Friday, 28 January 2011

Dastan (1950)

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Dastan is one of these movies which derives its interest not so much from how it works out (it is pretty obvious from the start that things didn’t end well) but from they way the story unfolds; and even that isn’t the most exciting thing ever here. ( I ended up owning it purely by chance as I was under the impression that I was purchasing a movie of the same title starring Dilip Kumar. ) The movie begins with a view of a large mansion and a voice over informs us that we are about to hear a story connected with it.

You better have an interesting architectural history:
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An elderly gentleman (Raj Kapoor in not entirely convincing old person make-up) knocks on the door and is greeted by a loyal retainer. Apparently, it’s 25 years since he last set foot in the house, but now he has come to pay his respects to his deceased sister (Veena). She spent the last 25 years living on her own in the house and avoiding any society. Her brother claims that he doesn’t want to remember what happened 25 years ago. As there is still another two hours of movie to go, he then starts to recount precisely what it is that he doesn’t want to remember (presumably so as to be better able to forget it).

One of them is more convincingly aged than the other:
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We learn that Raj had a happy childhood together with his brother Kundan, the aforementioned loyal retainer and his father. His sister, Rani, was always proud and easily angered as well as given to call everybody Budtameez at the slightest provocation.

Impressions of a happy:
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and possibly somewhat less happy childhood:
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The family´s equilibrium is disturbed one day when the father brings home an orphaned girl, Indira. While the two boys accept her straightaway, Rani is more than a little suspicious of the stranger. Matters are not improved by the fact that her father asks her to give her room to Indira, as it is closer to his room, and he worries that she might be frightened at night in a strange house. Days pass and the situation doesn´t improve. One day, Rani is annoyed with her brothers for listening to Indira play the piano instead of heeding the dinner gong, and she is so rude to Indira that her father slaps her. However, as a voice over informs us, having to slap his beloved daughter is too much for this father’s already fragile heart and he promptly expires.

This new arrival won’t improve familial harmony:
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Just after the deadly slap:
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Immediately after her father’s death, Rani decides that it is time for Indira to leave the house, but her brothers disagree and Indira gets to stay. More time passes and everybody is now grown up. However, relations haven’t changed much. Rani is as proud and haughty as ever, and still dislikes Indira (now played by Suraiya), whereas Raj and Kundan (now played by Al Nasir) are both fond of her. The brothers and Indira are still in college, and one evening they participate in a college performance which also constitutes our first song. When Rani finds out, she is horrified and proclaims that Indira has turned the family name to mud (somehow, Raj and Kundan performing on stage isn’t a problem).

I am pretty and I know it:
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I look ridiculous and I know it:
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I also look ridiculous but I don’t know it:
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Okay, I have decided to join all the ridiculous looking people:
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I don’t care what you all look like, no members of my family are to perform in public, and that’s an order:
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After Rani has given a piece of her mind to Indira, Raj sneaks into the latter’s room, to console here and flirt with her. It is rather obvious that those two are very much in love with each other. After this has been established, Indira turfs out Raj, who returns to the room he shares with is borther only to give his brother a very different version of events with him in a much more heroic part. His rendition of this imaginative but not very truthful account is cut short when Rani appears and forces him to take some sleeping pills. (I have to say that there are many points later in the movie where I would have liked to have had some sleeping pills handy).

Kundan would much rather sleep:
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One of the few occasions where I sympathise with Rani:
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We then see Rani reading a book in the hallway (presumably it is the next morning but it may be later). Her reading is disturbed by something which sounds rather like an oversized, angry bumble-bee but is in fact Raj impersonating a plane. Apparently, he has decided to become a pilot officer. Rani isn’t very impressed (very little impresses Rani), Kundan thinks that it requires too much getting up at silly hours of the morning (you have to be dressed before 9 am! the horror!) but Indira is happy for Raj. The two love birds engage in some mild flirting, before Raj goes to have his picture taken in his new uniform and Indira is sent off by Rani to have a necklace fixed. I am sure you will be as surprised as I to learn that the two meet on their respective errands. Indira has been drenched in the rain, and Raj takes her home in the car, with a small detour via a song, during which we learn that Kundan spends is time painting pictures of Indira and then gazing longingly at them (I suspect he may be in love with her, too).

Don’t I look smart in my new uniform:
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Our two lovebirds:
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The artist:
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and his painting:
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My suspicions are confirmed shortly afterwards, when Indira comes home with the now repaired necklace, and Kundan tells her that the necklace isn’t worthy to be worn by her. Alas, Indira is so wrapped up in her love for Raj, that Kundan’s attempts at flirting don’t register with her. Shortly afterwards, Rani appears and has a go at Indira for taking so long to return with the necklace.

Don’t bother, her flirting detector is temporarily out of order:
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We are then treated to some stock footage of a landing plane. It turns out that this is nothing to do with Raj’s professional aspirations but heralds the return of a close friend of the family, Ramesh (Sureh) (so close that this is the first time he is ever mentioned). He is disappointed that Raj hasn’t turned up for his welcome-home party, but Rani tells him that he is at work. When Ramesh phones up Raj to ask him over, after all, Rani and Kundan are already there, Raj puts two and two together and after faking a stomach ache, heads home, where Indira is all alone, spending her time playing the piano and singing about her love for Raj.

Hello, long lost friend we have never seen before:
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She is very pretty when she pines:
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Indira and Raj spend the afternoon flirting, while back at Ramesh’s house his poor guests have to spend rather a long time without tea (the cruelty) as he is still waiting for Raj. When it becomes obvious that he isn’t going to turn up, Rani and Kundan go back to the family home, only to find Raj and Indira in a rather disheveled state. They are both sent to their respective rooms to make themselves more presentable. When Ramesh turns up some time later Raj is overjoyed to see him. Ramesh, on the other hand, while also being happy to see Raj (they do perform some sort of impromptu dance with lots of yelling), is rather impressed with Indira. This doesn’t escape Rani’s attention, who all of a sudden sees a way of freeing her brother from the clutches of this lowly girl (never mind that one brother doesn’t want to be freed from these clutches and the other is eager to become imprisoned in them). Before the story moves on, we are also given an answer to the question of why Rani has never married. Her unmarried state worries the loyal retainer but she tells him that she doesn’t want to become a man’s slave and as long as society regards a married woman as her husband’s property she isn’t going to get married. Of course we are meant to be horrified by this, but I have to admit that I have some sympathy for Rani, and I also can’t see her ever working out well in a household which contains a mother in law.

It’s fun making other people wait for their tea:
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Though lack of tea may make your hair go all frizzy:
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Frizzy hair notwithstanding, Ramesh is impressed:
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This is a very interesting development:
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Ramesh has invited the whole family, including Indira, over for a party. Raj has to go for work, so he can’t come, and Indira tries to stay behind (probably hoping for the sudden occurrence of more stomach trouble) but Rani insists that she come along to. At the party, we first get treated to a dance perfomance (which actually isn’t a song, but has some very nice sets). Unsurprisingly, Raj’s stomach has taken a turn for the worse, but when he comes home, Indira is gone, so he goes on to Ramesh’s house. There the performance is over, but those present are in the mood for more music, and Indira ends up playing the piano and singing. Rani notices with approval that Ramesh looks rather smitten, while Kundan (remember his feelings for Rani) is beginning to look rather worried and Raj is oblivious.

You have to come, I want to know whether Ramesh likes women with non-frizzy hair:
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The lack of frizziness doesn’t seem to bother him:
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Look, my hair is all neatly arranged:
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Your plan seems to be working, surely you should look happier:
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After the return from the party, every member of the household, apart from Rani, decides to pour forth their feelings in song. This only confirms Rani in her opinion that she needs to get Indira married to Ramesh as soon as possible. In order to make her even more attractive, she decides to buy some new, more elaborate sarees for her on the pretext that it is her birthday. When the two brothers find this out, they are overjoyed and do a happy dance, as they take it as evidence that Rani is warming towards Indira. However, Kundan also notices that Ramesh is warming towards Indira, and decides to tell her about his feelings for her in a letter. Alas, this letter is intercepted by Rani. Will she use this to drive a wedge between Raj and Indira? What will happen when Kundan finds out that Indira’s affection is otherwise engaged? What drove Rani to seclude herself from the world?


I have to say, this isn’t a great movie. Raj is irritatingly childish for most of it, the conflict towards the end is very contrived, even by Hindi movie standards, and mostly driven by people not talking to each other and jumping to the least favourable conclusion possible. To me, the most memorable character is Rani, torn as she is between her dislike for Indira and her often exasperated but still real affection for her brothers.

6 comments:

Bollyviewer said...

It has some lovely songs, but I shy away from films of this vintage that also come equipped with a Raj Kapoor. So I am never likely to watch it! But I am curious to know how it all ends. Do Suraiya and her numerous suitors all self-destruct? ;)

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

I do not like this movie- Raj Kapoor makes me want to pull my hair! Everything that comes to him in the 2nd hald feels deserving to me- i got that vicious by the time it ended :) Suraiya was adorable though, and Veena was good!

antarra said...

Bollyviewer -- Your time is much better spend just watching the songs. :) There is only a limited amount of self-destruction, though it seems that most people lived unhappily ever after.

Shweta -- I wanted some of the sleeping pills Rani hands out to him. Suraiya is very sweet, and I can see why she would have some many suitors, and I was very impressed with Veena. She managed to portray Rani as not a very pleasant person, but still a human being. Mind you, having to live with Raj would probably drive anybody slightly deranged.

memsaabstory said...

You're alive!!!!! Someone would have to pay me money to watch this one :D

antarra said...

After checking my pulse, I can confirm that I am indeed alive.

Well, I am not going to re-watch this any time soon.

harveypam said...

Even Suraiya and her delightful voice can't compensate for a Raj Kapoor in a movie! Sounds like one of those misunderstandings galore movies.
I love Veena's voice though!