Friday, August 12, 2011

Chhoti Si Baat (1975)

X: I just love that girl; I don’t know how to tell her- it is driving me crazy…
Y: Big deal man; just look into her eyes confidently and tell her how you feel for her…

Sometime later, some other place, some other confidante- the same man but on the other side-

Y: I love that girl man; I have no idea how to say it; I just go weak in the knees when she comes in front of me…

Telling a girl how you feel for her can be the toughest task for most, but it usually appears to be no big deal from a third person perspective. It is after all a pretty small thing- just three small words-‘Chhoti si baat’. When you have to do it for yourself, however, there cannot be a more complex thing in the world. But ideally this should not be the case, and this is the premise that forms the backbone of this Basu Chatterjee offering starring Amol Palekar, Vidya Sinha, Asrani, and Ashok Kumar (in a cracker of a role). There is also a larger context in the movie, which is essentially how two different personalities approach their lives in general and how in this cut-throat world it is very important to be sure of oneself and street-smart to survive and win.

Amol Palekar plays Arun, a shy young man far away from any kind of cunning or manipulative behavior.  He loves Prabha (played by the demure Vidya Sinha) but is unable to express his feelings to her. Arun works in a firm at a middle level post, and Prabha works in some another company that has its office near to that of Arun’s firm. Every morning Arun waits for Prabha at the bus-stop, follows her all the way to her office and then makes his way towards his own. In the evenings too he waits for her to come out of her office and follows her right back to her place. This does not go unnoticed at Prabha’s end, and she quite enjoys teasing the nervous and naïve Arun in some way or the other. Things go the same way, until a disruption in the form of Prabha’s friend Nagesh (Asrani is a very lively role) comes into Arun’s life. Nagesh is exactly what Arun isn’t- confident, smart, crooked, manipulative, and always ready with a witty excuse to escape from doing any work. Nagesh, Prabha’s co-worker, starts driving her to work in his scooter, snatching Arun’s joy of meeting Prabha in the bus.

Soon Nagesh makes out Arun’s feelings for Prabha and starts to make things difficult for him in more ways than one. Unable to accept things as they are, Arun decides to take help from a counselor and problem solver of the name Col. Julius (Ashok Kumar in a scorcher of a role), who lived in the outskirts of the city and was famous as someone whose advice was even valued by eminent personalities of that time. Arun stays with Col. Julius for a few days and gets training in love, life, and much more. Armed with various tricks and techniques taught by the Colonel, he returns to the city as a much more self-assured person and ends up wooing Prabha and beating Nagesh at his own game.

The plot is simple, but it is the sequence of events that are delightful to watch. The narrative keeps us involved at each and every turn and manages to evoke sympathy for Arun’s character in the initial few portions, and dislike for the smart and calculative Nagesh who dupes the naïve Arun more than once. In the final few minutes, one may actually find himself rooting for Arun to succeed. The dialogues are smart and the humor is simple but crackling. No one gets slapped, no one farts or makes silly faces, no one uses double entendres, and no one uses cuss words- this movie is a study on all the things that are missing from our comedies these days.

The performances are so natural that you will hardly think that anyone is acting in the movie. All the actors are the characters they play, and there cannot be a bigger achievement for people who indulge in this craft. Amol Palekar stands out in a role of a working class simpleton madly and hopelessly in love who has no clue about how to make that love materialize. Vidya Sinha is amazing as a middle class young woman. She is supremely charming and alluring; especially in scenes when she is hoping that Arun will transcend the barriers of shyness and make a move to initiate conversation between them. Asrani plays a brat with aplomb and Ashok Kumar plays the retired Colonel with such Joie de vivre that it is a treat to watch him at play. The movie also boasts of some melodious songs by Salil Chaudhary including “Na Jaane Kyun, hota hai yeh zindagi ke saath’, and ‘Jaaneman Jaaneman tere do Nayan'.

Basu Chatterjee tried keep a similar light hearted mood in almost all his films, and got is spot on most of the times (Though there were certain misfires like the Dharmendra and Hema Malini starrer Dillagi which could not achieve the cheerfulness and likeability of his other movies like Chitchor, Khatha Meetha, Baaton Baaton Mein, Rajnigandha etc). Let’s hope that someone comes and revives the genre mastered by him and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, in the same way as the Masala genre is being revived by the powerhouses of our movie industry.

Parting Note- Chotti Si Baat is a must watch- and there is no better way to put it. It is one movie that will keep you smiling throughout.

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