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Saturday, 14 May 2011

Marvellous Meena (Ardhangini)

I like all Meena Kumari films. Well, almost. Even when the script is faulty or loose, I keep my eyes fixed on the charming lady because I know that she will make the moments picturised on her come alive with her deft histrionics. But then, she alone cannot do much if the film is really bad. In those cases I take solace in the fact that she tried and tried. Luckily, Ardhangini is not a film like that...
It is a taut social drama where everything is just well in place. With healthy smatterings of laughter, joy, sadness, sorrow, pain, romance and misunderstandings, this Ajit Chakraborty film is such an engaging tale. The best part is how it shows the indomitable spirit of a woman who has grown up being insulted by the entire world. They have cruelly rejected her as an unlucky girl unfit to be attached to any thread of society. They have caste aspersions on her, hurled caustic words on her, have shunned her presence in any social function and treated her as an untouchable. She grew up without a mother, without any friends and without any empathetic eye towards her misfortune. But nothing curbed her goodness. All this negativity did not hamper her live to live, to lead a healthy and normal life, to fall in love, to have a decent family full of joy, sorrows and togetherness. She grew up being a normal healthy individual who has the same feelings and thoughts like all of us, the heaps of insults and aspersions never take away from her chirpiness, er youthfulness, they never bog her down with extreme dejection. She has ample of love and care for her father and dreams of a day when she too, like all other girls, will fall in love with a decent man.
This thread of positivity runs all through the narrative of Ardhangini, a Meena Kumari extravaganza, made in 1959. And what an film this is. A superb cast, a great story, awesome performances, lovely songs by Vasant Desai and very credible characterisation make it such a good film to sit down for. For a change, I didn't get a chance to nit pick.
Shivraj's wife dies during childbirth. So, immediately after Chhay is born, she is termed as unlucky. Moments later, her father loses his job. She is seen as a harbinger of doom for the family. But Shuvraj does not lose hope. He takes his infant daughter and starts rebuilding his life again. Even though the townfolk consider her an unlucky girl who can only bring death and destruction, she grows up under the love, kindness and care of her father. She grows up to a very normal girl (though she still is forced to think sometimes whether she is seriously unlucky for everyone by situations and circumstances) who goes all out to help anyone in distress.
Chhaya (now a stunningly pretty Meena Kumari) is a rational woman. She does not encourage any insults heaped on her old father. So she stays away from the sight of her neighbours. For, whenever they see her, they hurl rude words at her. One day however, Shivraj comes home with the news that his friend's widow will be coming to see Chhaya for her son, who is a pilot. Chhaya is happy. She believes that her misfortune might end. When the old lady (Durga Khote) arrives, her brother falls down from the tonga for his own carelessness. This is a sign from the director that all might not be smooth for Chhaya. However, the lady likes Chhaya and gives her word to Shivraj. But later, her brother informs her about what the neighbours say about Chhaya and the engagement is broken. Here is a poignant part in the film. When Chhaya receives the letter from Bombay, she erupts in joy. She believes that her life will change henceforth because Prakash (the man in question) will make her a happy wife. She dances like a jubilant young girl singing Tera khat lekey sanam. Little does she know that the letter contains words of rejection.
Hearing the news of the engagement being broken, Shivraj passes away. But Chhaya moves on. She relocates to the city and goes to stay with Leela (Shubha Khote) and her husband Murari (Agha). While she is going to the city we have the first glance of our hero, Prakash (Raj Kumar in quite a freewheeling romantic role). And of course the lovely folk number picturised on Gopi Krishna and Jeevan Kala, called Dil hum to haare (Mohd Rafi and Geeta Dutt sound splendid). The dance is truly spectacular.
Anyways, in Leela's house, Chhaya finds that matters are not right after all. Leela's mother-in-law prevents Leela from mingling with her husband for fear of some ill luck. The film depicts such idiotic levels of superstition that you'd seriously feel like pulling your hair.
An orchestrated situation leads to Chhaya meeting Prakash and a slight misunderstanding leads to sweet love. Another song sung by Geeta Dutt and Modh Rafi called Tu ne jo idhar dekha. Ah lovely music! Chhaya revels in Prakash's attention and adoration. But soon, she starts feeling whether she is actually right enough for Prakash. What if she brings bad luck for him? But Prakash convinces her that she is just being irrational and together they make amends with Pyar mein milna (Lata Mangeshkar and Subir Sen).
However, when Chhaya gets to know that Prakash's mother is the lady who had earlier rejected her, she leaves Prakash's home. But what I actually like here is that the director does not make her look like a suffering soul who hides the truth from Prakash. She tells him why she is sceptical about whether his mother would accept her as her daughter-in-law. This convinces Prakash to marry her without even notifying his mother beforehand. Even when he brings his newlywed to his mother at home, and she is shocked to see Chhaya, he is firm about sticking to his decision. He tells his mother that he has married Chhaya for good. And that is that. Hurrah!!
Defeated in her own game and instigated by her mean and slimy brother (CS Dubey), Prakash's mother makes life hell for Chhaya. But her tactics are too conniving. When Prakash is around she pretends to be very loving towards Chhaya, when he is away, she insults her and forces her to be away from her son. But Chhaya is also not a loser. She plays to her tune till some time. But after that, she declares that nothing can come between her and Prakash. I told you things were different with Meena Kumari here!!
A song of her defiant love and triumph is Apne saiyyan se naina. She sings and dances with her little brother-in-law, Babloo (Kumari Naaz) and waits for Prakash to come home. Durga Khote is disturbed and visibly irritated with Chhaya's new-found confidence and joy. But the power game is getting only better between the two women. And till the very end the story retains the sparks!!
Ardhangini is so different in many ways. It displays Durga Khote as a mean woman, working her way to separate her son from his wife. And she does it splendidly. All this time I had seen Khote as a loving mother and a sweet old man. So, this came as a surprise. Her mind is so clouded with superstition that she even wants her son to not return from the jaws of death to Chhaya, for she would only bring destruction and ill luck for her son. Seriously crazy!!
Raj Kumar is good. Light-hearted, casual and devoid of his usual mannerisms, he plays his part very well. The uniform of a pilot looks natty on him. He looks totally in love with his gorgeous wife and at the same time he is a caring son. The scene where Meena Kumari tries to wake him up in the morning is so natural. It's another thing that she is looking breathtakingly beautiful with her long tresses open and her delicate features enveloped with the black hair. She implores him to wake up and go down with her to the prayer room. But Prakash is too sleepy and looks at his wife indulgently. He smiles, says that for him she is like a prayer and goes back to sleep again. Chhaya is a bit miffed but let's him be. Actually there are times when you hardly think that these actors are acting. They are so flawless and natural...
Meena Kumari, without any doubt, is the hero of Ardhangini. Playing the titular role, she takes no non-sense here. Right, she does give people chance to mend their mistakes but she is not a soppy soul waiting for God to make matters right. In the scene where her mother-in-law accidentally breaks her mangalsutra, she rebukes her adequately and then walks out of the house, but not without making a flamboyant statement. Chhaya declares that Prakash will return not because Durga Khote is his mother, because she is his wife!! Go girl!!!


  1. oh my god!!! I have got to see it asap!!!! I can watch Meena Kumari in any form - good or bad.. in any film - good or bad.. And if its such a strong role, I JUST HAVE TO SEE IT!!! will come back after watching. :)
    thanks for such a lovely review!

  2. @Punya: Yes, I am definite that you will like it. It is a good story with compelling performances :)

  3. You have won me over completely with your first couple of sentences, Sharmi. :)
    I love Meena Kumari in any mode. Crying, sad, vivacious, funny whatever. Actually it shows her diversity in acting IMO.

    My view about the film is the same. I also like Raj Kumar very much. So there were two reasons already existing to like the film.

    I didn't find it a waste of time, watching this film.

    Another film to watch is Talaq, 1958.


  4. PS: Oh, forgot to add, that I like Meena Kumari even in her 'old woman' roles, especially in that excellent film Mere Apne, written and directed by Gulzar.

  5. I don't care for Raj Kumar too much, but this was one film where I liked him. Actually, now that I come to think of it, he's probably at his best in films where he's opposite Meena Kumari (this one, Kaajal, Dil Apna Aur Preet Paraayi...)!

  6. @Pacifist: Yes I've seen Mere Apne and quite liked that one. It was a well made sentimental film.
    Now, thank you so much for the praise and for the recommendation of Talaq!!

  7. @Dustedoff: Yes, even in Pakeezah he was quite good. I think he loved Meena Kumari in his mind.. hihihihi!!

  8. @Blogspot: I hate how you eat up the comments on my posts. This post is supposed to have two more comments but you ate them up. In the previous post, too, you gobbled up two comments. How can you be so greedy all the time!!! Go get yourself checked by the doc!!!

  9. And finally I saw it!
    I have mixed feelings about this one. As always, I cherished each and every frame holding Meena Kumari and rewinded "Apne sainyyaa se naina ladayibe hamaar koi ka kari hai..." quite a few times. She was unmatchable in that song!! And as always, she was utterly delightful in her chemistry with the child actor. The Agha-Shubha Khote track was sweet and so were the songs, specially the two Geeta-Rafi sung dance numbers. But sadly, the film lost its steam in the last 20 minutes. I was thoroughly irritated by Prakash by then. After Chhaya's departure from home, the film gets haywire. I couldn't understand Prakash's weird behaviour. He should have been out there searching his wife if he loved her so much!! I always think that Raaj Kumar pales in front of Meena Kumari. They do make a handsome pair and were splendid in romantic scenes but I don't know why, I just don't find him upto the mark against her. I think there are only few actors who could match her- Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand (only coz his charm compliments her magnificence). Anyway, coming back to Meena Kuamri (oh how I simply love her!)She is superb here - breathtakingly beautiful, coy at times and resolute when necessary. This was such a great performance.

  10. @Punya: I guess Prakash became too disoriented after Chhaya left home!! But anyways I loved every bit of the film :)

  11. No other actress, past or present, can compare with Meena just not for her acting prowess - she was a pure beauty (Pakeezah). Thanks to availability on the internet - I keep watching and watching her songs in my leisure times - Sahib, Bibi, aur Ghulam; Benazeer, Pakeezah, Dil Apna Preet Parayi; Kohinoor, just to name a few - and they are always mesmerizing for me.

  12. I love to read every word said in praise of Meena Kumari.