Caravan (Nasir Hussain, 1971)
I wasn't expecting much from Caravan. The dvd had been sitting, unwatched – and if I'm completely honest – totally forgotten about, on my shelf for something like two years. I had never really bothered to read the synopsis on the back. Like Filmi Geek before me, somewhere along the way I had picked up the impression, before watching, that Caravan was a kinda crappy, sub-par film, and so I always managed to find something else to watch when the time came to choose a DVD.
I don't know what it was that eventually pushed me to watch Caravan – but boy, am I EVER glad that I have finally seen this glorious film. Crappy? Sub-par? HARDLY! Caravan is, in my experience, VERY NEARLY PERFECT.
Let's start with the story.
The beautiful Asha Parekh plays Sunita, a rich girl who is heiress to her father's fortune.
Sunita, we rapidly learn, has had a run of bad luck: after her father dies in a suspicious fall, Sunita marries his business partner, Rajan (Ravinder Kapoor)...only to discover that he and his mistress (Helen) are plotting to kill her for her riches.
To escape from Rajan, Sunita fakes her own death and must try to get to Bangalore, where an old family friend who can help her resides. Lacking money, and in hiding from Rajan and his goons, Sunita joins a travelling caravan. The caravan – crewed by three young men: Johnny, Mohan (Jeetendra) and Monto – is en route to Bangalore when it joins up with a band of performing gypsies, one of whom – Nisha (Aruna Irani) loves Mohan with a jealous passion that borders on psychotic.
When she sees Sunita and Mohan inevitably falling in love (come on, this is a Hindi film after all)...she will do anything to ensure Mohan remains hers and hers alone.
It may not sound especially revolutionary or mind-blowing, especially compared with some of the other cracktasmic cinema emerging out of India in the 1970s, but that is precisely what makes it so very wonderful – there is a measure of restraint, so that even with GYPSIES! And MURDER! And ROWDIES! It never feels like it's veered over the top into a caricature of itself. I guess I'm saying that its charm is winningly sincere, rather than kitschy camp – although as always, it's subjective. Caravan is, I think, EXACTLY what I imagined “Bollywood” to be before I had ever encountered an Indian film: it's giddily romantic without veering too far into gaudy, maudlin melodrama; it is cheerful and colourful and populated with genuinely likeable characters (Jeetendra hit a career high in Caravan as Mohan, the cocky mechanic who likes to think of himself as educated and speaks in mangled English to prove it to his lady love, Sunita, an educated girl impersonating an illiterate village belle), and most of all, it's super-duper entertaining, veering from edge-of-your-seat thriller to provoking prolonged belly laughs.
Secondly: if you are not yet on the Jeetendra train, then I don't know if I can be your friend anymore. (Okay just kidding, but seriously, I LOVE JEETU AND I WANT YOU TO LOVE HIM TOO).
He's SO funny in this film! I'm so used to seeing Jeetu get really melodramatic and get the super scary emo eyes of doom (and also, most of the movies I see Jeetu has a mustache), but happy dorky goofy cleanshaven Jeetu WINS!
Seriously: WHY DO PEOPLE NOT TALK ABOUT THIS FILM? Why has NOBODY EVER MENTIONED CARAVAN TO ME in terms like:
“You have to watch this film! If it is possible to fall in love with a movie, then Caravan will be the movie that's like a whirlwind summer romance – you'll fall suddenly, and hard, and get swept up in the heady colour and emotion; then find yourself thinking of it fondly at random moments long after its over!”
...until I saw Caravan
Okay if someone had said that to me I probably would have spewed up in my mouth a little bit and never watched the film, BUT SERIOUSLY I LOVED THIS MOVIE SO MUCH I DON'T KNOW HOW TO EXPLAIN THIS ANY BETTER. Do yourself a favour and just watch it. It is ACTUALLY GLORIOUS.