Mr & Mrs 55: Celluloid Magic by Stalwarts
Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam   25 July 2019
9th July is the birth anniversary of Guru Dutt while 31st July is the death anniversary of Mohammed Rafi. Rafi had a great equation with not only Dutt but also with his wife Geeta with whom he had the opportunity to sing some legendary songs. OP Nayyar was also so fond of Rafi that he never looked beyond “The God of Music” as some of the Rafi fans eulogize him.
 
It is extremely difficult to pick only a few songs from Rafi’s vast oeuvre.
 
Here we review Mr & Mrs 55 – a 1955 release produced and directed by Guru Dutt. The movie was hugely successful at the box office. This was the only film where Madhubala and Guru Dutt were seen together. “Udhar Tum Haseen Ho, Idhar Dil Jawan Hai” and “Jaane Kahan Mera Jigar Gaya Ji” have stood the test of time as immortal classics.
 
An impoverished and struggling cartoonist, Preetam (Guru Dutt), encounters Anita (Madhubala) at a tennis match. Anita is controlled by her aunt Sita Devi (Lalita Pawar), a crusader for Women’s Rights who wishes to shield Anita from men.
 
However Anita’s father stipulates in his will that Anita will inherit his fortune only if she marries within a month of turning 21.
 
Anita’s love for a badminton player Ramesh (Al Nasir) proves to be unrequited as Ramesh is least interested in getting married to her. Sita hatches a plan to get Anita married to someone who can be given a monthly stipend for consenting to the marriage, who would later be persuaded to divorce Anita. 
 
Anita and Pritam have met earlier – but Pritam hides the fact that he is the chosen short-term contractual husband for her. Even when they meet in the registrar’s office, Pritam is silent on the subject. But when Anita comes to know the truth, she is furious.
 
Though Pritam and Anita do not stay together, Pritam kidnaps her and takes her to his home in a nearby village. Johnny supports him in this endeavour. As Pritam and Anita start getting drawn to each other, Sita Devi arrives and takes Anita away.
 
 
Resigned to his imminent fate of losing Anita, Pritam fabricates evidence against himself to facilitate their divorce.
 
Heart-broken, Pritam decides to leave Bombay. Taking a dig at the overbearingly commercial focus of Bombay and the equally unmistakable political character of Delhi, he tells Johnny, “I have chosen to leave behind the city of traders (Bombay) and move to the city of Emperors (Delhi).” Even as the divorce proceedings are on in the court, Anita is overcome by remorse and the moment of epiphany soon arrives. She realizes that Pritam was truly in love with her. Johnny acts as a catalyst to bring about this reunion.
 
The last scene of the film shot at the airport featuring Dutt, Walker, Madhubala and Yasmeen is a must-watch. This scene stays with you long after you have watched the film.
 
Many netizens have opined that the title Mr and Mrs 55 wasn’t very appealing, but I beg to differ. I think it is one of the most innovative film titles for that era.
 
Guru Dutt cocks a snook at women’s emancipation – but in a subtle and gentle fashion – without sensationalizing the issue. Kudos to him! Dutt and Madhubala indeed make a great pair on screen. Johnny Walker’s brand of comedy may sound a bit outdated today – but on hindsight Johny Walker’s comic interludes were clean, enjoyable and often blended with the film’s narrative.
 
The support he renders to the hero as his friend makes you long to have a friend like him! Someone who is jovial – caustic at times – but someone who also stands by you during a crisis! In real life, Dutt and Walker had an excellent personal rapport that they could extend to their characterisations on screen.
 
The other memorable tracks in the film are “Dil Par Hua Aisa Jadoo” and “Chal Diye Banda Nawaz”. The former was a Rafi solo while the latter was a duet by Rafi & Geeta Dutt. Mr and Mrs 55 also boasts of the melancholic “Preetam Aan Milo” sung by Geeta Dutt that was later used by Gulzar in his ribtickling comedy “Angoor” (1982). The movie also has a cabaret (not the vulgar kind) by dancer Cuckoo (“Neele Aasmani”) who in real life, splurged all her wealth and died in penury in the early 80’s.  How can we forget “Thandi Hawa Kaali Ghata” sung by Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum. The song was shot in the Mahatma Gandhi swimming pool in Bombay’s Shivaji Park.
 
The cartoons in the film were drawn by R. K. Laxman.
 
The lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri are poetic. Cinematography by V K Murthy is as always brilliant. Murthy was a regular fixture in all the films produced and directed by Guru Dutt. Murthy was considered a creative genius. Despite the fact that Mr and Mrs 55 has been shot in black and white, it exposes you to the Bombay of the mid 50s. The shots of Dutt’s and Walker’s banter in a Bombay bakery remind you of the Parsi/ Iranian bakeries that dotted the Mumbai skyline decades ago.
 
As someone who is a philogynist and loses his heart to the beautiful woman whom he has met, Guru Dutt breathes life into the role of the indigent cartoonist Pritam.
 
Guru Dutt’s nuanced acting is equally complemented by Madhubala’s competent performance. Her impish charm and childlike innocence prove that Madhubala was one of the rare cases of a beautiful actress who could also act.
 
Lalita Pawar makes a powerful impact as an elderly woman who has no qualms about displaying her misandrous disposition. Kumkum has a brief role playing Guru Dutt’s sister-in-law where she speaks about the importance of family for a woman. While in Kumkum’s house, Anita tells  her, “You have been married for four years and you already have three children. It is important to maintain a distance between children”.  Guru Dutt subtly hints at the significance of family planning here. Johnny Walker (as Johnny) and Yasmeen (Vinita Butt) as Julie too make a lovely pair.
 
The film was adapted from a play written by Abrar Alvi titled “Modern Marriage”. Alvi’s dialogues are racy, thought-provoking, caustic and deliver a punch. The dialogues blend with the plot seamlessly.
 
“If you don’t have roti, why don’t you eat bread?” asks an innocent Madhubala.
 
Later she also fumes at her husband, “Flatter me as much as you want – you won’t get 1 Rupee more than your salary of Rs 250”.
 
When Sita Devi meets Pritam for the first time, she asks him, “Are you a communist?”. Pritam replies, “No, I am a cartoonist.”
 
A romantic comedy that also makes you think, Mr and Mrs 55 is mildly satirical. The film drives home the point that a woman is incomplete without a man – modern women may not subscribe to this (supposedly) archaic view! Dutt also takes a dig at the growing influence of western culture in India and pays glowing tributes to the traditional Indian values. Too sad that we lost such a creative genius so soon!
 
The fluid camera movements, long tracking shots and intelligent use of light, shade and close-ups give the impression that Dutt was highly influenced by Hollywood. It is downright hilarious when he tells his brother’s children not to touch her Anita because being a fairy, she would fly away if they touched her!
 
Pawar as a feminist and a crusader of women’s rights becomes repetitive after a point and Guru Dutt smoking in every alternate scene also is a major irritant.
 
TRIVIA
 
Al Nasir who played the charcater of Ramesh was married to famed character artiste Veena. Veena later acted as Guru Dutt's arrogant and high-handed wife in the 1959 classic Kagaz Ke Phool. An actress known for her classic beauty and impeccable dialog delivery, Veena became a victim of stereotyping. Al Nasir often went hunting with Veena and his two children in the forests of Bhopal.
 
Yasmin (Vinita Butt) made her screen debut in Mr and Mrs 55. She also acted in Filmistan’s international venture, “Three Headed Cobra”. Vinita fell in love with makeup man Jimmy Vining while shooting for this film. They became man and wife in November 1955. After honeymooning in Mahabaleshwar, Vinita settled down as a home maker. Like Bhagyashree later, Vinita insisted on acting only in those movies that employed her husband as a technician.
 
 
Vinita was clear about her career – “Either make a success of your chosen profession or get out of it.”  She was born in Rawalpindi on 3 April 1937.  Vinita spent the first seven years of her life in Kashmir. She arrived in Bombay in November 1954, sometime after she had done her Senior Cambridge in Bangalore. In Bangalore, she had appeared on the stage in Tagore’s “Sacrifice” and one of J. B. Priestley’s plays.
 
Guru Dutt spotted her in Bangalore and offered her a film contract. But things didn’t materialize for some time. Later, Chandulal Shah offered her a role in Oot Patang.  She enjoyed acting and expressed her gratitude to Chandulal Shah and Goharbai whom she admired and respected.
 
Vinita met Guru Dutt in Mehboob Studios where the latter offered her the role of the Anglo Indian girl in Mr and Mrs 55.
 
Vinita Butt aka Yasmeen who became Mrs Jimmy Vining steadfastly shunned all publicity and media hype after her marriage. Unconfirmed reports say that she stays in Valsad now... but again no one knows the truth!
 
A question to film historians - why did Guru Dutt never act with Madhubala again? Are there any answers? 
 
(After working in the corporate world for close to two decades, Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam started her second career innings as a head-hunter. She is passionate about Hindi movies and loves retro music. When her family shifted to Chennai in the 80s, Bhagya had a taste of Tamil cinema too. In the long term, she plans a book on two of her favourite directors – Guru Dutt and K Balachander. She travels across the country on work and is based in Mysore.)
 
Comments
Ramesh Poapt
2 years ago
'mast' one! zakkas!
Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam
Replied to Ramesh Poapt comment 2 years ago
Thank you so much, Sir. I really appreciate your feedback.
I would also like to inform the readers that the actor Al-Nasir who enacted the role of Ramesh in this movie passed away two years after the release of this film in 1957. He was only 34 years old then. His actress wife Veena has shared this in an old interview of hers. Veena singlehandedly managed her children after her husband's tragic death. Veena was the elder sister of character actor Iftekhar. She herself passed away in 2004.
Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam
Replied to Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam comment 2 years ago
It also appears from a few publications that Al -Nasir was quite a casanova. Veena was his third wife. He was also married to actress Meena Shorey of "Ek Thi Ladki" fame.
himanshu.manroa
Replied to Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam comment 1 year ago
Wow! Such a beautifully written review full of trivia and nostalgia. Thanks to OTT platforms like Amazon Prime, rare gems like these are now easily accessible. I picked up this movie...and now your write up makes it such a compelling watch! Thanks.
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