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Updated: October 9, 2009 17:04 IST

Milan (1967)

ZIYA US SALAM
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STARRING Sunil Dutt, Nutan, Pran and Deven Varma

Subtle treatment: Nutan and Sunil Dutt in a still from “Milan”.
The Hindu Photo Library Subtle treatment: Nutan and Sunil Dutt in a still from “Milan”.

This film presented one of the delightful ironies of life. Its music directors Laxmikant-Pyarelal honed their skills virtually under the watchful eye of Lata Mangeshkar. In fact, as youngsters Laxmi-Pyare had performed at Hridaynath Mangeshkar’s shows for young talent. Then when the time came to compose music for this film directed by Subba Rao, Anand Bakshi came up with an interesting song, “Sawan ka Mahina Pawan Kare Sor”. In this song Mukesh was supposed to teach Lata to sing under the baton of Laxmi-Pyare! Both Lata and Mukesh had a good laugh as the latter sought to correct her rendition of “pawan kare sor, shor nahin, sor” and the music directors looked on!

Years later Lata still laughs when she talks of the recording of the song and the great time everybody had back then. In fact, there is a story attached to almost every song of “Milan”, a film that talked of reincarnation with a tinge of melody, a touch of drama. And of course, everlasting love transcending the barriers of life and death. The film’s opening song, “Hum Tum Geet Milan Ke Gaate Rahen Hain” had a sad version too. Though the film opens with a happy song as Sunil Dutt and Nutan pass out of college – he though clearly looks too old to graduate – the little footnote comes with a slightly more, at times slightly more nostalgic version of the song. In the latter version, Nutan, was said to have been apprehensive about shooting and privately expressed her fears that the song may not add much value to the film. And, in fact, could be a bit of an overkill. Her fears proved unfounded as the film went on to do very good business at the box office and, importantly, gave Sunil Dutt a new image. Completely bereft of both glamour and action, he played a simpleton from an Uttar Pradesh village. Sleeveless vest with a front pocket, ear rings to go with flat hair and a lost boy expression. He was perfect foil to Nutan with a serene face and a stately figure. In the song “Sawan ka Mahina”, her luminous eyes shine bright in an aura of darkness.

He is all simplicity, she is all class. And the camera lingers beautifully. There are leisurely shots of sun and shade, night and moon and the slanting rays on ripples of water on a night still and soothing. All along the boat with the lead couple sails on.

Dance number

Beautiful as it is, “Sawan ka Mahina” is not the only song that is notable for its picturisation. Equally expertly done is the dance number “Bol Gori Bol Tera Kaun Piya”. This was a rare song to challenge the non-existing dancer in Sunil Dutt! Of course, the man was thrilled to bits with the challenge the Mukesh number offered him. Having danced with some gusto and little talent, he wrote to his wife that he would need medical treatment at the end of the song. Right on cue, his left leg needed attention once the shooting was over. Talk of having two left feet when it comes to the dance floor!

Rao’s film, however, goes beyond songs and dances, beautiful as they are. Though only repeating the age-old theme of love, birth and rebirth, the director never allows the proceedings to degenerate into melodrama. The film opens with the lead pair on motorboat, and the hero developing visions of past life.

Here, however, instead of collapsing, he merely lets out a scream and lo! The past unfold before him. The film moves in flashback as the man fresh out of college with his wife, realises he was a poor boatman who used to ferry a rich educated woman in previous birth.

Importantly, earlier he used to row the boat with his paddle, now he finds himself in a motorboat. Back then he was poor, she was a landlord’s daughter who had to marry some one else only to come back to the village as a widow!

Simplicity and elegance

A bit predictable story but the film holds interest thanks to Rao, who invests a lot of attention to even smaller characters, particularly those played by Deven Verma, as Nutan’s suitor, and Jamuna as Gauri, the girl who knows no left feet when it comes to dance! Notably, the film’s costumes were designed by Bhanu Athaiya.

Bhanu did a fine job with Nutan’s sari, reserving a combination of simplicity and elegance for the lead actress, using the sleeves and the pleats to utilise the height of the leading lady.

Similarly, P.L. Rai’s camera work is splendid. In moments of silence, the film comes alive. Many of the frames are worth being captured on still camera for your study!

Much like the film that is worthy of a trip down memory lane even today. For its songs, its cinematography, its subtlety of treatment. And a lead pair perfectly at ease with their screen milan.

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