Last weekend I had the great, giggle-filled pleasure of watching Bimal Roy's Prem Patra with Gebruss, PPCC, and Kaddele. "Chat cinema" proved to be much more interesting than the movie to me most of the time, so my comments about this movie are sparse and not entirely well-informed.
Shashi Kapoor plays upstanding, fellowship-winning medical student Arun, who falls for fellow student Kavita (Sadhana Shivdasani). (Yessss! Girls do science!) However, Arun is the unrequited object of affection for Ratna (Parveen Choudhary). Ratna is a petulant little brat, and in a moment of stupid spite she forges a love letter from Arun to Kavita. Kavita is furious - huh? is this a flip on the usual filmi "it's not stalking, it's love!" turning a love letter into harassment? - and turns Arun in to the school authorities, who promptly expel him and take away his fellowship. PROBLEM #1: when asked by the principal if he wrote this letter, Arun says "yes," even though he did not and he knows who actually did. What?!? Everything else that happens in this movie is pinned on this stupid, self-damaging lie. Gebruss pointed out that perhaps he does it to protect Ratna (who is a family friend), but still, surely there could have been another way out of this situation (like getting Ratna's father to broker a deal with the school principal).
But because of the need for doctors in his rural hometown (excellent commentary on actual issues!), the local landlord decides to cover Arun's fellowhip expenses, enabling him to go abroad for further study as planned - with the catch that Arun will marry his daughter, Tara (Seema Deo). But Tara, of course, likes somebody else, the smug modern/western Subhash (Sudhir). And equally "of course," Tara and Kavita turn out to be related and end up moving in together (I forget who goes to whose house). Tara feels compelled to write Arun a letter or two even though her heart isn't in it, but Kavita offers to do it for her. I honestly don't remember whether Kavita realizes who Arun is at this point - I don't think she does. Given the title of the film, you can imagine what happens as "Tara" and Arun's correspondence continues...and how crappy Kavita feels when Arun reveals to "Tara" how much hatred he harbors for the girl from his past. PROBLEM #2: does Kavita come clean at this point? What do you think? Bad stuff continues to happen and Kavita's deception builds proportionally to affection for Arun and her investment in the correspondence. And then some wonderfulness happens and everyone is happy and the movie ends - the whole cast stands around chuckling in the final frames, quite literally coming together and reminding us that all is well.
Oh, and Rajendra Nath is the annoying comic sidekick and is almost (and deservedly) eaten by a tiger.
Unlike Chupke Chupke, whose shenanigans ended just before I started to lose patience for them, Prem Patra continues too long for my liking, and the ending was completely predictable yet, for me, not satisfying, I think because it cleaned up messes caused by contortions I couldn't get behind. The story made me say "Really?" a lot, not in the "Wow, I can't believe this wonderful thing is happening!" way but in the "Is this actually what the movie is going to do now? Seriously?" way, which I should refer to as "Kingdom-of-the-Crystal-Skull Really," since that was my dominant reaction to that movie. Anyway. The major obstactles for the characters to overcome are poorly founded. The movie indulges too much and for too long in deception for no good reason, and I just couldn't get past the characters' unreasonable, unnecessary decisions and the clunky, symbolic tragedies that befell Arun.
It's not without its charms, though. I love stories about people falling in love through letters - they feel so very Jane Austen. I also love stories in which book-smart, brainy people are romantic leads, and in that vein I couldn't be more pleased to see Shashi in a lab coat.
Actually, yes I could: he could be an archaeologist or language student (something more in the humanities than the scienes), sitting in a library wearing a tweed coat with elbow patches, but I digress.
À la Clueless, there's a makeover scene, with Tara transforming from country bumpkin to slick, eye-catching modern girl. (I feel so conflicted about makeover scenes: I always like them, squealing "Oooh, project!" and clapping my hands just like Alicia Silverstone, even though the very concept of "fixing" someone is disrespectful and rude and overly emphasizes physical beauty.) I agree with Old Is Gold, who liked Prem Patra a lot more than I did, that many of the scenes are very pretty to look at (especially when characters gaze out of windows or stare off into the distance over balconies) and that the acting is solid. Sadhana as Kavita is especially good, and she made me believe that Kavita thought pretending to be Tara was a good idea, even though I didn't agree with her. Shashi as Arun is typically classy and endearing at the beginning, and you can understand why Ratna can't get over her crush. However, once Arun returns to India after his fellowship and tragedy and meets "Tara" in person, he gets increasingly worked up about the wrongs Kavita inflicted on him in the past. I'm not sure if Shashi overdid Arun's distress, cranking it from sadness into aggressive bitterness, or if the character as written demanded such anger. Maybe I'm being too hard on Arun - it's hard to be objective about yourself when your emotions are heightened by love and disappointment.
Prem Patra will probably find its way into my DVD player again, if just for the songs and to see Arun fall for Kavita before Ratna pulls her prank. I'm also interested to learn more about Bimal Roy - this was my first of his movies - but please recommend something other than Devdas because I'm not sure I can take it. No doubt I missed some fine touches in Prem Patra while I was busy typing to and laughing with my viewing companions, although the International Relations Ministry of Shashi Pradesh was very pleased with the quadrilateral turnout. Everyone else will be writing up their impressions, right? Right? And doing the screen-capturing and noting of plum details that I was too uninspired to do? I thought so.