Hema Malini's first double role, Seeta Aur Geeta, was a hoot from start to finish. This rollicking entertainer was a huge crowd-pleaser and earned the then 24-year-old Hema the long-adhering epithet of Numero Uno.
The film went on to become a cult classic, spawning a series of double-role entertainers (Jaise Ko Taisa, Geeta Mera Naam, Chaalbaaz, Kishen Kanhaiya). Sure, it had many predecessors. But at the risk of starting a never-ending debate, I dare say I enjoyed Ramesh Sippy's Seeta Aur Geeta more than its immediate source of inspiration, Ram Aur Shyam (Dilip Kumar, Waheeda Rehman, Mumtaz).
Seeta Aur Geeta was made at a time when writers Salim-Javed had alchemical powers.
Based on a story by Satish Bhatnagar, it splices the character of that eternal children's favourite, Cinderella, into two. Seeta and Geeta, twins born to a millionaire, are separated at birth due to the selfishness of a childless gypsy.
Seeta is soon orphaned and brought up under the gimlet eye of her avaricious aunt Kaushalya (Manorama), her dim-bulb daughter Sheela (Daisy Irani), spineless uncle Badrinath (Satyen Kappu), and Kaushalya's whip-wielding brother Ranjeet (Roopesh Kumar). Her only pillar of support is her bedridden grandma (Pratima Devi).
G P Sippy
Rahul Dev Burman
Hema Malini, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar
Geeta, on the other hand, lives with her doting gypsy mother and blossoms into a motor mouth who ekes out a meagre existence by performing stunts on the streets. Her partner on the street is an orphan named Rakka (Dharmendra).
Geeta wears garish skirts and mirrorwork blouses, while Seeta dresses largely in cotton saris. Geeta enjoys loud, empty talk; Seeta does not dare to raise her voice. Most importantly, Seeta cowers when under duress while Geeta is charged by adversity.
The first half hour of the film concentrates on Seeta's torture at the hands of her virago aunt. A will states that Seeta will inherit her parents' estate the day she marries. So Kaushalya cruelly nips every marriage proposal in the bud.
When a family friend brings across a bachelor doctor Ravi (Sanjeev Kumar) as a proposal for Seeta, the aunt presents her as a 1970s fashion victim -- bell-bottom pants, oversized belt, smeared mascara and a tattoo running like a gash on her face.
Just when you are cringing at the writer's non-stop onslaught on your tearducts, he decides to make Seeta and Geeta swap places. Seeta tries to commit suicide and jumps into a creek from where she is fished out by Rakka. Meanwhile, Geeta runs away from home after squabbling with her mother. The latter is mistaken for Seeta and held by the police.
The moment Geeta enters the police station, the film strings together a series of hilarious sequences. Remember Geeta hanging on to the ceiling fan to keep her aunt at bay? Or Geeta indulging in rampant name-calling, followed by a plump Kaushalya chasing her to the tune of The Elephant March?
Time flies as Geeta's 'eye for an eye' revenge act on her aunt and Ranjeet, whom she nicknames 'Chu Chu', is interspersed with Geeta and Seeta's interesting romances with Ravi and Rakka.
The humour in the romances relies on the class divide. Illiterate Geeta finds it easier to skate than to pronounce the word 'skates', much to Ravi's amusement, whereas Seeta's philosophical sermons are Greek to the roguish Rakka.
Ramesh Sippy's flair for building tension to a pitch -- the hallmark of his latter-day curry Western Sholay -- is visible here. When Geeta realises Ranjeet has kicked the aged servant, she insists he apologise. Ranjeet hesitates while the ping-pong sound of the ball dancing on her table tennis racket reaches a crescendo... and then, without warning, Geeta slaps Ranjeet with the back of the racket with such force that he falls at the old man's feet.
Zindagi hai khel, koi paas
Manna Dey, Asha Bhosle
Hawa ke saath saath
Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle
Abhi toh haath mein jaam hai
Koi ladki mujhe kal raat
Haaji haan maine sharab pee hai
The film climaxes with Geeta's identity being revealed. Ranjeet abducts Seeta, but Geeta, Rakka and Ravi come to her rescue. A free-for-all ensues. After a while, the fight scenes, despite the comic vein, begin to wear a bit. But the series of freeze shots of the cast at the end of the film, including one of Manorama flashing her pearly whites while squinting her beady eyes, makes the wrap-up a quick affair. It also reminds you to watch this film with your tongue firmly planted in your cheek.
Sanjeev Kumar wears the badge of above-it-all cool. Dharmendra is at home as the street ruffian who enjoys his pau ser (pint of local brew).
As the gold-digging aunt, Manorama gives her all to a performance that can be best described as classic. A now-buttery-now-bitter-as-gourd voice, rolling eyeballs, flared nostrils, knitted brows; she has all the ammunition to make you quake with fear even as you shake with laughter.
But the showstopper is Hema. As the gypsy Geeta, she flashes a sunshine smile and saucy attitude, whereas Seeta's portrayal is helped by her ability to coalesce all her frustrations and portray them in her eyes.
Since Mumtaz was not willing to compromise on her price, Ramesh Sippy decided to cast Hema Malini with whom he had already worked in Andaaz (Shammi Kapoor).
Jeetendra recalls shooting for Gehri Chaal (1973) soon after Seeta Aur Geeta was declared a blockbuster. Suddenly, Jeetendra and co-star Amitabh Bachchan watched from the sidelines as Hema was asked to fight the villains.
In his next venture Sholay, Sippy repeated the three stars of Seeta Aur Geeta -- Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar and Hema Malini.
Manorama (to Hema Malini hanging on to a ceiling fan): Neeche aa jaa, beti [Step down, daughter].
Hema Malini: Oopar aa ja, moti [Come on up, fatso].
For his maiden venture Andaaz, Ramesh Sippy had entrusted the music score to Shankar-Jaikishan. But after Jaikishan's death, he signed R D Burman in Seeta Aur Geeta. Thereafter, RD was a regular at the Sippy camp (Sholay, Shaan, Saagar).
In an unusual move, RD used Manna Dey's vocals for two Dharmendra solos in Seeta Aur Geeta.