Rajendra Kumar, Vyjayantimala, Nasir Hussain, Shaminder, Leela Chitnis
“A as ka Panchhi”, Mohan Kumar's directorial debut, suffers from a fatal flaw because of his apparent inexperience and glaring creative inadequacies, which lead to a narrative that is inconsistent and stilted. His grip over the story is tenuous, as is his understanding of the medium and art of filmmaking — something that leads to “Aas ka Panchhi” being a big letdown despite having a sterling ‘star' pair of Rajendra ‘Jubilee' Kumar and Vyjayantimala in the lead.
Effervescence of childhood
The story, penned by Mohan Kumar himself, with dialogues by Rajinder Singh Bedi, offered a large-sized canvas on which he could have painted an interesting tale encompassing the effervescence of childhood, the fun of growing up, the blossoming of love, the pathos of separation and the fervour of nationalism. But, sadly, all is frittered away, leading to a rather tedious motion picture, made under the Filmyug banner — started by J. Om Prakash (reigning superstar Hrithik Roshan's maternal grandpa) with “Aas ka Panchhi”, which in later years gave some outstanding films that included “Aayya Sawan Jhoom Ke”, “Aandhi”, “Aasha” and “Aap ki Kasam”.
To be fair to Mohan Kumar, the story is interesting, if not outstanding. Rajan “Raju” Khanna harbours a childhood ambition to join the army, something that is opposed by his father, Nihalchand (Nasir Hussain), for no apparent reason, even as his classmates in school, Ramesh (a grown-up role essayed by a totally insipid and sleepwalking Shaminder) and Mangal (Sunder), want to become a doctor and halwai, respectively.
While in college, Rajan, a fun-loving prankster, falls in love with Neena Bakshi (Vyjayantimala), the daughter of Major Bakshi (Raj Mehra), who is his NCC commandant, and manages to vow her after many a failed attempt. When Rajan graduates with a ‘first class', Nihalchand gets him employed in the same firm where he is employed but Rajan reiterates his desire to join the military as an officer.
In the ensuing debate, Nihalchand suffers a heart attack, and Rajan reluctantly accepts the job where his half-hearted attitude leads to his being fired, whereby he hits the bottle in a big way, till Neena intervenes. With his father's passing away, Rajan enlists in the army, where he yearns for his sweetheart. When he returns upon finishing his training, he misunderstands that Neena is willingly getting engaged to a rich and handsome young doctor (none other than Ramesh). Disheartened, he goes to the battlefield, where he is assigned a daring mission to rescue a captured military officer from behind enemy lines. The finale, after a few laboured twists and turns, is predictable.
Rajendra Kumar, despite his limited histrionic prowess, does try to infuse verve, panache and pathos at various stages, but falls short as his efforts seem laboured. He was more of a star — who could give ‘jubilee' hits in a row — but even that had to be backed by a strong screenplay, good direction and formidable music score.
Even the otherwise powerhouse of talent, Vyjayantimala, with many a sterling performance under her belt, barely passes muster, despite the usual dance and song sequence to showcase her formidable prowess as an accomplished dancer thrown in.
It is hard to believe that the utterly lacklustre Rajendra Kumar and Vyjayantimala of “Aas ka Panchhi” could have given a power-packed performance under Raj Kapoor in “Sangam”, in which their restrained love smouldered the screen barely a few years later.
Dialogues by Bedi could have lifted the film out of the morass, but they are nothing but mediocre and insipid.
The comic interludes by Sunder are misplaced and abrupt and hinder the main plot from gathering adequate momentum or gravitas. The formidable cast of ‘character' actors — the ever dependable Nasir Hussain, Leela Chitnis, Shivraj and Mumtaz Begum — are not handled effectively, which makes their performance below par.
There are a plethora of songs — with lyrics by Shailender and Hasrat Jaipuri, set to music by Shanker Jaikishen — but most of them are forgettable, with the exception of the Mukesh-Lata Mangeshkar duet, “Tum roothi raho, main manaata rahon” as they are inserted into the storyline without much thought or sensitivity, with an eye on the box office.
Technically, the film, with cinematography by V. Baba Saheb, editing by Pratap Dave and art direction by Sudhendu Roy, is in sync with the times.