Film: Mr and Mrs 55
Director: Guru Dutt
Cast: Guru Dutt, Madhubala, Lalita Pawar, Johnny Walker
Music: OP Nayyar
Anita (Madhubala) is dealing with the worst crisis of her 20-year-old life. Stifled by her overbearing feminist aunt Sita Devi (Lalita Pawar), she can’t wait to get hold of the Rs 70 lakhs that her father has left for her. Daddy’s will comes with a rider: Anita has to marry within a month, else her inheritance will go to charity. Anita fancies herself in love with a tennis player Ramesh, who barely tolerates her. Enter Preetam (Guru Dutt), a talented jobless cartoonist. Sita Devi decides to hire him as her niece’s husband-on-demand, based on certain conditions. Preetam, who is already smitten by Anita, agrees. Mr and Mrs 55 is their love story.
The film rides on Madhubala’s impish charm and breezy comic timing, Johnny Walker’s one-liners, OP Nayyar’s evergreen music and Dutt’s lyrical direction, replete with long tracking shots, close-ups and cinematographer VK Murthy’s exquisite shadow-and-light framing. Dutt, the actor, almost didn’t make it in the film. After a lukewarm reception to his star turn in Baaz and Aar Paar, he was reluctant to star in this film. In Guru Dutt: A Life in Cinema, production controller Guruswamy tells author Nasreen Munni Kabir that Dutt imagined Sunil Dutt in the role of Preetam. At the last moment, he changed his mind.
Mr and Mrs 55 was Dutt’s fifth film as a director and regarded by many as a precursor to Pyaasa. Loosely inspired by writer Abrar Alvi’s play Modern Marriage, Dutt fashioned his movie as a satire on the Western influence on the post-Independence Indian elite. The premise of the film is based on the “Divorce Bill” that Sita Devi is fighting for. This is a nod to the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 — the year the film released — which also gave us the film’s title. In the film, Dutt makes a plea for the importance of dwindling Indian values. For all the South Bombay vibe of the film — we have Madhubala, flaunting pigtails and umbrellas, dancing to Thandi hawa kali ghata in and around a swimming pool — the film turns her into an aadarsh Bhartiya nari who can only find happiness with her husband. The poster was also designed in two parts — the first showed the hero buckling the heroine’s shoe, who is clad in Western attire, and in the second part, she is in a sari touching the hero’s feet.
Mr and Mrs 55 is a great ride till the time the film doesn’t go all sanskari. Alvi’s dialogues are the star of the narrative. The banter is funny, life-like and refreshingly non-filmi. Sita Devi sees Preetam’s work (RK Laxman made all the cartoons for the film), and asks him, “Tum communist ho?” His reply: “Ji nahin…cartoonist.” Preetam and Anita share a delightful conversation about love. She: “Tumne kabhi kisi se mohabbat ki hai?” He: “Kuch dino se yeh rog mujhe bhi lag gaya hai.” She: “Mat lagne do… bahut buri hoti hai yeh dil ki lagi.” He: “Hota kya hai?” She: “Bhook nahi lagti aur log zabardasti khaana khila dete hain.”
I particularly love the little exchange between Johnny Walker (who plays Dutt’s friend) and Yasmin just before the song Jaane kahan mera jigar, shot in an office space. Johnny is looking for something in the files, Yasmin asks him: “Kya dhoond rahe ho?” He says, “Jo kho gaya hai.” She: “Kya kho gaya hai?” He: “Jo dhoond raha hoon.”
Then there is OP Nayyar’s music and Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics (The latter seemed to have found a new favourite word, ulfat; it appears in at least three songs). Incidentally, Nayyar almost didn’t do the film because of his fight with Dutt over his pending dues for Baaz. In an interview, Nayyar said, “Guru owed me Rs 3,000 inspite of Baaz making money. I would not give up although he insisted he was broke. So, I approached KK Kapoor, the film’s distributor. We drove to Guru Dutt’s house in his sleek convertible. Kapoor kept me waiting in the car and went upstairs for what seemed an eternity. Then he came back with Guru. He had agreed to pay off the rest at Rs 1,000 per month. But there was a rider. I would have to compose for his next film too! That’s how I became the music director for Aar Paar and then Mr and Mrs 55.”
Musically, it is tough to pick out a favourite between Thandi hawa kali ghata, Chal diye banda nawaz, Jaane kahan mera jigar, Preetam aan milo (written by Saroj Mohini Nayyar), but my vote is for Udhar tum haseen ho. Geeta Dutt and Mohd Rafi give longing a new definition with this song. Dutt, of course, filmed the songs with beauty and inventiveness, the way only he could.