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Saturday, 2 October 2010

Warped woman (Chhoti Bahu)

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's male characters hardly have meat. There, I've said it. And, in doing so, must have incurred the ire of faithful followers of this classic Bengali author. But, that is what I feel and that is what is never going to change.
However, this was the first time that I was troubled by the flaws in his lead female protagonist. In his story titled Bindur Chheley, he makes his Bindu too grey to be liked. Hence, KB Tilak's Radha, the main character in his Chhoti Bahu inspired from Bindur Chheley, also turned out to be extremely disrespectful in her personality.

I say disrespectful because there is hardly anything she does worth lauding. She is too proud, sharp-tongued most of the time and even when she does good deeds, she negates them with her caustic reactions. Moreover, her ego prevents her from owning up her mistakes, and hence, you don't feel like listening to her side of the story.
This 1971 film starts of engagingly. But somehow the drama looses its steam in too many twists and very long songs. The cast is very good and the performances noteworthy. But it is the characterisation that lacks the punch.
Radha (Sharmila Tagore) is an indulgent daughter of a rich man. She dotes over a doll which she lovingly calls Munna. The hard fact is when every time the doll is snatched from her, she suffers from an epileptic fit. The village healer (Satyendra Kappu) who is also a marriage broker has told her father that this illness will disappear once Radha gets married. Since his medicine trade (his treatments are old-fashioned and not effective enough) is being hit because the villagers prefer Madhu (Rajesh Khanna), the young and talented doctor on the block, he decides to play a cruel game. He takes Radha's marriage proposal to Madhu's elder brother, Shriram (Tarun Bose) for Madhu, continuously hiding her illness from them. Madhu, who is an abiding brother and loves Shriram and sister-in-law, Sita (Nirupa Roy) very much, agrees to the alliance. They have sacrificed a lot for Madhu's education and have brought them up as their own son (despite Shriram being Madhu's step brother). The marriage happens under much pomp and grandeur in the village and all is well.
Hardly. For in comes Paro (Shashikala), Madhu and Shriram's sister, who is conniving and wicked. She is not as well being as her brothers and extremely mean minded. When Madhu and Radha's union is being celebrated, she grabs Radha's doll and breaks it. Seeing that Radha suffers from her fit and the ghastly secret is out. Madhu is livid at his brother for spoiling his life by fixing his match to a medically unfit woman. Paro instigates him further by filling his ears with claims that Shriram did this on purpose so that Madhu and Radha never have a child and the entire property will then  go to Shriram. An nasty altercation follows between the two brothers, but is soon settled as Madhu realises that his brother was as much kept in the dark as he was. He accepts Radha with all her flaws.
This is just the beginning of Radha getting her way. One day Paro tells Radha that Madhu will marry again if they do not have a child. Hearing that Radha succumbs to a fit again. Just then, Sita walks in with her son, Gopi, is worried at Radha's state, leaves Gopi near her and runs off to get help. For reasons I'm yet to decipher, Radha stabilises with Gopi being around her. This strikes Sita. With a brilliantly magnanimous stroke, she gives her son to Radha telling her that from thenceforth Gopi is hers. What irritates me is that Radha readily agrees to the proposition, without even realising that she is taking a son away from a mother!!! And, Madhu stands there saying nothing!!
So Radha brings Gopi up and throws her airs around the house quite often. And that too, in a very irksome fashion. She talks rudely, thinks she is right all the time and her personality undergoes a sea change. She is too indulgent towards Gopi, who grows up to be a cute looking boy (Baby Sarika is passed off as baby Suraj). Here we see her neglecting her responsibilities as a wife. Madhu pines for her. But his passionate advances are thwarted by Radha over and over again because she is too busy with Gopi. Madhu craves for some intimacy with his pretty wife but he is left dissatisfied. Thus, he gets busy in his doctor's trade.
This is a part that is unforgivable. Radha puts up her sweet smile whenever Madhu advances towards her, but her mind is always with Gopi, who is not even her own son. She should not have forgotten that she is Madhu's sweetheart and respected his wishes. After all he did accept her with all her negatives. But then, Madhu was never explicit in demanding anything from her and pointing out her mistakes. He too, kept tolerating her mistakes.
Radha wishes for a new house to be made and that is done. In the meantime Paro and her husband Premnath (I S Johar) with their spoilt son Miku (Jr Mehmood) launch themselves on the family under the pretext of giving Miku a proper education. The problems multiply. Paro is devious, Premnath is opportunistic yet stupid and Miku is rambunctious. In his company Gopi too becomes spoiled. And then, unable to control Gopi, Radha looses the plot. She reacts to different situations in absolutely wrong manner, often shirking her own responsibility and blaming Sita for whatever is happening. Sita keeps quiet fearing that the family will break.
But, then after a certain incident where Radha behaves in an extremely high-handed fashion, Sita loses her cool. She reprimands her sister-in-law left, right and centre and swears never to make amends. She leaves the new house and goes with Shriram to her old house. Paro, taking advantage of the situation convinces Gopi to never return to Radha and stick to Sita. And all hell breaks loose...
But even after so much happens, Radha does not accept her own fault. She is too stubborn and egotistic. Even when Madhu blames her for the ruin of his family, she pretends to be guilt free and sheds tears copiously. In a strange turn of events she leaves for her father's home and starves herself as she misses Gopi (she even blames Sita for keeping Gopi away from her). How presumptuous!
The end is too stretched but happy nevertheless. My problem is that everyone is so concerned with Radha's health that she gets away even after committing so many mistakes.That leaves a hollow feeling. Radha is not the perfect woman or the perfect mother. Yes, she loves Gopi, but there are times when she does not know how to deal with him, too.
The film could have done away with so many songs. The music is very ordinary (Kalyanji Anandji) and every song is too long.
So, what to watch out for in Chhoti Bahu? I'd say, Rajesh Khanna for his restraint and Nirupa Roy for her effortless portrayal of the sacrificing mother. She is really good in this one and almost overshadows Sharmila with her subtle yet strong performance. And of course Shashikala. She sure knows how to spice up things out there...

10 comments:

  1. This is a terrible version of Sarat Chandra's classic Bindur Chele; honestly I could write a small book on what was wrong with this film.

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  2. @Shilpi: I swear. The film was so faulty in its character representation. So you say that in the book Radha's character is better than what she is in the film? I read the book many years ago, so don't quite remember. I guess I have to read the book soon and see the Bengali film, which I guess was more close to the book. Thank you for the comment :)

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  3. I haven't read Bindur Chhele but I've seen Chhoti Bahu, and I must say you've summed it up perfectly, Sharmi. There is just so much wrong with this film... if one can't even be sympathetic towards the lead players, what hope for the film? For me, this was the worst of all the Rajesh Khanna-Sharmila Tagore films I've seen. :-(

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  4. For one that irritating doll does not feature in the book or the Bengali film.She basically suffers from epilepsy or something similar which is why she faints so often. There is more but like I said I could write a book.

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  5. @Dustedoff: Yes, I feel the same. This is perhaps their worst film together. No chemistry at all. Sharmila looks so disinterested in her husband. Absolutely wrong :(

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  6. @Shilpi: My mum also said that there was no doll and all. And the tension between the two sisters-in-law was very well depicted. I have to see the Bengali version for sure now.

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  7. true,sgd this is a horrible film,i agree with you on that.but it seems that you think that sarat babu was also a horrible writer ?please answer that.and yes, i am a sarat babu fan and will remain that forever.

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  8. @Madmusic: Ha ha you seen to wear your heart on your sleeves. No I do not think Saratbabu was a bad writer, he was brilliant I feel. And yes, I simply enjoyed all his works (yes I've read all of them). It's just that in this interpretation the characters got all messed up!!

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  9. yes,i do wear my heart on my sleeve cos i believe in complete honesty.If i do not like something,i say it straight on one's face whether one likes it or not.And i accept the same for me too although i know that some limits should never be crossed.But that's not a problem as i never cross such limits anyway.I believe sweet,decent but honest criticism helps make a better person out of both the critic and the criticized.

    and yes,do watch the bangla version.it's lot better.

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