Starring Meena Kumari, Raj Kapoor, Om Prakash, Shyama
Much before the Bombay (sorry...Mumbai) film industry realised the engaging potential of family tear jerkers, the Madras (ouch...Chennai) moviemakers had perfected the formula for spiralling box office returns. One could bet without fail that if it was a Hindi film from South India, it would drive hordes, especially womenfolk, sniffing into their handkerchiefs. No wonder, veteran distributors calculated film fortunes by tears shed by female fans — greater the volume, larger the success!
Despite tear dripping frames, most southern movies of yesteryear clicked within the Hindi heartland because of their socially relevant messages, and even when some did tax their patience, the audiences clung to them with unwavering loyalty since they fortified their faith in divine justice of good winning over evil.
Even then “Sharda” was a pretty daring film story for its time, and it speaks volumes about the audiences' maturity, as well as L.V. Prasad's bravado that he presented the beloved heroine as the hero's stepmother in his first directorial foray in Bollywood! The gamble was hugely rewarded at the box office, reaffirming the maxim that only unskilled craftsmen blame audiences and not artists adept at the art of storytelling.
The film revolves round the love story of Shekhar (Raj Kapoor) and Sharda (Meena Kumari) who meet at a naturopathy centre where Shekhar brings his friend Mohan (Om Prakash) for a cure for alcoholism. Sharda's saintly devotion to patients as naturopathy practitioner makes her everyone's favourite and Shekhar too loses his heart to her innocent charms. Their vows of undying love are interrupted by Shekhar's cultural tour to China, but not before he promises to marry her after his return. Unfortunately, his aircraft crashes and the tragic news about no survivors, adversely impacts his father Kashiram (Raj Mehra); a rich yet sick widower with three other children (one of whom is a crippled girl). In a tragic twist of fate, a devastated Sharda is sent to look after Kashiram and remains oblivious of the fact that she is serving Shekhar's kith and kin — since the doctors banish all of Shekhar's photographs from the house so as not to aggravate Kashiram's heartache. Sharda not only nurses the old man to good health but also develops kinship with his kids, and when her father (a loyal servant of Kashiram) pleads with her to marry Kashiram for the children's sake, she accepts it as fait accompli.
Soon after, Shekhar returns home to the horrible reality of having his beloved as his stepmother, and the revelation turns him into an alcoholic. But on learning the bitter truth, he accepts Sharda as his godmother and marries his classmate Chanchal (Shyama) on her insistence. Unfortunately, a friend poisons Chanchal's mind against the pious mother-son relationship, and the resultant showdown with her husband leads to Shekhar abandoning home and family. After several strenuous efforts, though Sharda is able to bring back an ailing Shekhar and also nurse him to normal health, the excessive grind takes her life.
Despite an unusual story, clever direction and an exquisite performance by the versatile Meena Kumari, “Sharda” abounds in mindless sequences of hackneyed comedy, spoiling the serious mood of the film. Nevertheless, it is well served by Shivaji Awdhut's editing (Filmfare Award winner) and competent performances by Raj Mehra and Shyama, both of whom won Filmfare's Supporting Actor/Actress awards. Surprisingly, Raj Kapoor does little of note to add to his overwhelming stature.
Though the film boasts an evergreen duet “O Chand Jahan Wo Jaayein” by Lata and Asha, wherein it is difficult to pronounce who is better since they both sing equally well, the rest of the musical score by C. Ramchandra is a huge letdown. Rajendra Krishan's lyrics, unlike his meticulous standards, are below par, as also the screenplay by Inder Raj Anand. However, even with all these constraints, Prasad scored a bull's eye, portending his giant stature.