Starring Nutan, Sanjeev Kumar, Rehman, Sulochana, Lalita Pawar, Moppet Suraj (Sarika), Mehmood, Aruna Irani

Stardom and talent, seemingly two sides of the same coin, are in fact as distinct as salt is from cheese. In the Hindi film industry, where hero worship is the norm and dynasties rule the roost, it is only through sheer talent, persistence and hard work that a rank outsider like Haribhai Jariwala, known by his screen name Sanjeev Kumar, could get a toehold in 1960. It took him another decade to break into A-grade cinema, clawing his way up from C and B grade stuff — like another contemporary, Mumtaz. Moreover, he had the guts to play second fiddle, as is the case with “Devi”, in which he was pitted against the formidable Nutan.

Sanjeev Kumar was one of the exalted breed of mainstream Hindi film actors with nuanced sensibilities to get under the skin of each character.

A look at just a slice of the oeuvre of the superb actor, who died at the age of 47 years is enough to realise his depth. He wooed Nutan in “Devi” (a very young and lean Kumar in white trousers, white shoes and a red T-shirt crooning the Rafi number “Shaadi Ke Liye Razamand Kar Lee” could have given the Jumping Jack stiff competition), played a mentally challenged man in “Khilona”, a deaf and dumb worker in “Koshish”, a repentant old doctor in “Mausam”, a neglected husband in “Aandhi”, the iconic Thakur in “Sholay” — all within a span of five years. A winner of two National and two Filmfare Awards, he never achieved the stratospheric heights men and women of lesser talent managed to. Perhaps it had something to do with his lack of charisma or the absence of hangers on.

In “Devi”, the baton was wielded by V. Madhusudan Rao — who did most of his work in Telugu cinema — rather loosely. The story, credited to R.S. Mani, is rather predictable. Dialogues by Inder Raj Anand, along with Prem Kapoor, will seem hackneyed to the present generation. The screenplay, also penned by Anand, is not flawless and is reflected in indifferent characterisation of certain actors. The editing by N.M. Shankar leaves a lot to be desired, with many hard edges.

The story starts in a village, where the village belle, Devi (Nutan), lives a simple dignified life with her widowed mother, Jamuna (Sulochana). Devi is inspired by her neighbour, Dharam Das Kaka (Manmohan Kishan), who, along with his sister (Dina Pathak) is a do-gooder. In one such act of service, she meets Dr. Shekhar, a doctor from the city who is serving poor patients in the village. Together, they save a critically ill lady, whereby the good doctor offers the affable belle an opportunity to assist him, to which she readily agrees. Love blooms, leading to marriage, a union that does not meet the high standards of pedigree and stature as espoused by Shekhar’s elder brother (Rehman). Animosity against the newly married couple is fuelled by Rehman’s mother-in-law (Lalita Pawar), who, along with Shobha (Farida Jalal), her unmarried daughter, lives with him, and wants to get Shobha married to Shekhar. When Devi is spurned, Shekhar decides to leave the palatial house, whereon, there is a compromise.

Here the story takes a twist, with the emergence of Joginder (Madan Puri). A good-for-nothing drunkard, he had been harassing Jamuna by showing her a morphed photo in which they are in a compromising position. On hearing that Devi has moved to a mansion, he lands there and narrates the fabricated story to Pawar, who gets Devi expelled by telling Rehman that Devi is in fact the illegitimate daughter of Jamuna and Joginder.

As Shekhar is travelling abroad, a pregnant Devi is sent back to her mother’s house. Shekhar, on returning, finds Devi missing. Exasperated, he goes in her search, only to land in a brothel, where he is shown a photograph by Munni, the ‘madam’, which points to Devi’s relationship with Joginder. Munni has been paid by Joginder to arrange the stratagem. A shocked Shekhar returns to his brother and vows to remain single for the rest of his life. But destiny brings him in touch with his son, Deepak (as per credits Moppet Suraj, but actually Sarika in a boy’s role). Thereon, it is only a matter of time before the truth unfolds, ultimately leading to a harmonious end.

Comic interlude is given by Raja Ram (Mehmood), his wife Rani (Aruna Irani) and Sunder Dass (Mukri). Despite the timing and talent of the threesome, the comedy, at times seems over-the-top and unnecessary, especially when it harms the narrative.

For Nutan, this was certainly not amongst her best performances, especially when considered against the the bar she had set herself — “Bandini” and “Sujata” readily come to mind. Although her performance improves as the film move on, she looks awkward and out of place as a giggling village belle.

Rehman, Madan Puri, Lalita Pawar are reliable as ever, and give stability and stature to the film, whenever it seems to go off the track.

With music scored by Laxmikant-Pyarelal to lyrics by Anand Bakshi, the songs could not be anything but of the highest standard. However, none of the numbers is a chartbuster still heard on FM channels. “Teri Haseen Nigah Ka” (Rafi-Lata duet) is a slow paced romantic ditty, while “Kya Sacha Lagta Hai, Kya Acha Lagta Hai” (Rafi) is playful. Then there is “Jogan Pritam Ki” sung by Usha Iyer and Laxmi Shankar, a comic number filmed on Mehmood and Aruna Irani, a hit pair in their heyday.