Classic, Film, Hindi, Review

Mr and Mrs 55

An impoverished and struggling cartoonist, Preetam (Guru Dutt), encounters Anita (Madhubala) at a tennis match. Anita is controlled by her aunt Sita Devi (Lalita Pawar), a crusader for Women’s Rights who ‘protects’ Anita from men. However Anita’s father stipulates his will that Anita will inherit his fortune only if she marries within a month of turning 21. Sita Devi decides to contrive a marriage which would be followed by divorce so that Anita gets both her wealth and her independence. She hires Preetam to marry Anita unaware that he is in love with her. When Anita finds out he is her hired husband, he falls in her eyes. Preetam, frustrated at not being able to see Anita after the marriage, carries her off to his brother’s house in a nearby village. Anita is deeply influenced by Preetam’s sister-in-law, a perfect traditional Indian housewife. However, she has already asked Sita Devi to rescue her. Feeling that Anita doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, Preetam fabricates evidence against himself so that his divorce with Anita will come about easily and decides to leave Bombay. Preetam is much maligned in court but by now Anita realizes she loves him…

Mr and Mrs 55 is a sophisticated romantic comedy, which along with Aar Paar (1954), sees the beginnings of the lyrical and poetic style identified with Guru Dutt’s later work. And though the film is primarily a satirical comedy in nature, it is also perhaps Guru Dutt’s first film, more than any of his previous films, which shows a strong concern for social realities. The film opposes the corrupting influence of Westernization on India’s urban rich by reaffirming traditional Indian values. In fact, the poster of the film was divided into two parts. The first part showed the hero buckling the heroine’s shoe who is in western attire and the second part shows her in a sari touching the hero’s feet.

The film, based loosely on a play written by Abrar Alvi called Modern Marriage, sparkles with wit and imagination. It’s greatest strength lies in its use of intelligence repartee rather than the usual slapstick and buffoonery that was prevalent in other Hindi comedies. And unlike most Hindi films where dialogues repetitively stress the same emotions again and again, each dialogue exchange in the film skillfully develops the plot while the dialogue as a whole invokes a range of feelings. Also Abrar Alvi’s dialogues diffuse highly charged situations with down-to-earth and matter-of-fact repartee. A splendid example of this was the scene where Preetam draws a cartoon of Sita Devi wearing a Roman toga, standing in a Roman chariot with a whip in hand. Anita and Preetam are the horses that pull the chariot. Incidentally, the cartoon was drawn by India’s top most cartoonist, RK Laxman. On seeing the cartoon, Sita Devi is furious and confronts Preetam. He answers every question with ‘Ji Haan’ (Yes) but the scene is brilliantly constructed in a manner such that each reply gives it a different shade, a different meaning. And of course, not forgetting the unforgettable exchange between Sita Devi and Preetam when they first meet and after listening to his views, she asks him if he is a communist. No, a cartoonist he replies!

The film is full of fluid camera movements, long tracking shots, brilliant use of light and shade and close-ups, fine performances and outstanding music. In fact, in pace, mood and feel, Mr and Mrs 55 is more like an American film and is perhaps Guru Dutt’s most ‘Hollywood’ influenced film.

While Guru Dutt is fine in the role of Preetam, it is Madhubala who lifts the film several notches with her natural and spontaneous flair for comedy. Johnny Walker as Preetam’s friend who supports him in days of struggle, Yasmin (real name Vinita Bhatt), who plays Johhny’s girlfriend, and Lalita Pawar as Sita Devi lend able support even though the last named is seriously handicapped by a strictly two-dimensional role that borders on absolute caricature. In fact this is one of the weaknesses of the film if any – its highly reactionary and simplistic view of women wanting to be independent and treating Sita Devi as a villain rather than as a serious crusader for Women’s Rights.

The music score by OP Nayyar is outstanding particularly Thandi Hawa Kaali Ghata, Udhar Tum Haseen Ho, Chal Diye Banda Navaz, Jaane Kahan Mera Jigar Gaya Ji and Preetam Aan Milo. The last was originally sung by CH Atma for an HMV recording unconnected to any film but is used to splendid effect in the film. Anita is listening to the song in her room. Her aunt switches off the song. The next shot cuts to the same song playing simultaneously on the radio in Preetam’s room as he is packing his bags. It is to Geeta Dutt’s credit that she is able to give her own touch to the song rather than be limited by Atma’s wonderful rendering earlier. And like any Guru Dutt film special mention must be made of the song picturizations particularly Thandi Hawa Kaali Ghata shot at the Mahatma Gandhi swimming pool in Bombay’s Shivaji Park performed with a smiling chorus of girls twirling umbrellas led by Madhubala. Or Jaane Kahan Mera Jigar Gaya Ji as Johhny Walker and Yasmin romance under office desks during lunch break. Or the argumentative duet Chal Diye Banda Navaz imaginatively picturized among women drying and shaking out saris. And last but not least, the qawali Karavan Dil ka Loota after Preetam walks away from Sita Devi’s house having provided false evidence of his debauchery. He stands in half-light and smiles in ironic complicity as the qawal sings on the roadside. The scene has a new intensity not seen earlier in the film and brings a significant shift of mood to the film, looking ahead to the dark and sombre mood of Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz ke Phool (1959).

Mr and Mrs 55 opened to most favourable reviews. To quote Filmfare in its issue of May 27, 1955, “A thoroughly delightful, honey and cream social comedy. Mr and Mrs 55 is a model of film craft and has gripping interest for every class of cinegoer. Its satire of characters we know and its incidents taken from life are spiced with humour… the dialogue, well-written, tense and witty, enhances the appeal of this true-to-life and thought-provoking entertainer.”

Hindi, Romance, Drama, Black and White

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