As the film starring Shammi Kapoor and Rajshree completes 50 years (it was released on 26 April 1968), we explore its enduring charm.
50 years of Brahmachari: A nuanced Shammi Kapoor performance
New Delhi - 26 Apr 2018 19:50 IST
Shammi Kapoor, the ‘Elvis Presley of Hindi cinema', exemplified the rock 'n' roll era that found its way into the films of the 1960s. With his inimitable style and swagger, Kapoor came to be identified with his animated dance moves and on-screen ebullience.
But in the film that brought him his first acting award, Brahmachari (1968), we see a subdued and more serious Kapoor, a marked shift from his Junglee (1961) persona.
Directed by Bhappi Sonie and written by Sachin Bhowmick, Brahmachari was the second collaboration between the writer and the director after Janwar (1965), which also starred Kapoor and Rajshree.
Brahmachari (Kapoor) is a man with a heart of gold who runs an ashram for orphans. He comes across a desperate and distraught Sheetal (Rajshree) who has been jilted by her intended, Ravi Khanna (Pran), whom she was engaged to as a child.
Ravi does not think Sheetal worthy of his wealthy and posh self and humiliates her for being a villager. Heartbroken, Sheetal plans to kill herself when she comes across Brahmachari, who offers to help her by transforming her into an urbane young woman, all chic and glamorous, so she becomes irresistible to Ravi and can marry him.
As intended, Ravi comes to her like a moth to a flame, but there is a wrinkle in the best laid plans and Sheetal finds out that she does not care for Ravi anymore, and is drawn instead to the caring and selfless Brahmachari. But Ravi must have what his heart desires and hatches a wicked plan to attain Sheetal.
The thoroughly entertaining film has several light-hearted moments with Jagdeep and Mohan Choti adding to the gaiety. But Kapoor is the glue that holds the film together — equally mischievous and earnest by turns, his comparatively restrained performance, as opposed to the irrepressible and hyper-excitable characters he is remembered for, creates a nuanced character.
It’s not easy to steal the limelight from a very suave Pran, but Kapoor manages to do so. The scene where Sheetal is about to commit suicide (by jumping in noticeably shallow waters from a tiny lump of a rock) is particularly hilarious as Brahmachari has no qualms in her pursuing her path, as long as he gets a saleable photograph of her. When she decides not to kill herself after all, despite his offer to help by pushing her into the water, he laments the lack of character in her for not following through with her decision!
Amidst all the fun and frolic, Brahmachari has its heart in the right place and the themes of being morally upright, denouncing social evils, and sacrificing the self for higher ideals make him an endearing character. One can see similarities with Shekhar Kapur’s blockbuster Mr India (1987), where the central character also runs an orphanage for children, and the parallels between the films run thick and fast, as several themes and concerns resonate in Kapur’s sci-fi film, albeit in an intensified manner.
Several factors contributed to the film becoming a blockbuster and legendary costume designer Bhanu Athaiya’s costumes also made it a trendsetter. From Mumtaz’s iconic double-draped flaming orange sari to Rajshree’s daringly cut blouses, the film shaped fashion trends that were avidly copied by eager young women in the late 1960s. It is a true feat of engineering and dexterity that allows Mumtaz to dance away in that impossibly tight saree wound around her, but she looks every inch the stunner that she was!
Brahmachari won an astounding six Filmfare awards, including Best Film, Best Music, and Best Lyrics. The film’s music unquestionably remains its most enduring feature. Mohammed Rafi’s voice highlights the paternal side of Brahmachari in the lullaby 'Main Gaoon Tum So Jao', and the fun 'Chakke Mein Chakka Chakke Pe Gaadi' is practically a road trip anthem. The foot-tapping 'Aajkal Tere Mere Pyar Ke Charche' is part of our collective memory as is the soulful 'Dil Ke Jharokhe Mein'.
The former was originally intended to be picturized on Rajendra Kumar for the film Suraj (1966) but didn’t get used. Jaikishan, of the music director duo Shankar-Jaikishan, told Kapoor about the song, regretting that it would be wasted, but the actor loved it and it eventually became a big hit!
Interestingly, as the influence of rock 'n' roll was becoming more evident in Hindi films, several new musical instruments were introduced to recreate the sounds. One such was the electric organ, Farfisa. In Gregory D Booth’s book, musician Sumit Mitra recounts using an electronic organ for Brahmachari for the first time and says, “I played the first electronic organ — it was a Farfisa — on the film Brahmachari (1968). Robert [Corea] was supposed to play it but he couldn’t control the volume. It would suddenly come very loud, and it was giving many problems to Minoo [Katrak, the recordist at Famous (Tardeo)]. So Jaikishanji said to me, 'Okay, you try.' So I turned the one volume up and the other down and left them like that, and it worked. People panicked when they heard that because it sounded like one hundred musicians playing. They were afraid that they would not have work.”
Sadly, the coming of technology did eventually spell doom for the orchestras that created magic behind the scenes and gave us some of the most memorable film songs.