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Mera Saaya


Dinesh Raheja

After the astounding success of his black-and-white blood-curdler, Woh Kaun Thi [1964], Raj Khosla followed with Mera Saaya and Anita, making probably the only big-budget suspense trilogy in Hindi films. All three mystery films starred the enigmatic Sadhana in multiple roles.

Mera Saaya boasts of Sadhana's career-best performance and a memorable score by Madan Mohan.

CREDITS
Producer Director Music Director Stars
 Premji  Raj Khosla  Madan Mohan  Sunil Dutt,  Sadhana

A compelling conundrum, Mera Saaya, holds you vicelike from the first frame. The health of Geeta (Sadhana), wife of prosperous lawyer Thakur Rakesh Singh (Sunil Dutt), is precarious. The doctor sends an SOS to Thakur, who is pursuing his studies abroad. Thakur, who is besotted with his beautiful wife, rushes back, but Geeta dies in his arms.

The desolate Thakur is haunted by his wife's memories, encapsulated in the picturisation of the lilting Tu jahan jahan rahega mera saaya saath hoga. Thakur's burden of grief increases when an inspector informs him that a woman, who survived a police encounter with a dacoit's gang, is vociferously claiming to be his wife Geeta.

The nightmare escalates --- the woman does look exactly like Geeta!

There are traces of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, where James Stewart spots a resemblance to a dead woman in another. But here, the story takes its own course. The police identify the woman as Raina (Sadhana again), a wanton accomplice of Surya daku (Prem Chopra). A flashback of Raina dancing zestfully in a gypsy's garb to Jhumka gira re, establishes her as a witchy belle --- she stabs a villager before making good her escape.

Raina (or is it Geeta?) singles out Thakur as her husband in the inspection parade held at the police station.

A baffling court case ensues. The judge entrusts 'Geeta' with the onus of proving that she is Thakur's wife. And the visibly-frazzled Raina/Geeta comes up with details of her marital life that are irrefutable. "You have a mole on your back, you called me Giti affectionately, you were not a regular visitor to temples, you were superstitious when my mangalsutra [wedding necklace] snapped" --- the lady divulges a wealth of information, rendering Thakur, and the members of the court, speechless.

But Thakur remains staunchly sceptical. A battle of wits follows. Thakur suddenly recalls that Geeta confided her innermost secrets in her diary. He demands to know the whereabouts of her diary from Raina/Geeta but she fails to give a plausible answer. She loses her case, and, unfortunately, her mental balance, too.

On her return from the asylum, this mysterious lady walks into the Thakur's household in the middle of the night. When Thakur threatens to turn her over to the police, the lady finally reveals the dark secret that would explain it all.

The secret is best left unveiled here. All one would like to add here is that the ending, though a tad incredible, is gripping and imaginative.

Screenplay writer G R Kamath intelligently juxtaposes the courtroom drama with flashbacks of conjugal bliss. The husband-wife nok jhok [squabbles], is enhanced by some conversational yet engaging lines penned by Akhtar Ul Iman. They have an undeniable charm and will find easy identification, especially with newlyweds.

Khosla offers the audience a much-needed reprieve from the tense courtroom scenes with a rich haul of imaginatively-picturised songs shot outdoors in picturesque Udaipur. Thankfully, the imaginatively shot (a Khosla speciality), songs segue not from the courtroom, but appear in flashbacks when Dutt is alone at home.

Das Dhaimada's editing is fluid, making sense of the labyrinthine plot by interweaving the past and present dexterously. However, one wishes he was less lenient with the scissors when it came to Dhumal-Mukri's intrusive comic track.

Red herrings always lend an air of mystique to thrillers. And Khosla, a master of suspense, sprinkles them generously. A maidservant ambles off mysteriously for nightly jaunts while an old lady lets an imprisoned Sadhana peer at a note before she snatches it and chews it off, adding to the intrigue.

To Khosla's credit, he creates pungent scenes of tension, but refrains from resorting to voyeurism. When Sadhana decides to reveal certain intimate details to Sunil Dutt, the exchange takes place in a closed room, and the audience too is denied access to their muffled interaction.

Sadhana looks eye-catchingly beautiful even in simple saris in the courtroom sequences. She illuminates her twin characters' recklessness as well as the inner turmoil. Her breakdown scene in the courtroom --- she pretends to shoot all the lawyers, but refuses to gun down Thakur, pleading, "Inhe mat maro, inhe mat maro, yeh beqasoor hai [Do not shoot him, he is innocent]." --- gives one goose flesh.

Sunil Dutt makes an endearing husband and suffuses his romantic scenes with warmth. The Dutt-Sadhana chemistry contributes much to the film's appeal.

Sidelights:

* In the film's credit titles, when Sunil Dutt turns the pages of his wedding album, some of the photographs shown are from the real-life marriage of Sadhana and her director husband R K Nayyar. Sadhana had just married long-time love Nayyar on March 7, 1966.

* Sadhana was no great shakes as a dancer but Saroj, assistant to dance director Sohanlal in those days, encouraged Sadhana to put her best foot forward. They later became great friends.

* This was the second Sunil Dutt-Sadhana hit coming on the heels of Waqt [1965]. Strangely, the only films they worked in together thereafter was the long-delayed Gaban in the 1960s and Geeta Mera Naam in the 1970s. In the latter, the one-time hit pair played brother and sister!

Famous songs from Mera Saaya:
  Song  Singers
  Tu jahan jahan chalega  Lata Mangeshkar
  Nainon mein bhadra chhaye  Lata Mangeshkar
  Nainowali ne haaye mera dil  Lata Mangeshkar
  Aap ke pehloo mein aakar  Mohammed Rafi
  Jhoomka gira re  Asha Bhosle
The Music:

* Madan Mohan and Lata Mangeshkar's mutual admiration society is well-known; and in Mera Saaya too, they chiselled three scintillatingly tuned and sung songs. The music of the film was a major hit.

* In his next production, Anita, Raj Khosla surprised every one by signing on reigning duo Laxmikant-Pyarelal for the music. Anita's music, though reasonably popular, was unable to match Madan Mohan compositions.

* Excited crowds pelted the screen with coins in Asha Bhosle's sprightly song, Jhumka gira re.

You might also want to read:
Revisiting Navrang
Sadhana's Song


Design: Uday Kuckian



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