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At the Saamne Wali Khidki

Bhola,Vidyapati and ek chatur naar. With the best comic talent of the ’60s,Padosan was a roaring success.

Bhola,Vidyapati and ek chatur naar. With the best comic talent of the ’60s,Padosan was a roaring success.

The credits tell you that it was “the first ambitious motion picture” of Mehmood Productions. But Padosan (1968) was really Mehmood’s dream— of making a film with the best comic talents of the country. Though the basic premise was inspired by Arun Chowdhury’s Bengali story Pasher Bari,Padosan is an original film—a screwball comedy with iconic characters,RD Burman’s evergreen music (for generations to come Mere saamne waali khidki mein will be what every man sings for the girl-next-door) and those sweet and spoofy comic touches that accord it the status of Indian cinema’s cult comic classic.

Directed by Jyoti Swaroop and written by Rajendra Krishnan,Padosan is the love story of a simpleton,Bhola (Sunil Dutt),who falls for his neighbour,Bindu (Saira Banu). Since music is the way to Bindu’s heart and Bhola can’t sing to save his life,he takes the help of his friend and guru,Vidyapati,and his troupe comprising Banarsi (Mukri),Calcuttiya (Keshto Mukherjee) and Lahori (Raj Kishore). Together,they plan a ruse to woo Bindu— Vidyapati (Kishore Kumar),sings in the background and Bhola just has to lipsync. But there is stiff competition in the form of Master Pillai (Mehmood),a trained Carnatic music teacher who is also in love with Bindu.

Saira Banu,who stood out in this all-male comic line-up,says,“Is film mein koi kissi se kum nahin tha. Shooting was a laugh riot. Everyone would improvise on the sets. There were so many retakes because someone or the other would end up laughing during the take.” Padosan’s casting is the film’s best calling card. Interestingly,RD Burman was Mehmood’s original choice for Bhola’s role. But R D had promised his father S D Burman that he will never act again after Bhoot Bangla.

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Sunil Dutt signed on happily as he wanted a break from his staple family socials,Khandan and Milan. As for Saira,it took a lot of persuasion and some intervention from Dilip Kumar to make it happen. “I had just got engaged to Dilip saab and was contemplating quitting movies. I expressed my regrets to both Mehmood bhai and Manoj Kumar for Padosan and Purab Aur Paschim. But they went to Dilip saab and sought his permission,” she says. Saira requested Mehmood to shift the shooting from Mumbai to Chennai so that she could spend time with Dilip saab who was shooting in the same city and the same studio. “Mehmood bhai used to joke that ‘overnight tumhara status badh gaya hai. Kal tak main tumhe beta kehta tha aur ab tumhe bhabhi kehna padega’,” she says. There’s a sweet story behind the pairing of Sunil Dutt and Saira too. When Saira’s first film,Junglee,had released,Dutt had sent a telegram to Saira (which she cherishes till date) saying,“You are an asset to Junglee and I’ve never seen such an innocent face.” Throughout the shoot of Padosan,Dutt would tease Saira and rib Mehmood “for making him a bangru when what he wanted to do was play Antony to my Cleopatra,” laughs Saira.

The mainstay of Padosan was Kishore with his dhoti-clad appearance,hair parted at the centre,kohl-lined eyes,paan-stained lips and perfect comic timing. He rejected the film initially,still smarting from the fact that Mehmood had been paid more than him in Pyaar Kiye Jaa (1966). Mehmood was adamant to get him on board and agreed to pay him double of what he had first offered.

Kishore based Vidyapati on his uncle,Dhananjay Banerjee,a classical singer. He didn’t just act or sing in the film,he conducted the proceedings around him. He turned the entire sequence of Meri pyari bindu,which was actually a scene into a song. He came up with the tune,polished the words and even choreographed it on the spot. With regards to the famous musical face-off number,Ek chatur naar,though it has been touted that Manna Dey refused to lose to Kishore,the reality was that he didn’t wish to lose to him in the classical song competition,since Manna Dey was a classically trained singer and Kishore wasn’t. Mehmood tried convincing Dey,but to no avail. Ultimately Kishore took matters in his own hands and,on the spot,he changed the sargam and the context by adding his touches like “humm dhaam.. o tedhe seedhe ho jaa re” which took the classical song to a different level.

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Padosan remains Mehmood’s dream. His own performance was flawless. Saira remembers the day on the shoot when Mehmood went bald for the part. “As the barber went about snipping his wavy locks,Mehmood bhai had tears streaming down his face. Even I started to cry. That’s how dedicated he was to his craft,” says Saira. No surprises then,Mehmood’s dream is our treasure.

harneet.singh@expressindia.com

First published on: 24-10-2010 at 03:52:29 pm
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