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Kishore Kumar, Madhubala

Dinesh Raheja

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Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi is a three-hour-long film liberally interspersed with seven songs. But time flies when you're having fun.

CKNG bands together the notoriously eccentric Ganguly brothers. And if the best screwball comedies are those that continue to connect even with the modern generation, this fifties jest-setter is a sureshot winner.

Producers Director Music Director Stars
 Anup Sharma  Satyen Bose  S D Burman Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar, Madhubala, Anup Kumar

Of plot, there isn't much.

Three harum-scarum bachelor brothers --- Brijmohan (Ashok Kumar), Jaggu (Anup Kumar) and Manu (Kishore Kumar) --- run a garage when not chasing a self-willed jalopy. To escalate the madcap quotient, Brijmohan is a misogynist who passionately protects his brothers from the guiles of that wily species called women. He even reduces his brothers' hot pin-ups to cold ash.

But he could not possibly have accounted for the charms of Madhubala! On a rainy night, Manu runs into a running-nosed damsel in distress, Renu (Madhubala). The petulant Renu has been seized by a fit of sneezes and is saddled with a car that refuses to cough to life.

After the twosome clank angrily like tools in a mechanic's kit, Manu makes the car come alive. He manages to make Renu's heart purr too after chasing her frantically for the paanch rupaiya barah aana that she owes him. Jaggu also falls for Renu's companion Sheela (Sahira).

Jaggu, a two-faced jam tin, squeals on Manu's romantic romps with Renu. A furious Brijmohan challenges Manu to a boxing bout but, despite delivering a KO punch, is unable to knock sense into the lovelorn Manu. Manu is all set to take on mobster Raja saab (K N Singh providing eyebrow entertainment) and his accomplice Prakash (Sajjan), who are after Renu's millions.

Motivation for character development is revealed when (after much mayhem and many zippy plot contortions), we learn that Raja saab was responsible for souring Brijmohan's love life too, having held his sweetheart Kamini (Veena), under house arrest for years.

In the free-for-all climax, the three brothers combine forces and pound the villains while their girlfriends applaud enthusiastically.

In the one-for-the-road shot (pun intended), the three wives sit in the front seat of the family's jaunty jalopy, perched-on-the-backseat brothers yodel in unison Babu samjho ishaare, horn pukare, pom pom pom while a grinning Madhubala steers the film to a happily-ever-after ending.

Satyen Bose's storytelling doesn't really adhere to the conventional narrative grammar of cinema. Often, it feels like a series of whimsical situations and goofy songs that the brothers wanted to film. I wouldn't have been surprised if a bubble reading 'and then' popped up on screen at times. But the film is extraordinary in its capacity for elation and melody.

Famous songs from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi
  Song  Singers
  Babu samjho ishare  Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey
  Ek ladki bheegi bhagi  Kishore Kumar
  Main sitaron ka tarana  Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar
  Hum the woh thi  Kishore Kumar
  Haal kaisa hai janab  Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar
  Hum tumhare hain  Asha Bhosle,
Sudha Malhotra
  Ruk jao na jee  Asha Bhosle

The first scene itself signals that we are in for a jaunty, comic ride. A wobbly Chevrolet is stalled in the midst of traffic. All efforts by the three brothers to bring the car to life are in vain. Suddenly, Brijmohan feels the car is misbehaving because of the woman standing across the street and grinning from ear-to-ear. He quickly confers with his brothers and they make monkey faces at the woman. Petrified by this unexpected onslaught, she vamooses at lightening speed. No prizes for guessing, the car now splutters to life.

Certain sequences shine like beacons --- the naughty-frothy nuggets, Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi si and Hum the woh thi aur samaa rangeen, samajh gaye na (with Anup and Kishore huffing like a train); Madhubala and Kishore Kumar camouflaging their rapid exchange of secrets with a gaggle of exaggeratedly loud giggles (to distract a suspicious Sajjan); and a car race where Kishore Kumar, amongst other juvenile antics, squirts water on a rival. Only Kishore could have carried this preposterously implausible scene with such comic chutzpah.

The electricity between the three Ganguly brothers is all snap, pop and crackle. Ashok Kumar is a natural at conveying the essential goodness that lurks inside his porcupine prickliness. A surprisingly efficient Anup Kumar luxuriates in naughtiness. When Kishore Kumar is in the frame, you may shake your head at the insanity but your hands had better be holding your sides in case they split with all the laughing.

Madhubala and Kishore are perfectly in tune with each other's comic rhythms. She exudes oodles of charisma and her giggles are infectious.

Besides, in how many films do you have the heroine romantically address the heroine as Pagle, only to have him respond moony-eyed: Pagli.

In her limited screen time, Veena makes the most of her curdled smile, darting eyes and uncombed frizzy hair to convey her character's manic desperation.

At times, the sheer sprawl of the script does make you yearn for more moments that simply stick to the antics (Anup Kumar doing a Cary Grant-worthy double take when he sees a lipstick for the first time and mistakes it for a bullet). While the heavy reliance on back-projection evokes nostalgia for a bygone era, the technique does seem anomalous in the times of technical wizardry.

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But these are minor hurdles in a race that was declared won from the moment the animated titles seize the screen.

*Around the time Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi was made, Kishore Kumar and Madhubala plunged into secret matrimony. The marriage was not successful but they stayed married over the next decade till her death in 1969.

*Kishore and Madhubala worked in three other films, Dhake Ki Malmal (1956), Jhumroo (1961) and Half Ticket (1962), but were unable to duplicate the magic of Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958).

*Latter attempts by Kishore Kumar to cash on the success of Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi -- Badhti Ka Naam Daadhi and Chalti Ka Naam Zindagi -- came a cropper.

*Composers Jaidev and R D Burman, who went on to become famous in their own right, assisted S D Burman on the score.

*In 1990, 32 years after Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit jived to a Paanch rupaiya wananabe in Jeevan Ek Sanghursh. Keeping inflation in mind the number went, De de mera de de tu bees rupaiya. It still felt as counterfeit as a Rs 75 note.

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