The themes of friendship and loyalty, love and sacrifice figure in many Indian movies. Aadmi ("Man") is a standard-issue exemplar of that genre, in which the themes are amplified by a melange of melodramatic devices - an accident caused by homicidal sabotage and leading to debilitating injury; multiple suicide attempts; and one man's a consciousness of guilt that looms so large that it even takes corporeal form.
Shekhar (Manoj Kumar) apparently has everything going for him. A dashing young doctor, Shekhar wins a prestigious hospital appointment thanks to the influence of his patron and friend Rajesh (Dilip Kumar), a rich landowner who is both shrewd in business and large of heart. Shekhar eagerly courts and wins the daughter of one of Rajesh's servants, the straight-spoken Meena (Waheeda Rehman). But when Rajesh falls for Meena and determines to marry her, Shekhar's sense of duty - and Meena's as well - stops him from telling his friend about his arrangement with Meena. As the wedding day approaches, Rajesh is beset with increasing doubt and anxiety, fueled by the efforts of both a jealous accountant (Pran) and Rajesh's own demons, who keep him awake nights with bitter taunting. Soon everyone's loyalties are put to the test.
It's a dreary story, and it makes for a dreary film. Waheeda Rehman, as Meena, is lovelier than lovely, but her perpetually furrowed brow is a downer and so is Meena. She not only suffers every hardship fate throws at her; she seems to take them up willingly, refusing to extricate herself from them even when the opportunity to do so honorably is offered to her. Dilip Kumar is not much better. In Rajesh's happy moments, he delivers his lines in a barely audible mutter through clenched teeth; for far more of the film, though, he is gripped by overwhelming angst, white-knuckled and wide-eyed.
Rajesh's night terrors are perhaps the most peculiar part of the film. For the most part it is not clear whether the voices that plague him are supernatural, literal ghosts from his past, or merely the projections of a guilty conscience. At their climax, they appear bizarrely in physical form, as a 30-foot-tall Dilip Kumar looming over Rajesh's cowering figure. Rajesh is not merely his own worst enemy; he is tormented by a monstrously amplified version of himself.
Even the songs do not add anything; composed by Naushad, they have nothing near the sparkle of the wonderful and memorable songs from Mughal-e-azam, the only other Naushad soundtrack I know at this writing. Instead they are very ordinary songs with uninspired picturizations; indeed, the picturizations of the first and second songs are nearly identical scenes of Waheeda communing with nature.
The upshot is that despite the angst, the life-changing accidents, the loyalty, the treachery, and the three-storey Dilip Kumar, Aadmi still emerges a dry, bland, milquetoast film. The seasonings are there, but they just fail to blend into a crisp, engaging whole.
(Aadmi is available for download from Jaman.)