classic film

Films at 50: Mystery thriller ‘Mera Saaya’ was a career best for Sadhana

Raj Khosla’s 1966 movie features the 1960s star in an indelible performance alongside Sunil Dutt.

“Tu jahan jahan chalega, mera saaya saath hoga (Wherever you go my shadow will follow)”: these words from the title track of the movie Mera Saaya have taken on a sadly ironic meaning after the death of the lead actress, Sadhana, on December 25, 2015.

Sadhana was a leading name in the decade of the bouffant and the colour film set in Kashmir, but she wasn’t just the epitome of glamour. An understated and extremely competent actress, Sadhana was unfairly underrated as a performer in spite of her fine work in such films as Parakh (1960), Hum Dono (1961), Asli Naqli (1962), Woh Kaun Thi? (1964), Arzoo (1965) and, of course, Mera Saaya, which completes its fiftieth anniversary this year.

Mera Saaya (My Shadow) was Sadhana’s third film with the versatile director Raj Khosla. It is described as the second of the so-called mystery trilogy with the actor, the others being Woh Kaun Thi?, an adaptation of Wilkie Collins’s novel The Woman in White, and the comparatively disappointing Anita (1967). Common between the stand-alone films is the way Khosla most effectively uses Sadhana as an enigmatic catalyst who gets the plot moving. In all three films, Sadhana is the key to solving the mysterious events taking place around the leading men.

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Mera Saaya is the third version of the story first seen in the Marathi film Paathlaag (1964) and then in the Tamil film Idhaya Kamalam (1965). Thakur Rakesh Singh (Sunil Dutt), a lawyer who has gone abroad for higher studies, rushes back home to his ailing wife Geeta (Sadhana), who dies in his arms. Shattered, he cremates her, builds a memorial for her and mourns her. One day, the police contact him. They’ve arrested a woman from a gang of dacoits who claims to be his spouse. When he meets the woman (Sadhana again), he is gobsmacked: she is a dead ringer for his wife. When efforts to prove her identity land up in court, she seems to know all the details of their wedded past, including the most intimate ones.

Though a remake the second time over, Khosla makes sure the film bears his trademark stamp. He keeps the narrative fast-paced, especially in the courtroom scenes. The mystery element holds its own right till the denouement. The final explanation is a relative letdown after a fine build-up. The film handles the romantic scenes in the flashback sequences tenderly and lovingly, most effectively juxtaposing them with the thriller track and the red herrings scattered across the present. The handling of the song sequences, which were Khosla’s big strength and a skill he picked up from mentor Guru Dutt, holds up well even today, making great use of the gorgeous Lake Palace in Udaipur that serves as Sunil Dutt’s house in the movie. However, the lengthy comedy track could have been done away with altogether. It adds little to the film.

While Sunil Dutt flawlessly plays the devoted husband mourning for his beautiful wife, it is Sadhana who owns Mera Saaya. Playing her second double role after Woh Kaun Thi?, she not only looks beautiful but also brings grace, dignity and even cheeky humour to her role as the ideal wife. Some of the photos of her wedding in the film were taken from her own nuptials.

Credit: A still from 'Mera Saaya.'
Credit: A still from 'Mera Saaya.'

Sadhana brings just the right amount of greyness and ambiguity to the role of her bad twin. It is easily one of her better performances, and hardly surprising. Khosla was known in his time, like George Cukor in Hollywood, as a women’s director. Not just Sadhana, but also Suchitra Sen in Bambai Ka Babu (1960), Asha Parekh in Do Badan (1966) and Chirag (1969), Simi Garewal in Do Badan, and Nutan in Main Tulsi Tere Angan Ki (1978) all did extremely fine work under Khosla’s direction.

The other big star of Mera Saaya besides Sadhana is composer Madan Mohan. In a career studded with memorable music, Mera Saaya is one of his definitive scores. The songs, written by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, are beautifully composed, be it the haunting title song, the soulful Aap Ke Pehloo Mein Aakar Ro Diye, the playful romantic ditty Nainonwali Ne Haay Mera Dil Loota, the ultra romantic Nainon Mein Badra Chhaye or the saucy Jhumka Gira Re. The title song, in particular, stays with you long after the film is over. Picking it as one of her 20 best ever songs for the Hindustan Times newspaper in 2013, Lata Mangeshkar said, “It’s a beautiful composition by Madan bhaiya about yearning for a loved one that you have lost. Exceptionally touching and close to my heart.”

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.