Serendipity isn’t something I encounter too frequently while watching Hindi cinema. More often than not, it’s the other way round: I watch a film because I liked the cast, or because the story sounds appealing, or (and this happens with appalling frequency) because the music is wonderful. That I should watch a film about which I know next to nothing—on a whim, so to say—and find that it’s not just watchable but actually quite enjoyable is something to be grateful about. Which is why this review. Seriously speaking, I hadn’t expected much of Parivaar (the name itself conjures up one of those extremely melodramatic social dramas AVM used to specialise in).
Worse, I had my memories (I wish I could rid myself of them) of having watched the utterly execrable Nanda-Jeetendra starrer Parivaar, one of the worst films from the 60s I’ve ever wasted three hours upon. But, back to this Parivaar, which brought a smile of pleased anticipation to my face as soon as the credits began to roll. Directed by Asit Sen and produced by Bimal Roy, Parivaar is set completely within the large haveli of the Choudhary brothers, where all of them, with the exception of one brother, live as a joint family. Over the first hour or so of the film, we are introduced to these men, their families, and their servants. The eldest of the brothers is Mahesh (Bipin Gupta), though he’s only ever referred to as bade bhaiya. Bade bhaiya is the one who is ostensibly in charge of overseeing the family’s land and other large assets, though he seems to spend most of his time playing chess with various nephews.
The majhle bhaiya, the ‘middle brother’ (P Jairaj) is Ramesh, who’s a lawyer. Ramesh is so completely engrossed in his work that even the time he spends at home is devoted mostly to reading briefs and preparing his cases. He’s such an unabashed workaholic that even his wife, everybody’s majhle bhabhi (Usha Kiron) has now reconciled herself to having to take second place to her husband’s work. She’s very cheerful, keeps pulling his leg about it, and is—as emerges from her interactions with the others in the family—a strong-willed, decisive and imaginative woman, the go-getter among the women of the family.
The third brother, Ganesh (Anwar Hussain) doesn’t appear on the scene until nearly an hour of the story is past—because Ganesh, along with his wife Malti (Kumud), lives in Banaras with two of their young children. Ganesh is an engineer, and his work requires him to live in Banaras. However, he and his wife have decided that their eldest son Kamal is best educated in their hometown, so Kamal stays with his uncles, aunts and assorted cousins in the Choudhary haveli. Majhli bhabhi, in particular, dotes upon Kamal, treating him almost as her own child—he even sleeps in her room.
The fourth brother is Dinesh (Sajjan), who’s a doctor. Dinesh is one of those really enthusiastic doctors, constantly pestering his family about minding their health. When we first see him, for instance, he’s getting ready to leave for work, while supervising his wife Jaishree (Kamal) skipping. He tells Jaishree that she needs to skip at least 200 times a day, in order to balance out all the calories she consumes. Not something that Jaishree is overly keen on.
Dinesh doesn’t let the rest of his family alone, either; he brings home a weighing scale and records everybody’s weight so he can monitor their diet. And when the family hosts a large dinner, he goes about putting potassium permanganate in the wash water. Dinesh and Jaishree have one son, little Raju, who is the favourite of bade bhaiya and badi bhabhi—the former loves to play chess with Raju.
Last of all, and youngest of the five brothers, is Suresh (Ashim Kumar), who is a musician. He has recently got married, to the equally musically-inclined Manju (Sabita Chatterjee), whom he met at a music-and-dance conference. Their shared love for music and dance means that Suresh and Manju spend much of their time ensconced in their room, doing riyaaz.
Then, there are the servants. The major domo of the house is Madho (Agha, in one of the most delightful roles I’ve seen him in). Madho is a perpetually harassed, pulled-in-many-directions butler cum general dogsbody cum everything else: just about everybody in the household is telling him to do this or do that every waking moment. This ends up making Madho run about like a headless chicken half the time, but it also brings home to him the fact that this household does rely quite heavily on him. (Not, thankfully, a situation he exploits—more on this later).
And, last of all, the maharaj or cook (Dhumal). This man is a constant braggart, boasting of everything from his ear for music (from having worked 10 years at a famous ustad’s house) to his fluency in English (from having worked 10 years at an Englishman’s house). All of which, even to the more gullible members of the household, are obvious signs of wishful thinking.
Those are the characters. And the story? Well, not really very much. In fact, the plot itself begins developing only about midway through the film. The first hour or so is spent in the mise en place, so to say; in acquainting us with the people in this story (a considerable task in itself, since there are so many of them). Then comes the incident which changes things and puts in motion a chain of events that will shake up the Choudhary parivaar: the janeyu ceremony for Ganesh’s son Kamal, who will soon be 13. For the occasion, Ganesh, his wife Malti and their two other children also come home for a few days.
The entire household swings into action to prepare for the feast; all the brothers invite their guests, and the house is very busy on the evening of the function. Madho is being ordered around to do this and that; Dinesh is scurrying around, making sure everything is hygienic, dusting bleach here, sprinkling potassium permanganate there. Bade bhaiya, having done his duty by greeting the guests and participating in the ceremony, has retreated to his own room with Raju, where he’s teaching the child (who’s fallen asleep) chess. Ramesh, the lawyer, is in deep conversation with his father-in-law, telling him all about mortgage law.
When Madho, who’s been sent by badi bhabhi to ask if dinner can be laid for the guests, comes, Ramesh tells him to get lost. He’s busy, and so are his guests; can’t Madho see? And Ganesh, who’s a glutton of the first order and has been feeling very hungry, has gotten himself a thali load of goodies and hidden himself in his room, where he’s stuffing his face. When Suresh—whose equally musically-minded friends are now tuning up and indulging in some singing—is asked if dinner should be laid, he refuses. They’re only just getting into the rhythm of things here; breaking off for dinner will ruin everything. It’s only 11 now, anyway; still plenty of time. And as for the problem of guests having to then go home: why, the family has three cars. Everybody will be dropped home. No worries.
Which basically means that Madho has to go back to the kitchen, frustrated. En route, he overhears one guest telling another that since it’s so late and their hosts show no signs of feeding them, it’s perhaps advisable to go. This guest is already pretty disgusted, and Madho realises that unless something is done quickly, the family is in danger of antagonising a lot of people. Or at least getting talked about behind their backs. The brothers are either oblivious or nowhere to be found; so Madho rushes off to the kitchen and informs badi bhabhi and majhli bhabhi. And it is thanks to these women—who immediately take control—that dinner is served and the situation salvaged.
The next morning, the brothers are sitting happily at breakfast, joking and laughing and congratulating themselves on what a success the previous day’s function has been. How happy the guests were. How well everything went. What a good team we are. Like the five Pandavas, so the Choudhary brothers. “All for one, and one for all!” proclaims Ganesh, and all the others join in. There’s much cheering and self-congratulation.
This doesn’t escape the notice of the bahus of the household. Oh, the irony of it! That their men should think it’s because of them that all is well, and peace, harmony, and love rule this household. Majhli bhabhi, in particular, realises that these men are labouring under a delusion: they think it’s because of their brotherly love for each other that the family is so close-knit. What they don’t realise is that it’s because of their wives—if their wives were the quarrelsome, petty, self-serving type, the family would’ve split up and gone its separate ways long, long ago.
Majhli bhabhi therefore calls for a meeting. The maharaj, Madho and the maid are expelled from the kitchen, the doors are closed, and the five bahus go into a huddle. The four younger bahus are all for teaching their men a lesson; badi bhabhi, who’s far too sweet for her own good (and who has, after all, brought up her brothers-in-law almost like her own children and has a maternal affection for them) doesn’t like the idea.
She’s hushed up, however, and the women start concocting a plan. They will pretend to fall apart. They will pick quarrels, back-bite, put on a show of bad blood—all to bring home to their husbands the fact that it’s the women who are the glue in this household, not the men.
Will their plan succeed? Will there be pitfalls along the way? Will things spiral out of control?
Like most other Bimal Roy Productions—Sujata, Prem Patra, Parakh among them—Parivaar is one of those films about everyday people, and the everyday problems they face. The small joys that make up their lives. This isn’t life in Technicolor, so to say: it’s simple, perhaps even a little mundane, not the high adrenaline, exciting romance+drama+adventure+mystery+comedy cocktail that goes into most Hindi films. Comfortable, gentle, easy to relate to.
What I liked about this film:
The feel-good nature of the entire film. Each of these characters is easy to relate to, neither too excessively sweet and good, nor bad to the point of villainy. There’s genuine affection here, but also impatience. Deep love, but not of the type which allows the loved one to ride roughshod over the one giving the love and affection. Tolerance, but not doormat-like behaviour. And vice-versa: with a mind of one’s own, but not nasty or domineering.
Majhli bhabhi, for instance, is one of the most strong-willed of the female characters, but she’s not bitchy or a harridan or anything of the sort.
Also, while all the women do gang up to teach the men a lesson, they never lose sight of the fact that they do love their men—and the men, in their turn, while being so smug about their fraternal love, don’t ever actually say that their wives have nothing to do with their happiness. All in all, a very believable group of people: shades of grey, not black and white. And Durga Khote’s badi bhabhi is a gem: so distressed at the thought of hoodwinking her husband and devars, so reluctant to go along with the plot, but letting her devranis—whom she loves deeply—boss her about.
Another thing I appreciated about the film was the fact that the message is relatively subtle. Relationships work only when both parties make an effort to make them work. One person doing all the donkey work while the other(s) congratulate themselves on how grand everything is, leads to resentment. And relationships can be fragile, sensitive: a little thoughtlessness, a moment of derring-do, and you can ruin it. All of which is nothing new, as far as Hindi cinema is concerned—these are themes, after all, which form the basis of countless films—but I like the way Parivaar handles it: with humour and charm.
The music, by the inimitable Salil Choudhary, one of my favourites. Not all the songs are brilliant, but two stand out for me. One is the first song in the film, the lovely Jaa tose nahin boloon Kanhaiyya. The other is the beautiful Jhir-jhir, jhir-jhir badarwa barse. There’s an amusing item number, too, with Kishore Kumar (who also appears onscreen for this song): Kuvein mein koodke mar jaana, yaar tum shaadi na karna, in which the tune goes from a very Indian style to a peppy, obviously Western-influenced style.
What I didn’t like:
I would have preferred the initial sections to have been trimmed a bit—for instance, the scene where Dinesh is going about getting everybody in the house to climb onto the weighing scale so he can lecture them about controlling their weight. I thought several similar scenes, most of them thankfully quite short, in the first half of the film were superfluous; they didn’t even contribute much towards helping the audience get acquainted with the family.
A minor quibble, though. This is a film I’d recommend if you’re in the mood for something mellow and sweet and not star-studded.