A tribute to actor-filmmaker Chandrashekhar, who passed away on June 16, 2021:
Chandrashekhar was the original dancing star, and one just has to watch Cha Cha Cha (1964) to see his nifty footwork. The film, written, produced and directed by him, used a plot revolving around western dance, to tell a love story, in which the conflict is caste—one of the few films to tackle the issue, which is buried under the boisterousness of a young bunch of people doing the twist at the slightest opportunity.
Lali (Helen) and her sisters Kalpana (Bela Bose) and Geeta (Aruna Irani) have been educated abroad and encouraged in their westernized lifestyle by their father Dinanath (Om Prakash), who thinks of himself as progressive. He treats his unlettered, but sharp-tongued wife, Laxmi (Leela Mishra), with disdain, and not one of her dancing offspring and their pals (the gang includes OP Ralhan, Mac Mohan and Polson) stands up for her.
While holidaying in Kashmir, Lali is sent by her mother to a temple, properly draped in a sari, and she comes across a man singing, Ek Lali Ghar Se Chali and thinking he is teasing her, she slaps him. To her mortification, she learns that the man, Puran (Chandrashekhar) is blind, and the song he was singing was a bhajan, Lali being another name for Radha.
She offers to take him to Bombay (now Mumbai) to get his eyes treated. Sight restored, Puran is absorbed into the household and given a job by Dinanath. He resists all attempts by Lali to teach him to boogie, however, he does learn to drive (oh those grand convertibles!) and wear ‘modern’ clothes. Laxmi is happy to see that he is a good influence on Lali, who switches to Indian outfits. When it comes to getting them married, Dinanath’s claims to progressiveness fall flat, when he learns that Puran is a Harijan.
He tells Lali she can’t marry Puran, because her mother and Kalpana’s would-be- in-laws are conservative and her marrying a Harijan would ruin her sister’s life. Dinanath’s hypocrisy is further highlighted when his son (Agha) returns from London with a foreign wife, who obviously does not belong to their caste. A heartbroken Lali rudely dumps Puran, who leaves their home and goes on to become a famous singer on All India Radio. He also learns to dance, but Lali slips from the stairs and damages her foot. Which is a pity, because the Cha Cha Cha competition that Puran participates in and wins, has him partner with another dancer, Marry Chambers, credited as Elevisly Yours (sic).
The applause-worthy scene comes when Laxmi berates her husband for speaking on her behalf, when she is not the one bothered by Puran’s caste; Kalpana’s father-in-law says in rebuke, that Dinanath could not become Westernised and did not even remain Indian. If everyone had those outdated beliefs, how would the country progress? That bit of drama out of the way, it is a matter of time before Lali’s limp is cured, Puran is back in the fold and the dance party carries on!
Cha Cha Cha seem a bit gauche now, but its exuberant dances (choreographer Surya Kumar), the luminous Helen and Iqbal Qureshi’s fabulous music—songs like Subah Na Aayi (written by poet Neeraj), Chameli Ke Mandwe Tale and the foot-tapping One Two Cha Cha Cha, make it an entertaining watch over half a century later, not to mention that caste is still making the headlines. Watch out for a hilarious pool side scene, in which Dara Singh, as himself, dressed in swimming trunks, does the twist rather enthusiastically. Actors like Agha, Iftikhar, Tun Tun and Madan Puri do brief cameos, probably as a favour to a co-star.
Chandrashekhar made another film, Street Singer (1966) and then settled in for a long career in supporting roles, many of them in the uniform of police commissioner.