Late Gulshan Nanda was the numero uno Hindi pulp fiction writer during 1960-1990 period when cable TV and internet were not available and therefore, a huge market was there for pulp-fiction novels. Since Gulshan Nanda had good networking in Bollywood also and he wrote screenplays of many Bollywood flicks (converted his novels only into screenplays), it was famous about him that whenever a movie was made on any of his novels, he went to watch that movie and found the plot of his next novel in that movie itself.
The team of Gulshan Nanda (writer), Shakti Saamanta (director), R.D. Burman (music director) and Rajesh Khanna (hero) had earlier given a blockbuster movie – Kati Patang (1970). This team reassembled for Ajanabee (1974) but could not recreate the Kati Patang magic. Rajesh Khanna was no longer the superstar and heartthrob of young females by that time. He was facing the downslide in his career. And the music, though good, was not at par with that of Kati Patang. Still, the movie is a nice timepass and worth the viewer’s time and money invested upon it.
Ajanabee (stranger) starts with a stranger girl, Sonia (Yogeeta Bali) arriving at a small railway station at night (while on her way to Mumbai) where Rohit (Rajesh Khanna) is the station master. She seeks his help as certain goons are after her to snatch the precious jewellery in her possession. Rohit allows her to stay in his quarter for the night before she is able to catch the next available train for Mumbai. Rohit tells her about his separated wife – Rashmi (Zeenat Aman) and thereafter finds himself lost in the sweet and bitter memories of the bygone days in which he had first come across a stranger damsel who was none other than Rashmi only, then fallen in love with her, then served in the timber estate of her father, then got married to her, then had tussles with her corrupt brother-in-law (Prem Chopra), then they had misunderstandings related to her aspiration to become a successful model and a sudden accident of hers resulting in her pregnancy miscarriage and finally he had taken a solemn vow to return back to his estranged wife only when he has earned enough money to give her the life-style she enjoyed prior to their marriage.Since by this time, he has not been able to earn sufficient money to be considered a rich man, a thought occurs to his mind that why not usurp the jewellery of Sonia. But before he could take any (wrong) step to put his thought into action, police reaches him in his office and arrests him under the charge of Sonia’s murder because she is found murdered in his quarter. He is acquitted in the end when the real culprit is exposed and his reunion with his loving wife, Rashmi also materializes.
Ajnabee’s story is based on Gulshan Nanda’s novel of the same title. Since I have read the novel also, let me apprise the readers of the fact that the final part of the story has been altered while adapting the novel for its celluloid version. And that’s justified too because the novel has a tragic end which is definitely not digestible for the Indian movie buffs. Hence an ending on the lines of And they lived happily thereafter was mandatory to make a movie according to the taste of the Indian audience. And there is little doubt that the movie is better than the novel.
Ajanabee is not a great movie and as I have asserted above, it could not rise to the level of Kati Patang, the earlier venture of Shakti Saamanta-Gulshan Nanda-R.D. Burman-Rajesh Khanna (and Kishore Kumar as well) team. There are two different tracks of the story – the first one being a family drama track post the romance and the marriage of the lead pair and the second (smaller) one being a murder mystery track. Definitely the romance and family drama track is a better one containing some good songs and a formula-based, yet interesting narrative. The murder mystery inserted in the story does not intrigue because the villains are well-known to the audience.
Ajanabee was made in the time of the seventies when modelling was not considered a respectful profession for the ladies in India. Though it was the time when due to absence of television in India, models were not coming on the screen (except for some advertisements being shown in the movies-exhibiting theatres which were attached to the news-reel) and only photo-shoots were there whose outcomes (still pictures) were used for advertisements in the newspapers and magazines, nevertheless the typical Indian male psyche (spread to females too) was that modelling was a bad profession for the females of ‘decent’ families. And that’s something which today’s youthful audience may find difficult to relate to. Still, the hero of the movie is not a typical male-chauvinist and he is happy to see his wife enjoying her time being a model. The only thing is that he does not approve of her aborting her pregnancy for the sake of the modelling profession.Producer-director Shakti Saamanta has brought all his experience into picture while directing this movie and that’s why this movie is interesting for the major part of it. A sizable chunk of the narrative is in flashback which appears to be apt. Editing is good. Cinematography is satisfactory. Production value is according to the repute of Shakti Saamanta’s banner. The fashion parade shown in the movie in which the heroine of the movie, Rashmi wins the crown, is very impressive.
R.D. Burman’s music does not touch the heights of Kati Patang. Still the songs are quite good. Bheegi Bheegi Raaton Mein, Meethi Meethi Baaton Mein, Aisi Barsaaton Mein Kaisa Lagta Hai is a very romantic rain song. Another Lata-Kishore romantic duet – Hum Dono Do Premi Duniya Chhod Chale is also well known. However the best song is Kishore Kumar’s highly popular song – Ek Ajnabee Haseena Se Yoon Mulaqaat Ho Gayi (this way I happened to meet a stranger damsel). The picturization of this song is also very romantic and hilarious with Rajesh Khanna demonstrating his peculiar romantic mannerisms. I remember singing this song for the audience in a get-together that had taken place at the IAS coaching institute at Delhi on 26.01.1997 (I was aiming for the Indian Civil Services those days and living in Delhi while preparing for the exam.). The nostalgic memories of that evening still haunt me because my singing of this song was highly applauded by the listeners.
Rajesh Khanna and Zeenat Aman have done well and perfectly complimented each other. The supporting cast is routine.
I recommend this formula-based movie to the movie buffs for light entertainment in the style of the seventies. Since late Gulshan Nanda commanded a huge readership among the Hindi knowing Indians, I recommend this movie to those also who have read his novel – Ajnabee because, as I have said earlier, the movie is an improvement over the novel.
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