A. Subba Rao, veteran of Telugu cinema, made his foray into the Hindi film industry at a fairly late stage of his career. It was in the second half of the 1960s that he did the Sunil Dutt-Nutan starrer, Milan . He brought along his forte, the family drama genre, to Bollywood, which is on display in abundance in Jwar Bhata . The film brought Dharmendra and Saira Banu together after Ayee Milan Ki Bela and Aadmi Aur Insaan . They went on to work together in films like Pocket Maar and Resham Ki Dori , but their alchemy is not often discussed. While their chemistry was not exactly earth-shattering or something about which one can rave, it was not entirely dry either.
However, there was certainly a lacuna in the way the director handled Dharmendra, who, despite his calibre, is a bit lacklustre in parts. This is all the more glaring as Dharmendra was at the peak of his prowess at this stage of his career, with an impressive oeuvre to his credit, which included action and comedy superhits.
As for Saira Banu, she makes an earnest effort to portray the role of a nubile lass who moves from small-town Nasik to what was then Bombay. But despite giving a fairly decent performance, there remains an element of artificiality in the portrayal, which other actors could have handled with ease and spontaneity. This indeed reflected a chink in Saira Banu’s acting armoury.
The story is rather predictable.
It is about a wealthy mill owner of Bombay, Seth Durgadas (Nazir Hussain), who banishes his son from his life after he marries a girl from a poor family. The son dies, leaving behind an ailing wife and a son. After a few years, the wife also dies and the young boy is adopted by a childless couple. The boy grows up to become Billoo (Dharmendra), who runs an eatery which was bequeathed to him by his foster parents, along with three daughters who are born after Billoo comes into their life. Billoo is a large-hearted simpleton who helps anyone in distress, and dotes on his three sisters with the passion of a father.
Meanwhile, Seth Durgadas realises his mistake and starts searching for his grandson. Being a wealthy man, he is surrounded by unscrupulous relatives (Jeevan, Rajendra Nath, Shammi) and a devious advocate, Ramesh Khanna (Sujit Kumar). This coterie is always conspiring to grab Seth Durgadas’ wealth by any means possible.
One day, Gayatri (Saira Banu) comes into Billoo’s life, and the two fall in love. Gayatri gets employment with Seth Durgadas. Billoo and Durgadas come face-to-face when Billoo goes to the latter’s mansion looking for Gayatri. Billoo gives the beleaguered Durgadas a piece of his mind about the plight of workers toiling in his mill, even as he lives in a palatial house. The Seth pleads innocence, telling Billoo about his mental distress due to the unsuccessful search for his lost grandson.
Gayatri, who knows both Durgadas and Billoo, on seeing an old photograph, realises that Billo is in fact the lost grandson of Durgadas. She brings the two together in a happy reunion, which, unfortunately, is short-lived, as Durgadas succumbs to a heart attack, after bequeathing his wealth to Billoo. Being compassionate and generous to the core, Billoo brings changes in the working of the mill, in the form of monetary and other benefits for the workers, something which is detested by the coterie, who, anyway, are perturbed by their well-laid-out plans going down the drain.
In a final bid to ouster Seth Balraj aka Billoo from the scene, they devise a plan to separate him from Gayatri, and get him arrested on false charges of being mentally disturbed. Thereon follow a few mandatory action sequences and the matter lands up in court, where the dénouement is enacted.
What works for the film is its music, composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal to lyrics penned by Rajendra Krishan. Especially, ‘Rootha Hai Toh Mana Lenge’ sung by Lata Mangeshkar and ‘Daal Roti Khao Prabhu Ke Gun Gaao’ sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar, which retain their freshness till date.
The film, in keeping with the prevailing trend in Bollywood at that point in time, infuses substantial doses of the country’s political leanings into the narrative. There is an explicit thread in the story which tries to establish poverty as a virtue and most wealthy people as being sordid fatsos who gorge on food and poor people’s deprivation. Certainly, the makers of the film thought of capitalism as being a cuss word and scarcity a virtue. How the country and its people have changed over the years.