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Monday, 14 March 2011

Of hope and survival (Saudagar)

As you sow, so shall you reap. An adage that befits the plight of Moti, the most famous jaggery seller in the village, who bartends an innocent woman's emotions for his own selfish need. He does not even pause to think that he is doing a heinous crime playing foul with Mahjubin, a woman who never even suspects him once. This widower could very well have continued to deal with her hardships in a dignified manner had Moti not fooled her into believing that he wants to marry her for love. And she would have been saved of feeling distraught at how Moti, and in other words, fate strikes her with a cruel blow.

The selfish acts notwithstanding, Sudhendu Roy's Saudagar stands out for turning out to be an engaging saga of hope and survival till the very end. Even though we hate Moti for all schemes, there comes a point of time when he does feel guilty for what he has done (and it is indeed worthy of him to suffer so). It is but obvious that he will start comparing Mahjubin and Phool, two women who are so different from each other. The former, a lonely woman who loved Moti and who did everything she could to make Moti prosper and the latter who though loved her man, could hardly help him prosper. Rather, even though she tried, no matter how  reluctantly, she could never work her sweet magic on Moti's trade. Ironically, the love Moti connives so hard to get, turns out to be the sour reason for his downfall.
This 1973 film is an unusual enterprise from the Barjatya stable and a welcome change for sure. Right from the word go, I was hooked to the interesting script, the flawless performances and the true depiction on village life. The costumes, the body language, the ambience, there is nothing in the film that Roy does not capture correctly. His actors are a fine lot---Nutan and Amitabh Bachchan are at their effortless best, and even Padma Khanna is so refreshing. I totally feel that this film is a remarkable tale of love, fragile relationships and of the complexity of human emotions. Kudos to Roy for presenting this fine fable.
Moti (Bachchan) is famous in his village for selling the best date jaggery. He has a pact with an older woman in the same village called  Mahjubin (Nutan), who makes the jaggery for him. Her handiwork with the sweet is so good that Moti's ware sells off in a flash every market day during the season. Moti, a young lad, also wants to settle down and is in talks with a matchmaker for a suitable bride who would be his for a paltry 'meher' (a sum that the groom has to deposit with the bride's family). One day, while returning from the market, he sees a young girl and follows her to her home in the neighbouring village. He is told that her name is Phool Banu (Padma Khanna) but her father tells him that he would only marry her to a man who would pay a 'meher' of Rs 500, a sum too huge for Moti's standard. He goes to various moneylenders to borrow the sum but they disappoint him. At last, one moneylender plants an idea in his lovesick head. He tells Moti to marry Mahjubin so that he would not have to pay her the jaggery-making wages and he would earn extra by making thsi wife word harder to make more jaggery. Moti falls in love with his selfish plan, simply because it is the only route to achieving what his heart wants---Phool Banu.
With a sheepish face he goes over to Mahjubin's and feigns love and loneliness during the long winter nights. Mahjubin too, a helplessly lonely woman falls into the trap and agrees to marry Moti. But while Moti is doing all this with an ulterior motive, Mahjubin has actually fallen in love with her man. When she sings, Tera mera saath (very different music from Ravindra Jain), wonderfully sung by Lata Mangeshkar, she is actually praying for her togetherness with Moti, little knowing that the future holds bad news for the relationship. In Mahjubin;s halcyon moments there is a sense of foreboding from the knowledge that this happiness will be shortlived. In fact, the moment spring sets in, it will be all over for this woman who did no wrong but fell in love with the wrong man. Winter departs for the rest of the village but this is just the start of the season for Mahjubin.
At the fake pretext of infidelity, Moti divorces Mahjubin (what a shallow way of treating women! How can two married people be separated by the man's uttering of the feared word! How can women be treated like commodities!) and marries Phool Banu. Mahjubin's world comes crashing down, while Moti and his newly wed enjoy sheer marital bliss. Moti spends heavily to deck up his pretty wife, who regales in his love and attention. Mahjubin on the other hand spends her days doing small jobs to earn a livelihood. But fate smiles back on  her as her brother-in-law brings her the news of an allaince. A respectable middle-aged man wants a wife to take care of his household and children. For Mahjubin, this alliance is a Godsend (though she is still in love and very angry with Moti). For, her new husband is well-to-do and treats her with utmost courtesy.
Moti and his wife are head-over-heels in love and frolic like every newly-wed. They sing songs together (Kyun laye saiyya paan by Asha Bhonsle is such a catchy song) and revel in each other's company. But the honeymoon period is soon over when Moti discovers that Phool's jaggery making expertise is hardly as sweet as her face and nature. She is more deft at decking up and being carefree rather than helping him in his trade, something that is both their source of sustenance. Slighted for not being good at making jaggery, she even recommends that Moti switches trades as the date juice is causing untoward tension in their domestic life. But Moti will have none of it. He even beats up his darling wife when she neglects the boiling juice in order to deck up (though she sings a lovely Sajna hain mujhey). It is only his frustration that makes him a beast here. He instantly starts comparing Phool with Mahjubin, a woman who really wanted Moti to prosper in his trade. The question is, will Moti again be able to earn the respect of the town as the best jaggery seller? Will relations be severed between his wife and him forever now??
This is a fantastic take about three humans whose lives are intertwined by a twist of fate. Had Moti not seen Phool and fallen instantly in love with her, he would not have had to marry Mahjubin. Had he not married Mahjubin, he would have become such a villain in our eyes for dumping Mahjubin so heartlessly. Had he not done what he did, we would not have got an ending that reminds us that there is hope at the end of every bleak road. With hope comes the death of ego, with realisation of one's sins comes the road to redemption. And thereby the path to survival is revealed...
This is perhaps the only film where Padma Khanna gets to be one of the main protagonists. And boy! She does a splendid job. Why didn't directors tap her potential? She is lovely and so refreshing as the attractive Phool Banu. You cannot be angry with her for being totally in love with her carefree ways, not willing to grow up and take the responsibilities of the household. You live her for being such a spark in the film. And when towards the end when you realise that she is losing out, you cannot help but feel sorry for her. After all, she cannot help herself. Here is a woman who has had a pampered upbringing. You cannot blame her for not being able to rough it out. After all, that she cannot make jaggery is not her fault and she definitely does not deserve to be beaten up for that. She loves Moti and though she might irk you with her trophy-wife image, she does convince you with her histrionics.
Amitabh Bachchan is marvellous in this restrained and author-backed role. His character is so grey. At one point you like him for loving Phool so much and the next instant you hate him for cheating Mahjubin. When he is seeing bad times, you want to tell him that he deserves it. But then when he reaches out to Mahjubin for help, his ego all shattered and bruised and he grovelling under the blow of fate, you want life to give him another chance. Bachchan in perfect with his body language and expressions. This is definitely the kind of film hat the angry young man so should have done more in his heydays.
The best part of the film is of course Nutan, a woman who baffles me with her range. Even though she is past her prime here, she is beautiful and elegant. She infuses a sense of integrity and dignity in her character. When she is battling it out alone, you can actually feel that she has to rough it out every day. When she is with Moti, you can feel how this woman loves her man from the bottom of her heart. And when she is jilted, you can feel her pain and loneliness. Her eyes display every emotion so beautifully and her expressive face never falters. That's the mark of true talent...


  1. A friend of mine had told me the story of Saudagar long back (and had praised it a lot, just as you do). I've never taken the trouble of really searching it out though. Will do so now!

  2. @Dustedoff: Please do. It's a rare film from the Barjatyas which does not feature just weddings and weddings! Here two weddings take place but the circumstances are really different. This is a story of a sensitive but lonely woman, a selfish man and a carefree childwife. You will really be engrossed, I promise :)

  3. I love this film. Started liking Amitabh a lot for this. The best part for me was the ambience and yes the lovely scenes (in addition to so many other things, of course). Loved the way they climbed up the tree. :)

    As for the divorce after saying those dreaded words, as far as I know even the woman could say it and divorce her husband. So it wasn't limited to the men, though they had the upper hand for sure as 'earners'.

  4. @Anonymous: Really?? I dint know that.
    Yes, one of the best parts about this film was how real everything looks, the village setup, the costumes and the characters :)

  5. Anonymous is me, pacifist. :)
    Wrote it in a hurry.

  6. @Pacifist: Hihi, okie. Thankee for the comment :)

  7. A grey hero is certainly a rarity in Hindi films! From Rajshri too!! I remember liking this a lot when I saw it on DD years ago. I've often wondered why Padma Khanna did not make it, either. Not only was she pretty and a good actress, she was a superb dancer too.

  8. @Bollyviewer: Yes, i think so too. Remember, she played Meena Kumari's body double in the second half of Pakeezah (because Kumari was by then too ill to dance niftily). I think she did a fine job of the dances. :)

  9. i wonder sometimes..................this movie should have fetched some international awards!!

  10. @Cancerien: It most definitely should have. For the unconventional story and the splendid performances!

  11. ah thanks for digging this up, i'll look out for this, i love Nutan and Amitabh, though i have to say that i'm yet to catch up on a lot of her classical work

  12. @Bollywooddeewana: Please, please watch this one. It is simply so very good.

  13. This is Amitabh's best work. I feel this is one movie in his career where he plays the character and not his "BigB"self!