As I mentioned a little while ago, I watched a bunch of Suraiya films within the past couple of months, and outside of Mirza Ghalib (which is in the proverbial class all by itself), I would have to say that my favorite one is Dillagi.  A lot of that has to do with the beautiful music from Naushad, and the not-unrelated fact that Suraiya was at her true best here.  The rest of the cast worked well in this movie too…   Shyam was a good hero for Suraiya, Shyam Kumar was a sufficriently despicable and repulsive villain (though not the suave Pran type for those who are looking for that – he seems more like an uglier version of Jeevan), and toward the end, we get treated to a marvelous appearance by Baby Shyama…

Though the plot itself might seem a bit too familiar…  We have a tragic love affair with Romeo-and-Juliet elements, a villain who frightens the heroine’s father about the possibility of his daughter’s “dishonor,” and, ultimately, a bad arranged marriage brought about in part through some major deceptions…  This seems pretty unoriginal or cliched, even for 1949.  On the other hand, however, there is one very refeshing plot element in Dillagi, which might actually be the best thing in this whole film (outside of the music).  And that is, the unusually strong and prominent village girl gang.   These are girls who know not only how to tease and philosophize about love…

…but also how to become very dangerous and threatening when the situation calls for it…

I have seen this sort of village girl gang featured in a lower-key way in other movies… There’s definitely a resemblance here to the gang that accompanies Meena Kumari near the beginning of Madhosh (1951), tormenting the film’s anti-hero.  (And by the way, if you want to find out more about that movie, you can go to Memsaab’s current writeup.)  Also with Meena Kumari at the center, there’s that gang of beautifully dancing/singing/meddling teasers near the beginning of Baiju Bawra (1952). (Isn’t it curious how these gangs always seem to be led by the voice of Shamshad Begum?)

But both those other films, though they actually were made a little later, fail to develop the village girl gang concept anywhere close to the extent that Dillagi does, as they basically drop the girl gang altogether when seemingly more important things arise (such as ostensibly serious drama, or the introduction of a real woman gangster).  In Dillagi, the girl gang stays throughout the film, and they do very well at some tougher tasks that you wouldn’t normally expect from the village girl gang, such as exacting revenge or taking part in a little coercive persuasion, especially in their dealings with the villain.

They do some extremely mean things to him, but another thing about this gang that makes them so interesting is that even at their meanest, they never seem to stray from the spirit of playing games. (How fitting, then, that the title of the film itself can mean “game,” and that it is also listed at IMDb under the title “Mischief”…)  Meanwhile, they can also play their game(s) to essentially good or benevolent purposes, as they do with the heroine.  In fact, somewhat like the gang of girls in Baiju Bawra, their purpose for much of the time near the beginning seems to be to facilitate the meeting of the two lovers (albeit while embarrassing and teasing the heroine all along).  We can see this purpose right near the beginning of the movie, when they cause the heroine to crash into her future lover during a game of Blind Man’s Bluff:

But that early scene also foreshadows one of the “games” they play with the villain, as they talk him into playing Blind Man’s Bluff so that he won’t be able to see them when they start beating him.

In that scene, at least they are nice enough merely to slap him…  It’s not like the earlier scene in which they sneak into his house while he is passed out drunk, wake him up while disguised in black hooded robes, frighten him half to death by convincing him that they are demons or ghosts, beat him with sticks, and then poke him with a stick while he is on the ground, unconscious:

But at none of these times do the girl gang’s actions seem unjustly cruel!  In fact, all the time, we are rooting for them.  This is because they are courageously attempting to foil the villain’s plans every time he does something else diabolical to stop the meetings between the two lovers, influence the heroine’s father against her, and sew distrust within the community.  So, when the ill-arranged marriage finally happens (and the girls want this villain to follow a plan to remedy the problem that he essentially caused)…it is time for the gang to get serious…

Unfortunately, all of these actions combined do not stop the film from eventually having a tragic ending.  (Not to spoil anything, but this is a 1940s film about lovers and a community that doesn’t want them to be lovers…so it won’t be too difficult to figure out who won’t be around anymore at the end.)   But the games themselves, and especially the women who play them, definitely add a unique quality to Dillagi.

Now, I have read/heard people complain that in the 1940s movies, women often seem too passive and/or self-sacrificing.  I’ve even heard this said about some films starring Suraiya.  And, admittedly, Suraiya does not get a chance to stray that far from this familiar kind of heroine in Dillagi.  But the girl gang in Dillagi seems to convey an entirely different idea about women, their inclinations, and their capabilities…
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P.S. The woman up front, on the right, in this picture below apparently is the girl gang’s leader.  I thought this actress was great!  But I’m having trouble figuring out who she is.  Going by the cast list at IMDb (which everyone else copies), there are two or three possibilities.   I would welcome a positive identification…

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