There’s something about birthdays that makes me introspect on the life passed by and wonder what the future may have in the offing. Far from indulging in those B’day treats, cherishing irrelevant gifts and replying to the incessant messages (Often abbreviated as HBD), I am often reminded of the song, ‘Koi sone ke dil wala, koi chandi ke dil wala, sheeshe ka hai matwaale tera dil, mehfil yeh nahin teri, deewane kahin chal’, featuring Dev Anand in the film, ‘Maya’.
A film on the same premise and almost beginning with a lavish birthday party, Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ‘Asli Naqli’ (1962) is about a spoilt rich guy (Dev Anand) who leaves his grandfather’s (Nazir Hussain) home after a heated argument, stays with a brother-sister duo Mohan and Shanti, who despite struggling to make the ends meet, are generous beyond compare (Anwar Hussain and Sandhya Roy), falls in love with Renu, who works at a textile company and doubles up as a teacher in the slums (Sadhana), and learns invaluable lessons of life, which lends him the true perception of illusion and reality i.e. Asli-Naqli.
Despite a story that is as predictable as an old fable, Asli Naqli entertains you right from its first frame to the end credits, thanks to the beautiful cinematography by Jaywant Pathare, deft editing by Dad Dhaimade, engaging screenplay by Inder Raj Anand, music by Shankar Jaikishan, brilliant direction by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, and of course the wonderful performances by its lead pair, Dev Anand and Sadhana.
Anand’s character has varied shades, which Hrishida explores at different points of time. The rich spoilt guy often resurfaces in the slums. The sweet and innocent man with oodles of boyish charm takes the centre stage in songs, especially in the dialogues before the songs begin. The devil-may-care attitude often morphs into self-pitying jobless man.
Well, this explains why he ends up losing his jobs and later desperately looks for new opportunities. Dev Anand approaches his role with utmost restraint and is a delight to watch, especially in the songs, ‘Ek buut banaaunga’, ‘Tujhe jeevan ki dorr se’, and ‘Chheda mere dil ne tarana’.
Sadhana is grace personified. As a young girl shouldering the responsibilities of her family and hiding a secret in her eyes, Sadhana is spot-on as Renu. The song, ‘Tera mera pyaar amar’ casts a spell on the viewers with her luminous charisma. Sandhya Roy adds an endearing touch to the film with her role of Shanti, the sharp-tongued girl with a heart of gold.
Despite suffering from a severe arthritis attack in 1961, Hrishida directed Asli Naqli from his wheel chair. Raju Bharatan, a veteran journalist and writer on Indian cricket and Bollywood music, shares in one of his articles, “Hrishikesh Mukherjee had already notably directed two of The Triumvirate in Dilip Kumar (Musafir) and Raj Kapoor (Anari) and was working with the third, Dev Anand (alongside Sadhana), on Asli Naqli (1962), when I ran into Hrishikesh Mukherjee to ask how far he was through with the film. “The Asli part of it is over, only the Naqli portion remains!” came back Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
By this, what the 2000 AD winner of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award meant was that the true directorial part of Asli Naqli shooting was complete, only the songs remained to be picturised! It is not that Hrishi does not love music. It is that he always discerned a touch of artificiality inherent in the way songs had to come across on the mainstream screen. Yet, for all his reservations here, Hrishi usually did a good job on the song picturisation in his films ranging from Anupama to Anand.”
The chemistry that the lead pair share is indeed worth a mention here, be it the song sequences, the scene where Renu helps Anand with typing, shares her lunchbox and stays hungry for him, or the classroom scenes. The moment you look into Dev Anand’s eyes, you are convinced of the fact that he loves her intensely and the way Sadhana looks at Dev Anand, you can feel the kind of warmth they share.
In a world of Naqli love stories, it’s worth revisiting this classic laced with Asli romance. They don’t make them anymore. As Dev Anand would like to put it, “Jisne suna kho gaya, poora nasha ho gaya” during his birthday celebration. Well, by the way, you can wish me today.