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.