Suhaagan (1964)

I’ve had this film on my radar for a long time. I first came across a mention of it online about ten years ago, and since Guru Dutt had acted in so few films, I was curious about this one (which, incidentally, was also his last film). Back then, I used to subscribe to a video rental service, and having found Suhaagan on that, ordered it—and what I got was the absolutely execrable, horribly regressive Suhaagan that starred Geeta Bali [if ever I decide to draw up a list of Hindi films you must not watch, that Suhaagan will be on it].

The Guru Dutt-Mala Sinha Suhaagan, which several people on my blog have mentioned in the past (including fairly recently), and which I’d searched for on Youtube now and then, finally cropped up in Youtube’s recommendations for me. So I bookmarked it.

And here we go.

Sharda (Mala Sinha) is the daughter, the only offspring of a very devoted father, the wealthy Mr Dubey [Nasir Hussain, who else? The number of films in which this man played the wealthy father of a girl intent on marrying against his wishes!] Sharda’s mother [an overdressed actress with a handful of reactions, each more OTT than the last] has little to do except pout unhappily while father and daughter coo over each other.

Mr Dubey is the founder of Sharda College, the principal (Gajanan Jagirdar) of which is his good friend Vidya Ratan [whoever was responsible for naming this character had a love for the literal]. Vidya Ratan has been wanting to retire, but Mr Dubey has been putting him off. Just six months more, and Mr Dubey’s old friend’s son, Shankar, will be returning from abroad after higher studies financed by Mr Dubey. He will relieve both of them of their burdens—Vidya Ratan will be able to retire, and Sharda will get married [if I were Sharda and I overheard this conversation, I’d be mighty peeved at being called a burden].

In the meantime, a new professor for the college has been appointed. Vijay Kumar (Guru Dutt, who always strikes me as looking somewhat odd in his cleanshaven avatar) comes in response to the letter, leaving behind his mother [Leela Chitnis. Like Nasir Hussain, fairly predictable as a character: in her case, invariably poverty-stricken as well as grief-stricken]. Along with Maaji is Vijay’s younger sister Uma (Lata Sinha), who works at a factory.

There’s an on-and-off subplot involving Uma and her lover Sukhi Ram (Deven Verma), who is the manager at the factory. Sukhi Ram’s wealthy and very stingy father Dukhi Ram (Om Prakash) will never agree to Uma being his bahu, so Sukhi Ram and his supportive mother (Indira Billi, looking far too young to be playing mother to Deven Verma) hatch a plot, using as main theme the fact that the family driver recently knocked over Uma on the road.

Dukhi Ram is told—by his wife and son—that Uma is crippled as a result of the accident, and that her mother is now contemplating litigation, demanding Rs 1 lakh as compensation, since who will now marry Uma, cripple that she is?

While all of that is happening and Dukhi Ram is having palpitations, Uma’s bhaiya Vijay lands up at Mr Dubey’s home, appointment letter in hand. Mr Dubey was the one who had sent him the letter—Vidya Ratan was away—so Vijay has come here instead of to the college. This gives Sharda and her mother [who come out to gawp shamelessly at him] an opportunity to see him. Once he’s gone, Mr Dubey having told him to report at the college, Sharda teases her father about this new professor: he has no dignity, none of the presence one expects of a professor.

Next day, however, Sharda [who goes to Sharda College, of course] has changed her tune. She’s interacted with Vijay and has realized just how clever and wise and in all ways good he is. Her gushing is quite evident, and Mr Dubey, if he had been perceptive, would have had alarm bells ringing in his head vis-à-vis that Sharda-Shankar jodi he’s had in mind.

Sure enough, within a matter of days, Sharda and Vijay are an item, going skipping about the hills and singing love songs. They’re so pyaar-kiya-toh-darna-kya that they make no attempt at being discreet. As a result, soon the entire college knows, and when Mr Dubey happens to come by, he sees graffiti about Sharda and Vijay all across the walls [truth to tell, he doesn’t just see it; he’s shown it, by dozens of gloating male students].

Mr Dubey sees red. He goes home and lambastes Sharda, who is distressed but refuses to budge. She says that she will only ever marry Vijay.

Lots of drama now ensues. Sharda runs away to Vijay, begging him to elope with her. Vijay, principled man that he is, refuses to do something so unethical, and when she refuses to go back to her own home, he takes her to Vidya Ratan’s. Vidya Ratan is a refreshingly broad-minded, calm and practical man. He phones Mr Dubey, and when the man arrives, reasons with him, trying to tell him why he shouldn’t come in the way of Sharda and Vijay’s wedding.

Sharda cries but stands steady; her father resorts to emotional blackmail; Vidya Ratan loses his temper and tells Mr Dubey to stop being such a creep. The long and the short of it all is that finally Vijay’s mother and Uma arrive, and Vijay and Sharda are married.

Sharda takes one look at the vast amount of dowry that’s been set out, ready to be packed for her [there is literally tons of silver here, and real silver too—the name of the jeweller appears in the credits]. And she refuses it all. She tells her mother that she will go to her sasuraal in what her in-laws have given her: a mangalsutra, and a sari and blouse borrowed from Uma [Hmm. What about other essential items of clothing she must be wearing—a petticoat not being the least of them?]

Mr Dubey didn’t even attend the wedding—Vidya Ratan had just about persuaded him to do so, but a message from Shankar, to say that he’s arriving the day after, riled him up all over again. Still seething and refusing to see off his beloved daughter, Mr Dubey however allows his wife a glimpse of just how he feels about letting Sharda go like this. He’s hurting, and pining for his girl, but his pride comes in the way.

In Sharda’s new home, though there’s none of the luxury of her maika, it’s not as if they’re piss-poor either. Just minutes after they step into the house, the principal (David) of a local college arrives, with the offer of a job for Vijay: he’s received a letter from Vidya Ratan, who has spoken highly of Vijay. Vijay accepts with alacrity, and everybody is very relieved.

Some days pass. Sukhi Ram and Uma get married, mostly by subterfuge and some nimble mangalsutra-pehnaoing by Sukhi Ram to evade his hawk-eyed father.

Sharda and Vijay haven’t had their suhaag raat yet—it’s going to be an occasion, with Sharda’s father being invited [I assume to a feast to be held before the more intimate aspects of the event]. As it happens, on the day chosen for the suhaag raat, the golden jubilee celebrations of the college are being held; Vijay, who’s in charge of various tasks connected to it—such as putting up banners—goes up on the roof to supervise…

… and falls off the roof.

He’s not badly injured, or so the doctor says. There’s no danger to his life. But there’s one problem: the fall has affected Vijay’s heart. So badly that any extreme exertion—such as—umm, trying to be a father [that’s how the doctor coyly puts it, instead of baldly saying “having sex”] can have fatal consequences [and this isn’t supposed to qualify as ‘danger to life’? Huh?]

This has been said to a mixed bag of people, including Sharda, Vijay’s mother, Sharda’s parents, Vijay’s current boss, etc. Vijay himself is absent from this earth-shattering revelation, which sends Sharda’s father into another fit of rage (thankfully not in front of Vijay’s mother). Vijay’s mother is heartbroken, and cannot find words to tell Vijay. So she tells Sharda also to not tell him. Not now. Someday, somehow, but not now.

Which is going to cause problems galore, because a man married to the woman he loves, whom he’s aching to make his wife in every sense of the word, and who believes he’s perfectly well, can hardly be expected to stay celibate. Complications arise.

What I liked about this film:

The unusually ‘bold’ topic of the film. Hindi cinema, till even much later than the 60s, made sex out to be something very hush-hush, something dirty and not to be spoken about or thought of even if one was married to the person one was sleeping with (or, as in this case, was supposed to be sleeping with). Unlike so many other films which would almost have you believe that all husbands and wives ever do is hug or sing romantic songs, Suhaagan makes no bones about the fact that sex is a critical part of the relationship—and what happens when sexuality is forced to be repressed. The frustration, the want, the helplessness, the anger that comes boiling out.

Interestingly (and that’s another thing I appreciated about this film), it’s not as if the focus is only on the sexuality of the man. Vijay, trying every ploy to consummate his marriage, is frustrated; but even more frustrated is Sharda, who wants him as much as he wants her, and who knows (unlike Vijay) that this isn’t a matter of time; it’s not as if, just because Maaji is at home today or Sharda is not feeling well tomorrow, they can get between the sheets another day… she knows that this can never be.

Also, I liked the very welcome breaking of the mother-in-law trope when it came to Vijay’s mother. Leela Chitnis’s character is loving and devoted to her son, but her love for her daughter-in-law is no less. She is kind, she is gentle, and she understands what Sharda is going through. Understands, empathizes, listens to, and tries to help. Of all the roles in which I’ve seen and remembered Leela Chitnis, this is the best.

Madan Mohan’s music is good, though not as uniformly stellar a score as most of his films. For me, two songs stood out: Tu mere saamne hai teri zulf hai khuli, and Bheegi chaandni chhaayi bekhudi.

What I didn’t like:

The end, which I thought was a little too predictable. The lead-up to the end was surprising and very unusual, but the end itself: I expected better. Though I wonder what else, logically, it could have been.

And yes, the melodrama went too over the top at times. Mala Sinha, whom I generally like, was just too highly strung here (I can see why, considering the trials her character has to go through), but a more contained performance might have appealed to me more.

Still, a worthwhile watch.

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35 thoughts on “Suhaagan (1964)

  1. I always get confused between this film and Bahurani. So which role does Feroze Khan play in this movie?
    The plot is evidently different. The theme is indeed very hatke and loved your take on it. A film on sexuality and giving equal credit to the female side of it is very commendable.
    That every one knows about the patient’s diagnosis except for the patient himself is enough to make me want me to tear out my hair. I do wonder if such conditions really occur about heart being too weak for sexual intercourse. I will have to ask my doctor friends about it.
    Loved your review, thank you.
    Did my comment (on my Mere Huzoor song-comment) from few moments back on your book in hindi films post land in spam or something or it didn’t get posted at all? Could you please check?

    • Since everybody is ‘raving’ about the ending, I watched the last twenty minutes or so. It is always a great pleasure to see Mala Sinha at the top of her histrionics. A greater surprise was that Vijay’s heart seems to be strong enough to go through all the angst and associated melodrama. Nevertheless nice to see a husband in Hindi cinema, who is concerned about his wife’s sexual gratification.

      • A husband though who bullies his wife to have his own way with no regards to her wishes.
        Spoiler alert
        A visit to sexologist and a certain shop would have saved her life, but this was in the 60s and in a small town in India…
        On the other hand Kamasutra does have remedies for such cases.
        Even if the story-writer and director were aware of it, which I don’t doubt, I think they were more interested in melodrama rather than prudence.

        • Yes, that bullying with no regard to her wishes – especially for something so major – just didn’t float my boat. Hated that bit. Liked that he was so solicitous of her needs, but didn’t know when to stop.

          “Even if the story-writer and director were aware of it, which I don’t doubt, I think they were more interested in melodrama rather than prudence.

          Exactly! We’d be left with no story, then. :-)

    • I can understand you getting confused between this and Bahurani, considering a similar cast (and the fact about the consummation of the marriage being delayed). Here, Feroz Khan played the part of Shankar, whom Sharda’s wanted her to marry. He has a small role – he comes in near the fag end of the film.

      I do remember hearing about people dying in the midst of sexual intercourse because of a heart attack, so I’m guessing that a weak heart could bring on death. But to not tell the patient? That is dumb. I’m surprised Guru Dutt’s character doesn’t pop off from sheer frustration at being all charged up and with no outlet all those days…

      “Did my comment (on my Mere Huzoor song-comment) from few moments back on your book in hindi films post land in spam or something or it didn’t get posted at all? Could you please check?

      I do check my spam folder everyday, because several perfectly innocuous comments land up there. But no, nothing from you. :-( Would you mind reposting, Harvey?

  2. Gosh, I remember this film as being an excrescence, a so-sorry-I’ll-never-get-three-hours-of-my-life-back blot on the filmi escutcheon. :)

    I watched it solely for Tu mere saamne hai and intrigued by the fact – as you stated – that a Hindi film ventured into the necessity for sex within marriage. But oh.. that ending made me want to pull every strand of hair out of my head.

    From your review, it looks like you didn’t dislike it as much. :)

    • “From your review, it looks like you didn’t dislike it as much. :)

      Well, I had a far worse Suhaagan to compare it to! And the reason I didn’t mind this so much was that the mother-in-law was shown as somewhat different from the usual style, plus of course the hatke theme of the story was refreshing – not something I’d expected from a Hindi film of the 60s.

      But, oh, the ending, Aaaarrgggh.

  3. Great review. I saw this film when I was thirteen or fourteen, and remember thinking that being frustrated was perfectly natural, but why on earth did she —- OK, no spoilers!

    And after all those years, I remember two snippets of the dialogue so well: one you referred to “usne agar Baap banne ki koshish ki, to iska nateeja theek nahin hoga”, and the other “samajh me nahin aata, use kaise bataoon” “maine bataa diya hai” “bahu, tumne??!!”

    What I didn’t like – the gushing-ness in the class in college, something about the symbolism of the trishul and all. The later melodrama didn’t really rile me. But then, as I said, early teens – everything is either high drama or insufferably mundane!

    • Yes, the gushiness was painful, wasn’t it? Oh, and I liked that Bahu, tumne?? dialogue. What irritated me was that Sharda stood out for so long before telling Vijay. I mean, come on. He had to know. It was not like an illness that would go away on its own.

  4. I am so glad you reviewed this film. It had been one of those films that I knew the story for, and had been completely turned off by. The whole idea that all the women know (and from your review, several others know) but oh we cannot tell the guy was ridiculous. The picturization of the song “Tu mere saamne hai” always seemed icky to me – with her crying and seductively shying away, he being blissfully unaware of her tears, and then the mother sort of watching it in silhouette and crying. One would think that it would be easier to tell him. If this had been about impotency, I could imagine the need to be careful about how you mention it – but for something like this, it seemed weird.
    One side-note – “Suhaagan” is a remake of a Tamil film called “Sarada” which starred Vijayakumari and S S Rajendran (real life couple as well). Vijayakumari has played soooooo many beset upon women in Tamil cinema and always managed to overdo the sadness and pathos. I have scenes from the film and was turned off – another reason I had stayed away from the Hindi film. The Tamil film did extremely well in the box office. Not sure about the Hindi film. It was also made in Telugu as “Sumangali” with Savitri in the main role, an actress I like a lot.

    I always think very highly of your reviews and your taste. So based on the above, I may watch the film. In terms of songs, I am very fond of the other Rafi solo as well “Mere pyaar me tujhe kya mila” in addition to the one I mentioned above.

    • I agree completely re: your comment about the picturization of Tu mere saamne hai. His blindness to her reaction, and the mother’s voyeurism, is icky. And the logic behind delaying the news didn’t fit. Yes, it might’ve been very awkward for the mother (considering this was the 60s – though I think that would probably still apply in India, to a large extent), but surely the wife? Surely she would not feel so very awkward? Given, too, that she knows him so well and they love each other so much?

      I hadn’t known this film was made in other languages too. Thanks for that information.

  5. I watched this movie when I was about 13 or 14, and obviously didn’t understand it. I did understand that Guru Dutt had a heart problem and could die any time, but never grasped the why and how of Mala Sinha having to stay away from him, or the reason for her reading the book Brahmacharya. I must have been a really innocent and naive teenager. I did like the songs, especially Tu mere saamne hai … and Bheegi chandni …, which is so beautiful, especially the Manna Dey parts. I remember a song sung by Lata, with Mala Sinha on the screen, looking at her mirror, which is a tri-fold mirror, and she sees her reflection in all three. This was relevant to me because we were studying mirrors and lenses in Physics at the time, and I was looking at the multiple images because that was one of the examples in the book. Now let me go and find that song and watch that part again!
    Love the comment about Mala Sinha needing other items of clothing as well, such as a petticoat, when she claims to be leaving with only the clothes given by her sasuraal wale! I am also impressed that this film was bold enough to discuss the topic of sex in those days. I don’t remember the ending that made Anu want to tear her hair off her head, but I am wondering if I should watch the movie again, just to see the ending. Maybe some day, let’s see! In the meantime, thanks for reviewing the movie.

    • “I must have been a really innocent and naive teenager.

      I am pretty certain that if I’d watched it when I was that old, I wouldn’t have grasped the situation correctly either! I was very naive too.

      I remember that scene with the trifold mirrors! (Incidentally, I’ve seen a similar mirror used in a brilliant movie named Lizzie, starring Eleanor Parker as a woman with a split personality – three women in one. There’s scene there were one woman sits down at the mirror to put on her makeup, and by the time she finishes, she’s another person. Eleanor Parker’s acting there was nothing short of brilliant).

      If you want to see what made Anu want to tear her hair out, you could do what Harvey did – go watch the last 20 minutes of the film! It’s there on Youtube.

  6. I remember seeing the original Tamil film although I could not recall the name, but luckily one of your readers mentioned it. I remember SS Rajendran who was famous for his dialogue delivery. Another novelty was that Ashokan, who was a permanent villain in films, got to play a small cameo in a totally benign role. Or was it a clever ploy to hint at what is in store for the heroine?

    • Interesting! I find it intriguing sometimes to see people who are typically cast in a particular type of role acting as someone completely different in the one-off film. For instance, Mehmood appeared in a cameo as a very severe-looking doctor in Ek Saal, who gets to tell Madhubala’s character that she only has a year to live… and Pran was a very benign doctor in one film (I’ve forgotten which).

  7. Like you and many others who have commented here, my main interest in this film would be “Tu mere saamne hai” but I have always wondered why he pays no attention to her tears… That’s very odd.

    It looks like you managed to watch the movie in its entirety which I am not sure I would be able to do after reading the review.. Thanks for saving me three hours!

  8. Your reviews are amazing. I don’t like comparisons but they are better than the likes I get to see in Hindustan Times or Firstpost. Regarding the premise of the movie, consummation was such a bold topic, given the era was 60s, it triggered my interest to watch the flick (at least give it a try).

    On another note, there was a scene from the series ‘Boardwalk Empire’, where a character popped off just by seeing his wife dancing, naked. However, he was quite old. So, the core idea of the film might not be too far-fetched. :D

    • Thank you, Jheelam! That’s very kind of you. :-)

      LOL about that anecdote! Hehe. I can just imagine. But yes, the idea isn’t really far-fetched, because I’m certain I’ve heard of people who’ve copped it during sex. Men, in particular, with weak hearts.

  9. Oh, good. You finally got to see this movie! And your review is everything that I hoped it would be. “Suhaagan” is another one of those movie that I can’t say I “liked” or “enjoyed” but am nevertheless glad was made, flaws and all. I can’t think of another Hindi film (even in the present era) that takes a look at female sexual desire, much less so sympathetically. “Jogan” (1950) flirts with the issue but doesn’t address it directly like “Suhaagan”. It’s because of the dearth of movies on this subject matter that I’m willing to forgive “Suhaagan” much, including the even more overwrought than usual Mala Sinha, but oh, that ending…:-(

    • I remembered that you were one of the people who’d mentioned this film a couple of times, Shalini. And yes, I think you put it better than I could – I can’t say I liked the film, or enjoyed it (definitely didn’t enjoy it, actually), but which I’m glad I saw, nevertheless. Because it is so unusual.

      And yes, oh, that ending, Ack!

  10. Good that I read through the comments . I was busy travelling the last few days so did not see this earlier. While reading through the review ,the story became more and more familiar till I realised that it was the same as the tamil film Sarada. I had assumed that it would have been borrowed from a bengali novel but no it was the original. so all this and more have been discussed.
    The movie had at least one excellent song but like most of you here I couldn’t care for the contrived ending.. the events leading up to it too were all over the top melodrama.
    I am giving you the link of the song

    Give it a try. if the heroine puts you off listen a second time with eyes closed it is at least for me a lovely lovely song.

    • Nice! I started watching it but got put off by the heroine’s OTT expressions and that vigorous fluttering of eyelashes, so listened to it. Lovely song – and the male playback singer’s voice is particularly my type. :-)

      • Knew he would like it. The male singer is a particular favourite of mine. P B Srinivas. He was a true polyglot. He could speak eight languages -Telugu (His mother tongue), Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi, English, Sanskrit and Urdu. He was proficient enough to write poetry in all of these languages. for a couple of tamil movies his ghazals in Urdu were used to great appreciation.
        You can find a wide range of songs if you search in youtube.
        Though off topic. I will link two or three songs that you may like


        • That’s very impressive! I wish I had a flair for languages – such a useful talent to possess.

          And thank you for giving me the links to those songs. Enjoyed them a lot. :-) The last one has music inspired from Besame mucho, if I’m not mistaken. And is this the same movie of which Pyaar Kiye Jaa was a remake? The setting, etc look absolutely the same as Kisne pukaara mujhe.

  11. Hi,
    After reading this I am thinking the problem seems to be Lack of Communication.
    If only one talks out things.
    You know in many movies when someone is suffering from a deadly disease, say cancer and has only a few months to live, the patients family usually says “Use mat batana Takleef hogi”. That gets me thinking “Are bimar to woh hai hi, uski takleef to hogi use aur marna to usne waise bhi hai.” So why not talk and prepare them.

    But that’s diverting from this movie and the ending. Personally I am ready to cut some slack for the movies made back in 50’s or 60’s. Because trust me these movies even together were not as regressive as some of the content that’s circulating on T.V. these days. If I start writing on them my comment will become a post.

    On the other note the movie in which Pran plays a benign doctor is I think Aah (1953). He plays Raj Kapoor’s doctor and friend and was really wonderful in it.

    • Well said. Your mention of the lack of communication, by the way, reminded me of an acquaintance who suffered a heart attack some years back. My mother rang up his wife to find out how he was, and Aunty told Mummy how it had happened, etc etc and then added, “Please don’t mention it to anyone. We haven’t even told him. He will unnecessarily get worried.” My parents and I both thought that was a foolish thing to do – after all, if somebody’s had a heart attack, he should take particular care about diet, exercise, etc, isn’t it? Obviously, since this man knew no better, he continued to eat horribly fatty foods, take little exercise, and just generally live as he used to. Sadly, died a few years later, of another heart attack. So it did nobody any good to withhold the information.

      Yes, you’re right about Pran being the doctor in Aah – thank you for helping me out there!

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