Manzil (Mandi Burman, 1960) was a partial disappointment. Not that I had so much to expect from a film that I didn’t know before, and that I just got hold of because of Nutan. But it starts pleasantly, with two childhood friends meeting again now that time has passed and that they’re adults: certainly, a classic theme, but when it’s Nutan and Dev Anand, and they’re both of them charming, one easily suspends one’s disbelief, and stretches in one’s chair in hope! I started thinking of Devdas, which has a somewhat similar story, and wondered whether it was going to be a variation of Bimal Roy’s famous movie. There’s the childhood friends theme, the distancing of the two lovers, Raju’s drinking and pairing up with a nautcha in town, and the distress of incomprehension because of life’s sad occurrences. A little influence of Shree 420 might also be felt, in Raju’s (same name!) departure for Bombay and sorry adventures there, away from the kingdom of innocence symbolised by Pushpa.
But the movie disappoints slightly, because the moral and psychological drama could have been much tighter, and many simplifications mar the otherwise good story. Some secondary characters are interesting and full of promises, especially Raju’s sister Shobhan, but some are really sloppily dealt with (the father; the Captain; even Titli, the Bombay lover, lacks real personality). One is under the impression that Manzil is an unfinished film, or that it has been hastily done, and the care given to some of its dimensions (see below) unevenly shared on others.
I’m still as enraptured at watching Nutan’s intelligence and femininity, her charming grace, her earnestness. She carries about with her an absolute trust, a faith which even bad moments in her character’s life cannot shake off. I was again struck by the total absence of any dissimulation in her person. It’s as if she doesn’t know that social reality. Or rather, she knows of it, but it simply never reaches her. I believe it’s the lack of any trace of double-dealing which creates the particular brand of serenity and humour that characterises her. Because what’s great is that she’s fun to be with! Her humour never becomes sarcastic or ironic, traits that denote a certain sadness within. She remains always the lively girl with an open and at the same time protected heart. One feels that it is love, flowing out, which protects it from any evil entering. When she expresses happy emotions, one sees in her eyes the infinity of this love, the rapture of confidence, linked with complete and innocent peacefulness. In Manzil, the role doesn’t do her complete justice, perhaps, because she’s obliged to compromise her steadfastness, and appear the weaker of the pair, but that doesn’t weigh too much, because Raju has other weaknesses which balance hers.
What interested me too, in this second-class story, where things are rather predictable, and incidents often clumsily dealt with, is the photography. I don’t know if the copy I had was more than particularly dark, but certainly there was a little too much black! Dev Anand’s upper lip almost always seen unshaven as a result, and Nutan’s forehead stands out in heavy contrast with her brows. But on the other hand, this (and the technique extends beyond this perhaps unwanted darkening effect) has enabled the photographer, Nariman A. Irani, to create suggestive shots, full of passion and intensity (see the 2 above). The texture of Nutan’s skin is touched with a sombre gentleness, and Anand’s maturity comes out more forcefully, making him more fragile and more human.
There are also moments when the photographer has clearly been given the freedom to please himself, and none the least than his take of the “Tansen Paan Company” shopkeeper dancing and singing (above). He doesn’t do it for Raju who, in spite of what he had promised, has gone, but only for us spectators. Now, for this buffoon-like secondary character to have such a lavish moment of expression, it means that the director is telling us something. And I think he’s telling us what he loves and what cinema is all about: the pleasure of showing new human beings recreating old traditions, old music, old dances, and enjoying this recreation in its meaningful suggestiveness. Also, the time he spends on Nutan’s face and the emotions expressed there, the care with which he darkens Dev Anand’s shadowy reflections, among other things, all this shows an artist (perhaps sometimes a little too insistent) trying his hand at his art, and forgetting many imperfections in the quest for his personal type of cinematographic accomplishment, but this half-finished job nevertheless strikes one as the film's greatest quality.
Extra film caps here!