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Tuesday, 22 March 2011

All for a sari (Phagun)

Even if you are watching Rajinder Singh Bedi's Phagun with a sensitive eye, it is impossible to evade the very inane premise that takes the story forward. An expensive sari soiled during the season of colours! Yes, nothing but that. That single pink sari is the cause of much heartburn and costs Gopal and Shanta their happiness and years of togetherness. Surely, this much-promised saga of complex human emotions could have had a more solid pretext!

The 1973 story starts off in the household of the wealthy businessman Shamrao Damle, whose rules the family with a stern hand. His only daughter, Shanta (Waheeda Rehman) has, much to his disappointment, married a struggling writer called Gopal (Dharmendra). But where the story departs from films with a similar beginning is that Shanta stays with her affluent parents in the mansion, which is crawling with people from many communities and parts of the globe (whether they are paying guests is never clarified). Gopal comes to this house every night to stay with his wife. That looks ridiculous to me. Why would a self-respecting man agree to let his wife stay with her parents despite having trouble making ends meet? That Shanta also puts up with the ridicule that her parents hurl on Gopal bemuses me! Surely, she must be loving her husband a little less to be putting up with the many occasions when her proud and insensitive father keeps saying that by marrying Gopal she has brought dishonour and shame to the family! This is really a mad house of sorts!
During the festival of Holi, Gopal wants to buy Shanta a sari, but hasn't the money to afford a decent one. On the other hand, Shanta is shown playing with colours wearing a costly sari at her home. She is singing, dancing and waiting for Gopal to come home singing the beautiful track, Piya sang khelo holi, phagun ayo rey (The music by S D Burman is seriously good and so is Lata Mangeshkar's rendition). Gopal comes home and is though upset that he could not buy his darling wife a sari, puts it all behind him and gets ready to play Holi with her. He sprays colour on her sari in a moment when she is enjoying the attention given to her by Gopal. But seconds later, in a weak moment when she has to reciprocate his action, she insults him with some poisonous words regarding why did he spoil her costly sari when he cannot afford to buy her the same! Perhaps a disapproving glare from her father egged her on to get so mean. Anyway, what was done was done. Terribly hurt and shattered by his wife's stinging remark, Gopal leaves home at that instant. And, with that we see almost the last of Dharmendra (barring some snippets of scenes told in flashback and of course the ending).
Repentant at her behaviour, Shanta wants Gopal to come back. She even tells her parents that she will not remarry when her father suggest that she get a divorce. In the meantime, the family doctor and Shamrao's friend, Dr Effendi (Om Prakash), tell the family that Shanta is pregnant. This is like a ray of hope to the woman. She gives birth to a girl. Alone in a big mansion (after her parents die), Shanta spends her days seeing her daughter grow up fatherless, while she waits for Gopal to return. Santoshi (Jaya Bhaduri), Shanta's daughter, grows up to be a sweet girl but who is totally unaware or detached from male company. So when she gets some male glances and attention, she does not know how to react. Think of a girl who is solely brought up by a mother! One part of her keeps yearning for the attention of a male, or rather she keeps searching for someone who can sort of take the place of her father. Here is a young girl who is not able to take certain sensitive decisions on her own.
That is why when she gets a good deal of attention from Dr Suman (Vijay Arora), she keeps comparing him to her father (of whom she has only heard stories and seen pictures). Satisfied that he matches up to the standards set up by her juvenile mind, she falls in love with him but never really mentally preparing herself that marrying someone also means growing up and dealing with problems on her own, without the help of a mother.
Though Shanta is distraught at seeing her only companion leave her home, she is happy that Santoshi marries the one she loves. The newly-wed couple goes to another town where Dr Suman is posted. Not having much to do and yearning for Gopal, Shanta spends her solitary existence roaming in her mansion and singing Sandhya jo aaye (Lata Mangeshkar). But when it gets too much she goes to live with her daughter and son-in-law. This is where the problems start. For, even though a daughter might love her mother to be near her, a son-in-law will never accept his mother-in-law to stay permanently in his house. Initially okay, Dr Suman soon finds Shanta's presence playing havoc with the privacy that he would like to share with his wife. For instance, when he nudges his wife from sleep complaining about hunger, his mother-in-law runs to him with food! When he tells Santoshi to sew the button of his shirt, Shanta runs to do it! Really irksome for Suman! Why should a man tolerate his mother-in-law doing things for him that he would love his wife to do! Suman is the most sensible human in the house who calls a spade a spade. But, Santoshi finds him being utterly insensitive towards his mother (I don't blame this girl who does not understand these intricate details of relationships). What I find funny is how Shanta sticks on in this situation even though she is humiliated on occasions more than one by Suman! Doesn't she have any ego? Or is she yearning a bit too much for male company? She justifies her presence here with her eagerness to be near her children (she considers Suman to be her son also) but at the next moment strengthens our belief in her loneliness when she pictures herself with Suman! Surely, this woman needs a man. But then, for a nasty thought that springs in her mind why is she so rude to this young man? There is a song (Doosro na koi is brilliantly sung by Usha Mangeshkar) at this juncture when Shanta pleads with God to help her out. We think can God really help her? A woman who had been so silly as to insult her husband for almost no reason and then is forcing her son-in-law to be nasty to her, how is this person to be helped?! There are innumerable moments when she yearns for male company (read Gopal) when she remembers the intimacy she had shared with him (Shobha Gurtu's Bedardi ban gaye is such a lilting and seductive track here).
At this critical juncture, Dr Effendi comes as a Godsend. While we know that he will keep his promise of getting Gopal back, it is really unnerving to see the exploits of Gopal. That a man can wait so long to see his wife (just because at one weak second she insulted him) is ludicrous. I find Gopal a bit of an escapist here. He can spend four years collecting expensive saris but he can't do his duties of being a good father and a loving husband! How shocking can that be!
Anyway, the ending as expected is happy. But, the journey is rather hollow and tedious. But, there are the good parts, though.
For instance, this is one film where I really liked Jaya Bhaduri. She plays her age. She starts off with the portrayal of an innocent girl who knows nothing about the birds and the bees and then effortlessly moves on to being a wife who is blindfolded towards the intricacies of domestic bliss. There are scenes where she is seen getting intimate with her husband and those are shot really well. Then there are scenes where she just doesn't want to reason with her husband about why her mother cannot keep staying in this house. There she does do the part of a foolish woman rather well.
Then there's Om Prakash, who is more of a silent pacifier in the film. When things turn for the worse, he offers his soothing touch. Vijay Arora is good as the sane yet harried husband who is not getting why his mother-in-law is so darned bothered about her married daughter's household.
The lead actor here is Waheeda Rehman, who does take the cake here despite playing a part that has plenty of loopholes in it. Firstly, she stays in her parents' home after marriage and brooks the insults her father hurls at her husband. Then she insults her husband for a reason that is too slight. She has no spine or resolve of character. When she should leave her daughter alone after marriage, she tags along to the utter frustration of Suman. But here, Rehman does carry of the part of the lonely woman rather dexterously. The trauma in her mind is well etched by this talented actor and one can see that she is suffering. That the colours of joy deserted her on the fateful day of Holi was partly her own doing and partly responsible for the circumstances. But, wish Bedi moved on from the silly premise of saris to a more serious problem. That would make this offbeat romance a seriously special tale...

10 comments:

  1. Haven't seen this one, but it certainly seems like a LOT to stem from just one spoiled sari. (Which also begs the question: why was she prancing around in such a costly sari on Holi? A standard case of "Aa bail, mujhe maar!") Stupid. :-D

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  2. @Dustedoff: Well she insisted that she change the sari but her friends (stupid sahelis) promised that they won't soil it. But alas, the husband did! Really what a crazy premise!!!

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  3. @Sharmi: Wow, what a pretext for a movie! When I saw the title I mistook it for Madhubala-Bharat Bhushan starrer and was wondering what Phagun had to do with sari :)

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  4. @Sreenath: By the way, how was the Madhubala-Bharat Bhushan Phagun?

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  5. @Sharmi: I love some of the songs in older Phagun. I own the DVD but am yet to watch it. I am sure I watched it long back but don't recall anything other than the songs.

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  6. @Sreenath: If you say the songs are good, I think I too should start looking out for it.

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  7. HA YOU HAVE EXPRESSED MY EXACT THOUGHTS ON THIS FILM,AFTER THE DRAMA WAS OVER, ALL I COULD THINK OF WAS AND THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS.....

    BUT THE SONGS ARE WHAT MAKE IT A KEEPER FOR ME, i LOVE wAHEEDA'S DANCE IN THE PIYA SE SONG. I HAD ACTUALLY ORDERED THE MADHUBALA PHAGUN OUT OF CURIOSITY AND MY LOVE FOR THE EK PARDESI SONG BUT THE MOSERBAER DVD TURNED OUT TO BE THIS PHAGUN

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  8. @Bollywooddeewana: Haha, so you must have watched this film again. Yes the title track is really well laid out!

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  9. @Sharmi: I watched 1958 Phagun last night. It was a very engaging fare. Madhubala was fabulous as the gypsy girl. O.P.Nayyar’s music really stands out. He used a huge variation of instruments and compositions for this film. It was a pleasure to watch the songs Teer yeh chupke, Piya piya na lage, Chun chun ghungru bole, Ek pardesi mera dil legaya and Shokh shokh aankhen. I thought Bharat Bhushan was better as sapera than as chote sarkar. Jeevan was a revelation in the movie. Dhumal and Mehmood dancing to Asha and Rafi’s Jaa meri chod de kalahi was a surprise. Two of the songs and some scenes on Eros DVD had jarring sound for some reason. There were few cuts too. The ending was a bit abrupt. Overall I am sure you will like 1958 Phagun.

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  10. @Sreenath: Oh great. Then I shall look out for it :)

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