Pygmalion and His Fair Lady

Pygmalion is a legendary Greek character. As per Ovid’s narrative poem – Metamorphoses, Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with the idol of a woman he had carved out of ivory. Taking an inspiration from the character of that sculptor, renowned playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote a play titled as Pygmalion in 1912 which was a sarcastic commentary on the British society and culture as prevailing in that period. In that play, Professor Henry Higgins enters into a bet with a friend of his that he can turn a bedraggled girl from the lower strata of the society into such a well-cultured girl wearing a veneer of gentility that she will pass for a duchess at a party hosted by an ambassador. And he actually succeeds in doing so by turning a flower girl – Eliza Doolittle into a well-mannered lady who by all means appears to belong to aristocracy and therefore acceptable in the so-called high society and thus wins the bet. But this girl is a flesh and blood human-being and not a lifeless idol as made by Pygmalion. She has a heart filled with womanly feelings. Can she be discarded now and thrown back to the class that she was initially picked from ?

Inspired by this play, a movie was made in Hollywood. This movie is My Fair Lady (1964) starring Rex Harrison in the role of Professor Henry Higgins and Audrey Hepburn in the role of Eliza Doolittle. This highly acclaimed movie won 8 Oscar awards and many other different awards as well. Producer Amit Khanna and director Basu Chatterjee made the Indianized version of this story taking Dev Anand and Tina Munim in lead roles. This Hindi movie is Manpasand (1980).

Manpasand (favourite / pet) is the story of two Mumbai (then Bombay) based close friends who are bachelors and active in the line of music – Prataap (Dev Anand) and Kaashinaath (Girish Karnaad). Prataap happens to enter into a bet with Kaashinaath that he can turn a poor, uneducated and uncultured girl into a polished and graceful one as well as a skilled singer within just a timespan of six months. Kaashinaath agrees under the same bet that if Prataap is able to do so, he will marry that girl unconditionally and without any hitch. Prataap picks up a girl Kamli (Tina Munim) for this purpose whom he happens to come across in a local train when he finds her selling Datoons (indigenous tooth-brushes made of margosa branches). Kamli’s good-for-nothing father (Mehmood) is kept at bay by these two gentlemen by paying money to him and Kamli is brought to Prataap’s home. Now both the friends become Kamli’s teachers. Prataap is acerbic and authoritarian in his approach whereas Kaashinaath is soft-spoken and gentle in his dealings with her. She learns classical music (covering singing and playing lute) from Prataap. From Kaashinaath, she learns etiquette, correct way of talking and cultured behaviour.

The day comes when Kamli performs before a large audience and wins lots of accolades. From every angle, now she looks an elite lady and nobody present in the event is able to make even the wildest guess as to what she has been originally. Quite naturally, Prataap has won the bet against Kaashinaath and Kaashinaath too, being very happy at the development, is having no issues regarding marrying Kamli. However in the euphoria of their success, they completely forget the hard work and toil invested by Kamli in her transformation. Prataap disregards Kamli’s feelings also. A disheartened Kamli leaves his house and moves out of his life. Later Kaashinaath feels that Prataap has unknowingly fallen in love with Kamli. He releases Prataap from the bet and asks him to accept Kamli and her sentiments for him. However Kamli has already left. The story concludes on a happy note.

When a filmmaker borrows (or lifts) a great plot / theme from some foreign source to make a movie with characters and milieu of the country he belongs to, he should understand that a great responsibility has come down on his shoulders. Doing justice to great plots is no easy thing. It demands a lot of effort, care and patience. Plus casting is also a significant factor. For great stories, the casting should be done after investing a lot of thought, else the results can be disastrous. The maker and the director of Manpasand seem to have faltered in this regard. This movie is not a disaster or a crap. It does not live up to the expectation or come anywhere near to My Fair Lady all the same.The script-writer could not prepare a very interesting script. In the ending reels, the movie becomes heavy with sentiments. However the seasoned director Basu Chatterjee has not allowed the movie to go too much awry and ensured that the movie is able to be considered at least an above average one. Bangla movie – Ogo Bodhu Sundari (1981) starring Uttam Kumar and Moushumi Chatterjee in lead roles and directed by Salil Dutta is a much superior adaptation of the same story.

Technical and production value aspects are okay. The movie is not very long, nevertheless its length is felt to the audience due to the overdose of emotion.

Music director Rajesh Roshan has prepared average compositions for most of the songs. Two songs are Indianized versions of the English songs composed by Frederick Loewe viz. Hothon Pe Geet Jaage is based on the tune of ‘I could have danced all night’ and Rehne Ko Ek Ghar Hoga is based on the tune of ‘Wouln’t it be loverly’. Other than these songs, Charu Chandra Ki Chanchal Chitvan only appears okay. Rest all the songs are passable, Kishore Kumar’s song – Manmaani Se Hargiz Na Daro is humorous though. Amit Khanna’s lyrics are good.

Dev Anand and Tina Munim are completely miscast in the lead roles. The faulty casting is one of the reasons which has let this movie down. Only the renowned Indian author, playwright, actor and theatre personality – Girish Karnaad has done full justice to the role of Kaashinaath. Mehmood and others are routine.

As said earlier, Manpasand is a lost opportunity because a great plot could not be converted into an admirable movie. However since this movie is not a bad movie either, I recommend it to those who like emotion-soaked dramas. Evergreen hero Dev Anand was fading out fast at the time of making of this movie which can be considered as one of his last movies which are worth a mention. Hence his (huge) fan-following also can give it a dekko.

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
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4 Responses to Pygmalion and His Fair Lady

  1. rajnisinha says:

    Absolutely befitting and correct review but somehow I personally liked the movie more in spite of miscast and mediocre handling. The song “main akela apni dhun me magan” is beautiful but not mentioned here.

  2. abhibishnu says:

    My Fair Lady was iconic. Its tough to match up to that standard.

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