Though a big commercial star in his own right, the films that Sunil Dutt produced and/or directed were often more interesting and had him exploring themes off the beaten path – Mujhe Jeene Do (1963), Yaadein (1964), Reshma aur Shera (1971) and yes, even Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar ke (1963). The film, as is well known by now, is based on the notorious ‘Nanavati Murder Case (1959)’, responsible for the abolishment of the jury system in India.
The film sees pilot, Anil Sahni (Dutt), having to go abroad for 4 months leaving behind his wife, Neena (Leela Naidu), and two children. In Anil’s absence, his playboy friend, Ashok Srivastava (Rehman), makes a play for the born-and-brought-up-in-Paris Neena and successfully seduces her. Anil returns and on finding out what has happened, cannot forgive her infidelity. He confronts Ashok, who is killed, as the men battle it out with a revolver. Anil is then tried for Ashok’s murder…
The film, directed by RK Nayyar, works best only as a reasonably engaging courtroom drama post Rehman’s death and even that is ruined by a totally ludicrous ending. And it is a Hindi fillum after all. So unlike the real life case, we find that Neena isn’t really an adulteress (how could she ever be?), of course her drink was spiked for nasty Ashok to score, but she still has to feel defiled and guilty and be the suffering martyr and… surprise surprise – the actual killer is not really Anil! This diluting of the real life case tells on the film as it falters in no man’s land, even if it was considered bold at the time. Looking at it today, it is as if the filmmakers developed cold feet and got scared to go the whole way, keeping in mind the moralities prevalent in 1963.
The real life events that shocked yet riveted the entire country went like this. Away for long periods of time on work, naval officer Commander Kawas Manekshaw Nanvati found out his British wife, Sylvia, was involved with his friend Prem Ahuja. This led to Nanavati shooting Ahuja and surrendering to the police. There was a sensational trail with much media defense for ‘patriotic’ officer Nanavati and the jury at the Bombay Sessions Court agreed with the defense’s argument that Nanavati was provoked into killing Ahuja and declared him not guilty. The presiding judge, however, declared the acquittal as perverse and referred the case to the high court, where the prosecution successfully managed to show it was premeditated murder and got Nanavati sentenced for life. With much support and contacts in high places and a pardon finally granted from Ahuja’s sister, Nanavati was finally released after 3 years in prison, and migrated with Sylvia and their children to Canada, where he died in 2003.
While the film’s story fails to make an impact, in the histrionics department, Sunil Dutt alternates between sincerity and some serious hamming while Leela Naidu is stunningly beautiful but sadly, though correctly cast, she is no actress and is so wooden and stilted that she is even cringe-worthy embarrassing at times. Rehman and Shashikala are efficient enough. The best performances easily come from veterans Motilal and Ashok Kumar as the prosecutor and defense lawyer respectively who enjoy themselves to the hilt as friends pitted against each other in this case. They effortlessly steal the film from the rest of the cast.
Well photographed by KH Kapadia, Ravi’s music is a definite asset and includes the lovely romantic duet Yeh Khamoshiyan besides the well-tuned title song.
However, all in all, the film is a disappointment considering its solid base material, which was far more interesting and volatile.
Hindi, Drama, Black & White