The Yul Brynner-Ingrid Bergman starrer Anastasia (1956) gets the Hindi film treatment with Raja Jani and to be honest, the film by and large works pretty well. With a strong central performance by Hema Malini (yes, she could act and act well if directed properly), the Dharam-Hema chemistry at its peak and some catchy music, the film, directed by Mohan Segal, remains eminently watchable even today.
The adaptation by Nabendu Ghosh in terms of story and screenplay is quite apt and Anastasia lends itself quite easily to Bollywood as you are drawn into the story of street performer Shanno (Hema Malini) who is blackmailed impersonate the lost-for-years princess Ratna by gold digger Raj Singh Thakur (Dharmendra). The story moves along smoothly enough till street performer Shanno is convinced, trained and placed into the palace and accepted by Rajmata (Durga Khote) as her long lost granddaughter. The film handles certain tracks rather well – the Johnny Walker-Hema Malini relationship for one is well worked out – and Hema Malini displays fine comic timing in these sequences.
It is hereafter, once the story shifts to the palace that the film falters as it gets into simple black and white, stereotypical territory. Especially, since the suspense of Shanno’s identity is quickly dealt with whereas the identity issue was the backbone of Anastasia and remained ambiguous. So of course, Shanno is actually the real princess lost years ago as she couldn’t be a negative imposter could she? And the gold digger is really a nice guy who must now save Rajmata, Ratna and the kingdom’s treasury from the evil Deewan (Premnath) and his son (Prem Chopra) before the customary happy ending. And yes, she coughs at the right time due to stress for Rajmata to verify her identify but fails to do again when things get even more stressful! All this takes away from the grey shades, layering, suspense and ambiguity the drama of Anastasia had and finally renders Raja Jani as typical simplistic Hindi film fare. Enjoyable and entertaining enough, yes, but typical and failing to reach any great heights.
The performances are good even if Dharmendra, though looking as dashing as ever, is a mite stiff and uncomfortable as the not so nice and at times even unlikeable gold digger. His justifacation for what he has become seems token rather than being convincing enough to justify his love for money over everything else. As mentioned, it is really Hema Malini who is the life of the film. She is spot on in every scene be it the lighter ones with Johnny Walker or the more serious and emotional ones as well. What’s more, she clearly seems to be having a great time in the film. What’s more, her chemistry with Garam Dharam is crackling! For someone who is supposed to speak English better than the Europeans, they’ve cleverly made her speak very little of the same.
Of the supporting cast, Durga Khote effortlessly combines the regal bearing of her character with much maternal warmth while Premnath and Prem Chopra make a fine pair of villains though Prem Chopra’s dancing with Hema Malini in the song where she wants to make Dharmendra jealous is a hoot (unintentional I’m sure)! Johnny Walker is fine as Dharmendra’s valet cum cook and Nadira and Sajjan lend adequate support as Shanno’s adoptive parents. Helen is also around but sadly is restricted to just dancing as Hema’s character takes over the singing department in theMubarak Ho Tujhe Ae Dil song.
Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s music works best in the Duniya Ka Mela and ABCD Chhodo numbers rendered extremely effectively by Lata Mangeshkar while Kishore Kumar is in fine vocal form with Jani O Jani. Other technicalities are adequate enough for the period without really deserving special mention.
All in all, the film is good time pass and it’s fun watching the Dharam-Hema pair sizzling together. If only the film sizzled as much…
Hindi, Drama, Color