Director Sholay by Ramesh Sippy is a revered classic. Books have been written about it and major movie stars have cited it as the movie that inspired them to the glowing arcs when they were kids. Its star cast and crew – Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Sanjeev Kumar, Amjad Khan, Rames Sippy and Salim-Javed – remain legends. However, people rarely talk about the film by Sippy Seeta Aur Geeta, a true blue Bollywood masala artist who kept me laughing throughout.
Seeta Aur Geeta (1972), with an ensemble cast – Hema Malini, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Manorama, Asrani (special appearance) – most of whom traveled to Sholay, has all the makings of a typical Bollywood film as it features comedy, melodrama, action, romance, song and dance in less than 2.5 hours.
It starts with the most popular trope of identical twins separated at birth, the shy one (Seeta) growing up in a wealthy family but with cruel parents. The feisty (Geeta) grows up on the streets but under the care of a loving wife and dear friend. Although the first half hour of the film made me see it as a Hindi TV serial where the heroine (Seeta) is a damsel in distress with a mean and abusive “Chachi” treating her like a maid, Sippy didn’t disappoint when it featured Geeta.
A lively, mouth-driving girl in her colorful gypsy clothes, she grabs the police station’s ceiling fan, as she is chased by a plump “Chachi”, who mistakes her for Seeta, with the “March of the elephant” playing in the background. I can’t remember laughing as much as I did on stage in any of the Bollywood comedies recently. Looking back, I can’t remember watching even a slightly funny, honest-to-god Bollywood comedy in the past decade, but that’s for another time.
Seeta Aur Geeta plays out like a comedy of errors, where most of the laughs are due to the confusion caused by a case of mistaken identities. And, Sippy pointed out that the confusion only scratches the heads of the characters, not the viewers. The screenwriters of the film, Salim-Javed, were inspired by Dilip Kumar’s 1967 film Ram Aur Shyam, but having not watched it, for me, Seeta Aur Geeta became my favorite film about identical twins. It is followed by Chaalbaaz (1989) by Sridevi, which is largely inspired by Seeta Aur Geeta. Although these films led to an era of such films (Kishen Kanhaiya, Judwaa, Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi), none could leave such an impact.
Hema Malini, whom I had only known as Basanti talkative (Sholay) or ideal mother (Baghban), illustrated how she earned the title of “Dream Girl” in the 70s. Her acting finesse is clearly visible here since she succeeds in both roles, that of tormented and orphan Seeta and that of the fiery Geeta. It was a treat to watch her teach her villainous ‘chachi’ (Manorma) and brother Ranjeet (Roopesh Kumar) a lesson.
Besides her, actors Dharmendra and Sanjeev Kumar did a great job in the supporting roles of Raaka and Ravi. While Raaka is a sturdy man who wears leather jackets and an earring, Ravi is a kind doctor who mainly interacts with his smile. Manorma as the evil “chachi” Kaushalya held his number until the very end and complemented Malini’s performance.
Sippy adds icing on the cake with a chaotic yet funny climax. Our heroine Geeta is in a fistfight with the goons who kidnap Seeta. She is accompanied by the two main men, Raaka and Ravi, who provide comic relief in the moving moment of “bachpan mein bichdi hui behenon ka milan”.
The only thing that makes Seeta Aur Geeta perfect for me is its simplicity. At a time when racy thrillers, films with a social message, nationalist dramas, biopics and black comedies are thrown at me from Bollywood, I don’t mind watching nonsense that brings happiness and pleasure.