Return ticket: The Girl Upstairs

Paying Guest raises the question of money versus love, but is essentially a romance.

Written by Harneet Singh | Updated: April 12, 2014 11:33 pm
Evergreen Dev Anand and Nutan in Paying Guest. Evergreen Dev Anand and Nutan in Paying Guest.

Meet our dashing, smooth-talking, “BA LLB paas” Ramesh Kumar (Dev Anand), who can neither win cases nor pay his rent. Finally, when he gets a roof over his head, the ceiling starts to shake. Literally. Because this is when he meets our heroine Shanti (Nutan), who is the quintessential girl next door, only in this instance, she is the girl upstairs.

It’s a patented Nasir Hussain (he wrote the screenplay and dialogues) “cute meet”. She is dancing upstairs, Ramesh is getting distracted and he thinks it’s some “kali si moti bhains type ki ladki mere sarr ke upar kood rahi hai”. When Nutan sees him, she uses those three words that every heroine did in the ’50s — “badmash, gunda, lafanga”. Our hero shoots back, “Ji woh teeno yahan nahin rehte.” Toldja he is a smooth talker. Then comes the “Aye Mister” moment, when Shanti warns him, “Yeh shareefon ka mohalla hai… yahan lafangapan kiya toh dhakke de kar nikaale jaoge.” Ramesh nee Dev Anand smiles and asks, “Kaun dega dhakka?” She says, “Main doongi.” He sighs, and says, “Subhanallah… shuru kijiye.”

Of course, this was the beginning of a great love story. Subodh Mukherjee directs Dev and Nutan in Paying Guest and pretty much lets them drive the narrative. Dev and Nutan play off so well against each other (you can also watch Tere Ghar Ke Saamne for a confirmation) that when they are on screen, you don’t need anything else. While there is a family drama saga and a money-versus-love conflict between Shubha Khote’s character and Nutan, the takeaway of Paying Guest is romance. With his mischievous smile and his laidback and easy charm, Dev plays the lover boy to the hilt. Riding a cycle attired in a sherwani, when he sings, Toota foota dil yeh hamara, jaisa bhi hai ab hai tumhara, how can any girl say no? Nutan is a perfect foil to him and the camera just loves her. In my opinion, nobody did justice to a close-up shot like Nutan, she just fills the screen with her luminous face. Just watch her in O nigaahen mastana and see the way she lights up the frame. The prelude to the song is also a nod to the easy romantic chemistry between the leads. They are on a set, looking at a fake moon but when Dev and Nutan look into each other’s eyes, they totally sell the fake moon. She says, “Kitni haseen hai yeh raat.” He says, “Thi toh nahin… ban gayi.” She asks, “Kaise?” He says, “Tum muskuraiyi… mooh pe dupatta liya aur raat haseen ho gayi.” The impact was for keeps, which is why, in his autobiography, Romancing With Life, while describing O nigaahen mastana, Dev saab writes, “The audience had swooned over both of us, as I had on Nutan!”

The swoon factor was also a lot to do with Hussain’s zingy dialogues and the melodious musical foundation laid by the superhit quartet of SD Burman-Majrooh Sultanpuri-Kishore Kumar-Asha Bhosle. It was quite a year for Dada Burman who had three big musical hits — Nau Do Gyaraah, Paying Guest and Pyaasa. While Pyaasa is one for eternity (both film and music), in the case of Paying Guest, it’s the music and the lead actors that make it evergreen. Even though the second half of the film veers towards a whodunit and courtroom drama track (there are two murders in this romcom, by the way), the music doesn’t let the film ever get heavy. Even the one-off sad song Chand phir nikla (Lata Mangeshkar in sublime form) is more bluesy than melodramatic. Perhaps, the best-known song of the album is Chhodh do aanchal, which became quite the youth anthem. In the book, SD Burman: The World of His Music, writer Khagesh Dev Burman narrates the story that Dada Burman asked Asha Bhosle to begin with the “ah” that raises the playfulness quotient of the song to a zillion and “told her to envisage as if somebody is pulling at her sari”. The playful vibe is sharpened in O nigaahen mastana, where Bhosle was asked to just hum at critical points, while Kishore Kumar tells the story of the song, but it’s the mix of Kishore’s vocals and humming that makes the song what it is.

Paying Guest was also the first association of Hussain and Sultanpuri. At an event, Sultanpuri narrated how he got the film. It happened when he met Burman at Filmistan Studios, who asked him to write the lyrics right away for Paying Guest. When Sultanpuri got to know that the hero is a lawyer, he wrote a thoughtful and sober song, which director Mukherjee didn’t like. More drafts followed but the director wasn’t happy, so he asked the lyricist to see the scene first and then write the song. The moment he saw the scene, where Dev approaches Nutan and starts to tease her, the lyricist blurted out, “You said he was a lawyer? He acts more like a loafer!” Sultanpuri finally got it and wrote Maana janaab ne pukaara nahin.

For the film’s hero, Paying Guest remained the most special film because it was while he was shooting for it that he got the news of his son Suniel’s birth in Switzerland. “I was enacting a drunken scene when the news arrived. I was in such high spirits that I gave a brilliant shot, probably my best in the film,” writes Dev saab in his autobiography.

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