Basu Chatterjee’s humorous streak is often attributed to the 18 years that he spent at the Blitz tabloid in Mumbai as a cartoonist and illustrator. Chatterjee’s impishness and love of caricature are present in many of his films, including Chhoti Si Baat, Khatta Meetha and Dillagi. Chameli Ki Shaadi, Chatterjee’s comedy from 1986, unfolds like a 129-minute cartoon strip. Set in a small town whose kitchens run on coal and featuring a pack of crackpot characters, the movie is a very good example of Chatterjee’s light touch and deft characterisation.
Anil Kapoor is aspiring wrestler Charandas, who meets Chameli (Amrita Singh) soon after taking a vow of celibacy. Charandas’s mentor Mastram (Om Prakash) warns him that “Nari nark ka dwar hai” – women are gateways to hell, and must be avoided until Charandas has turned 40.
But Charandas cannot resist the sprightly Chameli, who is stuck in the eighth standard because she has previously failed four times. Chameli happens to be the daughter of Kallumal Koylewala (Pankaj Kapur), an exploitative trader who is selling coal above the market rate. Charandas and Chameli are also from different castes.
A hilarious comedy ensues as Kallumal and his weepy wife (Bharati Achrekar) try to keep their daughter under lock and key. Progressive lawyer Harish (Amjad Khan) intervenes, and Mastram, despite his aversion to love and courtship, plays his part too.
The movie is out on YouTube. A better-quality version is on the pay-per-view sites YouTube Movies and Google Play.
“Women are like sugarcane juice makers, they suck the energy out of men,” Mastram also declares, but like many statements in the movie, this one isn’t to be taken to heart. Charandas forgets his vows as he falls deeper for Chameli, while Kallumal turns out be less of an evil dad and more of a clown with a Hitler moustache. Basu Chatterjee’s best films advised against getting too serious about life. He closely follows his own advice in Chameli Ki Shaadi.
The actors are in fine form. Amrita Singh is a revelation in a comic role, and Anil Kapoor is hilarious as the chest-out but not-too-bright lover. Amjad Khan’s scheming is boundless, and allows the actor to prove yet again that his acting skills extend beyond villainy. Kallumal Koylewala’s antics have their own fanbase.
The movie is based on Om Prakash Sharma’s novel Dhadkanein. In his book In A Cult of Their Own, a collection of essays on well-known and little-known Hindi films, Amborish Roychoudhury revealed how the Prakash Mehra production got off the ground.
“In the early 1980s Satyen Pal Choudhary, one of film-maker Prakash Mehra’s financiers, invited Sharma to Mumbai to discuss adapting Dhadkanein to a film,” Roychoudhury wrote. “Sharma granted them permission to make the film, but turned down the invitation to travel to Mumbai. In some time, director Basu Chatterjee paid him a visit at his Meerut residence and revealed that it was he who was directing the film, Prakash Mehra being the producer.” Om Prakash Sharma had “great regard” for Chatterjee, and was “assured that his work was now in the right hands”.
Pankaj Kapur, who can play light and serious roles with equal dexterity, had previously acted in Chatterjee’s Ek Ruka Hua Faisla (1986), an unofficial remake of the Hollywood classic Twelve Angry Men.
“During the making of the film, he was also planning for Chameli ki Shaadi, which he planned to direct,” Kapur told Roychoudhury. Kapur was cast as Amrita Singh’s father despite being only four years older than her in real life. “We were only interested in acting and the characters we were playing, and I said, ‘Okay Dada, fine Dada, I am there for you,’” Kapur told Roychoudhury.
The movie anticipated the current fondness for social comedies set in small towns and featuring quirky characters. Some of these movies strain to create the laughs, but Chameli Ki Shaadi, in the best tradition of the Basu Chatterjee laugh-fest, is effortless.