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.
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!!