Monday, October 03, 2005

Revisiting Bandini: where strength is from within

Bimal Roy was Indian cinema’s great romantic idealist. Every movie of his portrayed exploitation – social, economic or religious. But his movies were built around extreme optimism, and incredibly strong and sensitive characters, who would overcome life’s great obstacles. A whole generation of great Indian filmmakers were inspired or influenced by his work (Guru Dutt, Hrishikesh Mukerjee and Gulzaar, to name just three). Roy’s last work as a director was Bandini, a fitting swansong for a master.

The entire movie is built around the female protagonist, Kalyani, in a role written specifically for the fabulous Nutan, in one of her most endearing roles. Nutan at that time was pregnant (with Mohnish Behl), and Roy waited months for Nutan to be ready to shoot. The wait was worth it.

The movie starts inside prison walls, with the Independence struggle as the backdrop (yes, I watched it again for the umpteenth time today on Gandhi Jayanthi, the sentimental sucker that I am). An inmate is sick, and the jailor summons the doctor, Deven. An incredibly charming and suave Dharmendra walks in. He inspects a patient, infected with a serious infectious disease (probably tuberculosis), and transfers her to the sick ward. A female inmate is needed to help take care of her. Kalyani volunteers, in spite of the fact that she herself could be susceptible to the disease, and we see Nutan for the first time, clad in a jail sari, with deep sadness in her eyes.

Dharmendra, in yet another subdued, controlled and outstanding role (a reminder of what he was capable of), begins to love Nutan for her selflessness and dedication, and does not care about her past. She is scared to embrace him, because of her past, but he cares for her as she is and not for her past. He leaves the jail to go home, and wait for her. Kalyani’s story then unfolds, as she tells the jailor her tale.

In a village, in pre-independence India, Kalyani is devoted to her idealistic father (Raja Paranjpye). A revolutionary, Bikram (an indomitable Ashok Kumar), enters the town, and befriends them. Though they begin to love each other, their love remains unsaid. Circumstances lead to their engagement, but Bikram goes away and never returns. The villagers continue to humiliate Kalyani, but more so her father.

But Bimal Roy’s characters are incredibly strong. They don’t spend their time weeping, or blaming their fate. Kalyani leaves the village, goes away to the city, and starts working in a hospital. Her emotions are held back, forcibly, only to break down when she hears her father died in an accident. The events leading to Kalyani’s imprisonment are staged perfectly by Bimal Roy.

Finally, Kalyani is released from prison, and once again has to choose between Bikram, and Deven.

This movie is all about Nutan. Her portrayal of Kalyani is spectacular. Her expressive eyes, that effortlessly portray sensitivity, innocence, anger, grief, happiness and most importantly, strength, lingers in your mind hours after the movie ends. There is only limited room for histrionics, but the subtlety and underplay overwhelms you. The incredible potential we saw in her in Sujata is fulfilled here.

The movie is also about women, and their strength. Four decades after this movie, not that much has changed for women still in the sub-continent. They still bear the brunt of society’s anger, or are humiliated for no fault of theirs. Roy’s brilliance was to bring out (not demean or vent against) these aspects of society that still persist. There is the constant subtle portrayal of the old, and the new, and constant change. He was aided by wonderful music (SD Burman), and Shailendra’s sentimental lines (and Gulzar’s debut as a lyricist).

A fitting swansong for a master moviemaker.

O jaanewale ho sake to laut ke aana.


Sujatha said...

Sunil, I'm sure I must have watched this on DD back in the b/w days, but will watch this one again now. Good write up. Thanks.

arati said...

many many years back, SD's music ( O panchhhi favourite) led me to watch bandini. And although i've seen it so many times now, I still find something new in the movie that i didn't appreciate before.

Quizman said...

Nice post.

Regarding Gulzar - this was not his first film. He had written the lyrics for two earlier films using the name Gulzar Deenvi (from Deena, a village near Ludhiana). He has written in 1960 for Choron ki Baraat, Diler Hasina and Shriman Satyavaadi before Bandini.

There are two schools of thought regarding his disclaimer - one, that he had help with his roomates (Gulshan Bawra and others) in writing the lyrics of the above songs and is uncomfortable in calling them his own. Second, he wants people to believe that he arrived with a bang.

We are free to believe what we want
to. :-)

Related film - Duniya Na Mane (a.k.a Kunku in Marathi) starring Shanta Apte. It was made in 1937. Quite early for a feminist film, eh? You can get the VCD in the Prabhat films website.

charu said...

sunil, perfect. I found myself nodding in agreement with every line...though my favorite is sujata. maybe just because of 'jaltey hain jiske liye'

and dharmendra was so handsome in those early movies. and managed to scrape some decent acting too - where and when did it degenrate into kuttey, kameene, mein tera khoon pee jaunga. sob.

karrvakarela said...

Sunil: enjoyed reading this. I haven't seen any of Bimal Roy's films but will go and look for them now. If the work of Gulzar and Hrishikesh Mukherjee is anything to go by, they ought to be superlative. I saw Nutan in Tere Ghar ke Saamne recently and she was wonderful there. Incidentally, the movie struck me as such an apt metaphor for the Indo-Pak relationship.

Quizman: Deena is a village near Jehlum, not Ludhiana.

chappan said...

Man, this was excellent. If I remember correctly the last scene of the movie is where Nutan is waiting for the train to take her to a young handsome Dharmendra and she bumps into Ashok Kumar who is dying of TB and boarding the ferry, for some hospital.

After just a moment of hesitation she turns aroung and runs to board the ferry into the arms of Ashok Kumar and SK Burmans earthy, melancholic voice, aided by the ships horn, sings this wonderful song in the background. What a deep song man. 'Gun na tha koi bhi, avgun mere bhula dena' Wow.

o re maajhii o re maajhii o o mere maajhii
mere saajan hai.n us paar, mai.n man maar, huu.N is paar
o mere maajhii, abakii baar, le chal paar, le chal paar
mere saajan hai.n us paar...

ho man kii kitaab se tuu, meraa naam hii miTaa denaa
gun to na thaa koii bhii, avagun mere bhulaa denaa
mujhako terii bidaa kaa...
mujhako terii bidaa kaa mar ke bhii rahataa i.ntazaar
mere saajan...

mat khel jal jaaegii, kahatii hai aag mere man kii
mat khel...
mat khel jal jaaegii, kahatii hai aag mere man kii
mai.n ba.ndinii piyaa kii chir sa.nginii huu.N saajan kii
meraa khii.nchatii hai aa.Nchal...
meraa khii.nchatii hai aa.Nchal man miit terii har pukaar
mere saajan hai.n us paar
o re maajhii o re maajhii o o mere maajhii
mere saajan hai.n us paar...

Excellent man. This was our Casablanca.


Sunil said..., its a wondeful movie.

A......yes! always, you're right! Looked it up, and indeed, this was not really Gulzaar's first movie as a lyricist, but he has indeed written as Gulzar Deenvi. Good bit of trivia...

Charu....i think the early Dharmendra was fortunate to have worked with some fabulous directors (Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, to name just two), who really know how to use his abilities, and get the most out of him. Good roles really helped. But imo, Hindi films took a nosedive, with the rise of the superstars....

Karrvakarela.....i think you'll enjoy Roy's movies immensely. Do bigha zameen and Sujata are my favs.

Sourin.....yes, it really was our Casablanca! I thought about that....but didn't want to introduce too much in to the post. The parallels are quite remarkable.....but this was a more moving tale of a woman, while there it was really about Bogart and Bergman.

'Gun na tha koi bhi, avgun mere bhula dena'.....wonderful.

charu said...

true, good roles really helped. also having nostrils capable of great acting skills helped gorgeous D at that time. and then of ocurse, the flaring nostrils took over and all we saw were the above mentioned kammeney roles. Hrishikesh, of course, Chupke Chupke - my all time favorite - what a fantastic movie! will now hum at work all day thinking about it :)

karrvakarela said...

Chupke Chupke! What an awesome movie. Hrishikesh Mukherjee was a genius. Chupke Chupke, Bawarchi, Golmaal, Guddi, Abhimaan. Such wonderful films.

We were watching Golmaal a few weeks ago and it was surprising how literate it is, how casually it references history and culture. Good stuff.

gawker said...

Nice review. I haven't seen the movie but you painted a nice picture. But from what you've written it seems to me that if this film were to have been produced today, Paheli would still have been chosen over it for the Oscars.

Sunil said...

Dharmendra's best role with Hrishikesh Mukherjee was definitely Satyakaam (i'd blogged about it earlier, here.

Yes indeed....Hrishikesh Mukherjee was my favourite movie director.........wonderful movies.

Gawker.....i'm pretty sure Paheli would still have been chosen over it for the Oscars.....if Ham Tum can win national awards, Paheli will sweep the Oscars.......

Such is life.

But for quintessential Bimal must watch Do Bigha Zameen.....his landmark film...(all of them were....but still).

PK said...

Bimal Roy's films were classic but he didnt get international recognition he deserved.His subject,good storyline supported by good lyrics and excellent music made all his movies joy to watch repetedly.Dharmendra was first choice for serious filmmakers.In Bandini I simply loved the song 'Aab Ke Baras..'which gave words to married women's pining for her 'Maika'.We dont get movies like Pyaasa,Kagaz Ke Phool,Sujata,Bandini.Jagte Raho....Such a loss!may be i have to Chill..chill..chill....

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