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 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 super hits.
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. What remains unexplained is the reason for this move, which she makes alone, and without much baggage. 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.
What works for the film is its music, composed by Laxmikant Pyarelal to lyrics penned by Rajinder Kishan. Especially, “Rootha Hai toh Manna lenge” sung by Lata Mangeshkar and “Daal Roti Khao Prabhu Ke Gun Gaao” sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar retain their freshness till date.
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 being Billo (Dharmendra), who runs an eatery which was bequeathed to him by his foster parents, along with three daughters who are born after Billo comes into their life. Billo 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, Rajendranath, Shammi) and a devious advocate, Ramesh Khanna (Sujit Kumar). This coterie is always conspiring to grab Seth Durgadas’s wealth by any means possible.
One day, Gayatri (Saira Banu), comes into Billo’s life, and the two fall in love. Gayatri gets employment with Seth Durgadas. Billo and Durgadas come face-to-face when Billo goes to the latter’s mansion looking for Gayatri. Billo 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 Billo about his mental distress due to the unsuccessful search for his lost grandson.
Gayatri, who knows both Durgadas and Billo, on seeing an old photograph realizes that in fact Billo is 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 Billo. Being compassionate and generous to the core, Billo 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 Billo from the scene, they devise a plan to separate him from Gayatri, and get him arrested on false charges of being mentally disturbed. Thereon follows a few mandatory action sequences and the matter lands up in court, where the dénouement is enacted.
The film has a myriad support cast in key roles. While Nasir Hussain enacts his part with practised ease, Jeevan, as the cunning and scheming villain is adequately competent, with his trademark drawl in place. Shammi, true to form, overacts and is very irritating – the role could have been performed with more finesse by somebody more competent, like Nadira or Lalita Pawar. Rajendranath impresses in his well-established buffoon act and Sujit Kumar is passable as the mean advocate.
The film gives a peek into Bombay, which was then a city with minimum traffic on its roads and hardly any crowd. As for the sets, they are quite tacky, showing the art director’s inefficiency, which, even the competent cinematography of P.L. Rai is not able to hide.
The film, 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 being sordid fatsos who gorge on food and poor people’s deprivation. Certainly, makers of the film thought of capitalism being a cuss word and scarcity a virtue. How the country and its people have changed over the years is worth giving a thought to.