While watching Pakeezah some months back (and reading Meghnad Desai’s book about the film), I was struck by how fond old Hindi cinema used to be of the motif of the ‘chaste tawaif’. A paradox, seemingly, because how could a woman be a tawaif – a prostitute, to put it bluntly – and be chaste? But films like Pakeezah and Adalat did just that: they portrayed women who lived in kothas, sang (in Adalat) and danced (in Pakeezah) but were ‘good’ women, chaste and pure, women who may have been lusted after by bad men, but who – thanks to fate, good friends and relatives, kind strangers (both human and animal) – were always able to avoid the fate worse than death: of yielding their chastity to a man they were not married to, or weren’t going to eventually marry, even if only in secret.
The Suchitra Sen-starrer Mamta, based on Nihar Ranjan Gupta’s Uttar Falguni (which had been made into a Bengali film, also starring Suchitra Sen, in 1963), uses this motif too: the tawaif we are introduced to – Panna Bai (Suchitra Sen), performing a mujra in the very first scene – is, as we discover in the following scene, a good and devoted mother, and the kotha more a loving home than anything else.
The family doctor, Dr Abraham (David), come to examine Panna Bai’s little daughter Suparna, is obviously well-acquainted with the two ladies of this household: Panna Bai and her ‘mother’, Meena Bai. After examining Suparna and pronouncing her well, he offers Panna Bai some advice: Suparna is such an intelligent and smart child, she should be well educated. If Panna Bai wishes, he will write to Mother Maamen (IMDB lists this as ‘Mother Mary’), who runs a convent in Calcutta. If Suparna is admitted to the convent, she is certain of a bright future.
Panna Bai, however, refuses. Suparna is her life; how can she even think of being separated from her child?
But Panna Bai has reason to fear for Suparna’s safety. The previous evening, Panna Bai’s mujra had been interrupted by the sudden and shocking arrival of a man (Kalipada Chakraborty), and Panna Bai had rushed away inside to avoid meeting him. This man, whom we now discover is named Raakhaal – and who is Panna Bai’s husband – now comes again. He’s a creep of the first order, and when Panna Bai tries to get rid of him, agrees to go on one condition: that she give him Rs 1,000.
While Panna Bai is inside, getting the money, Suparna happens to come by – and Panna Bai, returning with the money, finds Raakhaal (whom Suparna does not know is her father) trying to wheedle Suparna into coming away with him. Panna Bai is horrified. She swoops down, drags Suparna away and locks her up in a room. She then flings the money at Raakhaal and tells him to keep away from Suparna.
But Raakhaal isn’t so easily dissuaded. He makes another attempt at spiriting Suparna away (while Panna Bai, Meena Bai and Suparna are on a visit to a zoo). Suparna is rescued just in time, but the incident makes Panna Bai realize that yes, Suparna is best off being sent to Mother Maamen’s school in Calcutta.
She approaches Dr Abraham, begging him to write a letter of recommendation to the nun; he does so, but warns Panna Bai that it may not be enough. After all, there is the question of whether there is space for another child to be admitted to the school, and whether or not Mother Maamen will agree.
…and his fears seem not unfounded. Mother Maamen (Pratima Devi), despite Panna Bai’s repeated pleas, and Doctor Sahib’s letter, refuses to admit Suparna. Eventually, a desperate Panna Bai decides to tell Mother Maamen her whole sad story, in the hope that the recounting of her tragedy will soften the nun sufficiently.
Panna Bai, it turns out, began life as Devyani. Her mother died when Devyani was very young, so her father (Chaman Puri) brought up Devyani on his own. Even though poor, he never let Devyani feel the burden of their poverty.
Grown up, Devyani fell in love with Manish Roy (Ashok Kumar), a wealthy young man [okay, Ashok Kumar doesn’t exactly look young, but poetic license and all that…], of whom even her father approved.
Manish and Devyani’s marriage was fixed, before Manish had to leave for London to study law. A sad parting occurred, with many vows of never-ending fidelity on both sides. Manish also told Devyani that should she need help of any sort in his absence, she should go and meet Manish’s mother, who would help.
This happens faster than Devyani could have imagined. Unknown to Devyani, her father was deeply in debt to Raakhaal. One day, Raakhaal came to visit and to demand his money – or, if the money could not be given, marriage to Devyani. Devyani, overhearing him, realized what a tight spot they were in, and went off to ask for the money – Rs 10,000 – from Manish’s mother.
Who [and I should have seen this coming, since it’s about what happened in Adalat as well] refuses. Devyani isn’t even married to Manish yet, and she’s already asking for money? That’s why she wanted to marry Manish, isn’t it? For his money? Devyani gets thrown out, and because she has no other alternative, agrees to marry Raakhaal, hoping that she can prevent him from consummating the marriage.
High hopes, of course. Because Raakhaal has told Devyani’s father that he’ll give the signed papers – forfeiting the loan – back to Devyani’s father only after the marriage has been consummated. Devyani has to go through the trauma of a suhaag raat with this creep, and he continues to have her way with her, finally leaving her pregnant with Suparna.
To Devyani’s credit, she doesn’t resent her unborn child because of Raakhaal; instead, she loves her baby and decides to stay on, bearing all of Raakhaal’s excesses, for the sake of the baby. [I don’t get the logic, but perhaps it’s just because Devyani is too poor or broken or both to see any other choice].
One night, however, Devyani comes awake to find a man’s hand caressing her – and no, it isn’t Raakhaal [not that he would have been welcome, but still. Conjugal rights, I suppose Devyani would have called them]. It turns out that Raakhaal has been trying to pimp his wife. Devyani is so horrified, she forgets her determination to cling on to him, barnacle-like, and [having shown a bit of spirit by clonking the ‘customer’ on the head], takes off in a train.
Midway through, Devyani gets up and goes to the door of the compartment to fling herself out [couldn’t she have saved some money by trying to jump off a building instead of buying a train ticket?]. She is saved by a fellow passenger – who turns out to be Meena Bai. Having heard Devyani’s story, this tawaif-with-a-heart-of-gold [yes, just heart of gold; she makes no pretensions of chastity, though considering her rather homely appearance, one wonders] takes Devyani to her own home in Lucknow.
This is the kotha where Suparna is born and where Devyani, under the tutelage of Meena Bai, metamorphs into Panna Bai. Singing and dancing and showing off her adas, but chaste.
Back to the present, where Mother Maamen, suitably moved by this tale, agrees to accept Suparna into her school. Devyani/Panna Bai promises that she will never come in front of Suparna again, will not tell Suparna who she is – all an attempt at removing her ‘shadow’ from Suparna’s life.
After this, she promptly goes off to a large store and buys some clothes for Suparna. While she’s busy paying, whom should she bump into but Manish!
Manish is already aware hat she’s married, and tries to ask her about her husband, etc, but Devyani brushes him off with a pained “Devyani is dead!” and flees. Manish is hurt and baffled, and even more, shocked when a well-informed friend who’s with him tells him who this woman is: the famous tawaif, Panna Bai.
The friend sets about proving it, by booking Panna Bai for a performance. Devyani turns up, though reluctantly, to discover that she’s supposed to sing for Manish himself. There is much angst, both in Devyani’s song, as well as in Manish’s refusal to face her.
Listening to her song, however, Manish realizes that there is more to this, and ends up following her home. In a pleasant change from the norm, Devyani – instead of hiding all her woes and suffering in silence – tells Manish all.
Like any self-respecting tawaif, though, she insists that she will not let him into her life, because it will only taint him. But she will let him look after Suparna. So Manish goes to meet Suparna at her school, becomes her Kaka, and years pass…
We skip forward years later, when a young barrister named Indraneel (Dharmendra) comes to Manish’s office with a letter of introduction from Suparna, who knows Indraneel and wants Manish to take him on as a junior. There is a briefly amusing situation when Manish, who has never seen or heard of Indraneel before, mistakes him for a criminal. The misunderstanding gets cleared up quickly, and Indraneel is appointed a junior.
Manish also shows Suparna’s letter to Devyani, who by now is not in the best of health: her heart is in a bad way, and she can never remember to take her medicine. She is, however, just as devoted to her daughter as she was years ago, when she first left Suparna at Mother Maamen’s. She has hidden herself from Suparna, of course, with the result that Suparna believes her mother died when she was a little girl.
Now, Suparna (Suchitra Sen, again) returns, after studying law in the UK. Devyani’s hunch that Suparna and Indraneel are in love with each other proves to be true, and both Devyani and Manish are delighted. Indraneel is a very personable young man (Dharmendra, after all, and in his heyday, too), and Devyani—who sees him surreptitiously while at Manish’s office—is convinced that he is the perfect man for Suparna.
But Devyani, despite much coaxing on the part of Manish, refuses to reveal her identity to either Indraneel or Suparna: won’t Indraneel’s mother refuse to accept a tawaif’s daughter as a bahu? She cannot let her own tainted past, even if she is really ‘pure’, mar Suparna’s chances of a happy life. Ignorance, thinks Devyani, will be bliss for all concerned.
The problem, though, is that Devyani hides a huge skeleton in her cupboard: the skeleton that is her no-good husband, Raakhaal. All these years, Raakhaal has been tormenting Devyani, turning up every month at her doorstep, asking for money to fuel his drinking and gambling and sundry other vices. How far will Raakhaal push Devyani? And what will happen if Devyani one day decides to push back—because of her mamta, her love for her offspring?
Even though I’d watched Mamta years ago (and remembered a fair bit of it), I’d forgotten how similar, in several ways, this film is to Adalat. Not all the way through, and I personally think this is better than Adalat—a little more sensitive, and with some not-quite-so-clichéd elements.
What I liked about this film:
The depiction of two important relationships: Devyani-Manish, and Suparna-Indraneel. I like the fact that in both cases, there is (by Hindi film standards) a lot of trust between the people involved. For instance, Devyani trusts Manish enough to tell him the truth when she meets him after all those traumatic years. Even more unusually, while there continues to be a deep affection and respect for each other, they do not feel it necessary to either:
(a) get Devyani a divorce from Raakhaal so that she can then marry Manish (though I add: Devyani does dissuade Manish on this count, saying that society will shun him for marrying Panna Bai); or
(b) have nothing to do with each other.
Which is, all in all, a refreshing change.
The second relationship, of Suparna and Indraneel, is a delightful combination of friendly camaraderie, romantic but with plenty of fun, leg-pulling, occasional quarrels—yet trust. Interestingly enough, we do not get to see, as viewers, how either of these two relationships first began: the absence of any indication of whether it was love-at-first-sight, or fight-leads-to-love, or stalking-becomes-love makes the relationships more believable.
Then, there are the songs, written by Majrooh Sultanpuri and with music by Roshan. My favourite is Rehte thhe kabhi jinke dil mein—a brilliantly bitter song of anguish—followed by the oft-ignored Chhupaa lo yoon dil mein pyaar mera, so gentle and poignant a song of love that will never be consummated. Also lovely, in their own way, are In bahaaron mein akele na phiro, and both versions of Rahein na rahein hum (I must admit that my love for this song has declined a bit after I heard—and became addicted to—its original, Tera dil kahaan hai, from Chandni Chowk).
Talking about the music of Mamta, I also realized, when I watched the film this time, that (like Pakeezah), it too has a few ‘background’ songs (I’ve no idea whether all of these are thumris or not; perhaps someone more knowledgeable will help?): Tore naina laage saanwra, for instance, or Hum ganwanwaa na jayibe ho bina jhoolni—all beautifully sung, but fairly short snatches of song that help show the passage of time.
What I didn’t like:
Yes, I will confess I am being nitpicking, but Suchitra Sen’s accent can at times get really jarring. And the end is a bit melodramatic for my liking. And there’s a somewhat silly and pointless scene in which Suparna and Indraneel, assigned a divorce case, end up arguing with each other in front of their client.
But: Suchitra Sen’s acting, despite the bad accent, is very good, with a well-portrayed distinction between the self-sacrificing Panna Bai/Devyani and the self-confident, assured Suparna. (Ms Sen, incidentally, was nominated for the Filmfare Best Actress Award for her roles in Mamta). The melodramatic end (which, in some ways, is also similar to the end of Adalat, though in that Jawahar Kaul plays the offspring standing up in court against the parent he does not know)—is, while melodramatic, not over-the-top in the way I’ve seen in some other films.
And that one scene of the Suparna-Indraneel quarrel? Forgivable, in a film that otherwise has so much to recommend it. Asit Sen, also the director of Anokhi Raat and Khamoshi (among others) delivers, yet again.
I have not seen this film, but I love all the songs.
Chuppa lo youn dil me, is one of my all time favorites.
Yes the story is a bit adalat-ish. But not much. Just the winding up on the kotha, and preferring to send the kid to a foster parent bits. And, of course, the boyfriend going off abroad and the parents giving the girl a cold shoulder.
The second part of this movie was perhaps more cheerful because of the youngsters stepping in.
Must see this some day.
Lovely review as ever.
Thank you, Ava! Yes, you must see Mamta someday – it’s a good movie, and of course the songs are lovely. There are several channels on Youtube which have the film. I watched it off Youtube too.
The Dharmendra-Suchitra Sen jodi is fun, but sadly, they don’t get that much time. I wish there had been more scenes with them!
Incidentally, the similarities with Adalat continue into the second half of the film, which I’ve not mentioned in this post.
Oh kay! Will watch.
The reviewer as always wants to show how clever she is.It is a film and not an art film and the topic needs a dramatic ending otherwise it will fall out at the seams.And this reviewer pressing on the subject of continuous hindi pronunciation alsocan become very repetitive and jarring.Bengalees do have a very rounded language and it takes a while to work diligently on the accent.There are amny Bengali actresses whohave tried their luckin Bollywood and have somehow mastered the accent but acting wise they are not half as good as Suchitra Sen I hope the same attitude should be meted out to those Bollywood actors who has done bengali films but the accent is not only jarring but laughable.
That is unfair.
I am never out to show how clever I am. Is there a problem with me being honest on my own blog? Or must every review be carefully doctored to show everything and everybody in a good light, just so that I don’t ruffle any feathers? I’m sorry if you don’t like my dwelling on Suchitra Sen’s accent, but that’s how it is – I didn’t like it, so I wrote it. Incidentally, what you mention – “I hope the same attitude should be meted out to those Bollywood actors who has done bengali films but the accent is not only jarring but laughable.” – is just the point, though vice-versa. Jarring, laughable, call it what you will – a bad accent just does not work. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Suchitra Sen in a Hindi movie, or a Bollywood actor in a Bengali film. It’s probably not even the actor’s fault: it’s the casting director’s, for choosing someone who is no comfortable with the language.
By the way, if you look through my blog, you’ll find that I’ve been very charitable to Ms Sen re: accent. Actresses like Padmini and Raagini are as bad, if not worse. And I’ve said.
If it soothes your feelings, have a look at my review of Deep Jwele Jaai.
Madhu, this was the film that made me like Suchitra Sen, despite her atrocious accent. :) Thank you so much for bringing it back to mind – I’m beginning to realise just how long it’s been since I last watched it. Perhaps some day soon…
Loved your review and your asides… especially this one: [couldn’t she have saved some money by trying to jump off a building instead of buying a train ticket?] :)
Anu, I agree! I began to like Suchitra Sen – despite her atrocious accent – because of Mamta. I mean, I’d already seen her in Bambai ka Babu (where she was gorgeous, but I thought didn’t get much opportunity to show off her acting – it was Dev Anand’s film all the way), but in Mamta, you really get to see what a fine actress she was. She brings out the difference in the two characters – Devyani and Suparna – so well that I at least began to forget that this was really one woman.
Glad you liked the review (and the asides – I just can’t help commenting, even when I like the film!) :-D
I have seen both the Hindi and the Bengali version of this film. Both the versions were good. But Uttar Phalguni was the one I liked more.
Uttar Phalguni was one of the seven films Uttam Kumar had produced. Bikash Roy did a splendid job in the role of Manish Roy. Suchitra Sen (Pannabai), Chaya Devi (Minabai), Pahadi Sanyal (Public Prosecutor) and Kalipada Chakraborty (Rakhal) retained their roles in the Hindi version. The music director for Mamta was Roshan, Robin Chaterjee was the music director for Uttar Phalguni. Uttar Phalguni won the Nation Award for the best Bengali Feature Film that year.
Suchitra Sen, barring her pronunciation, was convincing in both the roles. Dharmendra looked better than Dilip Mukherjee in the role of Indranil. Like Bimal Roy, Asit Sen could bring out the best out of him. As you have pointed out, Roshan gave some beautiful songs. On the whole a good movie and an equally good review.
Should I watch Adalat?
Thank you, Venkataramanji – also for that mini review of Uttar Falguni. When I posted the link to this review of Mamta on Facebook, friends gave me conflicting opinions on Uttar Falguni. Sharmi, who also blogs, said that she likes it more than Mamta, but someone else said they liked Mamta better. I shall definitely look out for Uttar Falguni now!
As for Adalat, it has superb music, but it’s much more melodramatic than Mamta. I think Mamta overall is more nuanced and subtle than Adalat was.
Nice review DO. Saw this movie years ago and now feel like seeing it again. Also checked out Tera dil kaha hai which has similar tune to Rahe na Rahe hum. The song Thandi hawayein leherake aye with Nalini Jaywant also has a similar tune.
Yes. you’re right – Thandi hawaayein lehraake aayein does have a similar tune. I think the similarity between Tera dil kahaan hai and Rahein na rahein hum is much more pronounced, though – it’s unmistakably the same tune. Not surprising, considering Roshan composed both of them. If he had been inspired by SD Burman when he first composed Tera dil kahaan hai, I suppose he made a concerted effort to make sure it didn’t sound too much like Thandi hawaayein lehraake aayein.
Thanks Madhu for reviewing a film I have actually seen! Like Mr Venkataraman I have seen both versions: ‘Uttar Falguni’ in Bengali and ‘Mamta’ in Hindi. Uttar Falguni is better in a couple of respects – Suchitra is a younger and looks much better, the story is more crisp with fewer diversions. Bikash Roy fits the role of the younger Manish Roy better than the portly Ashok, but Ashok Kumar beats him hands down in the later scenes. Finally it is the music of Roshan that tips the scale in favour of Mamta. Uttar Falguni saves on lyrics and music – the scene equivalent to ‘Chhupa lo yun dil mein pyar mera’ makes do with ‘Aguner poroshmoni’ from the Rabindra Sangeet repertoire. For some reason the songs of the Bengali version are not on Youtube, maybe the copyright holder guards them jealously.
My verdict? Watch ‘Uttar Falguni’ and listen to the songs of ‘Mamta’. Also watch the clip from Mamta featuring Ashok Kumar just before, during and after ‘Chhupa lo yun dil mein pyar mera’.
Oh, good! I’m glad this was a film you’d seen. :-D Before this viewing, I’d seen Mamta only once before, years ago on Doordarshan. And, in a departure from most films I saw back then, I actually remembered most of the story of Mamta.
“Bikash Roy fits the role of the younger Manish Roy better than the portly Ashok, but Ashok Kumar beats him hands down in the later scenes.”
I’m not surprised! Ashok Kumar was, I think, one of the finest actors in Hindi cinema. And he was really good as the older Manish Roy: also a fine characterisation, I thought. Not many men in Hindi cinema would have been sensitive enough to respect the wishes of an ex-lover who was now willing to be friends, even if it was for his sake.
I shall certainly look out for Uttar Falguni now! Including you, Venkataramanji and some others, enough people have convinced me that it’s a film worth watching. Considering I’ve always preferred the Bengali versions over the Hindi ones of the films I’ve watched so far (Deep Jwele Jaai, Chaowa-Paowa, Agni Pariksha), I have high hopes of this too.
I saw this film quite some time ago, but what I remember very well is the song chhupa loon yun dil mein pyar mera It is so beautiful. Roshan did well in this film giving us such wonderful melodies.
I also remember Suchitra Sen looking beautiful and graceful.
And who really stands out in my memory is that creep, her husband.
After reading your very interesting interview I feel like watching it again.
Thanks so much for jogging my memory :-)
Do watch it again if you get the time, pacifist! It’s a very nice movie, and the songs are so lovely. I had forgotten all about those ‘background’ songs, but rewatching the movie after all these years, I realised how lovely they were.
Oddly enough, Kalipada Chakraborty as Devyani’s creepy husband had completely slipped my mind. But he is creepy. Really vile.
I saw this film many years ago. What what stood out was Ashok Kumar in the second half. Thanks for reviving the memory. Will watch once again.
Yes, Ashok Kumar in the second half is superb. Such a great actor. Do watch again. :-)
I second what one of your reader’s has said, the Bengali version is a shade better than the Hindi one. Besides being younger, Suchitra Sen was obviously more comfortable emoting in her mother tongue. I was quite small when Mamta released, as I grew up,I remember, my mum who otherwise really liked Ashok Kumar, preferred Bikash Roy to Ashok Kumar. Much later in life I saw many of this actor’s films and yes I had to agree with mum, that actor was truly versatile. He played all kinds of roles from the suave leading man to absolutely the crooked criminal with equal ease. He also very convincingly portrayed roles of serous characters. His eyes expressed every emotion so beautifuliy. I think where he stood out was that he was the character, Bikash Roy the star never intruded into the character. Undoubtedly Ashok Kumar too was good and of course Sen was wonderful.
I wasn’t aware that you had reviewed Anokhi Raat, after all back then I didn’t know about Dustedoff, I am off to post a comment there.
I am now very eager to see Bikash Roy. Any other well-known films of his you’d recommend, other than Uttar Falguni, Shilpi? He sounds like an amazing actor, though offhand, I don’t think I’ve ever come across him in any of the (admittedly very few) Bangla films that I’ve seen.
Those days, the trio of Pahari Sanyal, Chabi Biswas and Bikash Roy, were seen in almost every Bengali film. My knowledge of Bengali films is limited, I was able to see Bengali films only after Doordarshan and the Bengali channels came into my life. I would have loved to name at least one of his films in which he has played the sneaky villain, I unfortunately do not remember the names of these films, maybe I have to do a Google search. If you can lay your hands on ‘Chhele Kaar’ the Bengali version of the Ashok Kumar Meena Kumari starrer ‘Bandish’, you will see him in a light-hearted role. He played Ashok Kumar’s role.
Arogya Niketan and
Moru Tirtho Hinglaj
are two of his very acclaimed films. You will see him as a old bearded man in the former, he was really superb in the film. When you see this film you cannot believe that he is the same man who did comedy and villainy with equal ease.
I would like to see Chhele Kaar! I liked Bandish a lot – I thought it was such a delightfully offbeat film, and Ashok Kumar was so good in it. I will also bookmark Arogya Niketan and Moru Tirtha Hinglaj – thank you for giving me the links to those, Shilpi.
A wonderful balanced review Madhulika. The success of the movie spawned South Indian translations and in Tamil, it was called as “Kavia Thalaivi:” featuring Gemini Ganeshan, Sowcar Janaki [who played Sen’s role] and Ravichandran. The movie was a huge hit down South as well.
It was news to me that “Rahen na rahe”was a lifted tune but the picturisation of the song was pretty good.
No doubt, Sen was a terrific actress. I recently read somewhere that Dharmendra acknowledged that Sen helped him during the shoot of the song – In Baharon Mein. He commented that she was so good in lip synching for the song since she was a born actress.
In the early 80’s there was a plan to remake this movie with Sunny Deol, Moonmoon Sen and Mithun Chakravorthy [reprising the role of Ashok Kumar] but the plans went astray, Moonmoon entered films too late and she was more of a glamour doll and less of an actress [so different from her versatile mom].
Uncannily, after Mamta in 1966, the next Hindi movie that Sen acted was 9 years later in “Aandhi”. 3 years later she was to quit films forever and become a recluse. She also refused an offer to act with Raj Kapoor in the late 60’s. I think I read this in Cine Plot.