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Remembering the vivacious Geeta Bali and Shammi Kapoor on their wedding anniversary

We take you back to the time when the two artistes fell in love on the sets of Rangeen Raten (1956).

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Despite the risqué title, Rangeen Raten is a story of love set in a village at the foothills of the Himalayas. The misleading title refers to a touring show that brings entertainment and the movies to villages in the Kumaon region. Starring Shammi Kapoor and Mala Sinha in the lead, the film also starred Geeta Bali in a rather unusual role.

Mala (Sinha) and her brother Gulu (Bali) live with their aunt and have adopted a blind woman Kamla (Chand Usmani) who has been forsaken by her wayward husband Gulab. Kamla has no one to call her own but hopes to be reunited with her husband one day.

A travelling entertainment show, Moti Bai Touring Talkies, arrives near their village and Mala and Gulu get to know that Gulab is part of the team. Excited at the possibility of reuniting Kamla with her husband, they plan to draw his attention towards her.

What they do not know is that Gulab, along with the proprietress of the show Moti Bai and her gang of goons, is involved in nefarious activities. In the guise of the entertainment show, they kidnap unsuspecting village girls to either sell them or use them in the show (this is not made clear in the film).

The local authorities look down upon the “carnival” that advertises itself as a show which has come to make the nights colourful, 'Raaton ko rangeen banane aaye hain', and are hot on the trail of the kidnappers.

Moti Singh (Shammi Kapoor) is a rather creepy fellow who helps Moti Bai & Co procure and transport “parcels” of these girls. With this aim in mind, he comes to the village and despite his rude and rough manner Mala slowly falls in love with him. But she wants him to be a better man and tries to civilize him.

Rangeen Rateen is an odd film at best. There is no 'hero' in the film — both male leads operate on the wrong side of the law and are engaged in criminal activities. Gulab leaves his wife, turns her away when she comes to meet him, and even hits her when she refuses to leave, all the time working with Moti Bai to abduct and smuggle girls.

Moti Singh, meanwhile, has the horrid habit of burning people’s flesh with his cigarette; he apparently picked up the habit while branding livestock. The only upright man in the film is actually not a man but Bali playing the role of a man throughout the film!

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As the story goes, director Kidar Sharma was Bali’s mentor and when she heard about this film, she wanted to be a part of it, especially because it was being shot in Ranikhet (in modern-day Uttarakhand). But he had already signed Sinha as the female lead. Bali insisted and so director Sharma offered her a male role, which is why she plays a man, Gulu, and literally gatecrashed into the film!

When love blossomed

It was in the serene environs of Ranikhet, where Rangeen Raten was shot, that love blossomed between Shammi Kapoor and Geeta Bali. Though Kapoor had met Bali earlier on the sets of Miss Coca Cola (1955), he got to see her spunky personality while shooting for this film.

In the book Shammi Kapoor: The Game Changer by the veteran film journalist Rauf Ahmed, the actor reminisced about those moments. “She had a cameo in the film, and I saw a wonderful side of her there," he recalled. "We vibed. We sang together... we had very similar tastes. We both loved the outdoors, jungles and the snow and ice in the hills."

Although Kapoor had a few misgivings as Bali was a year older to him and had worked alongside his elder brother Raj Kapoor in Bawre Nain (1950) and father Prithviraj Kapoor in Anand Math (1952), he nonetheless proposed to marry her. But due to the responsibility of her family and home, Bali did not accept his proposal though she reciprocated his feelings.

Shammi Kapoor kept his hope alive and after several months, on 23 August 1955, he proposed to her again, and, much to his bewilderment, she agreed but asked to get married immediately!

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Overjoyed and overwhelmed, the duo sought advice from their friend, comedian Johnny Walker, who asked them to find a temple. They then went to Hari Walia, producer of Coffee House (1957), who took them to a temple.

Shammi Kapoor recounted the moment in the book: “When we reached the temple at the crack of dawn, Geeta in her by-now crumpled salwar-kameez and I in my kurta-pyjama, it was pouring cats and dogs. With Hari Walia as the sole witness, the pujari [priest] performed the ceremonial rites and we took seven pheras [rounds] of the holy fire and were declared husband and wife. Geeta took out a lipstick from her purse and asked me to apply it on her maang [parting of the hair] like sindoor [vermilion] to proclaim our marital status. Geeta and I were married at last.”

Shammi Kapoor’s marriage to Geeta Bali proved very lucky for him as his career took off and he went on to become a star. Bali acted in a few films after marriage to wrap up her previous commitments. While shooting for Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Ek Chadar Maili Si opposite Dharmendra, she fell seriously ill. The film was never completed as Geeta Bali died of smallpox within a few days of contracting the dreaded disease.

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Shammi Kapoor was devastated and recalled his terrible loss in an interview: “I had Teesri Manzil on the floor, great wonderful success behind me, good pictures on hand. And then this happened. It was like a mooring cut off from me. I went haywire. Those four years were very bad years for me, despite the fact that I had success. I went… berserk is the right word.”

Despite her untimely death at the age of 34, film aficionados continue to remember Geeta Bali and her vivacious personality that perfectly complimented that of her husband. They were truly made for each other.

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