Monday, March 8, 2010

Let's Break Out the Booze and Have a Ball

In her final film, Raat Aur Din (1967), Nargis suffers from a multiple personality disorder that manifests itself in drinking, dancing, and listening to records late at night. In other words, behaving exactly like I did in my younger days. Unlike some of us, though, she looks absolutely stunning while doing it. Flirty Western decadence certainly suited her, or maybe it's partly those beautiful mid-'60s dresses. Or the fact that I last saw her in Mother India, which was not a role noted for its glamour.

Pratap Varma (Pradeep Kumar) meets quiet, well-mannered, but intriguingly self-sufficient Varuna in the isolated countryside where his car breaks down.

They immediately hit if off, and quickly get married, without even stopping to check their horoscopes. Before long, Varuna is suffering from headaches, and there are strange episodes in the night when she walks, laughs, and -- most scandalous -- turns on the record player and dances wildly. In the morning, she doesn't remember any of these incidents, which nobody really seems to believe.

Her mother-in-law (crabby and cruel even by filmi standards) brings in a spooky-faced psychic to drive the bhoot out of her; Varuna slaps him, then bursts into giggles. I believe that last part is pretty much how I would react to the same situation! After this, the couple moves to Calcutta, and her condition worsens when an older woman at a party tricks her into drinking liquor for the first time. Alcohol makes the straight-laced Varuna bright and lively, and she sings one of the film's many lovely, lovely songs by Shanker-Jaikishan, this one about enjoying the moment.

Before long, she's sneaking out at night to a club, where she meets handsome young Feroz Khan, who's sure he's met her before. Her husband shows up and scenes ensue, but instead of shooting her for cheating, like he wants to, he decides to bring her to a psychiatrist. They discover that Varuna has a second personality, a party girl named Peggy, and neither knows about the existence of the other. In order to cure her, the two men and her doctors need to unravel the mysteries of the past that she won't, or can't, talk about.

As a Decadent Midwestern Woman myself, I thought in the beginning that we were headed for a condemnation of corrupting modern values, what with Peggy's drinking, smoking, and forwardness being the symptoms of her troubled mind. Not to mention the Everly Brothers and "La Bamba" appearing on the soundtrack. I did notice, however, that we get to see a lot of chic people having a good time without the benefit of mental illness, so that gave me hope.

In the end --without giving too much away -- it was quite refreshing that the source of her problems turned out to be much the opposite, and that the desire of people to have fun, occasionally free of social constraints, is shown as perfectly normal. The scene in which Peggy tries to entice one of her doctors (Rock Dancer's Anoop Kumar as a young man!) to take her out somewhere "Where there is music! Where there is dancing! Where there is life!" sure sounds like the cry of someone who grew up in a stifling small town to me.

On a personal note, I love a glitch in the opening moments of the film, where we see a very sophisticated-looking Peggy hailing a cab. When it gets there, she languidly says "Firpo." That would be the Firpo Restaurant and Hotel in Calcutta, thanked in the opening credits. The subtitles, however, tell us this:

But rest assured, it's a classy joint, with nary a disco ball or a proto-Mithun in sight.

5 comments:

Beth said...

I cannot keep up with all the fabulous things you are posting! This sounds groovy AND progressive! I hope netflix has it!

Also: Decadent Midwestern Women unite!

ajnabi said...

Gah! Netflix doesn't have it. :-( I think I might have to buy this one sight unseen in order to feed my Nargis love.

Anarchivist said...

Sorry, yaar, no Netflix. Someone's blog -- Dusted Off, perhaps? -- cautioned against the Moser Baer edition, but that's all I could find at the time. I like this movie so much, I'd buy it again, just to make sure I've got the whole thing intact!

memsaab said...

I love this film (although the print is just awful)...

Did you see our pal Ted and the lovely Laxmi Chhaya? Such a great song...well worth buying at least once :D

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