The Big Marriage Con
Deepa Gahlot

The Big Marriage Con
The Big Marriage Con

This week’s release Fraud Saiyaan is about a con man who marries many women to cheat them and escape. In 1974, Mohan Segal had made a film called Woh Main Nahin, starring Navin Nischol as the fraud.

The film was based on the 1962 Marathi play To Mee Navhech (That’s Not Me), by Acharya Atre, and starred the legendary Prabhkar Panshikar as the colourful character, Lakhoba Lokhande (later played by other actors when the play was revived). The play was about the trial of a conman, who took on various guises, cheated people and married many women, whom he abandoned. But Lokhande managed to pick holes in the testimonies of his accusers, constantly claiming that that man they are looking for is not him.

Segal took the germ of the idea and turned Woh Main Nahin into a commercial entertainer, starring Navin Nischol and Rekha, both of whom he had introduced in an earlier film, Sawan Bhadon (1970). In the cast were actors like Padmini Kapila, Asha Sachdev and Rakesh Pandey, all alumni of Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India, like Nischol.

The handsome star played Vijay, a wildlife enthusiast and writer of a book on forest herbs, who lives among tribals in the forest. He rescues from a car crash, Anjali (Rekha), a rich girl running away from a forced marriage on the insistence of her father and stepmother. At first she thinks he is a bandit because he has a gun, and he goes along with the pretence, but when she is captured by real bandit, he saves her again and they falls in love (after the mandatory song-and-dance). Her family is skeptical about Anju marrying a homeless and penniless man, but they are convinced by his publisher buddy Ranjit (Pandey), who was the man chosen for her, but he steps aside for his friend. On the day of their wedding, Sultana (Sophia) a Muslim woman, arrives from Hyderabad, after receiving an anonymous letter, and claim that Vijay is her husband Saleemuddin and the father of her son.

A search of his room reveals a bag of disguises and a fake id, which Vijay says must have been planted in his room to trap him in a false case.  But he is accused of marrying several women and then duping them.  He wears many disguises and identities—Saleemuddin, Diwakar Datar, Daji Shashtri, Ashok and Baba Radheyshyam.

The case goes to court, with the prosecutor being played by Iftikhar. Vijay looks quite unperturbed, however, and turns down a lawyer to insist on defending himself. He manages to demolish the arguments of his opponents.  He tells the judge that the letter could have been written by a member of Anju’s family, because they were against the marriage, and the cops were unable to nab the real criminal, who was running riot “from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.”

After he exposes Sultana’s devious stepfather, the next accuser is Sunanda Datar (Kapila) who identifies Vijay as her husband Diwakar. She states that she had met him through a marriage bureau and he told her family that he was one of four brothers and worked for the Indian secret service, reporting only to the prime minister. Later, he turned up as his own older brother to confirm the match.

In court, Vijay exposes Sunanda as a conniving liar, and next to turns up is cabaret dancer Pamela (Asha Sachdev) demanding a large sum of money to provide proof of Vijay’s innocence. She had met him in the guise of Captain Ashok, who cleaned out her bank account and she wants to get that money from Anjali's family. Venu (Nazneen) a woman from a temple was his next victim,  who vanished with the idol’s jewels.

The Hindi film came up with a convoluted explanation for the goings on, while Atre’s play, based on the life of a real-life swindler, was a satire on the gullibility and hypocrisy of the conman's victims.

The film was a hit, and gave Navin Nischol a chance to prove his talent by playing so many different parts. If there was something lacking in the crime-cum-courtroom drama it was the forgettable music.