If there were a phrase with which one could describe “Khilona”, the most apt would be “a glorious victory for the underdog”. The protagonists, essayed by Sanjeev Kumar, Mumtaz and Shatrughhan Sinha, gave the three actors a chance to showcase their ample calibre and histrionic depth like never before. Thus, Sanjeev Kumar, a stage artist, who, despite being one of the most powerful actors to have graced Indian — and not just Hindi — cinema, had to wait for more than a decade to make his mark in “Khilona”. As a jinxed poet who loses his mental balance on seeing his beloved fall to her death after being married fraudulently to another man, he is splendid.

He effortlessly portrays the role of Vijaykamal, the younger scion of a rich Thakur family. The man displays remarkable restraint; a role in which a lesser actor could have easily gone overboard or been reduced to a caricature. Sadly, despite being such a fine actor, and having tasted commercial success, he could never become ‘star’, though he remains in the league of masters like Kamal Hassan, Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah.

Equally riveting is the performance of Mumtaz, who had risen from the ranks to make a mark in “Do Raaste” just a year before “Khilona” was released. The pivotal role of a khilona, won her the Filmfare Best Actress Award. As Chand, a dancing girl in a brothel, she gets under the skin of the character. Unfortunately, her pairing with Sanjeev Kumar got overshadowed by the stupendous success she garnered with Rajesh Khanna, although the two complement each other quite well.

The story of the film picks up when Chand is approached by Vijaykamal’s father, Thakur Suraj Singh (Bipin Gupta) to tie the knot with his mentally unstable son, in a bid to get him cured. In this endeavour he acts against the wishes of his wife (Durga Khote) and elder son, Kishore (Ramesh Deo), who is keen to have his younger brother sent to a mental asylum. However, on the day the wedding is planned, Vijaykamal slips into a violent rage, is controlled by his family with great difficulty and locked in his room.

This induces pathos in Chand’s heart, who comes to know the reason behind the state of Vijaykamal’s health from the family servant. She also learns that the villain is none other than Bihari (Shatrughan Sinha — showing glimpses of the characteristics that were to become his trademark in later years, though as a gawky newcomer, his acting in a negative role is average). Bihari visits her regularly at the brothel and openly aspires for her. Determined, she begins her ‘act’ in right earnest and her efforts begin to have an impact on Vijaykamal. However, in a fit of madness Vijaykamal sexually assaults Chand who is still unwavering in her resolve to save the family honour by preventing Radha (Vijaykamal’s sister) from eloping with Bihari, who has entangled her in a web of dreams. She also becomes the woman with whom Vijaykamal’s younger brother, Mohan (a handsome and lean Jeetendra in an important cameo) falls in love, and even expresses his feelings. But he withdraws on being told by Chand that she is pregnant with Vijaykamal’s child.

In her effort to save Radha from falling into Bihari’s trap, Chand is cornered by an incensed Bihari, prompting Vijaykamal to intervene. During the unseemly brawl, Bihari falls to his death in almost the same way as Sapna (Vijaykamal’s first love). A shocked Vijaykamal regains his sanity, but fails to recognise Chand or acknowledge the sacrifices made by her.

From here the narrative moves through a family drama till everything falls in place, with Chand’s honour being restored, as it comes forth that she was actually born in a ‘good’ family but was whisked away by a tawaif who raised her as her own daughter.

The film had first-rate music, with some blockbuster songs, including “Sanam Tu Bewafa ke naam se”, sung by Lata Mangeshkar, and the two Rafi numbers, “Khush Rahe Tu Sada” and “Khilona Jaankar Tum”. These reinforced Rafi’s position, when his stint at the pinnacle was seriously challenged by Kishore Kumar who had become the voice of Dev Anand, and subsequently of Rajesh Khanna. Lyrics by Anand Bakshi, set to music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal, gave the film, which won the Filmfare Best Film Award for producer L.V. Prasad, a definite edge at the box-office.

Story and screenplay by Gulshan Nanda and direction by Chander Vohra are commendable, although, at times, acting by the otherwise excellent support cast seems theatrical.

Another sore point is the comedy track, in the form of Jagdeep, which gets tedious to watch. Had a few precious minutes been cut from the film by Shivaji Awdhut, the editor, the film could have been more taut. Same is the case with the dialogues, penned by Aghajani Kashmiri, which might seem clichéd to the present generation of cinegoers.

Khilona (1970)

Genre: Family drama

Director: Chander Vohra. Not a prolific director, Vohra went on to make two more family dramas: “Udhar Ka Sindoor” and “Mera Ghar Mere Bachche”

Cast: Sanjeev Kumar, Mumtaz, Shatrughan Sinha, Durga Khote, Bipin Gupta

Box office status: In a year dominated by Dev Anand’s crime caper “Johny Mera Naam” and Rajesh Khanna, who had as many as five releases in 1970, “Khilona” was rated as a hit.

Lasting value: The cloying melodrama is brought alive by the performance of Mumtaz and Sanjeev Kumar.

Trivia: Jeetendra played a vital cameo but was not credited in the film.