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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Feminism of yore (Khushboo)

Given Gulzar's sensitive approach, it is but obvious that his handling of a proud woman's emotions would be different. And Khushboo does not disappoint on that count. No matter how sorrowful her life is, Kusum does not sacrifice her dignity and pride to attain happiness. She abstains from grovelling in self-pity and shuns any kind of sympathy from the world. Simply because she feels honoured to address her rights and expects her dear ones to acknowledge that. This is a girl who is strong, dignified and fiesty, yet sober, mature and loving. It is this Kusum who will grab your attention in Khushboo...
Kusum's character becomes even more attractive when it is juxtaposed against Brindavan. This 1975 love story is an unusual story set in a rustic backdrop. With a whiff of the soil, the execution is supremely subtle and pleasing to the eye. No loud characters, no garish costumes and dialogues that we can relate to completely. An engaging tale, it is even more noteworthy for the melee of strong female characters and an absolutely unique plot. And of course RD Burman's fresh music.
Kusum (Hema Malini) lives in Siddipur with her elder brother Kunj (Asrani), who sells toys. She looks after an elderly woman who suddenly falls ill. A medical practitioner called Brindavan (Jeetendra) is called from the neighbouring village of Badalgaon to treat her. Kusum is startled to learn the name of the doctor. Events reveal that as a young girl Kusum was bethrothed to Brindavan but a nasty property dispute separated the young souls. Despite several attempts by Kusum's mother (Leela Mishra) to convince Brindavan's father to accept Kusum, the marriage does not happen. Brindavan's family leave for the city. After many years they return to Badalgaon but now Brindavan is already married and has a son named Charan. (See Sarika as the young Kali here).
Being the village simpleton that she is (and also the woman who truly loves Brindavan), Kusum never marries because she has always seen herself as Brindavan's wife. She keeps waiting for him hoping that one day he will come and take her away. So, understandably she is very hurt to know that he is already married and has a son. But, soon she also gets the news that Brindavan is a widower. By a chain of events she meets Charan and eggs him to call her mother. Brindavan too, gets to know that Kusum is in fact Kutni, the girl he was engaged to, as a young boy. He tells his mother (Durga Khote) that the past should be buried and he should get married to Kusum now. That way, Kusum will get her due.
Khote meets Kunj and tells him that Brindavan should get married to Kusum, who is still a spinster. This agitates Kusum, for she is irked by the fact that Brindavan's family is sort of, treating her with sympathy and not much of love or respect. The situation worsens when Khote hands over two gold bangles to Kusum as an engagement gift without telling her clearly that they are now happy about the marriage. Khote carelessly tells her that initially she had to act according to her husband's wishes and now she has to bend before her son's likes. This angers Kusum. She returns the bangles and cries before her dear friend Manorama (Farida Jalal) that she is no beggar that Brindavan's family is giving her alms. They should not be treating her in such a nonchalant way. And moreover, Brindavan should be the one telling his mother that he wants Kusum as his wife, for he loves her, and not mere social service. In fact, he should not be leaving everything on the old lady.
A subtle power battle ensues between these individuals. Kusum's pride is hurt, Khote's ego takes a beating and Brindavan suffers from a dilemma as to how to tackle situations. In the meantime Kusum grows very close to Charan, Manu gets married as well as widowed and Badalgaon wilts under the grip of a ghastly plague.
Kusum is also unnerved that Brindavan did not love her enough. Why else would he marry another girl. But then when she hears about the circumstances that lead to his marriage with Kamla (an awesome guest appearance by Sharmila Tagore) she does not grudge the decision. She is all ready to accept him as her husband. Only if he is strong enough to make her his own with dignity.
I'm not sure why Gulzar's Brindavan is so weak. When he could take a sudden decision to marry a desolate girl like Kamla, what stops him from openly admitting to his mother that he loves Kusum? Why does he not say loudly that she deserves to be loved and respected? Why can't he be firm with his mother when she slights the alliance just because her ego is hurt? And, why is he so flaky when it comes to making decisions and keeping words? An educated individual, Brindavan is a responsible and talented doctor who is always saving lives. True, there are misunderstandings galore between him and Kusum, sometimes for his own doings and sometimes due to unforseen circumstances. But, why should I not be angry with him for being so meak and spineless. I almost feel that Kusum was crazy to wait for him. Even in the last scene he tells Kusum, "Hope I would be given another chance to come and take you."How many chances do you need, Mister? Even your little son realises that it takes one pinch of vermillion to convince Kusum, something that does not occur to you... How exasperating!!!
I liked Jeetendra as Brindavan (just his acting, not his character, I repeat). He was understated and simple. Why didn't he stick to such roles in his career, I still cannot gauge. As a hardworking village doctor, in a severe predicament regarding matters of the heart (O majhi rey by Kishore Kumar bears testimony to that), Jeetendra's performance was convincing. Much better than his commercial 'Jumping Jack' avatar!
The real lovable male character in Khushboo was Asrani's Kunj. Playing a loving and doting brother, Kunj shows how true love means sacrifices. Devoid of his signature gags, Asrani's performance was really blemish-free. Really heartening...
As mentioned before, Khushboo's women hog the limelight. Like Farida Jala, the ebullient village belle Manorama. Super excited about her marriage, she has no qualms in meeting her would-be-husband Birju on the sly. She giggles with excitement on the prospect of the rendezvous and at the same time is a dear friend to Kusum. She understands Kusum's sorrow and feels happy for her when Kusum is almost sure that Brindavan will take her away. Jalal looks so pretty in Bechara dil kya karein, a joyful track sung wonderfully by Asha Bhonsle. It is Gulzar's finesse that comes into play when he shows this same bubbly girl struck with grief when just after her marriage her husband dies of the plague. Shocking turn of events...
Notwithstanding its strong supporting cast, Khushboo is what it is for Kusum, portrayed to perfection by Hema Malini. With hardly any makeup, she is the epitome of beauty. But her beauty is simple, innocent yet elegant. In plain cotton sarees, she is oh-so-gorgeous sans makeup. She is sheer delight for the senses. And, she is not just looks, it is her subtle performance that is spectacular.
Kusum has immense pride and belief in her love for Brindavan. But, she does not wish for sympathy in return. When she realises that she is being accepted by Khote not because she is the rightful owner of the place but because the latter is feeling sorry for her, she shuns the alliance. She is believer of her rights. Do we see a flicker of feminism in Gulzar's tale? Maybe not the bra-burning type, but surely a more latent projection of it.
Kusum firmly holds that Brindavan should stand up for their relation. When Brindavan tells her that her negating the alliance has hurt his mother, she is brave enough to tell him that it is high time he thinks about how she felt! Great going girl!
Kusum keeps exercising her rights towards Brindavan. She does not let him spend his nights in Badalgaon because it is hit by plague (surely she loves him). In return she just expects him to take her to his house as his lawfully wedded wife. Surely one cannot expect her to go to her husband's house with a servant he sends (no matter how busy he is)! I can gauge her pain when Brindavan's servant comes to take Charan and feeling insulted Kusum decides to stay back again. This after she was happy the previous night expecting a blissful union and singing Ghar jayegi (Lata Mangeshkar).
The best is kept for the last when she very pointedly tells Brindavan (for me, the loser by now) that if he would have been brave and loved her enough he would have exercised his rights, respected her stand, shattered her pride and taken her home. But surely, Brindavan is not man enough for that. Or rather, not man enough for this strong and intelligent woman...


  1. Great review, as much of a Jeetendra lover that i am, i still haven't seen this, but i'm familiar with 'o maajhi re' and 'Ghar jayegi', both beautiful songs. perhaps he never did to much of this roles as they didn't prove to bring in the hits, his silly/over the top movies seemed to rake in a lot of money, hence why we got to see him in a lot of those

  2. @Bollywooddeewana: Yes, perhaps you are right. The commercial colourful fare did bring in the moolah. But he was so much better in these films. Other places where I like him are Meri Awaaz Suno and Parichay. Thank you for the comment and keep reading :)

  3. Oh, no, no, no, no, NO! I'm not going to read this right now, because I've put this on my rental queue. The DVD will be delivered probably this weekend, and then, once I've seen it, I'll come back here and read this up. I don't want to spoil the surprise (not that there's much surprise - I recall having seen half the film a couple of years back).

    Thank you for telling me which film this was. ;-)

  4. @Dustedoff: ha ha ha you are so funny. Yes, see the film. Even if it not as awesome as Mausam or Ijaazat, it is worth watching just for Hema Malini. I think you will like it. Enjoy :)

  5. "I'm not sure why Gulzar's Brindavan is so weak." It's all Sarat Chandra's fault! This is based on one of his stories, and Sarat da's heroes were always spineless wimps (remember Devdas?) while his heroines were always beautiful, intelligent and strong.

    Usually, a story like this (hero coming back to a previous relation after being another relationship) rouses all my ire (I HATE Kuch Kuch Hota Hai), but when Gulzar takes a hand, I not only love the film, I even find it romantic!

  6. @Bollyviewer: Oh is that so. Thank you for enlightening me about the basis of the story. Yes, Sarat Chandra's men were really weak, never at par with his strong women. Brindavan irks me to no extent. Kusum deserves so much more.
    But, the film is really engaging :) Thank you for the comment :)

  7. Talking of Saratbabu, he was wildly popular with the women in Bengal a century ago and continues to be so. They say he was the first Bengali novelist to accurately depict their woes. To do so, he had to show his men as weak; the truth is most of the times they were genuinely so, but sometimes they were relegated to the background as flat characters.

  8. @Netdhaba: Till now the men I have read about in Saratbabu's novels pale in comparison to his women. I don't know whether that was done in purpose. His women characters just stand out too well.

  9. Yet another movie that I haven't seen. I love all the songs of this movie. The village setting, Hema Malini without make-up, bubbly Farida Jalal - a rustic feel to it somehow reminds me of Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein .
    Though I haven't watched Khusboo myself I had read bollyviewer's review of it and could relate to it while watching PKCM.
    Who's Kali in the story?
    Hema looks so beautiful and elegant in her plain village-belle avatar, hai na?
    True, Jeetu's movies with Gulzaar like this and Parichay were great. I love both Hema and Jeetu the best in Gulzaar films. Also, quite rare to come across a Gulzar film that doesn't star Raju Shrestha. He seemed to be Gulzar's big-time favorite.

  10. @Sunheriyaadein: This is a very sensitive film. Now you mention Palkon ki Chaon Mein again. I think I have to watch that very soon.
    Yes, Hema is just so very beautiful in Khushboo. And yes, Raju Shrestha seems to be quite a hit with Gulzar :)

  11. Yes!!! I have finally seen this film - and oh, so satisfying. Brindavan is a weak-kneed character, and I felt like hitting Kusum for abiding by him so obstinately, but all said and done, a sensitive and lovely love story. And I agree with you completely: why didn't Jeetendra do more roles like this one and his role in Parichay? He is so much more likeable in these understated, real roles than in rubbish like Jyoti or Sada Suhagan or Asha. Yuck!

  12. @Dustedoff: Ain't this an engaging story??? I hate the Jumping Jack avatar of Jeetendra. It is because of his doing so much of those inane commercial potboilers that I do not like him too much as an actor. I thought Hema Malini was gorgeous in the film and Gulzar's handling is marvellous. I'm glad you liked the film.

  13. Truly,Sarat Babu deserves some flak for making the character of Brindaban so weak.But I think that Sarat Babu also deserves huge credit for writing such an engaging story and such a unique plot[In your own words].After all,Gulzar did not write such a lovely story like this himself.Also,Sarat Babu should receive kudos for writing such a strong female character like Kusum.It gets even more better when one comes to know that someone created such a strong female character in the early part of 1900.

    Jeetu's acting was a revelation.Hema looked beautiful,but I would not call her Performance superb.For me,her acting was average,although it was lot better than her other films.Just my view.

    Gulzar's direction isn't exactly great but is competent enough.But there is one thing That Gulzar did right-that he remained faithful to the Sarat story.Unlike say Mohan Segal,who in his attempt to make his film Devar more commercial,deviated a lot from the Tarashankar story Naa[on which it was based],something which not only ruined the essence of the original story but also ruined the film.

  14. By the way,don't you think that Gulzar's films look more like Bengali films than hindi films?

  15. @Anonymous: Hmmmm, interestinf observations.