Chotisi Baat: a must watch

Lockdown Masterpieces: Chotisi Baat (1975)

If Amol Palekar in Chotisi Baat had been born two decades later he would have been Shah Rukh Khan in Darr.Today when a guy follows every move that girl makes it’s known as stalking and is considered a serious legally cognizable offense. Back then in the relatively-innocent 1970s when Amol Palekar followed Vidya Sinha to every nook and corner of Mumbai where she happened to find herself in printed cotton sarees, it was seen as a cute harmless and innocuous love game about the shy guy who doesn’t know how to climb those stairs beyond the lovelorn stares.

The prolific and quite simply amazing Basu Chatterjee dared to dish out this cute disarming rom-com long before rom-coms and,yes, stalkers became famous in our movies.

Chotisi Baat came in the most audacious year in the history of Hindi cinema. 1975 has gone down in the history of Indian cinema as the year of Sholay. It was also the year Of Jai Santoshi Maa. The meager-budgeted mythological not only gave Sholay a run for its money –even out-doing the boxoffice collections of Ramesh Sippy’s film in many centres– it gave to the masses a new God to worship. And that God was far more pervasive than Gabbar Singh.

1975 was also the year of a number of other blockbusters mainly Dulal Guha’s Pratiggya(Dharmendra and Hema Malini had two back-to-back hits in 1975),Yash Chopra’s Deewaar, Brij Sadanah’s Chori Mera Kaam, Sohanlal Kanwar’s Sanyasi and K S Sethumadhavan’s Julie. Each of these created a boxoffice record of its own.

And if Basu Chatterjee thought he was safe in the sweet-and-tender ‘Uthey sabke kadam dekho rom-com-com’ zone, in came his closest competitor Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the kingdom of courtship comedies with Chupke Chupke, softly nibbling away into Basu-da’s fan base.

Fighting against all odds Chotisi Baat created a remarkable impact. The idea was to cash in on the success of Basu-da’s earlier rom-com Rajniganda. The same formula of the underdog stealing away the wholesome giggly office-going girl who keeps confiding in her colleague(played by Nandita Thakur, hats off to the actress for just being cast as a good listener) from under the nose of his cocky competitor in the courtship…Big-time producer B R Chopra invited Basu Chatterjee to make “another naughtier Rajniganda”.

Chotisi Baat is more naughty and risqué than Rajnigandha .It’s about the failure to tell the difference between love, infatuation and lust. Amol Palekar’s gawky gauche and altogether imbalanced Arun is discernibly inexperienced in matters of love and sex. The guy’s body-language is a dead give-away.The premise for pursuing(read: stalking) the pert if somewhat vacuous Prabha(Vidya Sinha) seems pretty shady: she simply seems to be the first pretty girl Arun spots.

The chase is interesting mainly because it’s shot in crowded areas wherein those days one couldn’t shoot with Dharmendra and Hema Malini anywhere in Mumbai except in the handful of studios. I mention this pair because they make a guest appearance in a movie-within-movie song sequence singing the Yesudas-Asha Bhosle chartbuster Jaan-e-man jaan-e-man tere do nayan.

Amol’s character watches the glamorous screen pair in muted ecstasy, celebrating the kind of swaggering courtship in a movie theatre that he seems incapable of. At one point Hema is removed from the screen in Amol’s imagination from Dharmendra’s arms and replaced by Vidya Sinha. Then carrying his makebelieve further he removes Dharmendra too and puts himself on screen with Vidya.

The sequence defines Basu Chatterjee’s aspirational heroes. Amol Palekar is the man on the street who pays for a movie ticket and watches stars romance on another in style. He cannot be one of them. He is one of us. He holds a clerical job in an office, travels by bus, eats at low-end restaurants, dreams of love and chases the first girl whom he fancies.This is not what filmy heroes are made of. This is the other end of Anurag Kashyap’s Wasseypur where in the bustle of everyday life salvation is not obtained through the nozzle of the gun but the darkness of a movie hall, and heroism lies in dreaming about love and romance in the shower and in the anonymity of the movie theatre.

Basu-da displays that typical awkwardness with film songs that became so discernible in the middle-of-the-road director of his time. The two evocative Salil Chowdhary compositions Na jaane kyon hota hai yun zindagi ke saath by Lata Mangeshkar and Yeh din kya aaye by Mukesh are thrust randomly in the background and have no direct bearing on the goings-on screen.

Enter the underrated Asrani as Prabha’s swashbuckling suitor. Asrani’s Nagesh rides around on a yellow scooter (on which he often whisks away Prabha from the bus-stand), knows the chef at restaurants,and pretends to be cool in an era when the word only referred to the room temperature.

This is where Basu-da’s film gets a little broader than a rom-com to embrace the mood of the burlesque. Arun takes the help of a love guru Julius Nagendranath Wilfred Singh, played with an army-man’s bravado by Ashok Kumar. Frankly the love guru’s love tips to Palekar are absurd to the point of being laughable for all the wrong reasons. The love guru has a couple of female assistants (one of them being the brief bombshell Komila Wirk) to demonstrate to the open-mouthed Arun how the ‘waist’ is won.

While the blustering love guru talks about finding and embracing true love he gives live demonstrations to Arun on how to get a girl out of her saree and into bed. No wonder the excessively confident Arun returns to Mumbai confused. In an anti-climactic climax that seems to have been written as a sex encounter-turned into a mushy moment of romantic confession, Arun finally “gets” Prabha.

Honestly, we don’t get it!

The film’s message on courtship is so jumbled it makes you wonder where the film’s love thesis got waylaid. Also, Nagesh’s comeuppance in the hands of the suddenly smartened Arun smacks of instant-gratification manufactured to give the audience a few laughs at the expense of the Other Man.

It is to Asrani’s credit that Nagesh doesn’t come across as a spurned buffoon although every effort is made to present him in a ludicrous light. Asrani’s is the best performance in this uneven comedy. Amol repeats most, if not all, his tricks of ingenuity from Rajnigandha. In fact the effort to recreate the Rajnigandha magic seems somewhat strained in Chotisi Baat.

If the work still preserves a native charm it’s because Amol pursues Vidya Sinha with a sincerity of purpose where a ‘no’ is clearly no-no for the girl being chased at bus-stops in buses and anywhere that a bus can take the lonely commuter of Mumbai.

Love was harder to find in those days. And therefore far more genuine and durable when found. I am sure Arun and Prabha are happily married with two children a boy and a girl,living outside Mumbai, maybe in Pune, since Mumbai is now too polluted for their delicate sensibilities.

As for Nagesh, he too must be married, running an internet site for lonely people called ‘Juliuswilfredsingh.com’.

Trivia:

Dharmendra and Hema appeared for the first time in a Basu Chatterjee film. It was just a song here.They went on to pair in Basu-da’s Dillagi. Hema’s mother produced Basu-da’s Swami and Ratnadeep, the latter strared Hema.

Amitabh Bachchan was shooting for B.R Chopra’s Zameer when Chotisi Baat was being made. Not only is a big hoarding of Zameer prominently displayed at the bus-stop where Palekar and Vidya meet every morning, the Big B also shows up for a scene.

We aren’t told anything about Amol or Vidya’s background. No parents, relative kith or kin show up
The film was inspired by Robert Hamer’s British comedy School For Scoundrels.

Basu Chatterjee named his heroine Prabha in Chotisi Baat. It was also the name of his favourite female character from his first film Sara Akash.

Basu Chatterjee On Chotisi Baat

“Chotisi Baat was among my most successful films. I had to repeat my Amol Palekar-Vidya Sinha pair from Rajnigandha. Everyone got swayed by the success of Rajnigandha. You’d be surprised know that Rajshri Productions for whom I made a lot of films, used to discourage me from working with Amol Palekar.After Rajnigandha and Chotisi Baat they insisted I sign him for Chit Chor. B R Chopra had produced the film. When the dubbing for Chotisi Baat was going on ,Mr and Mrs Chopra saw the film in their own theatre.They were thoroughly disheartened.Mr Chopra said he couldn’t afford a flop. He advised me to add the character of the love guru played by Ashok Kumar. It was inspired by the film School For Scoundrels. After the film released Mr Chopra sent me a telegram admitting he was wrong in his misgivings about the film. That was rather magnaminous of him….I worked with Ashok Kumar for the first time in Chotisi Baat.We then went on to work together in many films. He was a very intelligent actor, and a closet-director. He used to tell me, ‘You’re one of the best directors I’ve came across.’ Our most popular film together was Shaukeen.Is someone really re-making it? My best wishes to him.”

“Regarding the songs being put in the background, somehow I couldn’t come to terms with my characters bursting into songs in my films. No one does that in real life. You don’t see people singing on the roads or even in the parks.Songs are a commercial compromise.I had to invent tricks to fit songs into my film.In Chit Chor I made Amol Palekar’s character a singer. But I never believed that songs could be hits only if they were lip-sync-ed on screen by the lead actors. In my films,songs like Rajnigandha phool tumhare, Yeh din kya aaye and Aaye na balam ka karoon sajni were hits in spite of being in the background.”

Also Read:What Is Amol Palekar Trying To Say About Basu Chatterjee?

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