As Shammi Kapoor vehicles and stylish 1960s movies go, Brahmachari ("celibate man," also the main character's name) is not the most memorable exemplar of either category, compared to gems like Teesri manzil or Kashmir ki kali. For the most part, it is a series of entertaining set-pieces knit together fairly loosely. Supplemented by a terrific soundtrack and entertaining supporting cast, though, Brahmachari is a satisfying enough movie for smiling away a rainy afternoon.
The young man who calls himself Brahmachari (Shammi Kapoor) has opened his house to a passel of orphaned children. He devotes his life to caring for them and finding ways to provide for them - whether by selling his photographs to the newspaper, singing in a nightclub, or sweet-talking the landlord (Asit Sen) into giving them a break on the rent and an extra Rs. 200 besides. When he comes across Sheetal (Rajshree) on the brink of drowning herself in the sea, he has a new waif to care for. The source of Sheetal's distress is her rejection by the rich playboy Ravi Khanna (Pran), to whom she was engaged to marry when both were children. Observing that Ravi's tastes run to westernized sorts of women, Brahmachari offers Sheetal a complete makeover, giving her a brief education in how to dress, dance, and eat like a modern girl. The plan works, and Ravi falls for Sheetal - but not before Brahmachari's unique kindness to her and the children begins to turn Sheetals's heart in a different direction. To get what he wants, the powerful and unscrupulous Ravi stops at nothing to drive a wedge between Sheetal and Brahmachari, and hits Brahmachari where it hurts most - threatening the well-being of the children.
Brahmachari is an obvious antecedent to Mr. India, which followed it two decades later. In that film, too, the hero selflessly devotes himself to caring for helpless orphans, and fast-talks his landlord into letting them stay and providing them with favors. However, where the villains in Mr. India engineer injustice on a grand scale - tainting food supplies in a hostile takeover bid aimed at the nation itself - Brahmachari's injustices are writ smaller. Nevertheless, there is still a sense of grandness in them, a hint of the struggle between traditional Indian goodness and western wickedness that was so commonly addressed in movies of the 1960s. Sheetal's demureness and Brahmachari's self-sacrifice are presented in sharp relief to the wicked western ways of the libertine Ravi Khanna. Another of Ravi's innocent victims, a girl named Rupa (Mumtaz) whom he married, impregnated, and cast aside, is caught between the two worlds - an innocent victim but also perhaps a cautionary tale.
Whatever there is in the way of broad social theme, though, is not what feels first and foremost as Brahmachari careens from bit to comical bit (including a funny, but too long, comical side plot involving a reformed pick-pocket trying to win over his girlfriend's father). Shammi Kapoor is in fine form, charming and adorable and somewhat less manic than he is in some other movies (such as his spastic performance in Kashmir ki kali). His interactions with the children are funny and sometimes very touching, as when he sings them to sleep with the haunting and lovely "Main gaoon tum so jao." His antics as he investigates Ravi Khanna offer some laughs, too, despite the cringe-inducing blackface disguise he wears. There's no danger of forgetting it's the 1960s, either, as he shakes it to the superb "Aaj kal tere mere pyaar" with a bee-hived, twisting Mumtaz.
The Pygmalion-esque sequence in which Brahmachari teaches Sheetal to wear western clothes, to dance, and to eat with a fork is good for several laughs too, although one should not think too hard about why he's doing it. After all, by that point he's had a good look at what sort of a jerk Ravi Khanna really is. I do wish the Pygmalion aspect of the story had been a stronger thread - there are brief scenes of Sheetal struggling with each of her lessons, but the film jumps to her complete mastery of western self-presentation, and that's all we get - there's nothing like My Fair Lady's "Move yer blooming arse!" scene to make comedy hay after the transformation is complete. No matter, though, as Brahmachari is not at all short on entertaining moments. Fans of trippy, nonsensical song picturizations will not want to miss "Dil ke jharoke" which features men in Robin Hood getup competing with men in lizard costumes for the pleasure of dancing with women in evening gowns. And rounding out the random bits of fun is the send-up of Mehmood's song from Gumnaam that earned the child actor Junior Mehmood that nickname.