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Sunday, 13 March 2011

A special bond (Chhota Bhai)

When I was in school, there used to be a film aired on television almost regularly. Those were the times when cable TV had just been initiated in India and we, the takers lapped up everything no matter what it was. So, understandably, I was hooked on to these films (whether good or non-sense) at every opportunity. This particular film, of course, was quite interesting. It was a spicy family saga that revolved around a woman and her unique bond with her very young brother-in-law.

Anokha Bandhan, made in 1982, starred Shabana Azmi as the mother and her husband was played by Navin Nischol (he did not have much to do). The plot revolves around how Azmi's character, Annapurna, despite having a son of her own, grows to love her kid brother-in-law Ramu, more than her own son, because she promised her dying mother-in-law that she would never differentiate between the two children. All goes well till Annapurna's mother comes to stay with them. The old woman poisons the halcyon atmosphere with petty bickerings and politics. The peace of the house is shattered to such an extent that the Nischol's character Shyamlal, has to divide the ancestral property into two, thus separating Ramu from his family. The happiness is shattered and Annapurna for no fault of hers is separated from her Ramu.
Annapurna's mother in Anokha Bandhan was played by Shashikala (an actor I'm immensely fond of). She does act deviously but somehow her animated expression tend to be somewhat hilarious. But on the whole, except for some inane and long songs and comic interludes, I quite liked the film. The child actors were adequate, too. No wonder, I watched it so often. By the time the cablewallahs decided to take it off air, I knew almost every scene by heart.
The other day I discovered the 1966 (and original) version of Anokha Bandhan. Called Chhota Bhai, this K P Atma directed film appeared to be totally up my street. Not only it had actors who fascinate me, it also has performances that look totally real and effortless. Nutan  plays Annapurna here, Rehman is Shyamlal, Master Mahesh is Ramu (and he is seriously better than his predecessor) and best of all, it stars Lalita Pawar as the evil mother. So, what's not to like?
Annapurna announces to Shyamlal that she is pregnant. At the same moment, Shyamlal's mother Parvati (Sulochana Chatterjee) is breathing her last in the next room. Though a stepmother to Shyamlal, she has never discriminated between her own son, Ramu and Shyamlal. before dying, she asks Annapurna to look after and love Ramu. As years pass by, Annapurna, now mother to a sweet boy Govind, dotes over Ramu as her first-born. Ramu also abides by his sister-in-law and sees her as his mother. His world revolves around this mother incarnate. Ramu loves Govind immensely and the family is a very happy one.
Ramu is a naughty boy but he is not wicked like Suresh (Master Anwar), the young son of the landlord (Nazir Hussain). Suresh plays dirty tricks to instigate Ramu (it's seriously sick how even the village school master grovels before him like a sycophant), but when Ramu retorts, he is blamed for being too naughty and mischievous. But no matter how Ramu runs into rough weather, Annapurna protects him all the time from Shyamlal's remonstrances and every other problem. The bond the two share belies a definition.
During holi, the family plays with colour and enjoy every moment of the festival. But there happiness is shortlives. For, with the arrival of Annapurna's mother, who everyone refers to as Barima, starts spreading the poison from the moment she steps foot in Shyamlal's home. In fact, the imagery of Ramu's water gun mistakingly soiling Barima's white sari is quite significant. That Ramu will be an eyesore to this woman is but evident. And, it is through Ramu's own actions that she will turn everyone against him. Also, the joy, signified by the festival of colours, will end due to Barima's arrival. Soon, misundertanding and gloom  will prevail here.
Barima starts off menacingly and moves on to graver evil deeds. She openly discriminated between Ramu and Govind, openly criticising him  for eating so much, playing and making merry all the time. When Annapurna tries to stop her, Barima responds with complaints to Shyamlal that is not being obeyed in his home. Shyamlal frets over the fact that his mother-in-law is uneasy in his home and hence tells Annapurna to control Ramu.
Bad turns to worse as Barima goes on needling Ramu. She is cruel enough to sell off Hanuman, Ramu's goat to a butcher knowing full well that Ramu loves the animal dearly. So many events happen one after the other and you constantly feel that this Barima is one witch of a woman, better away from this little family. And, it takes quite a lot for the Shyamlal to realise this . In the end, the family members are reunited again and Barima has to leave. Yaayyyy!!!
The child actors are very adept in this film. Master Mahesh, though puts in too much effort when he speaks (thus sounding a bit hoarse), is perfect with his expressions. The boy playing Govind is cute. Master Anwar evokes a steady urge to slap him from me. There is a boy who plays the obese Bansi. He is really funny.
Rehman is way way better than the insipid Navin Nischol. At least here, Rehman looks in command and interested in whatever is happening in the film. He does look very much in love with his beautiful wife and thoroughly concerned over Ramu's whereabouts.
Nutan is as usual, immaculate for this role. She plays the loving, doting and selfless mother who
holds the family strongly. Her soothing voice calm's everyone's nerves and when it is required she is adeuately strict. She has taught her children well and feels proud to be having such a wonderful family. In times of trouble she does look absolutely distressed and helpless. When Ramu is taken away from her and she is forced to snub him, it literally looks as if she is pained and withering away. The only niggling error I found here was that the costume designers should have made her wear her sari like how they wore in villages. Apart from that, Nutan really played her part to perfection. It never actually occurs in the film that she is playacting. Yes, she is that good.
But if you ask me who the best one here is, I'd give the honours to Lalita Pawar, whose expressions change in a fleeting second. The vile and wicked mother-in-law, she has no qualms in twisting situations and maligning Ramu's reputation. She has no remorse, no heart. She is cruel, malicious and extremely conniving. Pawar's act is top notch, fantastic, fabulous. Shashikala was good, but there is something about Lalita Pawar that no one can touch. She is not hyper dramatic, just perfect with her timing, voice modulation, expressions and words. There is a scene where she whips the cream off Ramu's milk and has it herself standing right before him. And when asked, she snubs him harshly. It is here, given the precision of her act, that you realise that no one but Lalita Pawar could have been Barima...


  1. Oddly enough, I've seen neither of these two movies. But Chhota Bhai does sound good - I'll keep an eye out for it. Lalita Pawar was such a good actress, wasn't she? I recently saw the V Shantaram film Dahej, in which Lalita Pawar plays Jayashree's greedy mother-in-law. So, so good in all her nastiness!

  2. @Dustedoff: Yes she is simply lipsmacking as the devious mother-in-law every where. Yaayyy, thank you , thank you for info on another spicy Lalita Pawar fare :)