Filmmaker Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay is a revered classic. There have been books written on it and cinema’s leading stars have cited it as the film that inspired them towards arc lights as children. Its all-star cast and crew — Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Sanjeev Kumar, Amjad Khan, Rames Sippy and Salim-Javed — remain legends. However, people rarely talk of Sippy’s film Seeta Aur Geeta, a true-blue masala Bollywood entertainer that had me laughing throughout.
Seeta Aur Geeta (1972), with an ensemble cast — Hema Malini, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Manorama, Asrani (special appearance) — most of whom made it to Sholay, has all the ingredients of a typical Bollywood film as it offers comedy, melodrama, action, romance, song and dance in under 2.5 hours.
It begins with the most popular trope of identical twins getting separated at birth, with the coy one (Seeta) growing up in a rich household but with cruel relatives. The feisty one (Geeta) grows up on the streets but under the care of a loving lady and a dear friend. Though the first half hour of the film made me look at it like a Hindi TV serial where the heroine (Seeta) is a damsel-in-distress with a wicked, abusive ‘Chachi’ treating her as a housemaid, Sippy didn’t disappoint when he introduces Geeta.
A lively, motor-mouth girl in her colourful-gypsy clothes, she catches hold of the ceiling fan in the police station, as she’s being chased by a plump ‘Chachi’, who mistakes her for Seeta, with the ‘Elephant March’ playing in the background. I don’t remember laughing as much as I did on the scene in any of the Bollywood comedies recently. In hindsight, I can’t remember watching even mildly funny, honest-to-god Bollywood comedy in the last decade, but that’s for another time.
Seeta Aur Geeta unfolds as a comedy of errors, where most of the laughter is because of confusion caused by a case of mistaken identities. And, Sippy made it a point that the confusion only makes the characters scratch their collective heads and not the viewers. The film’s writers, Salim-Javed, were inspired by Dilip Kumar’s 1967 film Ram Aur Shyam, but not having watched it, for me, Seeta Aur Geeta has become my favourite identical twins movie. It is followed by Sridevi’s Chaalbaaz (1989) that drew heavily from Seeta Aur Geeta. Though these films led to an era of such films (Kishen Kanhaiya, Judwaa, Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi), none could leave an impact like this.
Hema Malini, who I had only known either as a talkative Basanti (Sholay) or the ideal mother (Baghban), illustrated how she earned the title of ‘Dream Girl’ in the 70s. Her finesse as an actor is quite visible here as she aces both the parts, that of tormented, orphaned Seeta and of the feisty Geeta. It was a treat to watch her teach a lesson to her evil ‘chachi’ (Manorma) and her brother Ranjeet (Roopesh Kumar).
Besides her, actors Dharmendra and Sanjeev Kumar, have done a great job in supporting roles of Raaka and Ravi. While Raaka is a rugged man who wears leather jackets and an earring, Ravi is a sweet doctor who interacts mostly through his smile. Manorma as evil ‘chachi’ Kaushalya held her act till the very end and complemented Malini’s performance.
Sippy adds a cherry on top with a chaotic yet funny climax. Our heroine Geeta gets to do some fist-fighting with the goons who kidnap Seeta. Accompanying her are the two main men, Raaka and Ravi, who bring comic relief in the emotional moment of ‘bachpan mein bichdi hui behenon ka milan’.
The one thing that makes Seeta Aur Geeta perfect for me is its simplicity. In times when racy thrillers, films with a social message, nationalistic dramas, biopics and dark comedies are being thrown at me from Bollywood, I don’t mind watching some silliness which brings some happiness and pleasure with it.