SAGAI (1951)

Cast: Premnath, Rehana, Gope, Yakub, Purnima, Vijaylaxmi, Sunder, Hiralal, Iftikhar, Rirkoo, Ramavtar.

Chandni (Rehana), a foreign returned student, is distressed to discover that her father (Iftikhar) plans to marry her off to his friend’s son, a boy she has never even met.

The girl steals away from her dad while on a train trip and meets up with two bozos, Fooman (Yakub) and Dhaboo (Gope), who are on the lam from the police due to their traveling by rail without benefit of paid fares. The newly created threesome, low on funds, but high on ideas, decide to put on a musical program to raise some extra dough.

Their number is a smash, but then Fooman and Dhaboo figure they can make even more money by selling a “miracle cure” hair tonic to the audience which, of course, fails miserably, causing the user’s hair to completely fall out.

Soon the trio are on the run, being chased by a mob of angry customers. Dhaboo, Fooman, and Chandni hide themselves in a large crate which ends up aboard a steamship headed out to sea.

Finding themselves to be stowaways on a boat hired to take a spoiled princess (Purnima) back to her home country, our three friends don crewman uniforms in order to avoid detection by the ship’s captain, Prem (Premnath).

Dreamy, isn’t he!

It isn’t long before Capt. hottie Prem discovers the trio, but after they explain their situation he allows them passage, as long as the are willing to work for it.

Although the fear of walking the plank has subsided, Daboo and Fooman are now worried that the handsome Prem might take a liking to the delectable Chandni. You see, our two loveable goofballs each have hopes of becoming her suitor, and they don’t want competition from the swarthy seaman. They convince  Chandni that it is in her best interest to continue to disguise herself as “Mr. Chand,” sailor.

Prem learns that his new crew members have a talent for music and dance and the result is a delightful number, with Chandni taking the lead performing in the guise of a man disguised as a girl.

There is plenty of Busby Berkeley-like goodness! Something that is high on my list of things that make me smile.

It is only a matter of time before Chandni (still dressed as a man) falls for Prem (and really, who wouldn’t), much to the consternation of her two smitten cohorts.

Our girl finally comes clean about the ruse.

….which results in this bit adorableness…

Swoon, right!

All would be well except that even the princess has her eye on the studly captain, and she has every intention of making him her prince charming. Prem has been playing along with the princess’ flirtation so as not to ruffle her feathers whilst she is aboard his ship and paying the bills, but he is not at all interested in her romantically, and he has yet to learn that filmi duplicity of this sort always spells  trouble.

Upon arrival at the Princess’ tropical kingdom Prem, Chandni, Dhaboo, Fooman, and Billu (the captain’s assistant, as played by Sunder) are greeted in the royal palace by the Princess’ brother (Hiralal), who is the king.

And how!

Chandni has remained disguised as a man…

…but the king isn’t fooled for a minute and reveals the deception

The princess is not happy by the addition of this pert and pretty female now in her midst, and her displeasure is compounded when she discovers that Prem does not love her as she loves him.

When she learns that it is Chandni that the captain reveres, she becomes absolutely livid!

As revenge, the princess tears her clothing, making it look as though Prem had made illicit advances towards her…

….and the king has the captain imprisoned for doing naughty things.

Chandni begs the king to release Prem, but the king wants her to forget the captain and become his wife.

Sure, the idea of being queen of a lovely tropical island has its strong points, but Chandni, even though a modern, educated girl is still old-fashioned when it comes to pyaar, and she sticks with her first choice in love, Prem.

…besides, Prem is a keeper!

However, when Chandni witnesses her unconscious lover in the torture chamber…

…about to have his eyes plucked out with hot steel rods, it is too much for the girl to bear and she concedes to be the king’s bride in order to save Prem’s life, or at least his eyes.

This news the scorned princess later delivers with glee to a now wide awake Prem. Of course she leaves out any of the pertinent facts that might make Chandni look heroic.

It is difficult to believe that this is the same Premnath who just a few years later, due to heavy drinking and probably a good meal or ten, would go from this…

to this….

….of course, if I could afford to eat tasty Indian meals every day I’m sure I would be on my way to looking like pudgy Premnath, as well (and alas, when I look at recent snaps of myself, I begin to worry that I may be soon getting there).

In the midst of these happenings, there are musical numbers, including one very lovely song and dance by Cuckoo.

Chandni manages to convince the king to release Prem and friends from captivity. Prem, wrongly believing that Chandni has forsaken his love for the comforts of the palace, sneaks back into  the castle to take bloody vengeance on her, only to be stopped at the last-minute when he overhears her song of lost love…..

…..and he realizes he is mistaken about her intentions. The big dope.

Reunited with his paramour…

….the two  are caught by the king, who sentences Prem to be burnt at the stake.

Will our dreamy guy be reduced to burnt ash?

Will the princess learn to move on after losing her love match?

Will Chandni succumb to the kings proposal? And what of the young man she was promised to?

All this and more will be revealed when you see SAGAI!

SAGAI opens with a wonderful latin rhumba theme, making you think you might  have just stumbled upon a Dorothy Lamour picture. The lively music makes me realize right away that I am going to enjoy this picture! Bollywood of the early 1950s seemed to go all out in trying different types of musical styles, and this makes for a unique mixture of  classic and modern, Indian and foriegn, and is one of the great treats of viewing Hindi films made in the post Independence era.

The lead actress Rehana is cute as a button and reminds me very much of Konkona Sen Sharma, both in looks and charm. Rehana has a superb sense of comedy timing and manages to hold her own during the comedic first 2/3rds of the film, despite the obvious attempts by Yakub and Gope to upstage her. This is my first time seeing Rehana, but I plan to immediately get to her 1950 film DILRUBA, where she plays opposite Dev Anand. I can imagine that the chemistry between those two will be fantastic, although whether Dev and Rehana will equal this much cuteness, it is difficult to say.

Just makes your dil go all squishy, na?!

I do hope that more of actress Rehana’s films will be release on DVD in the near future (are you listening FRIENDS DIAMOND COLLECTION?) as very few seem to be available at the moment, although there are some other Rehana films out there on VCD for those who do not need subtitles.

Just see how cute she is!!

As an aside, Rehana, who is, as of this posting, still among us, had a successful career for a few years, but by the mid 1950s was reduced to secondary roles. At that time she moved to Pakistan where she hoped to revive her career, but with little success. Very sad. She is said to live a reclusive life now, but Ms. Rehana if you should ever get wind of this writer’s blog, it would please me greatly to do a story on your life and career!!

The young Premnath was another wonderful discovery for me with the viewing of SAGAI. Up to this point in my Bollwooding I had only known him in his pudgy, character actor avatar, which of course is wonderful, but to see him so very handsome and fit in this film was a revelation.  I mean, just look at the man. He is stunning!

His character was cocky, but likeable… and humorous. There was one plot point with him that did, however, make me somewhat uneasy and that was the point where he plans to get revenge on Chandni because he thinks she has fallen in love with the king. He takes a large knife and is going to stab her! This was entirely out of character for Prem. I mean this fun-loving, handsome professional climbs into Chandni’s boudoir to stab her to death! I was flabbergasted. This action simply did not fit his character (unless he was secretly psychotic) and the scene seems so out-of-place and creates the danger of the viewer feeling unsympathetic towards Prem. Not that this sort of odd character transition doesn’t happen a-plenty in Bollywood films, it does and I am fairly used to it, but still, it would have been so much more effective had the screenwriter simply had Prem plan to angrily tell her off, rather then intending  to slice and dice her. When things like this do happen in Hindi films I just have to wince and accept it, otherwise it would spoil the whole movie for me.  Another later scene has Prem again acting out of character and being somewhat cruel to Chandni…although this situation is later explained to the audience’s satisfaction.

Gope and Yakub are familiar names to me, having seen them credited on many vintage filmi posters and song booklets, but this was my first time actually seeing them in a movie, at least together, and evidently they did frequently work as a team. In SAGAI they are doing their best Abbott and Costello schtick, and at times they are amusing. Unfortunately, a little Gope and Yakub goes a long way, and there was just far too much of them in SAGAI. It would not have hurt to have their scenes trimmed a bit, particularly the Keystone Cops inspired chase scene near the beginning of the film which wore out it’s welcome quickly.

They do resemble Abbott and Costello, though, don’t they?

Sunder, on the other hand, has a minimal role in the film, and frankly I find him to be a much more enjoyable funny-man (I do admit that I sometimes get him confused with the comedian Agha), and the film would not have suffered from a bit more of his antics.

All in all, SAGAI is a sweet, funny, enjoyable film, with plenty of Saturday matinee serial frolics thrown in towards the end. The movie could use a  little tightening up in places, with less time given to the comedians and more time given to the pretty leads, but despite that it still entertains. The print used by FRIENDS is missing at least one scene. There is a shot of the princess, on board the ship’s deck, just about to talk to Prem. You see a split second of that scene  and then all of a sudden the entire cast is in the castle, on the island, being introduced to the king. Otherwise the film source used is in fairly good shape.

The songs by C. Ramchandra are delightful, in particular “Udhar Se Tum Chale” which I found myself  humming long after I had finished watching the movie. You too can enjoy it below, with subtitles).

One very nice discovery was that I found that I have in my pile(s) of unwatched Bollywood films, at least one or two other early handsome Premnath films, which I plan to watch very, very soon!

Yes Premnathji, I certainly am!