Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)

That this post begins with a shout-out to the recently concluded L.A. Auto Show will hopefully best suggest the continued relevance and entertainment value of a film released a half century ago. I am one of the very last to see Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958 -- the title, 'What moves is [called] a car'), but that's okay, because I now have a Bollywood vehicle with a personality to place alongside my favorites: Herbie, KITT and McQueen. It's the oldest (thus perhaps wisest?) of my favorites :)

Brothers Brijmohan, Jagmohan (or Jaggu), and Manmohan (or Mannu) -- the Kumar brothers Ashok, Anup, and Kishore, respectively -- operate a garage. Their organization does not cater to women, given Brijmohan's tremendous dislike for 'them'. This remains acceptable to his younger brothers, until Renu (Madhubala) stops by one night. A delightful courtship follows, complete with fascinating insights into the lives of each character surrounding it (the chain even includes K. N. Singh), and with villains and the accompanying greed for material wealth and lust for power that drive the film to its fitting climax.

There is a lot to like here. One is reminded of the fantastic soundtrack with the opening credits (the tunes are instantly recognizable, shame on me for not having known before that they belonged to this). What follows almost immediately is even better -- the area I grew up in, in Bombay!

Better yet, the stretch of roadway mentioned most often at this blog (the Queen's Necklace), although it's evident that it's not the car that's moving, but we can overlook that.

The lovely, fabulous, heart-stealing, glamorous, one and only, Madhubala (Haaye Allah is reserved for Juhi Chawla, but would be more than appropriate here as well) is absolutely delightful as Renu. Some bias is inherent in this comment, but the film belongs to her.

It's easy to misinterpret this as a sign of weakness. There are few who can say it with authority that commands respect.


The comic timing and overall chemistry she shares with Kishore is fantastic. They would marry a few years later.

This would be testing, but worth risking for Madhubala (or Madhuri, or Juhi, or Tabu)!

Much like this:

How times have changed.

Ashok Kumar is a class act, and is perhaps most convincing of them all.

Convincing in his mannerisms, that is, not in this argument (although he is flexible when it comes to 'emergency situations', let's credit him for that).

Seriously, who wouldn't be accomodating?

The soundtrack is among the finest works of the vocalist in Kishore Kumar, Music Director S. D. Burman, and lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri. I wouldn't dare pick one favorite from this playlist:

  1. Babu Samjho Ishaare
  2. Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhaagi Si
  3. Main Sitaaron Ka Taraana
  4. Hum The Woh Thi
  5. Haal Kaisa Hai Janaab Ka
  6. Hum Tumhaare Hain Zara
  7. Ruk Jaao Na Ji

Most of these (especially 1 through 5, although 6 is lyrically superior and features Helen in an unusual avatar for the actress) are immensely popular and almost legendary, infused in pop culture for decades. I recall first listening to #2 at an inter-class antakshari contest on Childrens Day way back in middle school. I don't believe I've laughed as loud as I did when #3 played (especially the bit about Laila's admirers) -- its integration is brilliant, and makes Rs. 5.75 more material than the amount will ever be in our lifetimes.

My introduction to #5 came via the Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989) antakshari song (see 2:13 in). And the iconic 'Jaate The Jaapaan pohanch gaye Cheen' (ended in China when headed to Japan; a common phrase most often used jokingly to imply hopeless navigation) in #4 showed up in Dil (1990):

Anyone recall this bit of dialogue in Andaz Apna Apna (1994)? (On another note, it's pretty cool that the films have the same lyricist.) It's shown up in several movies through the years, but this surely must have been one of the older instances.

Champion really has a personality of its own. I think in all the fun we have viewing, the biggest takeaway is a reminder to, as John Madden would say, "keep chipping wood".

Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi is a delightful film with a lot to like. It does have a few segments in the second half in which the focus shifts from comedy to drama. While this is arguably essential to the plot, one wishes it would have been avoided in favor of more comedy (because the comedy is all so very good). But it's more than well made up for. When it's not the music, it's the acting and dialogue that add much value to a film that is perhaps best described as smile-inducing :) Thoroughly enjoyed it. If you haven't seen it, you'd probably want to.

Movie rating: 4/5 (Excellent)
Thank you Bollyviewer for the recommendation!

Music rating: 4.75/5 (Stuff of legends)

My classification: PG (For villains and their evil ways)

And finally...
I'm considering sending copies of the soundtrack (with translations to lyrics, of course) with upbeat car-related songs to Detroit -- those guys and gals (not the corporate leadership that flies to D.C. in private jets to ask for bailout funds) could benefit from some of the contagious (albeit temporary) enthusiasm. Aise mein (in such a case) I wonder what the U.S. equivalent of Champion would say or do (from here):


ajnabi said...

ROTFLOL about the cartoon--awesome! And Madhubala is entirely too gorgeous.

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Ajnabi: Glad you liked the cartoon! There are many more at that link. The bailout has been such a soap opera, and some things are just so telling of the people who are running the show :(

Yes, Madhubala is just fantastic. I've only seen four movies starring her, but more than enough to conclude she is gorgeous *and* a great actor, unless my judgment is clouded every time she's on screen, which could be entirely possible =)


Anonymous said...

I *heart* all the songs!

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

It is a brilliant movie, with amazing longevity- not a single flaw anywhere. I do remember being surprised by Madhubala and Kishore's jodi, but then, other than Dev Anand, I don't think any actor ever could come close to comparing with her looks and style.

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Anonymous: The songs are brilliant, and they sound really good while driving too :)

Hi Shweta: It really has aged very well. I haven't yet seen Dev Anand and Madhubala together, and can imagine what they must be like...Kala Pani is on the list!


Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of oldies, but reading this convinces me to watch the movie as you've rated it excellent. The songs are the best, I think. A good one is Ek ladki bheegi-bhaagi si, by Kishore ji, right?

Darshit said...

'EK LADKI BHEEGI' still inspires today's directors.

'dilbara' from Dhoom??

This pairing was best, Kishore and Mads has got charming chemistry.

Andaz apna apna. Wah. You got right referernce.
Heads main jeeta, tails tu hara.

And i think, 'Aaila Juhi Chawla' is the word. Isn't it?

theBollywoodFan said...

Saurabh: It's a great watch, just very classy. Not the best overall film, but there's too much in it that is good, that any lover of Hindi cinema will more than likely enjoy. I hope you find it the same. Yes, that song is by Kishore!

Darshit: That's such a fantastic song. Rain and romance have always had a strong connection, so it's not surprising that the song still inspires directors. That's a great example. Kishore and Madhubala were fantastic indeed.

You know, that's a good point about Andaz Apna Apna. If he isn't rotating between Haaye Allah (O God) and Aaila (mother, in Marathi), I think it's the former, because I keep hearing the subtle 'h' and 'e' sounds. The translation to the specific bit about Juhi backs it up in this frame. Whatever the case, it's hilarious! :)


bollyviewer said...

I heart the film and all the songs (did you forget Madhubala's seductive Ruk jao na ji, or didnt like it?). I've lost count of how many times I've watched Chalti... but still, it never fails to entertain. Do you know the old story about how Kishore Kumar made this film because he wanted a flop for tax purposes but the movie went on to be a super-duper hit!

Madhubala and Kishore were great together, here, but I didnt like any of their others (Jhumroo, Half Ticket). I much prefer her with elder brother Ashok Kumar or Dev Anand.

And rofl at the cartoon. I am firmly on the worker's side though, since I am yet to make CEO of anything other than my own life!

Filmi Girl said...

I adore this movie! That's really all I have to say. Kishore and Madhubala have such great chemistry and Ashok Kumar was hilarious as the 'woman-hating' bara bhai.

The picturizations are really magnificent and the best part of the movie. :) I have the songs from this in constant rotation on my iPod.

Anonymous said...

I hate this new comments format you have :( I keep losing them!

Anyway, love this film. Love Ashok even more than Kishore, although of course Kishore and Madhubala are the focus.

They weren't very happily married unfortunately.

theBollywoodFan said...

Bollyviewer: It was all so pleasant! I didn't like Ruk Jao Na Ji as much as the others, but I did forget to include it, so have added to the post, thanks for the reminder. Did not know the deal with Kishore and his taxes was true! And ref: the cartoon, CEO of the self is so critical, sometimes I think several CEOs of major corporations tend to ignore the ethics that come with self-management!

Filmi Girl: The songs make it all work, that's for sure! And this will sound super silly, but I think my car actually likes some of these songs :)

Memsaab: I haven't seen many of their films at all, but would it be fair to say that Ashok was a better actor than his brothers? It sure seems like it. And you can appreciate my intro to Ashok Kumar came with a commercial for Paan Paraag, which also starred Shammi Kapoor!

Sorry for the comment form troubles. It seems to work fine for me :(

Anonymous said...

Great writeup on CKNG. Madhubala was out of this world.
If you want to watch more Madhubala movies, I recommend Tarana (1951), which is the pinnacle of natural acting on her part. Mr and Mrs 55 (1955) is also a great movie starring Madhubala.

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Anonymous: Thank you for your comment! My admiration for Madhubala has grown with each film I have seen her in. I'll look forward to Tarana now; saw Mr. and Mrs. 55 recently, and shall save comments for a dedicated post, but suffice it to say I liked it more than CKNG!


Richard S. said...

As I mentioned, I'm returning to your good review after seeing the movie and writing about it very briefly myself...

I thought Madhubala and Kishore were very good in this and their chemistry was quite nice, but I (like other people) also really enjoyed watching Ashok Kumar. He was the funniest of the brothers in this film and it always livened up when he entered the scene.

I agree about the transition to drama and suspense. The comedy was going so well before that happened, I didn't really welcome it at first, either. But it didn't take long for me to start enjoying it a lot again and I'm glad that I finally saw this movie.

Nice cartoon, though it does kind of state the obvious. :)

theBollywoodFan said...

Thanks for stopping by, Richard. I really should see it again and focus more on someone other than Madhubala. :) I guess since I'd seen quite a bit of Ashok Kumar prior to this, I knew to expect nothing but the finest of performances from him, which Chalti did contain. Glad you liked it, thank you for linking to this post from over at your blog.