The three major reasons to watch Ek Thi Larki are Meena Shorey, Meena Shorey and … well yes, Meena Shorey. She more than ably carries this otherwise rather silly, but admittedly, enjoyably fluffy, dated film on her shoulders with her big, expressive eyes and a wonderful sense of comic timing, marking her out as an early comedienne-heroine in Hindi cinema.
Ek Thi Larki is perhaps the best known film of yesteryear actress Meena Shorey. Its success and the huge popularity of one of the songs in the films, Lara Lappa, Lara Lappa, gave Shorey the tag of the ‘Lara Lappa’ girl, which stuck to her for life and was the high point of a career that, sadly, ended in abject poverty in Pakistan, where she died alone and unsung.
The film follows Meena (Meena Shorey) on a series on adventures, which begin with her going for a job interview only to find the office head murdered with a knife up his back. She is then blackmailed by two conmen, Mohan and Sohan (IS Johar, Majnu) who saw her in the room with the dead man and who convince her that she would be hung for the killing. They force her her to impersonate a princess before another escape from the conmen leads her to accidentally finding a job as a secretary to office manager, Ranjit (Motilal), who is being wooed by his boss’ daughter, Vimla (Kudip Kaur). Ranjit, along with secretary Meena, are sent to Delhi to ensure that their firm gets a particular lucrative contract. Events play out where they have to live as servants in the house of the very person they have come to meet. Of course, in all this mess, they fall in love, and predictable complications are created by Vimla, Mohan and Sohan before the customary all’s well that ends well ending.
As is apparent from the storyline, the film, helmed by husband Roop K Shorey, centres around Meena Shorey. And it has to be said, she owns the film. Looking at her inherent ditzy, comic capabilities, it is all the more tragic to see her career trajectory post Ek Thi Larki. The film, written by IS Johar and perhaps owing its origins to the America screwball comedy, is little more than light, unpretentious on-the-surface stuff – funny, corny, silly and even illogically stupid in parts. However, the comparatively dramatic last bit is heavy-handed and at odds with the rest of the film. But it’s all a reasonably fun ride that is characteristic of what Hindi mainstream cinema has always considered as the ‘leave-your-brains-behind-at-home’ type of entertainment.
Of the rest of the cast, Motilal plays it largely straight, perfectly playing off the exuberant Shorey while providing his odd comic moment – such as his plate dropping episode! IS Johar and Manju are funny enough as the conmen always out to make a fast buck and create problems for our heroine. Incidentally, Vijay Anand called his separated brothers Mohan and Sohan in Johny Mera Naam (1970), which also starred IS Johar as triplets. Kuldip Kaur, in the early part of her career, vamps it up deliciously.
Vinod’s music, though fine, sees all the other songs totally eclipsed by Lara Lappa, Lara Lappa, which is the standout song of the film. Still, Dilli Se Aaya Bhai Tingu, performed by Honey O’Brien and an all girl band with Vinod himself conducting the band, is fun as is Lambi Joru Badi Musibat (a forerunner to Mere Angane Mein?). Among the others, Chandni Raat Hai, Yeh Shokh Sitare and Ab Haal-e-Dil Ya Haal-e-Jigar are no doubt, melodious enough.
The success of Ek Thi Larki led to a series of films directed by Roop K Shorey starring his wife – Dholak (1951), Aag Ka Dariya (1953), Jalwa (1955) – but none had the same impact, not even a reunion of the duo with Motilal in Ek Do Teen (1953). And possibly, with the comparative disappointing performance of these films, some ambitious announcements made by Roop K Shorey, highlighted on the back covers of the song booklets of Aag Ka Dariya and Ek Do Teen – a film titled Ladaaki, or an extravaganza in colour, Char Minar – could not be made. The final nail in the couple’s marriage came when they were invited by Pakistan to go to Lahore and make a film, which they did – Miss 56 (1956). Meena, suddenly faced with much adulation across the border, decided to stay back and pursue a career there, leaving a broken-hearted Roop Shorey to return to India alone. In hindsight, it appears to be the worst decision she made.
Hindi, Comedy, Drama, Black & White