I saw Rani aur Lalpari (1975) as a child, and remembered snippets of it, the full Cinderella sequence starring Neetu Singh for example, but I absolutely did not recall the whimsical Alice in Wonderlandy, Willy Wonkaey craziness of this film. This fantasy children's movie, featuring Baby Rani (whom I recognized from Hum Kisise Kam Nahin as the young Kaajal who fell into the sea and almost drowned from 10 feet away - miraculous!), has a crazy mixture of melodrama, fantasy and mythological genres. The amazing thing is how many popular film stars are featured in it, including Asha Parekh, Rajendra Kumar, Reena Roy, Neetu Singh, Jeetendra, Feroz Khan, Aruna Irani, Jagdeep, Danny Denzongpa, etc.
The basic storyline is of a poor, young girl named Rani (played by ... Baby Rani!), whose father is working abroad. Rani and her mother (played by Asha Parekh) are forced to live with her cruel Aunt and Uncle while her father is away. The aunt is lazy and stingy, hoarding food and treats for herself and making Rani do laundry and clean their home. The uncle is a drunk who wrestles Rani's mother's hard-earned money away from her. Rani's only joys are her mother's love, her best friend Pappu, and her pet white rabbit named Moti (named for the pearl, not because it's fat).
Pappu tries to cheer up Rani by telling her stories, like the Cinderella tale, featuring Neetu Singh as Cinderella, Jeetendra as Prince Charming, and Reena Roy as the fairy godmother, aka Lalpari:
and by showing her fairy tale stories on his fancy home projector, like the story of Gulliver Travels, featuring Feroz Khan as Gulliver and Jagdeep as the King of the Lilliputians.
Pappu also teaches Rani that the crowds of Mumbai send the idol of Ganeshji into the sea because the entrance to heaven is underwater. Way to drive her to suicide Pappu, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Eventually things go from bad to worse for little Rani. Her uncle finds out she's been harboring a secret pet and in an extremely disturbing sequence, kills it, splattering rabbit blood all over little Rani.
Is this movie by Tim Burton? Later that same day, since the rabbit killing and the blood-spattered child weren't enough violence, we're subjected to a "Parents Day" program by Rani and her schoolfriends. Rani sings a pleading song about the State of the Union while all the children pantomime war, murder, etc. It's all very lovely and uplifting. At least we're graced by the gorgeous young Danny Denzongpa playing himself, there to give a special trophy and statue to Rani for her performance. Of course, Rani's mean uncle snatches it away from her.
Then comes the fateful day that Rani's dad is finally coming back to Mumbai. They go to the airport to receive him, and watch as the plane crashes and buuuuurrrrrns. Rani's mom is so overcome that she faints dead away -- well into a coma really. The doctors at the hospital declare that they cannot do anything to save her and she's declared a vegetable.
|Sucks to be you Rani!|
Rani decides she will go to heaven and bring back her mother (I guess at this point she's like Screw Pappa, he can burn in hell!). She dives into the sea and man, what a rabbit hole that is! The rest of the film is utter madcap psychadelicness ... lots of back projections of giant sea creatures, glittering sets, crazy costumes, etc.
Rani narrowly escapes a giant octopus and finds herself in front of Ganeshji who tells her the directions to heaven. She climbs in a boat with a mysterious lady in white who tells her not to touch her throughout the ride. Because kindergarten age kids never listen to crap like that, Rani ends up touching her and the lady disappears.
Rani is then thrown in a wild boat ride that made me intone the "rowers keep on rowing" sequence from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. She lands up amongst these weird mermaidly ladies led by Padma Khanna writhing about in clamshells, who point down a hole of DOOOOOOOM. Rani totally leaps in the hole which transports her to the land of the little angels (which are actually all the same kids that did a school performance all about war and violence with her earlier in the movie).
So the little angels take her to the Lalpari, who agrees to help her find her way to her mother. She sends with new GPS coordinates to Indralok, I guess, where the celestial nymph Menaka (played by a very RK-Films dressed Aruna Irani. Think Ram Teri Ganga Maili or Satyam Shivam Sundaram) is totally getting it on in the Rangoli hot tub with her nymphy (nympho?) friends.
Menaka does some apsara dancing for Indradev, and Rani can't keep her grubby little paws off of shiny things and picks a golden lotus which I guess blows up or something. Menaka is all sad when she sees Rani hurt, and runs with her to the feet of a giant plaster statue of Shiva (what the Devtas couldn't swing for marble?). Indradev is all, "She misses Shakuntala ..." which is super-duper insightful of him.
So Aruna Irani/Menaka sings a song beseeching the plaster Shiva to revive Rani, which he does. And Menaka decides to help Rani (despite the other apsaras, including Manju Bhargavi as Rambha - holla! questioning her getting involved with a stinky human child) and goes to seduce the info out of Yamaraj's secretary (played by Jagdeep again). She finds out that Rani's mother isn't dead yet, but is scheduled to be one of Yamaraj's victims soon. Menaka warns Rani that the path to Yamaraj's palace will be the most dangerous one she's encountered yet, but Rani insists that she has to go to save her mother. Menaka blesses her by throwing a bunch of plastic beads on her head, which will apparently protect her from numerous blurry back-projections of giant snakes, scorpions, lizards, weird ghost people, etc.
Finally she meets Yamaraj in the Palace of Hades. I must say, Yamaraj kind of seems like a jolly, kindly teddy bear of an uncle and not much of a Lord of Death! And ... well ... let's say if you know the story of Savitri-Satyavan then you can guess how Rani tricks Yamaraj into giving her mother back to her.
|I want to love him and squeeze him and call him George.|
It's a pretty crazy ride, but it stuck in my memory all these years - mostly because of Neetu's Cinderella scenes, but also because there are so few old Hindi movies that were specifically for children, and this was a movie in which a child is the heroine throughout! I might suggest that viewing this movie with the booze flowing might make for an enhanced experience. Since this is all about Neetu - here's some Neetu-as-Cinderella picspam:
I hope to re-watch and review Chorni next, so stay tuned, and don't forget to visit this link for all the Neetu Squeeing in Bollyblogging Land!