I have said this so many times: I love the 1960s. I love thrillers. I love Shashi Kapoor. And I simply adore Sharmila Tagore, who ranks on the list of filmi women who melt my shorts. So when Amrita told me that Aamne saamne ("face to face, opposite") had all that plus Sharmila on waterskis, I knew I had to watch it. And when I sat down to it, my expectations were high. Despite that great potential, though, I have to admit that Aamne saamne comes up a little short. I watched it with Memsaab, and her review fairly thoroughly covers all the half-assed devices and wrong turns the movie takes. But what can I say - I enjoyed myself all the same. I am a sucker for all that pretty - and with "the ShaSha" (thanks, Amrita) rocking magnificent 60s style, there is loads of pretty to go around.
One terrible night, a woman is murdered. Her husband Deepak (Shashi Kapoor) is caught at the scene, and tried for her murder. Deepak is acquitted in court, but he inherits his wife's wealth, and for that reason is convicted in th court of public opinion. He heads to Bombay to start a new life with a new name, Gopal. Gopal whiles away the hours stalking his pretty young neighbor Sapna (Sharmila Tagore), who finds him rightly creepy and annoying at first, but in grand filmi tradition, warms to him in time. Sapna's brother Pran (Madan Puri) wants her to marry her eager suitor Prem (Prem Chopra), and they threaten to kill her if she doesn't comply. So Sapna and Gopal elope to Kashmir, where they frolic happily - and gorgeously - until shades of Gopal's mysterious past begin to cast looming shadows of suspicion.
It is undeniable that Aamne saamne does not have much to offer in the way of substance, and that the plot, such as it is, is loaded with problematic tropes. For example: there is not a single man in this movie who does not, at some point, threaten to kill Sapna if she refuses to do as he commands. This is bad enough coming from the film's nominal villains, Pran and Prem; it's downright appalling when even Gopal gets in on the coercive action.
And Gopal's pursuit of Sapna is creeptastic, a particularly egregious example of filmi stalking. Which is not to say he doesn't look lovely doing it:
Indeed, only Shashi Kapoor could find a way to be adorable and creepy at the same time, as he does during the stalkalicious song "Aaj kal humse roothe".
It's very easy to be blinded by the pretty here and forget that what's really going on is quite twisted and skeezy. After all, Shashi himself looks good enough to eat - good enough to make me question my sexuality several times over. And if that's not enough, he's not just perving on Sapna - he's perving on Sapna in a bubble bath.
Good lord, isn't she a delicious frosted cupcake? Between this and Vidya Balan's bathtub romp in The Dirty Picture, well, I'll be in my bunk. (If someone can think of a movie with Shabana Azmi in a bubble bath and complete the hat trick for me, I'll die a happy woman.)
This creepy side of Shashi is rather enjoyable at first. Typically, only in relatively early films of big stars does one get to enjoy them playing rather unsavory characters. It's something I love about Amitabh Bachchan's Saudagar - admittedly a very different sort of film from Aamne saamne - in which he plays a truly reprehensible character that one could never imagine him playing just a few years later at the peak of his stardom. Likewise, I took some pleasure in watching Shashi look dark and sinister early in the movie. But the truth is there is no payoff, no substance behind it. Gopal is not dark, and not sinister - it's all a big fat red herring, contrivance for the sake of manufactured suspense that is neither particularly effective nor sustained by the story.
Aamne saamne does have, like many movies of its era, a noisy comedy side plot. This one features Rajendranath as a rather bumbling Bengali chap who appends himself as a sort of valet to Gopal. I haven't seen a ton of Rajendranath but I loved him to death in Tere ghar ke samne and even his brief appearance in Chhoti si baat. So I was ready and delighted for more when I saw his name in the credits. His turn here, though, is largely a broad Bengali stereotype that falls somewhere between "I don't fully get it" and "it's just not that funny."
And yet despite all that meh - the lackluster plotting, the unfunny comedy, the creepy unromantic romance, the multiple instances of extortion in the name of love - I can't say I had a bad time watching Aamne saamne. It has some truly outstanding songs - Shashi absolutely kills in his white stove-pipe pants in Rafi's superb "Nain milakar chain churana," a song which also features some epic pouting by Sharmila.
As if that's not enough, this song follows an interlude in which Prem Chopra attempts to dance the Mashed Potato. Later in the film there is also a truly bizarre "African dance" featuring Laxmi Chayya and a bunch of blackfaced men. The 60s just don't get any better than this, folks.
And then there is "Mere bechain dil ko chain tune diya," ostensibly the reason I watched this movie in the first place:
But Sharmila is just as tasty fully dressed as she is in that swimsuit.
What can I say? When the payoff is this kind of pretty, the movie doesn't have to be all that good to get the job done. Aamne saamne may not have a ton going on in the substance department, but it earned itself what is likely the most pic-spammy post in Filmi Geek's history. That's got to be worth something.