For two-thirds of its length, Aap Ki Kasam (Your promise, 1974) is a delight. Poor boy Kamal (Rajesh Khanna) and rich girl Sunita (Mumtaz) meet at college; after the inevitable initial misunderstandings, they tease, flirt and begin to fall in love. On a trip back to Kamal's village, Sunita's car runs out of gas (by design?) in the middle of a thunderstorm. Sunita has providentially brought along a thermos of tea; when she sips out of Kamal's cup, and then he turns the cup so that he sips from the same place, it shows how sexy suggestion can be:
R. D. Burman's and Anand Bakhshi's music, and the voices of Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar, continue the playful, romantic mood in "Suno Kaho":
Kamal and Sunita marry, and Kamal's friend Mohan (Sanjeev Kumar) gives Kamal a job in his electronics shop and a home next door to him in a little cottage. The newlyweds spend most of their time billing and cooing, and this gives us the perfect opportunity to enjoy the Rajesh-Mumtaz jodi in all its glory.
There's a moment in the film that perfectly illustrates their famous chemistry, when Mumtaz reaches out and gives a little tug to a tuft of Rajesh's chest hair. It's charming, touching, funny, surprising, and utterly believable besotted newlywed behavior. And judging from Rajesh's reaction, I'll swear it's an unscripted, spontaneous moment of unfeigned affection between the actors:
When Kamal pretends to have a headache to avoid early-morning tennis with Mohan and stay in bed with Sunita, Mohan sends a doctor over to see him. The doctor tells Kamal (perhaps as a practical joke by Mohan) that he should abstain from so much lovemaking. Since the temptation is too great at home, Kamal and Sunita go to the park—which turns out to be filled with cuddling couples. Sunita teases Rajesh mercilessly in "Paas nahin aana" (Don't come near). "Don't forget," she tells him, "today you are under oath and love is banned!":
Kamal and Sunita go to a temple to pray for a child. Kamal tells Sunita (to her surprise, and ours) that he would prefer a daughter; sons, he tells her, are neglectful, but daughters always love their parents. (Foreshadowing!) They drink a celebratory cup of bhang, and are feeling no pain in "Jai Jai Shiv Shankhar" (Hail, Lord Shiva). Mumtaz under the influence is especially hilarious:
I would be perfectly happy to spend the rest of the movie watching Kamal and Sunita's love games, but of course neither they nor we can be left in such bliss. Discord soon arises in the form of Mohan's unhappy marriage and his (too close?) friendship with Sunita. Kamal frequently finds Mohan in his house, sharing coffee and laughter with Sunita, and begins to wonder whether Mohan has ulterior motives.
At a housewarming party, Sunita sings an exquisite love song...to Mohan! But "Mohan" ("enchanting") is one of the names of Lord Krishna, and Sunita, as Radha, is singing about the God of Love as a sign of her devotion to her husband. But Kamal thinks she's confessing her "Chori Chupke" (Secret, silent) love for his sitar-playing neighbor and boss:
Things spiral downwards pretty quickly from this point. Kamal's suspicions are confirmed, or so he thinks, when he returns unexpectedly from work one day to see a man scrambing over the wall between his house and Mohan's. The back door is open, and Mohan's cigarettes are in his ashtray. Not only that, but Sunita greets him at the door with her hair disheveled and her sari disarranged, and Kamal notices the sheets on their bed are mussed. But instead of having an honest conversation with her, he shuns her without explanation, which she—entirely innocent, of course—finds bewildering and hurtful. And when she finally confronts him about his cold, accusatory behavior, Kamal goes too far...
And this is where writers Ram Kelkar and Ramesh Pant, and director J. Om Prakash, themselves go too far. We're forced to watch Kamal make mistake after self-destructive mistake, and subject himself to misery on self-inflicted misery. Even more fatally, Sunita virtually disappears from the screen.
The first part of the movie features many wonderful moments between Rajesh and Mumtaz, and the songs are classics. But the change of tone in the final hour is jarring: it feels like someone replaced the final reels of Vivah (2006) with the final reels of Devdas (2002). As a result, Aap Ki Kasam ultimately fails to deliver on its initial promise.
You can watch Aap Ki Kasam on YouTube, for free.