating a forum in which Mohammed Rafi and Manna Dey can perform a truly stunning duet.
As the dreamed dance implies, the rivalry between Asha and Kalpana is pretty much settled at this point. Now the movie begins to shift to something much darker, as Kalpana turns completely into one of these tragic tales about the girl born into a family of courtesans who desperately wants to escape her fate but fails to tell the man whom she wants to marry about her terrible past until he finds out in a very uncomfortable way. (Not that we didn’t know all this was coming.) Though as we are told a few times, Kalpana has only danced and not fully followed in the footsteps of her mother, so she remains pure (perhaps another word for that would be “pakeezah”). Kalpana also suffers a lot of pressure from a very nasty man who is sort of the boss to all the courtesans in her family (the reigning pimp?), and she has a vile and unprincipled brother who does everything he can to wreck her chances of finding another life, because her mujras always end up bringing him money too.
Amar is a bit of a jerk for a while after learning about Kalpana (surprise, surprise!), and Kaplana, meanwhile, does everything she can now to make him further lose faith in her, because she is afraid that her family reputation will only lead to ruin for Amar’s family, especially Munni. (Also, Amar’s mother has basically told her to stay away from Munni – even though she did consent to the marriage, kind of out of pity.)
Strangely, during most of the rest of the film, Ragini disappears, as though it’s time for her to move aside once the film becomes a weepy melodrama. And the movie has become quite a weepy melodrama, but fortunately, the tragic role of the tormented courtesan is handled very adeptly by Padmini. And while the drama in this part of the film might be a bit much for some people, viewers should certainly be able to appreciate Padmini’s wonderful mujras.
By the way, especially in the context of what is happening at this point in the movie, that second mujra is an emotional stunner, and a great testament to Padmini’s acting ability. Whether or not the melodrama goes a little over the top, there really are some very moving moments in this part of the movie.
Hoping that this is not too much of a spoiler, let’s say that the movie isn’t quite as bleak by the very end (when Ragini also returns, by the way). Unfortunately, it’s almost hard to catch this very last part of the film, as it seems a bit rushed and disjointed or badly edited. However, this all might be the fault of Moserbaer. The very ending had to have been chopped some by Moserbaer. And while the director is Rakhan, the editor billed is Bimal Roy. Assuming that is the famous Bimal Roy(?), maybe that gives us another hint that the main problem here is Moserbaer.
Despite those flaws, this still is at the very least a reasonably good movie even in its present DVD form and even outside of the music and dances. But, of course, it’s very difficult to imagine this movie outside of the music and dances, and once again – because I can’t say this enough – that music and dancing elevates Kalpana to a “must see” classic.