STARRING Ashok Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Mala Sinha, Shashikala

Y ou remember some movies for one scene, a lasting dialogue, a classic finish. Some movies stay with you forever, for a stellar performance by an individual, for a song. “Gumrah”, a movie, bold and racy, was ahead of its times, with Ravi's music playing a dominant role. It had stalwarts like Ashok Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Mala Sinha and Shashikala but it is Mahendra Kapoor's singing that continues to remind cinema lovers of “Gumrah”.

There was nothing exceptional about the storyline. A woman dies, leaving behind two children. Her sister makes a sacrifice, marries her brother-in-law to provide emotional security to the kids. So far so good! But she has a past that torments her. It leaves her personal life in a shambles before she recovers, in time, to look at life with a new perspective. It is this freedom which marks the happy culmination of a subject like adultery that B. R. Chopra handles with dexterity.

Chopra was known to make films that did not follow the familiar track of Hindi cinema. He could experiment, innovate, look at social issues in a pragmatic manner, offer solutions, but essentially create a debate that made his film-making a rare art. He was off-beat in his own way. One could look forward to a Chopra film with expectations. “Gumrah” may not have met the high standards that he set in preceding movies like “Naya Daur”, “Kanoon”, “Sadhana”, “Dharmputra” and subsequent offerings like “Insaaf Ka Tarazoo”, “Ek Hi Rastaa”, “Nikaah”, but it was a movie that gave a strong social message.

“Gumrah” dealt with a difficult subject. Meena (Mala Sinha) loves Rajendra (Sunil Dutt) but is forced to marry brother-in-law (Ashok Kumar) following the death in an accident of her sister (Nirupa Roy). Meena pledges to care for her sister's two children, leaves Nainital for Bombay. Her peaceful life, she manages to shut out her lover, is disturbed when she comes in contact with Rajendra. The artist-lover follows her to Bombay and they continue to meet secretly, before she is confronted by Leela, who claims to be Rajendra's wife.

Leela (Shashikala) blackmails Meena and things become tricky for the latter before the truth dawns. Leela happens to be Ashok's secretary. She is on a mission to reform Meena, who now has to choose between her love for Rajendra and duty towards attorney-husband Ashok. She treads the expected path and it all ends happily.

Ashok Kumar a misfit

In terms of performance, there is hardly a moment to gloat about. Ashok Kumar looks misfit when his father-in-law describes him a youngster. Ashok Kumar was 52 and he looked his age in the movie. Sunil Dutt, at 34, was dapper, when portraying the painter, with Mala Sinha as the stunning object, or at the piano, in that classic Mahendra Kapoor great “Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se Ajnabi Ban Jayen Hum Dono.” Kapoor won the Filmfare Award for this number and the song continues to remind old timers of “Gumrah ‘, which opens to a song sequence “In Hawaon Mein, In Fizaon Mein, Tujhko Mera Pyaar Pukare”, a melodious duet sung by Mahendra Kapoor and Asha Bhosale. Then there is that poignant “Aap Aaye To Khayal-e-Dil-e-Nashaad Aaya” where Kapoor is at his mellifluous best.

Mala Sinha, at 27, is outstanding as an actor showcasing two aspects of a lady torn between her lover and husband. Her role demands a controlled performance and she is flawless. She plays the lover with the same finesse that she brings to her portrayal of a dutiful wife. Shashikala, then 30, comes up with a professional show, very profound in her ability to say so much with minimal expressions. That she won the Filmfare Award for best supporting act was most deserving.

“Gumrah” was ahead of its times but timeless in the subject it dealt with. Only a B.R. Chopra could have had the courage to indulge in a movie that was so different from the mainstream cinema.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Mahendra Kapoor's singing continues to remind cinema lovers of “Gumrah”