When Jeetu & Neetu played newlyweds in Basu Chatterjee’s Priyatama

PriyatamaWise men say only fools rush in but Neetu Singh cannot help falling in love with Jeetendra in Basu Chatterjee’s breezy Priyatama.

She’s the sort of impulsive romantic Bollywood looks at dotingly, indulgently. Only unlike Nargis (Chori Chori), Pooja Bhatt (Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin) or Kareena Kapoor (Jab We Met), she isn’t running off to someplace. Actually she sort of is — right in the beginning of the film — from her South Bombay abode to her boyfriend’s snug pad in suburban Bandra.

It’s a spur-of-the-moment, monsoon-triggered decision. Perhaps she’s been listening to too much of “Raindrops and roses” as the Sound of Music record lying about her seems to suggest. Or maybe it’s an aftereffect of the fresh, wet breeze gliding across her face. Rains do crazy things to the romantic-class and in Neetu’s case it’s reinforced her desire to tie the knot immediately.

Meet Dolly – wealthy, spoilt, starry-eyed, effervescent, clingy, champagne-glugging, loveable albeit ever ready to jump the gun — she’s new-fashioned yet comfortably dependent on her men for money. Being the only daughter of an affluent judge, she’s never had to worry about economics. It’s a familiar narrative but when essayed by a vivacious Neetu, barely even 20, it develops a spirit of its own.
Priyatama
Marriage is akin to a game of ‘ghar-ghar’ in her naïve head. And so when she badgers her beau Ravi (Jeetendra) to propose marriage to her father, he plays along.

It helps that Utpal Dutt (ever a delight) isn’t a fire-breathing dragon daddy but a pleasant paternal figure, the kind Ravi can sheepishly confess about his pre-meeting rehearsal with Dolly or argue love conquers all in defence of his 1200 bucks salary as a Doordarshan TV producer.

That’s a decent remuneration for 1977 but not nearly enough for a spendthrift like Dolly who, post-marriage, immediately blows up all their earnings in redecorating the flat, canned food to whip up exotic delights like “Hungarian goulash” and, consequently, multiple STD calls to her family cook to improve her cooking skills.

Even if Priyatama doesn’t dwell on it specifically, Dolly’s excess energy needs a greater challenge than domestic goddess or Emma-esque cupid between her best friends (Asha Sachdev and Rakesh Roshan).

If Sachdev, who won a Best Supporting Actress Filmfare trophy for her Big Ethel in Ali MacGraw glasses chasing Roshan’s perennially disgruntled Jughead is refreshingly droll in its contrast, Roshan raises laughs with his ‘not amused’ interjections. He’s happiest strumming the guitar to younger brother Rajesh Roshan’s lilting tunes, the winsome Koi Roko Na Deewane Ko.
Priyatama
On the other hand, Jeetendra, always a revelation in middle-of-the-road cinema, has no trouble getting under the skin of Dolly’s affectionate husband. His chemistry with Neetu is effortless and incredibly warm. Before he hits the point of exasperation and starts fantasizing about a obedient wife (Main Jo Bolun Haan To Haan), his Ravi makes genuine attempts to please her. Be it complimenting her horrid cooking or the sequence where he’s endlessly delayed in traffic for her birthday dinner.

True to his style, Chatterjee examines the teething troubles of newly weds — its exhilarating ups and discouraging downs — with characteristic humour of everyday milieu.

Yeh Dher Se Kapde Main Kaise Dhoyun, a supremely catchy jingle I grew up listening to on radio, pops in the background of a dinner scene as an analogical reference to Ravi’s plight in finishing a mound of offensive food sitting on his plate. During the afore-mentioned traffic scene, a poster of Sanjeev Kumar’s Yeh Hai Zindagi looks down knowingly at our distraught hero.

It’s these witty touches, deft writing of believable characters and relatable scenarios — Bambai mein jab do doston ka ek flat hota hai jiski shaadi pehle ho jaati hai flat uska hota hai— lending Priyatama its enduring freshness and repeat value even after more than three decades.

PriyatamaAlthough the disagreement between the husband and wife reaches a point of legal intervention (I S Johar and Asrani’s squabbling Parsi lawyers target the funny bone), Chatterjee doesn’t position their quarrel around a standard battle of the sexes, social expectations or role-play. They’re victims of their own immaturity and impatience triggered by the usual suspects—ego and misunderstandings.

Priyatama has none of the chauvinism of Shashi Kapoor-Hema Malini’s Abhinetri but, like them, Ravi-Dolly too put on a facade of hunky-dory marital life to prevent distress to the parent.

The charade never feels contrived under Chatterjee’s simple but nuanced storytelling as he shares the cosiness, the disappointment, the uneasy silences and the inexperience of young marriage without once judging his characters.

It it what makes them so flesh & blood and Priyatama worth a revisit.

This article was first published on rediff.com.

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