While I’m a sucker for masala films that bear not a shred of resemblance to reality, I’m also very fond of the sort of films that directors like Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee sometimes made: films about everyday people and their everyday lives. The protagonist of this film, Anuradha, is one of those: a young woman who gives up her dreams for the love of a man—only to discover eventually that even that sacrifice hasn’t brought her what she wanted.
And this is, of course, a belated tribute to one of Hindi cinema’s most luminous faces: Leela Naidu. If I hadn’t been exulting over Robert Mitchum last month when Leela Naidu passed away, I’d probably have reviewed this film then. But better late than never, I guess. RIP.
The film is based in a village where the local doctor, Nirmal Choudhary (Balraj Sahni) is much respected and very much in demand. Nirmal does his rounds on a bicycle, accompanied by his talkative little daughter Ranu (Ranu). Ranu does her best to help—by offering advice she’s overheard her father giving to his patients; by holding a scared villager’s arm while Nirmal gives the man an injection; and by generally helping her father pass his time between visits.
The people in the village are equally endearing. There is the zamindar (Asit Sen), for whom Nirmal has prescribed a strict diet, but who, on the sly, consumes gulabjamuns, samosas and imartis like there was no tomorrow:
There is Atma Ram (Mukri), who has sympathetic pains every time something’s wrong with his wife:
There is Ram Bharose (Rashid Khan), the conductor of the bus that brings people from the outside world to the village. His is a ready wit, and his favourite bait is Atma Ram—and himself.
And, in Nirmal’s home, there is his quiet, beautiful wife of ten years, Anuradha (Leela Naidu). When the film begins, Anuradha is introduced through a radio programme in which records from ten years ago are being played. The famous singer Anuradha Roy, says the announcer, is the voice behind Saanwre saanwre.
The Anuradha of ten years later doesn’t look as if she’s a known voice on the radio, or has admirers flocking to her doorstep begging for autographs. This is a sad and lonely woman who spends her time waiting for her husband and child to come home, and is pitifully delighted when Nirmal promises to take her to a local festival that evening.
While taking out clothes to wear for the celebrations, Anuradha comes across an old sari, and it brings back memories of how she first met Nirmal. The film goes into flashback as we see a vivacious Anuradha with her brother Ashim at a plush store, trying to choose a sari. Anuradha is taking ages (she’s been in the store for two hours) and Ashim, in a fit of impatience, wanders out—only to bump into his friend Nirmal. Ashim enlists Nirmal’s help in duping Anuradha into hurrying up and buying a sari Ashim likes. Anuradha sees through the duo, but is kindly disposed towards Nirmal.
Soon after, they end up getting to know each other much better. Anuradha, coming off the stage after a dance and music performance, misses a step and falls, spraining her ankle. Nirmal and Ashim take her home and Nirmal prescribes medication for her. Anuradha’s father, Brijeshwar Prasad Roy (Hari Shivdasani) is sceptical of Nirmal’s skill, but his fears are soothed somewhat by his family doctor, who knows Nirmal well and assures Mr Roy that Nirmal is a brilliant doctor and very competent.
Within a month, Anuradha is back on her feet and deeply in love with Nirmal. She meets him often, talks with him, and sings to him (the beautiful Jaane kaise sapnon mein kho gayeen ankhiyaan). One day, however, Anuradha has disturbing news to share: Mr Roy wants her to marry Deepak (Abhi Bhattacharya), the son of an old friend of his. Deepak has just come back after higher studies abroad, and Mr Roy is keen that the two of them, already friends, get married.
Nirmal is distressed, of course, but tells Anuradha that before he can marry her, he wants her to know what’s in store. Years ago, his mother had died of an illness—not because of a lack of money, but because the village in which they lived had no doctor; there wasn’t one for miles around. Nirmal’s father therefore wanted that his son should become a doctor and practise in the villages; and Nirmal, equally dedicated, has made up his mind to shift to a village. Life in a village will be tough, he warns Anuradha.
But Anuradha is determined, and is willing to give up everything—the luxuries of her father’s home, the adulation of her fans, and most of all, her single-minded devotion to her music—in order to be with Nirmal. That evening, therefore, when Deepak comes to meet her after being persuaded by Mr Roy to propose, Anuradha tells him the truth.
Deepak is terribly disappointed (he’s very much in love with Anuradha, and tells her so) but is mature enough to acknowledge that Anuradha should marry the man she loves.
Mr Roy, on the other hand, thinks this is sheer idiocy. He throws a fit and forbids Anuradha from meeting Nirmal ever again—so a quietly rebellious Anuradha leaves home, comes to Nirmal, and marries him.
Now, ten years later, the bubbly, famous and successful Anuradha is a mere memory. Nirmal’s wife is a homebody, her musical instruments gathering dust, her life a lonely drudgery centred round her home. Nirmal is so completely preoccupied with his patients and their problems that he has little time for Anuradha. He forgets to take her to the festival she had been so looking forward to; he stays up late in his tiny laboratory, often even sleeping there.
He doesn’t recognise the sari that had brought them together in the first place; he’s forgotten the lyrics of the song Anuradha used to sing to him; he remembers their anniversary only when Anuradha jolts his memory… and even then, he comes home so late, tired and irritable, they aren’t able to spend any time together.
One day a surprise visitor turns up: Anuradha’s father, Mr Roy. With Ashim now married to a `foreign miss’ and Anuradha too having married a man of her choice, Mr Roy has realised that his tyrannical ideas about getting his offspring to marry people he’s chosen for them are antiquated. He’s come to make his peace with Nirmal and Anuradha, and they welcome him joyfully. After some chatting about spending time with each other, they finally agree that Ranu can go for a brief holiday with her grandfather, whom she’s befriended easily.
So Mr Roy takes Ranu off, and a couple of days later, another unexpected visitor arrives—literally by accident. Deepak, older, more cynical and still a bachelor who’s now ardently pursued by an heiress called Seema, is on a trip through the countryside. Seema, who’s driving, gets hysterical when Deepak refuses to explain why he won’t marry her. The car rams into a tree; Seema is badly but not fatally injured and Deepak suffers a few minor bruises. Nirmal, who attends to the two of them, has Seema removed to the zamindar’s haveli, while he has Deepak brought to his own home.
What effect does the arrival of Anuradha’s once-suitor have on this unhappy household? Will he, like the usual self-sacrificing lover, do his utmost to bring Nirmal and Anuradha back again? Or will Anuradha, acknowledging the end of a dream that wasn’t meant to be, turn to him? Or will events take a different turn altogether?
This isn’t a complicated story with high drama and unbelievable (or even what would have been deemed `socially unacceptable’) actions. Instead, it’s a quiet, sometimes slow but ultimately satisfying film about ordinary people and the ordinary lives they lead.
What I liked about this film:
The acting, especially that of Balraj Sahni and Leela Naidu. They’re restrained and believable, both as the young couple so giddily in love and as the older, much-married Dr and Mrs Choudhary who live in the same house, still loving each other but with the distance between them growing steadily greater with every passing day. Balraj Sahni, in particular, is superb as the idealist who is so completely engrossed in his work that he doesn’t even realise his wife is pining away for his company and for the music that was her life. He is unable to comprehend her occasional sarcasm or subtle expression of misery—not because his love for her has diminished, but simply because he’s too busy to notice.
The music. Pandit Ravi Shankar composed for Anuradha, and there are some lovely songs in the film. Two of my other favourites (after Jaane kaise sapnon mein kho gayeen ankhiyaan) are Haai re woh din kyon na aaye and Kaise beete din kaise beeti ratiyaan.
I love the little glimpses of domestic life: Anuradha tucking in a mosquito net around Ranu’s bed; the sound of crickets and a faraway dog howling in the night; Anuradha and Ranu listening to one of Anuradha’s old records on the turntable… and the silences that say so much.
What I didn’t like:
A minor irritant, this. Why did Anuradha give up her music? The main crux of the film seems to be that Anuradha, bereft of the music that sustained her (and also, of course, lonely because of Nirmal’s neglect) is going into a decline. Nirmal’s neglect is more easily understood; what I found difficult to reconcile with was Anuradha’s own neglect of her music. Even though she’s a housewife and burdened with all the work that goes with it, she does have time to sit and look out of a window, or daydream—then why not the time to sing again?
On the other hand, there are arguments against that: she has lost the will to sing; or she has lost her audience (Nirmal, most importantly?). And, of course, this is nothing new; in real life too, thousands of Indian women still give up their dreams to turn into sad, lonely housewives. But still—it made me a wee bit irritated with our heroine.
Despite that minor niggle, this is a wonderful film, subtle and poignant—vintage Hrishikesh Mukherjee. If you’ve seen and liked Parakh or Sujata, don’t miss this one.