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Monday, 18 September 2017

Silsila (1981)

Am I the only one who found Yash Chopra's 1981 romance, Silsila, absolutely forgettable? Must be.
For, everywhere I look and listen, there are such good things uttered about the film. It's attained this cult status amongst fans of romance. Then why did it not trigger the same emotion in me? Am I being too hard? Too difficult?
Fact is, while watching this lengthy soppy saga of a man's dithering and indiscretion, I only felt three things. The music by Shiv Kumar Sharma and Hari Prasad Chaurasia is beautiful. It has that pleasant simplicity that makes it timeless. The costume designer did a darn good job with the women's wear. Jaya Bachchan and Rekha wear the most stunning saris. Being a sari lover, I could feel the dribble in my mouth as the heroines sashayed in those six yards. Thirdly, I felt really bad for Jaya Bachchan. Not because she is treated badly by Father Fate. But because she seemed disinterested in the film, mouthing dialogues in a very non-committal way. She's projected as a helpless woman who has to depend on the men in her life no matter how wrong they have been to her. I see her spark up in one scene where she implores her husband to rethink his decision. But that's about it. Frankly, I want much, much more from an actor of Jaya's calibre. I feel let down by the role etched for her.
Shobha (Jaya Bachchan) and Shekhar (Shashi Kapoor in a role that even an Asrani could have played perhaps) are sweethearts waiting to get married soon. Shekhar is an Air Force pilot whose brother Amit (Amitabh Bachchan) is a dramatist and poet. Amit comes to meet his brother and his fiance in Kashmir but does not tell them that back in Delhi he has a lover in Chandni (Rekha). Shekhar is killed in the war and a pall of gloom descends over everyone. Shobha, who is pregnant with Shekhar's baby, is forlorn and sees no purpose in living. Amit steps in and decides to break up with Chandni and marries Shobha to save her from social ignominy. While driving in their car one evening both meet with an accident and in comes Dr Anand (Sanjeev Kumar, again a waste of such a brilliant actor) into their lives. He saves both of them but unfortunately cannot save Shekhar's unborn child.
The paths of Amit and Chandni cross once again because Chandni is married to this amiable doctor.
Amit's passion and love for Chandni is reignited and both set out on a consuming extra-marital affair. Though Chandni is iffy initially, Amit's attraction and love for her is too difficult to ignore. They are not discreet in many situations but Amit is adamant about his stance. Soon he is at a crossroad to choose between his wife and lover...
Reams of newsprint have been spent on how Chopra managed a clever casting coup with the Bachchan Rekha Bachchan trinity. So I shall not delve into that. My concern is over the plot and characters. I did feel that except Rekha everyone else looks old and jaded in the film but I don't think anyone was caring about that then.
What irked me was how escapist and opportunistic Amit is. He shows kindness in marrying Shobha though she never forces him but is never able to love her. He just does his duties as a husband but the marriage lacks the chemistry. Understandably so. Amit is not able to forget his past despite trying to and that is what forces him to get back with Chandni when he sees the chance. Shobha tries to be the happy and pleasing wife but this Amit guy is always depressed and gruff and chanting philosophies about life. How boring! He does not even try to get into a happy space with Shobha. Whether the marriage is consummated or not is also a big question. 
Amit ultimately decides to part with Shobha and unite with Chandni. In a face-off with Shobha's brother, Kulbhushan (why take such great actors if you cannot give them a substantial role?) Amit comes across as arrogant and outright blaise about cheating on his wife. He says he is tired of being the 'kind one' and now wants to be the normal guy prone to mistakes. He leaves his wife after telling her the truth. But the moment he sees that his friends, who stand as the societal voice, question his judgement his convictions wavers. Then Chopra throws in a random accident that settles the matter too conveniently. Shobha tells him that she is pregnant (which means he was not even faithful to Chandni) and he quickly rushes back to her arms. And starts loving her!! Chandni is like a shuttlecock here. She shuttles from one man's arms to the other without even knowing what she really wants. 
Why couldn't Amit stick on with Chandni if he loved her so much. Did he come back to his wife out of a sense of obligation or love? It's all too confused out here. Why was the script championing righteousness instead of romance?
Shobha also comes across as a very tepid character. When she noses out that her husband is having an
affair, she keeps quiet and even tries to defend him in many circumstances. Why? Because she feels helpless without him? Or she's in love with this wimp of a man who doesn't even look at her with love? She does mention later that for her this marriage is now her religion. Like really? So lame! She should have just walked out. How can you bog a Jaya Bachchan with such a terrible role!! No wonder her dialogues seem so stunted and she looks out of sorts. I wonder whether Amit would have found her attractive and stuck on if she wore blouses as glamorous as Chandni. The only time I witnessed that earlier spark in her was in the portion where she tells her husband that despite having loved his brother earlier, he is her world now. Her pain and pining is evident in her eyes. Her words get choked but she lets him go hoping that he will return soon.
Shiv-Hari's music is ethereal and perhaps the film is better off when the songs are being played. The lyrics are nice and the tunes melodious. Thank God for the radio. They do play the songs from time to time!
Now for the best part. The saris. While Rekha dons the glamorous and sexy chiffons and crepes, Jaya is given rich handwoven ikkats, tissues and silks. Being a sari lover, I so fell for each and every piece that the ladies wear in the film. But if you ask me was that enough to bear three hours of the film? Naah... never will that be...


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