Starring Rajendra Kumar, Sharmila Tagore, Balraj Sahni, O.P. Ralhan, Sajjan

If the present generation of audience feels that the phenomenon of good music being used to salvage a film from the clutches of mediocrity is a new idea, they need to revisit “Talash”, produced and directed by the mercurial filmmaker O.P. Ralhan. The film was a success, despite two entirely different tracks in the story that harm the narrative, hurtling it into an abyss from where it was retrieved only by outstanding music composed by S.D. Burman, assisted by his son, the redoubtable R.D. Burman, set to lyrics penned by none other than the genius, Majrooh Sultanpuri.

The songs present one of the few redeemable features in the film and retain their lure to this day. The charge is led by S.D. Burman, who sings a mandatory number in his trademark soulful voice “Meri Duniya Hai Ma”. On hearing Manna Dey weave magic with the haunting “Tere Naina Talash Karein”, one rues that the maestro's potential was never exploited fully in Bollywood and he was restricted to niche genres. Equally riveting are the Lata Mangeshkar-Mohammed Rafi duets, “Aaj ki junili raat maa” and “Palkon ke peechhe se”, and the Lata solos “Kitni Akeli Kitni Tanha” and “Khai Hai Re Hamne Kasam”.

The film, stretching to 175 minutes, could have been a 90 minute taut thriller had Ralhan not fallen into a narcissistic trap of grabbing screen space with the lead pair of Rajendra ‘Jubilee' Kumar – as Raj Kumar, a student who graduates through the hard labour of his widowed mother and a fresh faced Sharmila Tagore. Raj Kumar is oblivious of his mother's travails, who hides her pecuniary and sacrifice from her son, lest it divert him from his studies. One day, Raj Kumar accidentally learns of his mother's sacrifice, which ignites in him a will to become rich. But fate has other ideas, as he gets the job of a clerk in a company owned by a strict disciplinarian, Ranjit Rai, played with accustomed ease and grace by Balraj Sahni.

Frustrated, Raj Kumar thinks of quitting, but decides to hold back and change his work style after a pep talk from his buddy, Lachchu (Ralhan as an overgrown Sindhi boy who graduates from college after seven failed attempts). Thereon, Raj Kumar slogs and is promoted by Ranjit Rai, who allows him to go for a well deserved holiday, where he is accompanied by Lachchu, who wants to marry a club dancer Rita (Helen). On this sojourn, Raj Kumar's life is saved after a freak horse riding accident by an attractive mountain girl, Gauri (Sharmila Tagore), which, rather predictably, leads to blossoming of love, against some enchanting backdrop. Gauri's father (played by Sapru) approves of the alliance, but Raj Kumar insists that he will marry Gauri only after seeking the blessings of his mother. But, on returning to Bombay (as Mumbai was then called) and being made a business partner by Ranjit, he comes face to face with his westernised daughter, Madhu, who resembles Gauri. From here on, it is Raj's moral dilemma, on whether he should uphold the promise he made to Gauri, and risk loosing his hard earned status or wed her look-alike, Madhu and retain the riches he had accumulated.

Mystery in the background

So far so good. But this narrative is repeatedly trampled on and thrown off course as Lachchu delves into the reason of being spurned by Rita whom he wants to marry desperately. The mystery lies in the background of Rita's alcoholic father (Sajjan as Albert) who is conned into believing that he has committed a murder by his friends, John (Jeevan) and Peter (Madan Puri). A better part of the story is wasted on bringing an end to this rigmarole. Of the cast, Rajendra Kumar shows that one can not only survive, but thrive in Bollywood, without having oodles of talent. He hardly looks a college student, and his histrionics do not go beyond a few standard expressions, minimum voice modulation and body movements that are wooden and stilted. However, he gave so many hits in his career that he was rechristened Jubilee Kumar. Sharmila Tagore exudes glamour, especially as Madhu, for which she wears blue contacts and auburn hair colour. Helen, with her electrifying dances is an institution, an icon, who can impart a lesson or two to present day ‘item number' people, on how to set the screen afire with grace. Whether donning bizarre costumes, with protruding tail feathers and garish hairstyle or in mini-skirts, she never looks vulgar. It is tragic that her acting prowess went largely underutilised, as in “Talash”, where she had a major role, beside the mandatory dances. Her performance was undermined by the strange accent in which she had to speak, a funny stereotype for Christian characters in Hindi films. Ralhan does show panache and enthusiasm in his acting skills, which should have ensured an oeuvre of work more than what he was able to achieve in his limited film career. The film boasts a formidable array of veteran ‘character' actors, of the likes of Jeevan, Madan Puri and Nadira, but all are wasted in half baked roles. One can only search/ Talash for meaning in this film. Of course, we have music to fall back on!

APS MALHOTRA

Hearing Manna Dey weave magic with “Tere Naina Talash Karein”, one rues that the maestro's potential was never exploited fully in Bollywood