Sunday, November 2, 2014

Tere Mere Sapne

Tere Mere Sapne (Our Dreams, 1971) offers several unusual twists on a familiar story: a public-spirited reformer discovers how intractable are the world's problems, and how entrenched are the rich and powerful who benefit from them.

Based loosely on the physician A.J. Cronin's novel The Citadel (1937), Tere Mere Sapne features a noble, idealistic doctor who chooses to practice among poor villagers instead of treating the complaints of the rich in the big city (very much like Nirmal in Anuradha (1960)).

In the first moments of the film the new doctor Anand Kumar (Dev Anand) is unsuccessfully trying to explain his choice to his fellow medical student, Kaul. Kaul has some foreshadowing to convey to Anand, and to us:

One day you'll regretfully return

The coal mining town where Anand travels for his new position is grim: we see a montage of smoke pouring from smokestacks, begrimed faces, men and boys loading coal amid eruptions of black dust. Anand has been hired by the ailing Dr. Prasad (Mahesh Kaul), who holds the lone company license to practice medicine in the village. Anand, who will do the actual work, is designated Dr. Prasad's "assistant" and paid a pittance by his wife (Paro). Thrown into the deal is a cramped room and inadequate food.

The other assistant is London-trained Jagan (Vijay Anand, Dev's brother and the film's director). When we and Anand first see him, lighting a cigarette and with a stiff drink in front of him, it's clear the toll that dealing with black lung, mine injuries, and sick children has taken:


During the days, Anand and Jagan are kept busy caring for endless lines of patients. The dedicated and conscientious Anand spends his nights reading the medical journals for which he must pay a huge proportion of his inadequate salary:

Diseases of the Chest

The burned-out Jagan spends his nights in a drunken stupor:

One day Anand goes to visit a child he's treating for smallpox, only to discover that the village schoolteacher has come by and convinced the parents to send him back to class. Anand is furious:

What illiteracy! Even the teachers are ignorant!

He storms into the classroom of Nisha (Mumtaz) to bring the boy back home. Nisha pleads for the recovering child to remain: his family is poor, and he needs the free milk he gets at school. Anand castigates her for placing the other children at risk; Nisha finally yields, but has her own opinion of Anand:

You are a doctor but extremely insolent.

Of course, we realize immediately, even if Nisha and Anand don't, that they are meant to be together. And when Nisha overhears Anand paying for the life-saving injection for the impoverished father of one of her students, she realizes that she's misjudged him.

Nisha's aunt (Leela Mishra) wants to play matchmaker, and pretends to be sick to bring Nisha and Anand together. Her ploy is transparent:

Anand isn't fooled

But it works: Anand asks Nisha to spend her Sunday off with him. He takes her to the village fair, where Bombay Touring Talkies has set up a screen to show the latest movie of the biggest Bollywood star, Maltimala (Hema Malini looking glam and gorgeous):

"Phur ud chala" ("Where is my heart flying off to on the wind?") was composed by S.D. Burman, with lyrics by Neeraj; Hema's playback singer is Asha Bhosle. The contrast between the delirious Bollywood spectacle and the realities of the village is fully apparent—we even see a group of village women dancing at the fair moments before Maltimala bursts onto the screen—but it isn't overstated by director Vijay Anand.

When Dr. Prasad's wife demands the money that grateful parents have offered Anand as a blessing for saving the life of their newborn, Anand angrily resigns his position. Although Prasad's wife is portrayed as miserly and selfish, the film does not demonize her: we see how her financial anxieties arise from the her worries about her husband's fragile health.

But after their confrontation Anand resolves that he cannot remain in the household, and he applies for a job at a union-run hospital in the next village. He's told that he's the leading candidate, but to get the job he needs to get married. He goes to tell Nisha, who isn't flattered by what she thinks are his motivations for asking her. But as the discouraged Anand is leaving, Nisha calls him back:

This song exemplifies how what is symbolized or suggested can be so much sexier than what is shown. After the wedding night, her hair unbraided, Nisha stretches languorously in the morning light, singing "Every pore of my being craves for my beloved" (the playback singer for Mumtaz is Lata Mangeshkar).

Of course, the blissful happiness of the young couple can't continue undisturbed. At the hospital Anand refuses to participate in expected small daily corruptions (such as issuing false certificates of illness to the workers). His quixotic stances at first makes him unpopular:

The rumors are true. You're a puppet of the bosses.

Even his friends, such as the semi-competent dentist Dr. Bhutani (Agha), express disbelief:

He wants to reform society!

A boycott by the workers cuts severely into Anand's already small salary. The uncomplaining Nisha, however, does everything she can to prevent Anand from being aware of how difficult it is for her to maintain the household on what he earns.

Ultimately, Anand's bravery, skill and dedication win over the workers. Nisha also discovers that she is pregnant, increasing the couple's happiness even further. So we know that tragedy must be looming, and indeed it strikes without warning (be aware that some spoilers follow).

As Nisha is returning from the market one day, she is hit by the speeding car of local landowner Madhochand (Prem Nath). Nisha is badly injured—only an emergency operation by Jagan saves her life—and her baby is killed.

Madhochand comes to see Anand in order to pay restitution for the accident. Anand is deeply offended that Madhochand thinks he can be bought. Madhochand, who owns the house that Anand lives in, the hospital where he works, and the mine that the hospital serves, angrily tells Anand that he would be foolish to oppose the power of his money:

You'll be crushed afoot if you try to confront it.
(I think the subtitler meant underfoot.)

Anand is undeterred:

I will have you sent to jail!

But in court witness after witness, suborned by threats and bribes, lies about the accident. Madhochand is absolved; the power of money has won. Anand makes a bitter vow:

I swear by your love, no longer will we be poor.

Anand and Nisha move to Bombay; Kaul's prediction about Anand's "regretful return" has come true, as Kaul is the first to remind him when they run into one another:

You're back? What had I told you?

Kaul explains to Anand how doctors in the city pad their incomes: they develop a network of cronies who refer their wealthy patients to each other unnecessarily and take a cut of the fees. Eventually Kaul brings Anand into his circle, and life becomes an endless round of appointments during the day and dinner parties at night.

To numb himself to what he is becoming, Anand starts to smoke and drink—he is beginning to turn into a big-city version of Jagan. Meanwhile, Jagan visits from the village, and Nisha is surprised to see that his contact with Anand has influenced Jagan to give up his vices:

The emptiness that liquor filled no longer exists.

Anand's practice starts to bring him into contact with Bombay's fashionable people, including those on the fringe of the film world:

I'm hairdresser to film star, Malti Mala.

Maltimala is beset by headaches and crying jags that cause repeated delays and cancellations in her film shoots. After Anand successfully treats Maltimala's hairdresser, he is brought in to see the star herself. He quickly realizes that her main problem is overwork: she spends her life responding to the demands of her family, her manager and her film producers, and has no time for herself.

I've lost the real me.

Anand's miracle cure is to treat her with sympathy and compassion as a suffering human being, not as a goddess or a money-minting machine. Maltimala, unaware that Anand is married, soon finds her grateful friendship developing into something more. The songs she performs come to echo her new feelings:

"What's the matter with me?" she sings. "My heart sings and my feet heart is pounding and everyone teases me. I don't know what's wrong with me."

Nisha has some idea, though. When she sees Maltimala tenderly wishing Anand goodnight, her jealousy is instantly aroused. Understatement works greatly to the film's benefit here as well: Maltimala is not portrayed as an evil, sophisticated seductress, but instead as a young woman who is drawn to the first man she's met who isn't seeking to exploit her.

Nisha and Anand now argue constantly; she's bewildered by the changes in him. She tries to remind him of the loyal, idealistic Anand she fell in love with back in the village:

I am the same but where is that Anand?

But Anand does not want to be reminded of his former self—the self that was powerless to protect his wife and child:

Yes, that weak Anand is dead!

Will Anand get what he wants only to lose what he has? Or can he recover his principles and win back Nisha's love?

Tere Mere Sapne has a great cast and classic songs (I've left out an item number featuring Shreyas Talpade's aunt Jayshree, several Lata Mangeshkar / Kishore Kumar duets, and a surprisingly bold song about corruption sung by Manna Dey). And as I've indicated above, the script gives the characters depth and complexity: few have unmixed motives or unconflicted feelings. If the ending doesn't quite resolve all of the difficulties the film has raised, it's no wonder: clearly something more than domestic happiness is necessary to counteract the brutalities visited on its citizens by a corrupt, unjust and venal society.

For another perspective on Tere Mere Sapne, please see Memsaab's excellent review.

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