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Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Touch syndrome (Sujata)

Bimal Roy's Sujata is a celebration of purity and innocence. This 1959 film focuses on the evils of casteism, but the approach is subtle and straightforward. A single family forms the microcosm of a caste-ridden society, blinded by superstition. The comment is pointed, without much pontification. Full of breathtaking imagery, this is one enduring classic.

Though the basis of the film is love, the director depicts how unwarranted social taboos impinge on human actions. So, while a mother wants to give in to her maternal instincts, her superstitions prevent her. While an aunt is otherwise dear, she is rude and malicious to members from the lowers rungs of the society. A father finds himself straddling between fatherly affection and social obligations. The respite is the sister though, who cares two hoots about social norms. She is too happy to shower her sisterly love on an untouchable. And, the idealistic young Adhir (handsome Sunil Dutt!!) fills the protagonist's sad life with his unconditional love...
Upen and Charu are a Brahmin couple. On their daughter Rama's birthday, they are forced to take care of another infant. Circumstances lead this orphaned baby, who is shown to be an untouchable's daughter, to stay on with the couple. While the father grows fond of her and names her Sujata, the mother is wary, given Sujata's background. When Charu puts Rama to sleep with the lullaby Nanhi kali soney chali, Sujata screams for attention. Charu, being a mother, can't ignore the infant's appeal, but is scared to cross social thresholds. She sings to Sujata, but from another room. As a young woman, Sujata is confused by her mother's behaviour towards her and keeps craving for her love...
On learning the truth about herself, Sujata's world is shattered. Roy shows her vulnerable in the rain (Nutan is at her emotive best), weeping her heart out and seeking refuge near an edifice of Mahatma Gandhi. A stinging imagery here!! The Father of the Nation, who furthered the cause of Dalits, is unable to help this poor girl... Sujata, in the process, feels grateful towards her parents. All her questions die and she becomes a silent sufferer. She does not mind the rudeness of her mother, and the dismissive attitude of the aunt... But, light shines forth...
While Charu and the aunt are fixing up Adhir and Rama's match, the young man is drawn towards Sujata. He is smitten by her simplicity, her purity. He says, "Mera dosh yeh hain ke mein yahaan sirf tumhe dekh ne ke liye ata hoon." And, Sujata turns away shyly. Another fleeting imagery shows a touch-me-not flower closing. Exactly! Sujata experiences the first flutterings of attraction and hence, curls up!!
Nutan's just inexplicable! She's in plain cotton sarees in the entire film, wears no makeup barring a bindi and kohl, and still looks picture-perfect. Her poise is infectious! Her eyes mirror her heart. When she is sad, her tears choke you, when she is happy, her soft smile add magic to her mirthful eyes!!! In the mise-en-scene that ensues after Adhir professes his love to Sujata, nature comes together with her to celebrate her joy. Butterflies flutter away, fresh leaves rustle in the wind and flowers bloom. Sujata's life is changing, she is experiencing the beauty of romance, the first brush of love...
Given the remarkable make of the film, S.D. Burman's music could have been better. There are flashes of genious though. For instance, Kali Ghata Chayi is an apt tribute to first love. The poetry depicts the dizzying hieghts of Sujata's excitement...
The highlight is of course, Jaltey hain jiskey liye, a soulful ghazal by Talat Mahmood. Sunil Dutt's boyish charm makes the romantic number even more special. His lovestruck mind is a stark contrast to Sujata's sorrow.
Sujata is a fine example of Roy's repertoire. The predictable end notwithstanding, the film is well ahead of its times. Roy brings out the dichotomous nature of educated individuals in the scene where Charu and the aunt are appreciating the morals shown in Chandalika when they are refuting those very morals at home. The father of a suitor for Sujata gives his verbose stand against greed and superstition. But, as soon as Upen tells him that Sujata is a low-caste girl, he shrugs off the alliance with utter disdain!!
Here's a story well-told (Subodh Ghosh), supported by class editing, direction and a convincing cast. If that's not enough, watch Sujata just for the award-winning act of Nutan. You simply can't take your eyes off her...


  1. I haven't seen the film, but jaltey hain jiskey liye is one of my favourite songs. A music critic once said it's a perfect song because it fulfils almost all technical stuff that a song can have (pardon me, I am a layman).
    Your description of Nutan stands out for its vividness.
    Another delightful post

  2. This is wonderful Sharmi! I don't remember much of the movie because I must have seen it about 20 years ago on Doordarshan! But being a ghazal buff can never forget jaltey hain jiske liye...Talat Mehmud's "wavering" voice is magical! Like DG says it's a perfect song. Perhaps one of the most romantic songs ever but with a tinge of sadness. The song brings out the fact that Sujata is aware of the social reality of their relationship while Adhir is idealistic and is unaware of the pressures on Sujata!

  3. Thank you for reading my entries so closely. It encourages me to watch more films and write better :)

  4. Sharmi, you say that "Nutan's just inexplicable!" For me, who share your mesmerised admiration for her, I think she's also a mystery, but which I've pondered about, and I do believe she's a case of purity on a mission of joy.
    By this I mean she was lucky enough to arrive on the Bollywood stage when the excess of futility and materialism had not yet smothered displays of grace and ideals, and she fitted simply in the female character role-models who bestow grace and beauty on the world, and through her, lead viewers to the divine.
    I have often been struck by the Christian dimension of her roles, and I'd like to know if her nature was simply pure enough to let God shine through, or whether she had adopted that faith, even without knowing it.
    What's your take on that issue?

  5. @Yves: You know I've often read that Nutan's personal life was not very happy...may be that's why she unleashed a kind of mellowness in her roles. Her eyes somehow always had that sad tinge. And her soft smile never looked put on...may be she was enjoying the laugh because of the want of it in her real life. She sought solace in celluloid!!
    As per her roles, I guess directors sensed that she possessed an unblemised soul. So, you almost never saw her in negative roles. She would be unconvincing in them may be...
    Yes, I find Nutan a epitomy of grace and purity. And, it's great you feel the same!! Cheers to this ravishing woman!!!

  6. Hi Sharmi,
    Where did you read about the fact that Nutan's life wasn't very happy? I have been looking for some more personal info about her, and have up with very little.
    Thanks for letting me use your appreciations BTW. It'll soon be included in that post I was telling about.

  7. @Yves: In film magazines of course. There is also a programme called Total Recall on Tmes Now that once had a special on Nutan. It was quite insightful. Btw, go ahead and write that post and in case you's using my appreciations, are you going to credit Old Films and Me for that? Please do, it will be great!! Let me know when you write that post and I'll read it. Send me your blog link also. take care.

  8. @Sharmi: I am digging up an old post. I just watched Sujata last night and it's an excellent movie. I am a big fan of Nutan actually. She's awesome here. Towards the end it gets so touching when she is finally accepted by everyone. Bimal Roy is a master of using lighting effects to get the right mood and you can see it a lot in this movie.

  9. @Sreenath: Yes I loved the last scene where she breaks down when Sujata's mother ultimately accepts her as her own child. That scene with the imagery of Mahatma Gandhi is also awesome. What a brilliantly sensitive film by Roy :)