Shashi Kapoor, Nanda, Kamal Kapoor, Agha
There was a golden era in the evolutionary cycle of the Hindi film industry when characterisation was steeped in simplicity. There was the hero, a paragon of virtue and valour, the heroine, petite and shy, the comedian for slapstick relief, the villain, mean with nasty mannerisms, the best friend, an affable sidekick – everything was in black and white, with minimal shades of grey.
It was on this canvas that “Jab Jab Phool Khile”, directed by Suraj Prakash was made, setting the cash registers ringing. Undoubtedly, the biggest star was the paradise on Earth, for which Emperor Jehangir once said “Gar firdous baroe zamin ast, hameen ast, hameen ast, hameen ast.”
Seeing the film today, the heart bleeds for Kashmir, where the film was extensively shot. The breathtaking Dal Lake, majestic mountains encircling the vale, sky touching chinars lining each side of the boulevard, exotic houseboats and romantic shikaras were captured in their pristine beauty on camera by ace cinematographer Taru Dutt, as he filmed the director's first outing in Eastman color.
Long before Yash Chopra discovered Europe, starting a mad scramble in the film industry, Kashmir was the ultimate destination for filmmakers, till shadow of the gun drove them away.
The story is a simple tale of love, unique at that point in time, but replicated several times since. Film lore has it that writer Brij Katyal was spurned by several filmmakers, including the redoubtable N.N. Sippy, till the story was taken up by Prakash, giving him the most successful film of his otherwise average innings in the industry.
The story was told with such honesty that one could feel the slow blossoming of love between a poor, simple hearted houseboat owner on Sringar's Dal, who believes in the strength of his culture and a foreign educated, westernised heiress from Mumbai (then Bombay), on a holiday to Kashmir.
Balbir Raj Kapoor a.k.a Shashi Kapoor, the scion of the formidable Kapoor Khandaan and youngest son of the patriarch, Prithvi Raj had his first successful outing at the marquee as a solo hero after debuting in 1961. He looked convincing and fresh as the simple boatman (the Kashmiri accent could have been underplayed though) with his unconventional good looks, crooked smile and dimples, with some baby fat which he shed in later films like “Deewar”.
He was suitably complemented by Nanda, who also hailed from an illustrious film clan. Her father, Master Vinayak was an accomplished actor-director of Marathi cinema and paternal uncle, V. Shantaram a pioneering filmmaker.
Nanda worked her way up, from being a child artist to doing side roles. She hit big time with “Bhabhi”, followed by a string of films like “Hum-Dono” and Kanoon – went for an image makeover for the role. For the first time she was seen in a glamorous avatar, wearing western outfits, something that worked in the film's favour at the box office. An indebted Kapoor later expressed his gratitude to Nanda for agreeing to act with him, when he was a virtual newcomer and she, an accomplished actress and well established star.
The music score by Kalyanji-Ananadji hit the bull's eye. Each of the six songs – in fact each a poem by Anand Bakshi – was a chartbuster, and has retained its charm more than four decades later. These were woven in the narrative with such finesse that they become a part of the story telling technique.
Crème-de-la-crème – the hauntingly melodious “Pardesiyon se na ankhiyan milana”, a solo number sung separately by Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar, plays a number of times and is the gossamer thread that carries the story forward. The pathos of “Ek tha gul aur ek thi bulbul”, the angst ridden lament of a lover at the cross-roads “Yahan mein ajnabee hoon” and the boisterous “Hum ko tum pe” are sheer magic.
The sensuous “Yeh sama, sama hai yeh pyaar ka” in Lata's voice is a lesson for present day singers, on how to sing lilting numbers without degenerating into raunchiness.
Although the film had a strong support cast – the handsome Agha as an Africa-returned tourist in Kashmir and Shammi, as the Anglo-Indian, Bambiya Hindi speaking aya – the comic track failed to invoke much laughter (Shammi's accent was jarring to the ears).
It is a sad testimony that actors with loads of talent like Agha and Shammi could never make it to the top league, confined to a straitjacket as they were. But Kamal Kapoor, as Rai Bahadur Chunnilal Khanna essaying the role of Nanda's tycoon father, looked every bit the stylised aristocrat.
A footnote for those who have the courage to defy destiny and make their mark – top notch music composers, Laxmikant-Pyarelal were assistants to Kalyanji-Anandji in this film.