हीरा और पत्थर
When I visited Beth, we watched a whole mess of movies. "Mess," it turns out, is an apt description of Hira aur patthar ("diamond and stone"), about as disappointing an attempt at masala as I've ever seen. Beth and I figured we could not go wrong with a movie that featured each of our respective fake-pretend movie significant others, Shashi Kapoor and Shabana Azmi. As an added bonus for me, there is also Ashok Kumar, my recent fascination. When "with Asrani and Bindu" came up in the credits, Beth and I actually high-fived each other. A short time into the movie we caught a glimpse of Manorama as well. "This is going to be great," we thought. What better way to spend our visit together than with this cast? Alas.
As a young boy, Shankar loses his faith in God - particularly Jagdishwar, worshiped in the temple high on a clifftop overlooking his village - when his mother is fatally wounded in a fire and the boy's prayers fail to revive her. The fire was set by a cruel zamindar, Vikram Singh (Raj Mehra), bent on extracting as much money as possible from the farmers who work his land. Shankar's father and uncle (Bharat Bhushan and Chandrashekhar), now without their farm, take up the work of carrying pilgrims up to the temple on a doli. Even when he grows to adulthood, though, Shankar (Shashi Kapoor) still refuses to visit the temple, and won't even mount the steps - despite the entreaties of his cousin Tota (Asrani), Shankar refuses to carry a doli of his own. To shoulder his share of the family's debts to Vikram Singh, Shankar plans to make his fortune in the city. On the eve of his departure, though, he meets Gauri (Shabana Azmi), the daughter of the security officer who guards the temple. Smitten, Shankar relents - he stays in the village, agrees to carry the doli, and gladly climbs the steps each day to visit Gauri. But he still refuses to enter the temple, enraging Gauri's father. And when Shankar and his friend Dr Anand (Ashok Kumar) learn of Vikram Singh's thievery against the village and the temple, Singh's son Pratap (Narendranath) plots to put Shankar's life and liberty in peril. Pratap has another reason to want Shankar out of the way - the girl he loves, the vampish Rupa (Bindu), favors Shankar over him.
Hira aur patthar starts off with so much promise. The seeds of masala goodness are sown early and one expects them to sprout richly. There is terrific trauma-drama-o-rama as young Shekhar bounds up and down the temple steps screaming pleadingly for Jagdishwar to save his mother's life. There is a marvelously filmi passage-of-time sequence, in which the frustrated boy shows his anger with God by casting stones at his reflection. Ripples spread, the credits roll, and soon we see the grown Shankar sitting on the very same riverbank, still casting angry stones.
This is the kind of foundation that great masala films are laid upon. There is a charming meet-cute sequence between Gauri and Shankar at a vegetable stand, in which she accidentally squirts him with tomato seeds, and smiles that bashful, tooth-covering smile characteristic of Shabana Azmi when she was this young and self-conscious.
There is even a pretty decent first action sequence - Shankar takes on Pratap Singh in the open market, knocking over vegetable stands and snack carts to rescue Gauri from Pratap's harrassment. (This is after Pratap manhandles Gauri in the street and a bunch of men stand around just watching. Just like real life!)
Reminiscing about these early scenes with Beth, I described them as "back when we still thought this was going to be a good movie."
"We were so young and naïve," Beth replied.
So where does it all go wrong? It's hard to say exactly where Hira aur Patthar bumps off the rails. It just loses steam and takes a turn for the boring about halfway through. Bindu lacks her full glory as a vamp, and Pratap is about as mealy and unsatisfying a villain as I've ever seen. The movie lacks any kind of connective tissue, any grand masala theme to tie all the elements together. It flirts with a couple ideas - Shankar's steadfast denial of religious faith is one, and a false start in which it appears Shankar will organize the doliwale into some kind labor force is another - but nothing crystallizes. There are no great songs, no boisterous qawwali, no costume-donning antics, no climactic set-up to chase the villain down in his lair. In short, Hira aur patthar is not grounded enough to be a passable serious movie, and not silly enough to be a passable masala movie. To misapply Gertrude Stein, "There is no there there."
There are just a couple of moments worth their masala salt that lift Hira aur patthar out of Filmi Geek's new "Execrable" category and into "Timepass". One comes in service of Tota's quest to marry a village girl named Chanda (Jayshree). This hilarious scene features wedding rites performed in the back of a speeding truck driven by the stereotyped friendly Punjabi truck driver, while the bride's father and his choice of groom follow in a car that falls apart piece by piece. There is also some elegant suspense in a fight scene between Pratap and an unruly customer who tries to rape Rupa - a stabbing occurs behind an upturned couch, and for quite a long effective moment it is not at all clear who died.
But that's about it, and it's just not enough to sustain. It's telling that this far into the review I haven't had much to say about either of the principals, for whom Beth and I ostensibly chose this movie. That is because even they don't have a lot to offer. Shashi Kapoor comes as close to phoning it in as I've ever seen him do, and Shabana Azmi - my dear, beloved Shabana Azmi - just doesn't have a whole lot to do save some flitting (and as much as I adore her, she's not really much of a flitter) and some fretting. They look pretty, though, and Shabana always gives good sari.
And if nothing else, the Hira aur patthar offers a generous helping of the marvelous Manorama and the faces she pulls like no other. So I leave you with a sampling of that - a Manorama panorama, if you will.