Dilruba

First of all, has the artist of this poster actually seen Dev Anand's hair? Wither the mighty poof?

Spoiler alert: I'm going to tell you the best parts of this film right away. The first appears about a quarter of the way through, when we see the home of Diwan (Gogia Pashan), who not only has a ventriloquist dummy, Chandu, sitting at his desk like he owns the place but also keeps another doll in cupboard. 
The doll is a memento of his long-lost (or, as Memsaab says, long-misplaced) daughter, but he is only momentarily senti about it and moves on to doing ventriloquism and magic tricks.  Chandu elegantly warns his master about the dangers of smoking and drinking, which is a nice change from the shouty pre-film lessons and on-screen reminders of today. Despite the use of a big mustache and often turning Gogia Pasha's face from the camera to help the ventriloquism effect, we can often see his mouth moving. But Chandu only has two scenes, and I'd take a puppet over Johnny Lever any day. Read more about Pasha's fascinating career here.

I'd love to have a workable explanation for why this arc is in the film. Maybe Pasha was considered bankable, or maybe the producers owed Pasha some money. I've never seen any Hindi films with actual an actual magician, let alone in a significant role, and I wonder if there are others. (Dhoom 3 does not count.) It feels kind of like someone found something completely unrelated in their cupboard—maybe a bag of dried cranberries—studied it for a moment, and then shrugged and tossed some of it into the masala. It's not bad, certainly, but the story never makes it integral. (Why isn't the magician part of the performing troupe, for example?) Having Chandu work as both comic relief and judge is a clever move, especially when we remember that he doesn't have his own voice: Diwan knows what his problems are, but he can't bear to face them directly. He needs to hear the criticism from elsewhere than his own head. Chandu a darker version of the standard dummy who sasses the puppeteer: his commentary leads to wallowing rather than improvement or laughs. My impression is that Diwan is the richest and highest-status person in the film, so maybe Chandu is a statement on our choices and histories imprisoning us no matter how much privilege we have.

The second strength is the female leads, Rehana and Cuckoo. Rehana as the primary love interest, Roopa, is delightful. She pursues, she emotes, she dances, she laughs. Most of the desire is from her perspective, even the pining. We see her busy in her profession more than we see Ratan (Dev) (do we see him at work at all, despite several mentions that he's an engineer?) She's even billed before him. Cuckoo's arc is secondary and only slightly intersects with the primary one of Roopa and her performing ensemble, Ratan, a stolen necklace, and tragic pasts. As Lachchi, another dancer hired by the head of Rehana's troupe, she performs exuberantly and elegantly in her multiple songs. Both women get some physical comedy, allowing them to be goofy instead of just pretty or romantic.

As will surprise no one, the story is inconsistent in how well it treats both of these women. Roopa is deemed "talented" only after she proves she can cook. Yes, it's 1950, but this comes out of nowhere: there's been no conversation about the necessity of running households, Ratan is clearly into her long before he knows that she also has domestic skills, and he has no family members harping on needing a traditional wife. She is left to pine when Ratan suddenly departs for Bombay and is apparently unable to express his feelings through letters or even explain why he keeps failing to return.
Lachchi struggles against two controlling men, one of whom tries to rape her, as well as having to prove her loyalty to Rehana. The would-be rapist is redeemed at the end of the film, but Lachchi's story is abandoned as soon as she is saved from him (by other men, of course) and demonstrated she is no threat to the principal romance.

There are times Dilruba feels like less of a narrative with its own momentum and more like a connective tissue among Gyan Dutt's songs (and magic acts). The plots around a stolen necklace, a separated family, and a shady ne'er-do-well never culminate in any particular satisfaction, but the songs are so good that it's hard to mind much. They are fun and charming and feel right in the story and you can watch them all at this playlist. My personal favorites are "O Limbo," full of energized dancing; "Humne Khayi Hai Mohabbat," in which we wonder if there's a third Dev Anand romantic hayride scene that officially establishes it as a trope; and "Dhak Dhak Karti Chali," surely behind only "Chhaiya Chhaiya" on the list of great train songs.



I have not (yet?) delved into Dev Anand's filmography. I've seen a few of the major ones—Guide, Jewel Thief, Hum Dono, Jonny Mera Naam—but I have trouble reaching past his mannerisms to find something that speaks to me. This kind of reaction to a performer is deeply personal and inexplicable; Shah Rukh is often just as stylized, but what he does works for me, whereas Dev seems blasé in a way that distances him from the worlds he's supposed to be in. However, I enjoy him a lot in Dilruba. It's more Rehana's film than his, but he's interesting enough to make sense as a love interest without stealing attention from her. Ratan is probably the kind of man you want to take home to your parents: he's a successful professional and has no personal baggage, but he's handsome and funny enough to hook you without seeing his resumé, an effect Rehana demonstrates consistently from the moment they first meet in a train car. 

 

If young Dev Anand is your thing, then this should be on your list, but he's not even the best part. Watch it for the women and the songs! I promise Chandu isn't too unnerving.

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