Starring Nutan, Amitabh Bachchan, Padma Khanna, Trilok Kapoor, Murad, Leela Mishra

Selected as India’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the 46th Oscar Academy Awards (though rejected), this film had an aging Nutan in one of her finest acts as Mahjubin, amply supported by a maturing Amitabh Bachchan as Motalef or Moti in a demanding role. And for once, Padma Khanna (generally wasted in vampish roles or preferred replacement for Helen, Bindu or Madhumati) in a performing role to which she did full justice, including in seductive expressions. It literally begins with the song “Har haseen cheese ka mein talabgar hoon” (Kishore Kumar) that gives an insight into the hero’s personality. The 131-minute film tells the story of Moti, the sharpest lungi-kurta clad date palm juice extractor — his hairstyle, however, does not jell with his otherwise appropriate demeanour. He sells the date palm juice as jaggery at the village market during winter, after it has been cooked to fine quality by Mahjubin, a poor widow. He is also on the lookout for a bride but does not have the means for meher — the amount to be kept aside for the bride before the marriage can be solemnised.

While on his round one day, he comes across the seductive by Phulbano (Padma Khanna), and flips for her, though the attraction is mutual. He approaches her father, Sheikh sahib (Murad) who demands Rs.500 as meher money. Unable to raise the amount, he proposes marriage to Mahjubin, who, ignorant of Moti’s intentions, reluctantly accepts the proposal and locking up her house shifts to his home. She now works round the clock to make more jaggery as Moti brings more juice. His financial goal achieved, he accuses her of infidelity, and divorcing her marries Phulbano, who is ignorant of the fine art of jaggery making Eventually, under pressure from village society, Mahjubin agrees to marry an old widower, Nadir (Trilok Kapoor) to look after his children.

Among the highlights is the scene where Mahjubin lashes out at Moti in the presence of Nadir for his fabricated allegations. There are many good scenes where Amitabh’s latent talent comes to light, but there are three outright scoring scenes: When he is humiliated in the market place over the poor quality of his jaggery, and competitors make fun of him; the scene where he reprimands Phulbano about the jaggery; when in sheer anger and frustration at the quality of his jaggery he hurls stones at the pots he has hung on the trees to collect juice. When he returns home and Phulbano enquires about the juice, he tells her for him the season is over, and she departs despondently for her parental house, leaving a brooding Moti behind. When she finds him first coming in her direction the smile returns to her lips. However, when he moves towards Mahjubin’s house, she follows him. The narrative ends on an inconclusive note, though not without a somewhat positive dialogue: “No, the fire hasn’t been extinguished as yet” — thus leaving it for the viewer to speculate on one of the three possible ends as Phulbano and Mahjubin are locked in an embrace.

All the songs written and set to music by Ravindra Jain are effective: “Champa nahin chameli nahin main gainda nahin”; “Dhoop ho chhaya ho tera mera saath rahe” (Lata Mangeshkar) “Sajna hai mujhe sajna ke liye”, “Kyon laayo sajna paan mere hooth to yuh hi laal” (Asha Bhosle), “Door hai kinara” (Manna Dey), “Husn hai ya koi”.

A Rajshri production by Tarachand Barjatya from a story “Ras” by Narendranath Mitra, scripted by art director-turned director Sudhendu Roy, who except for some loose ends handles the film deftly, with dialogue by P.L. Santoshi (father of Raj Kumar Santoshi), cinematography by Dilip Ranjan Mukhopadhyay, the 131-minute narrative is edited by Mukhtar Ahmad with choreography by Satyanarayan. Made at a modest cost of Rs.7.50 lakhs, it could only muster a business of Rs.5 lakhs.

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