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Raj Kapoor, Meena Kumari


Dinesh Raheja

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Imagine a filmmaker tackling a theme where the young hero discovers, much to his dismay, that his one-time beloved is now his mother -- she has married his father! And to think we are talking about a film that was made 45 years ago.

On a scale of ten, if ambition and a spirit of adventure (I would say, audacity) were the criteria, Sharada deserves at least 9, if not 10.

Undoubtedly, this big-star-studded, commercially successful film has its share of flaws --- a didactic comic track, a largely ho-hum music score and a tendency to steer clear from morally provocative pockets that the film throws up --- but the enormity of the director's vision and courage compels you to sidestep these flaws.

CREDITS
Producers Director Music Director Stars
 Prasad Productions  L V Prasad  C Ramchandra  Raj Kapoor,
 Meena Kumari

The story begins in a nature-cure ashram where Mohan (Om Prakash), a confirmed alcoholic, is undergoing treatment under the supervision of committed ashram worker Sharada (Meena Kumari). Mohan's friend Shekhar (Raj Kapoor) is enamoured by Sharada and faithfully trots along behind her wherever she goes -- the kitchen, compound and dawakhaana too!

While establishing a romance between Sharada and Shekhar (destined to be mother and son in the reels yet to unroll), director Prasad pertinently steers clear of any physical intimacy between the lovers. Yet, the romantic portions are enjoyable, as Raj Kapoor enlivens them with Chaplinesque buffoonery, even resorting to an innocent-sounding devotional number, Jap jap jap re to convey his romantic intentions to Sharada.

The besotted Shekhar proposes to a surprised Sharada who promises to marry him when he returns from his business expedition to China.

Now, some rather contrived plot devices come into play for the story to arrive at its central theme. Shekhar meets with an accident and is presumed dead. His father (Raj Mehra), a widower faced with the daunting task of raising a brood of three young children, decides to marry again -- and the woman he chooses is Sharada! Unaware that she is marrying Shekhar's father, Sharada cedes to her father's desire for the match (why would a father want such a match?).

By now, Sharada's characterisation has been deftly and consistently built up as that of a champion at self-sacrifice (she works devotedly in the ashram) and self-depreciation (Mujhe meri tareef achchi nahee lagti).

Shekhar survives the accident and on learning of Sharada's marriage vociferously expresses his loathing at her betrayal. Unaware that she has married his father, he viciously curses her husband. Unable to bear the expletives showered on her 'swami,' an infuriated Sharada silences him with a resounding slap.

A shaken Shekhar returns home and discovers that Sharada is now his mother!

Famous songs from Sharada
  Song  Singers
  Jap jap jap
 jap re
 Mukesh
  O chand jahan  woh  Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle
  Ajure baju naju  Asha Bhosle, Kamla Srivastav, Joe
  Lehraye jeeya  Asha Bhosle
  Chahe zindagi se  Manna Dey
  Duniya ne  mujhko  Manna Dey
  Joru ka ghulam  Shamshad Begum, Asha Bhosle,  Kamal Barot

In the film's most highly-charged moment, he falls at her feet, defeated and in despair. She ruffles his hair and blesses him.

Unlike the beatific acceptance Sharada displays, Shekhar is unable to accept their new relationship. He pines for his lost love even as he downs many pints of whiskey. Seeking to stop this spiral of self-destruction, Mohan appeals to Shekhar to accept Sharada as his mother. He reasons, "Yehi toh ek shabd hain jismein tumhara uddhar hain," but Shekhar is convinced, "Is si shabd mein meri maut hain."

Eventually, browbeaten by Sharada's threats to leave home, Shekhar surrenders and finally summons the courage to cry out, "Ma."

Shekhar also gives in to Sharada's wishes and marries Chanchal (Shyama, looking as crisp as an ice lettuce). But Chanchal's hackles are raised when a busybody squeals to her about Shekhar and Sharada's love story. Consumed with jealousy, Chanchal assumes that Shekhar and Sharada are lovers in the guise of mother and son, and threatens to expose the 'truth' to Shekhar's father unless Shekhar stops meeting Sharada.

This unhappy situation has to reach a cataclysm. A disgusted Shekhar flees home and becomes a vagabond. When he is found lying supine outside a temple, on the verge of death, Sharada embarks on a fast to death.

Acutely conscious of the fact that he is treading on egg shells, the director strikes a delicate balance between the idealised and almost superhuman response (as represented by Meena Kumari) and the human and more identifiable reactions (as represented by Raj Kapoor) to a moral crisis. It's never less than interesting to see how two people, when faced with a difficult situation, come to grips with it in dramatically different ways.

Prasad shows an endearing sympathy for human foibles even while constantly exalting the strength of virtue. However, he cops out in the climax --- it would have been interesting to see the reaction of Shekhar's father to the truth. Also, Chanchal's abrupt switchover from suspicious to supportive makes it seem as if the director was not sufficiently interested in her character's motivations.

Raj Kapoor, advantageously placed in a believable part as a person grappling with unfortunate truth, evokes pathos. Meena Kumari has to brace herself to meet the challenge of a larger-than-life role. With restraint as her major trump card, she succeeds in discouraging you from feeling that the stoic Sharada is silently craving aggrandizement.

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She is the rare actress who makes the depiction of pain seem exquisite.

Sidelights:

*After working for six years (1951-1956) at a stretch only with Nargis, this was Raj Kapoor's first film with another heroine. Raj and Meena did just one more film, Char Dil Chaar Raahein (1959), together.

*During shooting breaks, Raj Kapoor would record Meena Kumari's voice on a tape recorder to help her improve her voice modulation.

*Shyama and Raj Mehra won Filmfare's Best Supporting Actor and Actress award respectively. Meena Kumari was considered a strong contender that year but Nargis won the award for Mother India.

Music:

*C Ramchandra, the composer of such exquisite melodies in Anarkali, Albela and Azaad, is not in full form here -- perhaps because he was not working as extensively with his favourite Lata Mangeshkar. Still, the maestro came up with two hits -- Jap jap jap re and O chaand jahan tu jaye.

* Jap jap jap re also marked Mukesh's comeback. He had neglected his singing for an acting career that failed to pick up.

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