Writing about an average masala movie can sometimes feel as formulaic as the movies themselves. You hit all the highlights - your favorite adorable jodi, a couple of fun songs, a comedy scene with wacky disguises, a progressive social message. The Hema-Dharmendra vehicle Dream Girl offers all of these, plus the requisite baby-switching plot twist and syncretic and populist themes. With all of that, though, Dream Girl is very, very average, even among average masala movies. It meets the Recommended Masala Allowance, but for the most part it's rather bland, phoned-in and unmemorable. To misapply Gertrude Stein, there is no there there.
Dashing Anupam (Dharmendra) is the sort of guy that girls fight over - he's handsome, he's rich, and he has the world on a string. But the only girl he wants is an anonymous mystery girl in a painting he bought from a street vendor. Then one day, in a shop, he runs into the girl of his dreams, the girl from his painting (Hema Malini), and watches in surprise as she steals his car and his money. The dream girl, as it happens, is a bit of a Robin Hood - with her brother Chandu (Asrani), she runs a variety of hustles and cons, all for the benefit of the bevy of orphans she cares for in her "Happy Home" orphanage. In the meantime, under pressure from his grandfather Verma (Ashok Kumar) to marry, Anupam extracts a favor from his dream girl - whom he fittingly calls Sapna (dream). He introduces her to Verma as his betrothed, and as a princess to boot. Verma is charmed, and insists that Sapna stay in their luxurious home. But Anupam's disinherited cousin Prem (Prem Chopra) discovers a terrible secret about Sapna's past, and is determined to use it to get at Anupam's share of Verma's fortune.
Though it has a few sparkling moments, Dream Girl is, for the most part, an amorphous puddle of failed potential whose whole somehow manages to be less than the sum of its parts. The pairing of Dharmendra and Hema can be so electric, but here they have little screen-time together, and what they do have lacks any sizzle. The songs, which can make a good masala film great or make a mediocre masala film a raucous good time, miss the mark here. Dream Girl even manages to make Hema doing a gypsy dance forgettable. Hema's interactions with the children in her orphanage are cute - but they are also lifted wholesale from Brahmachari.
The best moments of Dream Girl are the comic scenes stolen by Asrani, as Chandu, Sapna's partner in crime and co-parent to the orphans. In the countless films in which I've seen him, Asrani has been little more than a dorky lightweight character actor. In Dream Girl, though, Asrani is the one element that reaches full potential - most of the real laughs come at his hands. His disguises and his hijinx complement his tenderness toward Sapna and the children, adding up to a delightful and well-rounded performance.
Finally, if anything absolves Dream Girl's sins of mediocrity, it's the climactic melee, in which Dharmendra not only drives a motorcycle up a spiral staircase, but also leaps on it from one building to the next, and then wields it as a weapon in a bit of truly inspired dishoom-dishoom. Hema and even the children get in on the action too. The fight scene, together with Asrani and a few other genuine smiles sprinkled here and there, offer at least a light snack for the serious masala connoisseur.
(My apologies for the absence of my customary one original screencapture. The computer is being a bitch about reading DVDs, and it seemed silly to hold up the entire post until I get that sorted out.)