Cities have a heterogeneous mixture of people. In cities like Mumbai or Delhi, you’ll often see people from different parts of the country, trying their very best to fit in the epic struggle called life. In the bustling crowd of office-goers in the local trains or the public buses, these days everyone is found engrossed with their mobile phones, digging deep into their screen for the daily quota of Netflix, Prime or YouTube. But think of the times when there were no phones, no facebook to update statuses and no twitter to rage a rant over trivial issues. Good old days, when the time was simpler, people were kind and in general, decent. A time when a shy boy, hailing from a small town used to meet a demure girl who lived in the suburbs, every day on the bus stand, on the way to the office. Basu Chatterjee’s ‘Choti Si Baat’ is from those times, surreal like vintage wine and fresh like the first dew in autumn.
Arun Pradeep who works in the company Jackson Tolaram Pvt Ltd is in awe of Prabha, who works in a company that deals regularly with Jackson Tolaram. Arun is painfully shy and is often taken for a ride by everyone around him, as he fails to understand their true motive. Prabha also likes Arun but wants him to make the first move towards establishing a relationship. Unaware of Prabha’s true feelings, Arun is afraid of making the first move, thus putting them in an unwarranted standoff.
Enter the smart alec – Nagesh!
Nagesh is everything that Arun isn’t. Rather Nagesh is everything that Arun wishes to be. Self-confident, suave, smart, in short all those qualities that Arun so dearly wants to be imbibed in him. Plus he’s one arrogant fellow, who doesn’t miss a single chance of bullying Arun or making him look like a fool, especially in front of Prabha, as he also seeks his chance with her. For a rival like Nagesh, a timid Arun stands no chance. Desperate and downtrodden Arun stumbles upon an advertisement in the newspaper, which promises to help people like him. Arun goes to the given address, which turns out to be a maze of roads going through hills, water and forest. Eventually, Arun reaches on the door of his saviour – Colonel Julius Nagendranath Wilfred Singh.
Colonel is the one stop shop solution of all issues. He’s serenaded by women, film stars flock him for his out of the hat solutions and he doesn’t have time for even the prime minister! But he takes a liking to Arun, for he sees his own self in him. Aided by Colonel’s training and a newly instilled confidence, Arun becomes a new person altogether. Brimming with confidence, he gets back at Nagesh and starts paying him in his own coin. But is being smart the only alternative of an honest man? Can love be won only by being crooked? If you’ve seen the film, you know the answer. And if you haven’t, well what are doing then? Go and watch it!
‘Chhoti Si Baat’ is where the common man is the hero. It paints a picture of a time when life was not so fast. As always, money was a problem, but life’s challenges somehow used to get sorted on their own. Streets were full of interesting people, offices had folks who listened to cricket commentary on radio and had their work offloaded to the timid ones. Table tennis, carrom, chess and cards were the games to show the skills and eating noodles with chopsticks was the ultimate panache. ‘Chhoti Si Baat’ had them all.
The film delights the audience with some of the greatest situational comedies where the hapless Arun is always the one, who gets to take the fall. His tryst to buy a bike to impress Prabha falls flat as the faulty bike fails to start, and then Nagesh whisks her away, as hapless Arun keeps kick-starting his bike. Even the movie theatre sequence where Arun starts imagining him and Prabha singing the song is fabulous. The best parts are the ones when Arun starts imagining himself in various situations, against his adversaries, where he’s actually winning against them! In a way, Mr Chatterjee brings out the dreams that every shy, timid man must have seen in their lives. By making Nagesh the arch nemesis of Arun, he puts forward the eternal question – Does a nice man always has to lose to the shrewd? And in order to answer the same question, he makes Colonel as the saviour of Arun, he points out that sometimes, in life, like Arjuna we all need a Krishna to set the chariot of our lives on course.
Every character in this film is memorable. Apart from the lead characters, we get to see Amitabh Bachchan as himself, rushing from the sets of his film ‘Zameer’, reaches out to Colonel for his ‘income tax’ problems, Dharmendra and Hema Malini prancing to the tunes of ‘Jaaneman Jaaneman’, an upstart co-worker who initially bullies Arun but later, is taken to the task by him, A mechanic who dupes Arun by making him buy a faulty bike, A fake godman who makes Arun pay him alms to solve his problems and in return, pulls out a lemon from his rear ! All these wonderful characters coexisted in this crazy world created by Basu Chatterjee.
Mr Amol Palekar, who had played the character of a common man, many times in his career, is superb as the naive Arun. He brings in all the vulnerabilities of a man, who’s already lost the battle, even before the war has begun. In the second half, it’s a three sixty degree change for him as he takes up the mantle of a suave, confident man, who matches his rival Nagesh shot by shot. Asrani, who played Nagesh, was at his cocky best as the rival suitor. See the scenes where he literally hijacks Prabha under Arun’s nose! He’s an absolute hoot. But above all, standing tall is Colonel Julius Nagendranath Wilfred Singh, played by Ashok Kumar. As a pipe-smoking old man, who has seen enough of this world, he makes a man out of the spineless Arun. My favourite scene? He measures Arun from top to bottom and then puffing smoke out of his pipe, dictates the following diagnosis to one of his pretty assistants – Unstable Paranoid Frustration!
Most importantly, Mr Chatterjee uses Prabha as an allegory of what a woman truly desires in a man. Prabha, played by a beautiful Vidya Sinha, though aware of Arun’s affection, waits for him to take the initiative. For her, Nagesh’s street smartness or chivalry doesn’t matter. All she wants is her man to make a move and take the initiative. Arun’s naivety, his self-doubt makes her wonder about his true intentions. But when Arun 2.0 arrives, all her doubts are gone. She’s both surprised and happy to see this confident man. But her doubts still remain about his commitment. In the final sequence, Colonel rushes to the city to stop Arun from applying his methods on Prabha, for she’s different than what he had earlier perceived. In the end, it becomes evident that Arun has indeed listened to his heart and not Colonel’s method, which has led him and Prabha into a conjugal bliss.
As the last scene unfurls, we see a lost, delirious Nagesh reaching out to Colonel for help, we cannot help but chuckle at his state. Which reminds me of an age-old saying –
Har Baap Ka Bhi Ek Baap Hota Hai !!!