Dil Deke Dekho, a film that launched many careers (1959)

On the film's 57th anniversary (2 October), a look at Nasir Husain's movie that introduced Asha Parekh and music composer Usha Khanna to the world.

Sonal Pandya

The winning pair of Asha Parekh-Shammi Kapoor was first launched 57 years ago in Filmalaya's Dil Deke Dekho (1959). Released on the actress's 17th birthday, the film solidified Kapoor's new avatar of charming, confident playboy and introduced a new starlet to Hindi cinema. Writer-director Nasir Husain and Shammi Kapoor repeated the success of their earlier hit, Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957) along with its story, further cementing their personal and professional collaboration.

Like Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Dil Deke Dekho was a tale of mistaken identities, adopted children and long-lost heirs. Jamuna Devi, played by Sulochana, loses her husband Rana Raghuvir (Surendra) and her young son Roop when her estate manager Harichand (Wasti) fakes his own suicide and indicates a hidden relationship between them.

Jamuna then raises Harichand's son Kailash as her own. Many years later, Jamuna wants Kailash, played by Rajendra Nath, to marry the daughter of her family friend Jagat Narayan (Raj Mehra). Neeta (Asha Parekh) is in a dilemma. Jamuna Devi has sponsored her education abroad, but she has no desire to marry the bumbling Kailash.

Enter the dashing Raja (Shammi Kapoor), a singer-drummer with a flair for trouble. Raja falls for Neeta immediately and conspires to break the engagement between her and Kailash. Unsurprisingly,  Raja is also Roop, long-lost son of Jamuna Devi. Raja lives with his father, who became blind in a factory fire and now requires an operation to restore his eyesight.

All events come to a head in picturesque Ranikhet where everyone has now gathered. Harichand asks his younger son Sohan (Siddhu) to pose as Roop to gain Jamuna's wealth and marry Neeta. Sohan manages to wheedle his way into Jamuna's heart but not before Roop discovers the whole story and comes to the rescue in true Hindi film fashion. Eventually, everyone gets a happy ending, even the down-on-his-luck Kailash.

Dil Deke Dekho gave the industry fresh new talent with several first-timers in its cast and crew. Initially, Waheeda Rehman was considered for the lead role of Neeta. However, she was busy filming for Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and both director Husain and producer Sashadhar Mukherjee decided on Asha Parekh for the film. Parekh, along with Siddhu and Malika, who were also introduced in the film, was touted as a Filmalaya discovery in the credits.

Filmalaya Actor's School was an acting institute that grew out of Mukherjee's Filmalaya Studio. Other actors who got their training at the school were Simi Garewal, Mukherjee's son Joy, Sadhana and Sanjeev Kumar.

Dil Deke Dekho was also actor Rajendra Nath's first big role. Having done bit parts in films like Vachan (1938), Patanga (1956) and Shararat (1956), the younger brother of Premnath played the awkward Kailash with comic undertones setting the tone for future character roles that came his way.

Dil Deke Dekho was also the first time Usha Khanna got solo credit for music composition in a feature. Amongst the handful of female music composers in Indian cinema, Khanna was also a Filmalaya discovery under the encouragement of S Mukherjee and mentor OP Nayyar.

The title track was sung by Mohammad Rafi who would go on to have a successful working relationship with Khanna. Several of the film's songs are inspirations from old English hits. One can see similarities between The McGuire Sisters' 'Sugartime' and 'Dil Deke Dekho', Paul Anka's 'Diana' and 'Ye Kaun Aaya Mehfil Mein' as well as Ivory Joe Hunter's 'Since I Met You Baby' and 'Pyar Ki Kasam Hai'. The melodious tunes were written by Majrooh Sultanpuri, a favoured lyricist of Husain's.

Sashadhar Mukherjee also assigned prominent costume designer Bhanu Athaiya to clothe debutante Asha Parekh. Athaiya, who went on to win the Oscar for Best Costume Design for Gandhi (1982), gave Parekh a wide range of looks – trendy trousers, graceful gowns and stylish saris (along with fashionista Madam Pompadour's input) befitting a youngster recently returned from London. It added to Parekh's on-screen image of a youthful, vivacious girl who isn't afraid to speak her mind when the time calls for it.

Shammi Kapoor donned different elaborate disguises as Professor Sambri and Mirza Changhezi in his part as persistent suitor to Neeta. He later recalled in Deepa Gahlot's book Shammi Kapoor: The Legends of Indian Cinema, “It was a fun movie, it was full of music – 14-15 songs. There were some lovely moments, comedy, music, suspense and it was a very successful picture. My pairing with Asha clicked after this film – we did three or four movies.”

Parekh, too, counted Shammi Kapoor as one of her more cooperative co-stars. She told The Hindu newspaper that initially, during filming, she “went absolutely haywire and was not sure how I should perform. He helped me in every shot with his inimitable body language. During our dance movements he guided me properly so that my movements were rhythmic. As he lipped the beautiful number, 'Hum Tum Uf Yeh Shama', he encouraged me to react silently with my eyes. For the first time I did really perform.”

This early example of Nasir Husain's cinema foretold the winning formula of many of his later films – he preferred directing from his own screenplays, was comfortable with familiar actors like Asha Parekh and Rajendra Nath, and featured the lyrics of Majrooh Sultanpuri to complement the film's hit melodies.

Dil Deke Dekho was seen as a breath of fresh air at its release. It heralded the instant breakthrough of a new actress who would go on to receive the moniker 'Jubilee Girl' later in her career and gave music composer Usha Khanna her first big opportunity to showcase her compositions in a male-dominated industry. Almost six decades on, Dil Deke Dekho remains a landmark film for many associated with it.