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Saturday, 25 September 2010

Learning the ways of the house (The Householder)

The Householder, in my eye, is a coming-of-age tale. A delicate love story that highlights the trials and tribulations of a newly-married couple, the various hiccups that lead to their understanding of each other, the small misunderstandings, the sweet patch-ups, everything about Prem Sagar and Indu's relationship is reflective of how a couple, unaware of each other's feelings, likes and dislikes, gradually iron out their creases and grow to love each other. I'm not getting into the spiritual aspect of Prem's evolution as a thorough house-runner and the process of Indu's becoming houseproud. It is but obvious that there will be some channel all the time whereby the concerned parties would become enlightened.

In Indu's case, it is the constant feeling that Prem's mother is more aware of her husband's likes and dislikes. The growing responsibility towards Prem, brings her closer to him. In Prem's case, the change is more complete and rounded. Initially irked by the change of his single-status, he constantly cribs about having to take care of a wife. With his paltry income, running a house becomes a difficult task in Delhi. And then there is Indu, who is not exactly to his liking. It's as if he has been forced into marriage and hence his circumspection. It takes many tiny incidents, his mother, a friend, a swami and a bizarre acquaintance, to drive home the point in Prem's mind that he is after all quite ready for a family. Or should we say he gradually gets in the groove of running a family, with some realisations dawning upon him.
Prem (Shashi Kapoor) and Indu (Leela Naidu), when the film opens, are going to attend a wedding. Prem witnesses the discomfiture of the bridegroom and soothes his frayed nerves by relating his own tale. He was in a similar position a year earlier. He was not fond of his wife, more because he was not very eager to settle down in marriage right away. Living away from his family in a rented house in Delhi, he keeps complaining how difficult it is for him to run a house, given his meagre income of Rs 180 per month as a college professor. He compares the food cooked by Indu with the food that his mother made. He is hardly loving or caring towards her. He keeps reiterating that she is better-off because she has no worries.
Little does he know that is is pretty difficult for her too. She is alone here, away from her family and loved ones, trying to acclimatise herself with new living conditions and situations. Given that, a sweet word from her husband would definitely help. But alas, it is 1963.
She shares her thoughts with her landlady, Mrs Saigal (Achla Sachdev) and complains to her a bit, too, about how her husband is always asking her to curtail costs. It is Mrs Saigal who first breaks the news of Indu's pregnancy to Prem. The sky breaks on his head. How would he afford a baby now? The tiff between Prem and his wife sheds light on the utter lack of misunderstanding between the couple. They are still so new to each other's feelings, yet they are going to have a baby!
From here on, we suddenly see a change in Prem. He urges Indu to take nutritious meals and even gets laddoos for her. I love how James Ivory shows Prem trying to steal kisses from his pretty wife. He decides to call his mother to take care of the situation. But little does he know that with his mother's intervention, things would go outright awry.
Prem's mother (Durga Khote) nitpicks on her daughter-in-law at every instance. She is the typical Indian mother, ever too indulgent towards her son and believes that no one else can take enough care of him. She chides Indu at the drop of a hat and raises questions over her pedigree.
Prem is torn between his mother's love and the sudden admiration he has for his wife. When his mother is mean to Indu, he tries hard to pacify her. When Indu unknowingly angers her mother-in-law, he tries hard to extract an apology from Indu, just to settle ruffled feathers. But I guess, it is because of his mother that he starts giving for importance to his wife. It's quite naughty of him to write to his sister so that she calls for his mother. Prem is now grown up enough to crave the intimacy with his better-half. These are different circumstances. Not the times when he felt an acute unease seeing her silhouette from behind a curtain while she changed her clothes.
The homely squabbles are the best part of the film. Because, in them you get to witness the change in Prem. He soon realises that he has duties towards his family, especially his wife, who deserves special care. Prem grows up in the process of settling homely matters.
Though he is still the meak lad who is extremely embarrassed of asking for an increment from his college principal Mr Khanna (Romesh Thapar) and stands mute when the rude Mrs Khanna (Indu Lele) is brushing him aside. He realises that he loves Indu very much and misses her when she leaves for her father's abode.
There is a point when Prem feels that he should abdicate all worldly worries and attain spiritual freedom. His quirky acquaintance, Ernest (Ernest Castaldo), eggs him on to it. But I would say that it is because of Ernest that he again realises that he is quite eager now for a family and spiritual replenishment can wait. The swami (Pahari Sanyal) too, helps him to believe so. For, he now has Indu by his side. To laugh and cry with him. Worries will be easier to deal with.
The Householder looks so Indian that it is a bit strange sometimes to hear the characters speak in perfect English. The dialogues, I'm afraid, are a bit too text bookish. But then, maybe because while watching the film I almost always believe that the characters are going to break into some familar Hindi lines. The cast is awesome. Durga Khote, Achla Sachdev, Pahari Sanyal, Harindranath Chatterjee (he is awesome with his diction) play such Indian roles with such British elan. Delhi looks lovely. So serene, empty and full of splendid locales.
Leela Naidu was good as the innocent young wife. She was obviously comfortable with the tongue, as I could gauge from her dialogues and emotes pretty well. Though she looks quite pale in some scenes (and I do not know why the camera does nothing to accentuate her beauty), she was very strong in the quarrel scenes and the penultimate scene where she comforts Prem.
The cake is of course taken away by Shashi Kapoor. He was but a gorgeous revelation as the evolving college professor. I found him too attractive and his dialogue delivery extremely laudable. The scene where he comes to confront Prof Chadha for shouting at him in front of the class is awesome. The way he is made to eat humble pie after Prof Chadha threatens to complain to the principal if an apology is not given immediately is quite remarkable. It shows how Prem is often forced to resigned to bite dust because he is not brazen enough to wring out his own way. But, no matter what, it is Prem's becoming the complete houselholder that makes this film a thoroughly pleasant watch...


  1. I think you liked it, no? :-)

  2. @Dustedoff: Yes I did. I was bowled over by Shashi Kapoor, his looks, predicament, diction, everything!! And Durga Khote was so sweet :)

  3. I saw this film years back. After reading your lively write-up, I have to revisit it. And yes, I remember thinking how handsome Shashi Kapoor looked-- and Leela Naidu is so delicately pretty too.

  4. @Nivedita: I find Shashi Kapoor so well suited to these Firangi films than in Hindi films. In his old Hindi films, he looks a bit out of place. Leela Naidu is pretty definitely, but here I found her a bit pale sometimes. But the chemistry between the two was smashing!

  5. The relationship between Indu and Prem is the best part of the film - their initial discomfort with each other, and their evolving attachment is very delicately handled. But I did not care for the "spiritual" aspects of Prem's journey. India's "spiritual" culture is an oft-repeated subtext in all Merchant-Ivory set-in-India films, and even though the idea is to make fun of the spiritual stereotype, I find it very irritating that the duo just won't leave it alone (In Custody was the only exception - and a much better film because of it)!

  6. This is the second great review i've read of this film, i'll surely look out for it

  7. @Bollyviewer: Yes, I too steared clear of the spiritual aspects of the script. What kept me glued was Prem and Indu's relationship growth. And that's the fun part of the film. Have heard a lot about In Custody. Will look out for it now :)

  8. @Bollywooddeewana: Yes, go on, see it. The best part--- it's available on youtube :)

  9. Ha! You can imagine how much I enjoyed reading this Sharmi, and how much I marvelled at your take on the film which was so different from mine, and yet so profound. Your picture of the emerging couple, the coming of age tale as you put it, is quite convincing. I still feel that (this being a western film-maker's movie) all this is a backdrop for a more western purpose dealing with the then very topical question of the attraction of Indian spirituality on occidental culture though. But what you say makes good sense. Thanks!

  10. @Yves: Though I realised that 'this is a backdrop for a more western purpose dealing with the then very topical question of the attraction of Indian spirituality on occidental culture', I totally fell for the domestic side of the story. And that's why I've written about it. Am so ecstatic you liked it :)

  11. Hey Sharmi, Good review. Loved it.