तेरे घर के सामने
Dir. Vijay Anand
On the long flights back from India, not wanting my trip to be over, I kept my head and heart there by watching a couple of Hindi movies. Vijay Anand's Tere ghar ke samne ("Opposite your house") turned out to be an excellent choice - its postcard-perfect scenes of Delhi brought me right back to exploring that city on the first days of my trip. I kept saying, "Hey, I was there!" And if that weren't enough, I got a delightful movie in the mix - full of belly laughs, excellent songs, and the inimitable charm of Nutan. What's not to love?
Seth Karamchand (Harindranath Chattopadhyay) and Lala Jagannath (Om Prakash) are bitter rivals after they buy adjacent Delhi plots at a heated auction. Each is determined to build a house that stands taller and more magnificent than the other's. To that end, each wants to hire Delhi's most fashionable architect, the young prodigy Rakesh Kumar (Dev Anand). Rakesh can't say no to either man. On the one hand, he is in love with Karamchand's lithe, witty daughter Sulekha (Nutan). On the other, the stern, pious Jagannath is his father! Rakesh must find a way to please both clients, while keeping them in the dark about his double-engagement. And keeping secrets from Sulekha is a dangerous game that threatens their budding romance.
Tere ghar ke samne, for all its levity and comedy, addresses the prime cultural conflicts that make so many of the movies of the 1960s - including Vijay Anand's other films, like Jewel Thief - so fascinating. The tension between East and West, between tradition and modernity, is made explicit in Rakesh's relationship with his father, Jagganath, who heartily complains that Rakesh has forsaken his values of temperance and piety during his time studying in America. In the end, though, the younger generation bands together to pull a fast one on the grown-ups, forcing them to reconcile their shallow enmities. The kids in Tere ghar ke samne do not wish to abandon tradition and follow their pleasure regardless of their parents' wishes. Rather, they are determined to convince the parents to see things their way, acceding to modernity while remaining true to their traditional roots. It is possibly over-reading to see a post-Partition allegory in this, but several people I spoke to in India comented that it is the younger generations who are beginning to heal the rifts of partition; perhaps Vijay Anand anticipated that phenomenon with this tale.
Unlike Kahaani or Howrah Bridge, which evoke Calcutta as an additional character in their dramatis personae, Tere ghar ke samne does not offer a strong sense of Delhi as a vibrant city. Its characters occupy the rarified space of extremely wealthy New Delhi, frequenting cabarets and garden clubs. The city of Delhi is presented not so much as a living entity, but rather as a parade of famous landmarks in the opening credits, or glimpsed through windows in the background of indoor scenes. Still, Vijay Anand puts this setting to magnificent use in the sequence shot at Qutub Minar, and especially the wonderful song "Dil ka bhanwar kare pukar". By the time I got to Qutub Minar, the tower itself had been closed to visitors for 30 years, but I got to vicariously enjoy Rakesh and Sulekha's flirtatious, romantic climb to the top and musical descent.
And, while I am on the subject of charming romantic songs, the movie's title song is utterly delightful - a lonely, pining Rakesh sings to a shimmering apparition of Sulekha in his glass of whisky. The attention to detail in this song is simply masterful - in one especially wonderful moment (beginning around 1:10), the image of Sulekha reacts with a chill to an ice cube dropped into her glass.
In Vijay Anand's Jewel Thief, just a few years later, Dev Anand feels like an aging hero, and is beginning to show a slightly creepy air - as much as I love that movie, there is something of the dirty old man about him. In Tere ghar ke samne, though, it's clear why he is thought of as one of the most charming leading men of his era. His Rakesh is jaunty, sweet, and earnest as he romances Sulekha. And as Sulekha, Nutan is simply delicious. She doesn't have a lot to do except look beautiful and flirt slyly, but she delivers both perfectly, lighting up the screen with her smile - and she does get a few good zingers in, as Sulekha resists (but not really) Rakesh's wooing banter. The supporting cast adds a lot of richness as well. Rajendranath is hilarious as Sulekha's soldier brother Ronny, who is big and loud and preternaturally cheerful. Om Prakash is an absolute riot; he delivers Jagannath's pious speeches with a squeak, as if they are too much even for his copious breath. And yet, even in all this comedic bluster, he brings a touch of poignancy to his relationship with Rakesh. It is remarkable that such a broad performance can be at the same time subtle and moving.