Amar Prem redefined the right time-right place magic. Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore were at the peak of their careers, Shakti Samanta was going through his most creatively fecund phase, lyricist Anand Bakshi was spurred by his success to outdo himself, and R D Burman, it seemed, could strike no wrong chords at all.
The treatment of Amar Prem's story and characters may not be entirely grounded in reality (Sharmila's religious, courteous and compassionate courtesan is a far cry from the beedi-smoking, venom-spewing prostitute she played in Mausam), but the film's emotional appeal is undeniable. It probably lies in the in-built romanticism of the story and the heart-in-your-throat evocation of the supreme selflessness of lovers.
| Shakti Samanta
|| Shakti Samanta
|| R D Burman
|| Sharmila Tagore, Rajesh Khanna
Amar Prem contends that true emotional fulfillment need not necessarily lie in a fructified relationship which ends with a marriage and the average two kids; it can also be found in a nameless bond between a man and a woman that transcends convention.
The film opens to the strains of S D Burman's melodious lament Doli mein bithai ke, which instantly evokes a rural ethos and a lachrymose mood. Bruised village belle Pushpa (Sharmila Tagore) is returning home after having been abandoned by her philandering husband (Manmohan) for a younger woman.
Pushpa makes a valiant bid to start life afresh but the village youth openly make passes at her while the women treat her with contempt. She tries to drown herself in the village pond but is saved by the notorious Nepali babu (Madan Puri).
The director uses symbolism to indicate the rest --- the pot Pushpa had tied to herself to end her life is shown sinking into the pond.
Pushpa is sold to a brothel in Kolkata. Like in most Hindi films, she can sing like an angel.
On the night of Pushpa's singing initiation at the kotha, a dhoti-clad businessman Anand Babu (Rajesh Khanna), is instantly drawn to her voice. Anand always has a quip on his lip and the odour of whiskey on his breath. Later, in a rather stagy and incongruously amateurish scene, Samanta establishes Anand's loneliness. His wife squanders her time at beauty parlours and parties.
Romance, spurred by their shared feeling of abandonment, quietly embraces the two lonely souls. Anand becomes Pushpa's regular (exclusive, it is suggested) client. With his odd mix of cynicism and charm, Anand helps Pushpa come to terms with her life.
Later, a widower (Sujit Kumar) from Pushpa's village moves into the neighbourhood with his son Nandu and second wife (Bindu). Harangued by his stepmother, Nandu is drawn to Pushpa. Anand and Nandu now complete Pushpa's dream family, but Pushpa's reverie proves shortlived.
|Famous songs from Amar Prem|
| Doli mein bithai ke
|| S D Burman
| Raina beeti jaye
|| Lata Mangeshkar
| Chingari koi bhadke
|| Kishore Kumar
| Kuchh toh log kahenge
|| Kishore Kumar
| Yeh kya hua
|| Kishore Kumar
| Bada natkhat hai yeh
|| Lata Mangeshkar
Honouring his family's wishes, Pushpa snaps off her relationship with Anand. Soon, Nandu too shifts with his family to another city.
Years go by. Pushpa is now a greying, bent and constantly-abused dishwasher at a lowly restaurant. The film climaxes with a series of events vindicating Pushpa's struggle, sorrows and sacrifices. Pushpa's now-blinded husband dies in her arms. Anand babu, who has left 'wine, women and wife', returns to her life and orchestrates a meeting between Pushpa and Nandu, now a well-to-do engineer (Vinod Mehra). Nandu takes Pushpa home, symbolically, on the day when other people are taking Durga Ma's idols home.
Samanta's strong point is his ability to draw us directly into his characters' lives. Though he resorts to a surfeit of cliches in establishing Pushpa's relationship with Nandu, he handles Pushpa's interdependent relationship with Anand Babu with commendable ease and maturity.
In a scene that showcases the filmmaker's sensitivity, Anand Babu suggests a boat ride to Pushpa when he senses her agitation at her mother's death. He assuages her with Bakshi's rare beauty Chingari koi bhadke, while she rests her head on his shoulders.
However, Samanta, in a bid to glorify Anand Babu in the climax, robs the film of some of its sensibility. The penultimate scene would have been far more effective if Nandu had offered to take Pushpa home without having to be prompted by Anand Babu.
Samanta tells the story of the people on the fringes of society with the assurance of one who has a keen insight into their minds. He dismisses people who make moral judgements at societal outcasts with: Tu kaun hai tera naam hai kya? Sita bhi yahan badnaam huyee [Who are you, what is your name? Even Sita was insulted here].
The film is unabashedly sentimental yet retains its poignancy. Pushpa has no legal or societal claim on either Anand or Nandu. Her predicament is captured in Anand's line, "Nandu se rishta? Agar koi apna na hokar bhi apna lage toh usse kya kehte hain?" [What is the relationship with Nandu? If someone is bound to you in spite of not being related to you, what do you call that?]
The rich emotional detail makes Amar Prem gripping.
Rajesh Khanna confidently swaggers through his role, letting the inner turmoil peek through the surface calm. He makes the most of his wry grin, pained eyes and softly delivered acerbic lines to make his well-crafted character come alive. On hindsight, one can see his bag of mannerisms --- crinkling eyes, nodding head --- in full play. Somehow at that time, they made him the embodiment of charm.
Sharmila Tagore plays a largely mute courtesan but her kohl-lined, tear-rimmed eyes speak volumes. Refreshingly, she conveys her sorrow also by resorting to a sardonic smile that is typically Sharmila.
Anand Babu: "Saline water... Pushpa, I hate tears. Inhe ponch dalo [Wipe them]."
*In the Bengali original, the role essayed by Rajesh Khanna (in the Hindi version) was enacted by Bengal's heartthrob Uttam Kumar.
*This film repeated the superhit Aradhana combination of Rajesh-Sharmila-Shakti Samanta. In fact, Shakti Samanta wanted to pair Rajesh-Sharmila in the Aradhana successor Kati Patang too, but due to Sharmila's pregnancy opted for Asha Parekh.
*The Anand Bakshi-R D Burman combination proved akin to chingaris being stoked into a blazing bonfire. Amar Prem serves as a beacon for one of the high points of seventies' music.
*Incidentally, R D Burman surrendered to image straitjacketing and sidestepped his favourite singer Asha Bhosle to give Lata Mangeshkar two still-remembered serious songs to sing.
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