Starring Sunil Dutt, Saira Bano, Kishore Kumar, Om Prakash, Mehmood.

The title “Padosan” (girl next-door) brings a smile to every face. Produced by Mahmood Ali and N.C. Sippy, the film is one of the best entertainers of all times. Director Jyoti Swaroop, who had limited success with films like “Bin Badal Barsaat”, “Parwana” etc., was at his brilliant best in this film. Rajinder Kishan, better known as a lyricist and dialogue writer, penned the screenplay. R.D. Burman's hit music gave us all-time great songs like “Mere Samne Wali Khidki Mein” (Kishore Kumar) and “Ek Chatur Naar Karke Singaar” (Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar) not to forget “Main Chali Main Chali”, “Sharm Aati Hai Magar”, “Bhai Batur” (all Lata Mangeshkar), “Bindu Re Bindu” and “Kahna Hai Tumse Ye Pahli Baar” (both Kishore Kumar).

“Padosan” is based on a Bengali story, ‘Pasher bari' (next-door neighbour) written by Arun Chowdhury and adapted in Bengali in 1952, in Telugu as “Pakkinti Ammayi” in 1953, in Tamil as “Adutta Veetu Penn” in 1960 and again in Telugu as “Pakkinti Ammayi” in 1981. The Hindi film was made in 1968.

When unworldly-wise Bhola (Sunil Dutt) realises that he is of marriageable age, he comes to the city to live with his maami (aunt Dulari) who is separated from her aging, feudalistic, thakur husband (Om Prakash). He is pleasantly surprised to find that maami's padosan (neighbour) is a bubbly, beautiful, college student, Bindu (Saira Bano). He sets his heart on her and decides to woo her. When he sees that she is deeply interested in music and is taking lessons from a Tamil teacher, Master Pillai (Mehmood), he seeks the help of his friend Vidyapati (Kishore Kumar), an accomplished singer and a romantic at heart, who heads a local drama troupe.

The ruse

Vidyapati tries to train an unmusical Bhola in the basic nuances of music but when he fails, he decides to make Bhola lip-sync to his singing in the background. The ruse continues for a while and Bindu starts getting attracted to Bhola's ‘golden voice and golden heart'. However the charade doesn't last long and Bhola and Vidyapati get caught on the eve of Bindu's wedding to Bhola.

An enraged Bindu breaks the wedding and threatens to marry the thakur, but ultimately gives consent to Master Pillai. Bhola cannot digest the turn of events and literally falls at Vidyapati's feet to stop the wedding. The dramatists cook up another sequence of Bhola pretending to commit suicide, finally evincing from Bindu her love for him.

The story, set in a middle-class milieu, is not only about Bindu and Bhola. It's as much a tribute to folk theatre and folklore. For guru Vidyapati, life was a theatre and he seriously comes up with dramatic solutions for Bhola's problems. The manner in which “Mere Samne Wali Khidki Mein” is conducted is a spoof on Hindi background singing. In “Meri Pyari Bindu”, influenced by Bengal's traditional Baul music, Kishore Kumar's rendering and theatrics conjure up a world of drama rarely seen in commercial Hindi films

The film is also known for the behind-the-scenes rivalry in the song, “Ek Chatur Naar”, between Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar.

It is said that Manna Dey, a trained classical singer, did not like losing out to an ‘untrained' Kishore Kumar in this song and refused to dub the words, “yeh sur kahan gaya ji'' for Mehmood during the song, which were ultimately recorded in Mehmood's voice.

Om Prakash is miscast as a body-builder thakur who can be acceptable to a teenaged heroine when she stamps her foot and tells the hero, “Ab to main teri maami ban kar dikhaungi” (Now I will marry your uncle and become your aunt). With a flabby body, Om Prakash does not quite fit the bill although the veteran makes up with histrionics.

Rajinder Kishan's screenplay and D.H. Pai's editing are taut. All major actors have surpassed themselves in their performances yet “Padosan” is identified with Kishore Kumar.

His dhoti-clad appearance with hair parted at the centre, kohl-ed eyes, paan-stained lips, followed faithfully by his troupe members played by Mukri, Keshto Mukherjee and Raj Kishore, is enough to evoke laughter. The character is based on his real-life uncle, Dhananjay Banerjee, a classical singer.

Hats off to Mehmood as well. Even in a difficult role of a music teacher with a heavy Tamil accent, he does not allow a single scene to slip out of his hands. In the last scene when he plays the flute as Bindu and Bhola get married, he even manages to wet a few eyes.

With brilliant performances and enduring songs, “Padosan” can be watched any number of times. The film immortalises Kishore Kumar and Mehmood as master entertainers.