Armchair Traveler: Lahu ke Do Rang (1979)

Bad travel-writing, good movies. 

Today we follow the adventures and misadventures of several travelers to exotic Darjeeling.

Vandhana, history's poster-girl for how NOT to travel in Darjeeling. 
Still one of the most sought-after tea export regions of the world, it was once the cream-of-the-crop of British hill-stations. Of course the tea stayed on, and the British didn't. Many famous lovers have crooned and "waadaa kiya'd" here . . . the beauty of the hill plantations serving as a deceptive backdrop to eventual tragedy. Perhaps the most famous tragedy of all is that of Vandhana . . . a bright girl with a literary bent who might have had a future . . . had she just chosen a seat on the other side of the toy train that day. 

But not everyone comes to this place of beauty with love blooming in their heart. A flame draws all sorts of insects . . . some with a venomous nature.

1. Raj (Vinod Khanna) is a police inspector. Like many inspectors before him, he is on a vengeful personal mission . . . to find Shankar, the criminal who caused his father's death. Like many Raj's after him, he is also prone to (A) stalking, and (B) unpredictable manic episodes.
He believes the criminal is here, hiding out in the bosom of the Queen of hills.

And indeed, Raj is correct.

2. Shankar (Ranjeet) of course, will not be caught dead, old, or bored without a bosom nearby, preferably several. Since he first escaped policewallah clutches many years earlier, he has been hiding out (as an unwelcome guest) in the luxurious home of two unfortunate females. It's been a long twenty years, trying to suss out the location of the stolen loot. Sucking the tea plantation owners dry has been hard work, and Shankar has the silver locks to prove it.

3. Roma (Shabana Azmi) isn't a traveler to Darjeeling, but a memsaab, born and bred. She is the young owner of the tea plantation Shankar is currently exploiting.

Somehow she has managed to escape the harassment of the villains squatting in her home (who mostly just want the run of the place and her paagal Ma to stay locked up). As you can see, the shortage of harassment and sane human company has begun to show. A woman cannot live on haughtiness and beautiful hill country alone. But never fear, Roma is about to receive all the street accosting and male interest she could ever want.

Meanwhile, in the background, lurk an ambiguous pair of survivors. Tall waif is Suraj (Danny Dezongpa), newly arrived from Hong Kong with a mission to (A) make paisa as a payrolled diver for Shankar, and (B) find the Indian father that disappeared in his childhood. Small waif is a pickpocket and declined to provide her name to the press.

He's got the muscle and she's got the brains, and a fond partnership is soon struck up.

On the other side of town, after "saving" her from a series of roadside dangers (goondas, runaway buses, cliffs, being forced to carry her own damn packages) Raj has a "meet cute" with Roma. She seems to have more of a "meet annoyed." But, perhaps because Raj is hiding a more serious set of a goals, and because Roma is stuck between a rock and a cute place, she chooses cute. Though this human drama may or may not be your romantic cup of tea, you cannot but admit that the stage itself is a beautiful one. And perhaps that is not a small factor in a courtship. For as someone [probably] once said, the beauty is not in the place itself, but rather in the feelings that the place inspires.

But music helps. And in Darjeeling, damsels in distress WILL be serenaded, whether they like it or not.

This damsel seems to like it well enough, however.

It takes a while to get around to all the hot spots in Darjeeling. Raj and Shankar both do their best to see everything, however.

[Prema Narayan: bombshell extraordinaire. Known for: Her excellent chemistry with inanimate objects.]

It is a well documented fact that one can't throw a stone in India without hitting a pair of separated brothers. And if there is one cultural phenomenon more common than separated brothers, it is the tendency for such close relations to currently be living within a stone's throw of another, bilkul ignorant of their blood ties. It also doesn't help when both fellers fall for the same lady.

In keeping with Darjeeling's hostility toward the extended happiness of lovers or blood kin, a side jaunt to Hong Kong is the only answer to Raj's broader questions about his father's past.

Awkward explanations of why he is the spitting image of his dead father . . . to his dead father's abandoned mistress, Suzy (Helen) . . . ensure that Raj will need to return to the [healing] hills again. After leaving Suzy in the capable hands of her rival, his mother, of course. [Post script: It it is only a matter of time before Suzy ends up in Darjeeling herself, where she and Vandhana find one another in the "My husband's son grew up to be his doppelganger and now everything is weird" support group and become great friends. In fact, this club has become so popular, it has expanded to include male members and recently opened branches in several other major Indian vacation destinations.]

It is beyond our scope to finish OTHER peoples' stories for them. Travel is about YOUR story.

That said, it is obvious that the curtain will fall on this particular tale when Raj and Suraj finally work out their antipathy and settle ancient family scores. Cause the ladies already had it figured out long ago; Darjeeling running in their veins and all.

Their advice for the future traveler? 

1. Always dress in layers.

2. Look both ways before you cross the street (potential admirers are an ever present threat).

3. If you want to impress an older man, pick his pocket.

4. If anyone asks you to marry them in a deserted cave shrine, laugh it off and schedule your shaadi at least a few weeks out.

5. If you choose to wear an orange or peach towel during a serenade, you had better be coming out of the shower, not a sexy rainstorm.

6. And lastly, if you are going to sit around a romantic fire with your potential admirer, continue to dress in layers. And by all that is sacred, do NOT walk around that fire. Keep to separate corners and remain sullen. Your future happiness depends on your petulance and your mastery of temporary prudery.

In short, this:


  1. Miranda, could you please delete my email id on the previous comment? I made a mistake there. :(

    1. RE: You being warned off acidentally ;)

      You know, it's possible I missed some grand conversations (I watched without subs, and my Hindi comprehension has a lot of holes) that would have given this narrative more heart. But I doubt it. It was, however, quite beautiful to look at, which is why I felt it spoke better for Darjeeling (and the cinematographer) than the actual story. There are two songs that are absolutely worth watching in it, also.

  2. I've had this movie in my collection for ages (for obvious reasons) but I haven't gotten around to watching it (for probably equally obvious reasons). I did once feature a song from it when I was doing Shabana-Gaana Fridays on Sounds Like Power. Oh, there are ways in which I miss the days when I blew off my day job and spent the entire day thinking about and writing about Hindi films. Anyway thank you for the summary. It looks fun. I will get around to it eventually. (I'm actually working my way alphabetically through my unwatched pile and I've only just finished "Abhinetri" so I have a ways to go yet.) Because, Shabana in a beige jumpsuit. What else do I need, really?

    1. Sigh. There's nothing like spending a Saturday morning with coffee and one's blog, right? Ok, ok, maybe not *always* on Saturdays. Often when I should be working . . .

      Most of the time, I don't go for straight up summaries of films, but I felt that the story could be told slightly better, lol (*Oh the hubris*). This film is really perfect for extratextual interpretations or in-the-moment re-writes. . . as it never really hits the high notes the way masala should, and the low notes of melodrama are too rushed to be meaningful. But gosh, everything and everyone is beautiful in it. Shabana is stunning in this film, obviously. . . and some of her fashion ensembles upstage the the story. Jumpsuit being perhaps the most *guh* inducing.

      Was the "Sounds Like Power" pick Muskarata Hua? That's the most Shaban-y of them all, I think. It's like a serenade/glamour photo shoot across the tea fields.


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