Shashi Kapoor’s Jab Jab Phool Khile was an extremely critical film. here’s why
If you’ve seen enough mainstream Hindi movies, you know the classic Hindi movie trope where the biggest conflict in the love story is the class difference between man and woman. In such films, a character comes from an insufferably rich family that looks down on everyone who is poor, and the poor character has a heart of gold with an integrity of steel. The formula is quite old and tired, but when in 1965 director Suraj Prakash made Jab Jab Phool Khile starring Shashi Kapoor-Nanda, it turned out to be one of the most successful films of its time. Not only that, when the same movie was remade 30 years later as Raja Hindustani, it was still a massive hit.
In case you haven’t seen Jab Jab Phool Khile, let me give you some insight. Rita, played by Nanda, is a wealthy, well-educated woman who has just returned from the United States. She wants to go on vacation in a serene place. His parents suggest Kashmir and send him packing with a woman, who can be described as a maid (as in Downton Abbey). It is there that she meets a houseboat owner named Raja, played by Shashi Kapoor. Shashi alone makes the movie a jovial experience as his charming smile makes you believe in his innocence. In one of the first scenes, Raja breaks into Rita’s room at dawn to replace some bedside flowers and when she is offended by his unwelcome presence, he gets upset. At this point, it’s obvious that these two come from opposite worlds. He doesn’t even know the concept of hitting and she comes from a society that has serious rules in place. But as it happens in the movies, the love story begins where, for the most part, Rita seems to put up with it so she can rebel against her parents.
At one point, a likely suitor named Kishore enters the mix. He was sent to Kashmir to accompany Rita on her solo travels by her parents. This particular angle to the story seemed pretty avant-garde for the time, but what we actually see on screen is pretty sanitized. Rita believes herself to be an independent woman and is confused by the concept of a man controlling a woman’s life. So when Raja confesses his love for her and also says that he won’t let her speak to anyone in town once she marries him, you assume Rita would notice the red flag. But no, that’s where you’re wrong! Instead, Rita falls deeply in love with him and is happy to be the gaon ki gori who would walk his sheep through the valley.
Jab Jab Phool Khile operates primarily on stereotypes of rich versus poor, the trope that could make a mediocrely funny YouTube video today, but not an entire feature film. Even after you’ve been told that Rita loves Raja, you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop because all the while she’s been putting him through various makeovers, hoping he’ll become the man who ‘s’ will integrate” into his society. Raja, on the other hand, is in culture shock when he sees women drinking, dancing with strangers, and is completely stunned when Rita suggests he could dance with someone else as well.
Watching it in 2022, you can see how they come from different worlds and probably aren’t a good match, given their ideologies. The storytellers here are very insistent on telling you that rich people have no moral compass and will do whatever they want. The movie is so critical of its characters and keeps reminding you that anyone with money is a horrible person. Before falling in love with Raja, Rita yells at her lady’s maid because she sees her in one of her dresses, saying she’d rather throw the dress away than wear it again. Which implies that even the heroine of the film is not a good person.
It’s been almost 26 years since Raja Hindustani came out and we can only hope that no one plans to remake this movie because there’s more to filming the characters than their economic background, and we can’t be subjected to another movie which is exactly the same as Jab Jab Phool Khile and Raja Hindustani.
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