Starring Rajesh Khanna, Mumtaz, Balraj Sahani, Kamini Kaushal, Prem Chopra, Bindu
A long, long time ago, when the reigning Badshah of Bollywood would have been a toddler and the Shehenshah was just a newcomer, struggling to find his feet in the film industry, one man, single-handedly rewrote the rules of stardom.
The epithet, ‘superstar', was used for the first time for Rajesh Khanna, who, with his handsome ‘boy-next-door' freckled looks, stylised mannerisms and loads of talent elevated star status to a much higher plane, which, hitherto, even the iconic trio of Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar had failed to accomplish. In “Do Raaste”, he was at the zenith of his prowess as an actor, capable of generating unprecedented mass hysteria that became part of folklore – as stories of girls writing love letters in blood – spread like wildfire.
The film, based on a novel by Chandrakant Kakodkar (which won the film its sole Filmfare award that year, for the best story), was adapted for the silver screen by G.R. Kamath, while Akhtar Rohani wrote the dialogues. Raj Khosla, who produced, as well as directed the film, had a winner at hand the moment he finalised the cast and crew, including music composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal and lyricist Anand Bakshi.
Needless to say, they created sheer magic, giving Hindi film industry some of its biggest and most enduring chartbusters of all time, including “Bindiya Chamkegi”, “Yeh Reshmi Zulfein”, “Chhup Gaye Saare Nazare” and “Mere Naseeb Mein Ae Dost”. Khosla demonstrated panache for shooting song sequences in style. Kishore Kumar, who later became the voice of Rajesh Khanna, sang only one song for the actor in this film, the other two were by Mohammed Rafi.
The story of the film played a major part in scripting its box-office success, based as it was on the trials and tribulations of a lower middle class family (with some characters that could loosely be identified from the epic Ramayana- the dutiful eldest step-son, who is his stepmother's favourite and works tirelessly for the betterment of his family and younger siblings, his long suffering wife, who is the epitome of dignity and sacrifice, the respectful youngest brother and the selfless friend).
The story played on the emotions that have dominated the Indian psyche for ages – respect for elders, paramount status of the mother, sanctity of the joint family and supremacy of relations that are stronger than ties of blood. Khosla managed to infuse his rendition with dollops of pathos – although a tauter editing could have made the film more enjoyable.
These days, a lot of emphasis is laid on the ‘chemistry' of ‘jodis' by fly-by-night judges, proliferating on reality shows that are aired dime a dozen on all channels. They just need to watch Khanna serenading a voluptuous Mumtaz in the film to know what chemistry is all about.
The actress, who graduated from doing lead roles in C-grade stunt films to side roles in mainstream cinema to being the topmost female star of her times speaks volumes of her calibre as an actress and perseverance as a fighter.
Whether clad in a sober salwar-kameez, eyes covered with dark sunglasses in “Yeh Reshmi Zulfein” (with an unshaven Khanna) or drenched in rain for “Chhup Gaye Saare Nazare” or clad in a bright orange sari for “Bindiya Chamkegi”, (a modern day Shakuntala, out to win the attention of Khanna, who is busy studying on his terrace) she manages to seduce the camera with her pout and underplayed sensuality.
She was indeed the ultimate diva, who induced a million fantasies.Only Sridevi, in later years, managed to essay roles that Mumtaz did so effortlessly.
The support cast of the film also added to its view-ability, with a list of A-grade actors in main roles. Balraj Sahni (as the eldest of the three brothers and one sister), Kamini Kaushal as his dutiful wife, Prem Chopra as the wayward middle-brother, Bindu as Chopra's westernised wife, Asit Sen as Bindu's laid back, but good natured father and Leela Mishra as his scheming wife, all jelled into the roles they have essayed innumerable number of times.
Veteran actor Jayant, as the wide bodied, large hearted Khan bhai – bringing in the secular touch – who stands by the family in difficult times, dealt the character with maturity, in a role, which, in the hands of a lesser actor could have become a caricature.
One area where Khosla, despite his adept handling of the story, could not restrict himself from falling in the trap was in depiction of college pals of Khanna and Mumtaz – the Parsi, Punjabi and Bengali students were too predictable to elicit any laughter with their antics.
Khanna is perhaps one of the most heart-rending tragedies of the Hindi film industry. His decline from being an icon to a captive of his stylised mannerisms, into which he straitjacketed himself, did not do justice, neither to his immense talent nor to legions of his fans. A fine actor, who did not hesitate to portray different roles, he lost track midway in an industry notorious for being ruthless and unforgiving. How one wishes that he had straddled into the sunset like a colossus.