Balraj Sahni ranks as one of my favourite actors. He brought a sense of dignity to pretty much every role he essayed, and there were very few roles which he could not pull off convincingly. That said, there was a certain type of film that he very often got slotted in: the family drama. These films, often made by production houses like AVM Productions, equally often followed a fairly predictable pattern.
A close-knit joint family (with Balraj Sahni as its head, usually as elder brother) lives in one home, each member of the family devoted to the other, each going out of their way and being self-sacrificing to smoothen the way for the others. Then, as the result of a wedding (usually of a younger male relative, often a character who’s the younger brother of Balraj Sahni’s character), a somewhat headstrong chhoti bahu enters the household. She is warmly welcomed and is inclined to be as sweet to others as others are to her [after all, the hero has fallen in love with her; she cannot be out-and-out bad]. But, someone evil and self-serving or just plain old malicious lurks in the vicinity. A neighbour, a close relative (often a step-relative, step-brother, step-sister, etc, of the bahu—since, again, blood relations can’t be all bad) or other person who despises the family for its saccharine sanctimoniousness, decides to throw a spanner in the works.
With the result that poor Balraj Sahni’s character gets the short end of the stick. He and his long-suffering spouse lose their home, their child (or children) fall ill, someone goes blind, they are nearly [not definitely, since they have so much self-respect] reduced to begging in the streets.
Here, Balraj Sahni plays Kailash, a letter-writer who offers his services to those illiterates who cannot write for themselves. Kailash and his wife Uma (Nargis) and their daughter Bharti (Baby Devika) live with Kailash’s younger brother Deepak (Rajendra Kumar), who is studying law and on whom all of their hopes are pinned.
When Ghar Sansar begins, this ghar ka chiraagh is busy picnicking with his college mates. After the picnic’s over, Deepak accompanies his girlfriend Jyoti (Kumkum) to her home. As soon as they reach home, Jyoti’s blind father (?), hearing her come in, starts raving and ranting about how she’s being a bad girl, going about gallivanting. When Jyoti tells her father off for scolding her in front of a visitor—and tells her father who the visitor is—Daddy gets even angrier. He will especially not have Jyoti gadding about with some good-for-nothing like Deepak.
A very hurt Deepak leaves [he needn’t be despondent, though: with names like those, you can be sure Deepak and Jyoti are destined for each other]. Jyoti, very upset too, goes off crying to her room. And her brother, Baanke (Johnny Walker), who’s also a friend and college mate of Deepak and Jyoti’s, arrives. Baanke wonders why Daddy is so het up about the Deepak-Jyoti romance, and Daddy deigns to tell him.
The shameful truth emerges: years ago, Daddy (who is now a Rai Bahadur, but back then was a lowly Heeralal) had embezzled funds. He had allowed another man, a fellow clerk, to be implicated in the affair (or had deliberately framed him; it’s not clear) and the man was arrested. In anguish at the dishonour this arrest caused, the man committed suicide [obviously, faith in the judicial system and police investigations being in short supply].
He left behind him a young son, who, now that he would be a grown man, Daddy intends to have as a son-in-law. [Why any man would want to marry the daughter of the man who caused, whether directly or indirectly, his father’s death, is beyond me. Also, why does Daddy not realize that if the groom in question isn’t a saint, this could mean throwing Jyoti to the wolves?]
So. Jyoti cannot afford to get too fond of Deepak. She can’t be his.
Meanwhile, Uma and Deepak experience the malice of their neighbour, Maneka (Shammi). Deepak’s exams are approaching and he’s busy studying at home when Maneka instigates the neighbourhood boys to gang up and start singing loudly and tunelessly outside Deepak’s room. Uma, distressed, rushes out and tells the boys to please stop. But they, egged on by Maneka (who is careful to keep herself out of sight), pay no heed and instead start singing even louder.
This leads to unforeseen and unfortunate consequences. There is a tussle; one of the boys falls down and hits his head on the railing of a staircase. His friends all run off, and while Uma is trying to revive the boy, his irate father comes along (summoned by Maneka), and raises hell.
Deepak too has emerged and comes to his bhabhi’s rescue. The father is sent off along with his son, and Uma has a chat with Deepak. This can’t go on, she says. Deepak will never get his studies done at this rate. It’s best that he join the college hostel and go live there. At least he’ll be able to study in peace. Deepak says that won’t be possible; the hostel will cost Rs 100. They cannot possibly afford it.
For a family where, when little Bharti asks for an extra roti at mealtime, both her parents are ready to sacrifice their roti for her—because there’s no room for extra rotis—yes, Rs 100 will be very difficult to shell out. But impossible? Uma decides no; even if it means extra work for her (she stitches for people), even if it means borrowing money from the local moneylender (?), who is Maneka’s father.
Maneka’s father lends Uma the money she asks for and says he won’t take up more of her time by making her wait while he enters the amount in his ledger. Uma, gratefully accepting the money, goes off. [She should know better, considering she is already well aware of what Maneka’s like. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?]
Anyway, with the hundred rupees Uma gives him, Deepak goes off to the hostel and gets down to studying. Jyoti comes visiting, and is surprised to discover that he’s so poor he can’t even afford to give her a cup of tea (he surreptitiously gives her the tea he’d made for herself and drinks water). However, Jyoti is also affected by this: does he think her so paraayi that he cannot let her know of his poverty? When he refuses the money she offers, she promises that she will be with him, live with him when they’re married, even if it’s in the direst poverty.
All seems blissful. They even have the time to go out on a date and sing a song beside the river.
In the meantime, though, aware of just how shaky their finances are as a family, Kailash has found a night job, working at doing the accounts for a local trader. He works all day as a letter-writer and through much of the night, slogging away for Deepak’s sake.
The next time Jyoti comes visiting Deepak, it happens to be on the eve of Deepak’s exam. He’s neck-deep in books and tells her that he can’t come out with her—at which Jyoti throws a hissy fit and behaves in an utterly juvenile manner. She runs off, gets into her car, and starts up. Deepak, running out into the road to stop her, nearly gets hit by some passing traffic—but it’s Jyoti, turning around to see what’s happening, who loses control of her car and has an accident.
Deepak takes her to hospital, waits there for a while, goes back to study (but isn’t able to, he’s so abstracted and tense), and then returns to the hospital. He is told that visitors aren’t allowed now, so goes back to the hostel… and tries desperately to catch up with his studying. Eventually, exhausted, he falls asleep, and comes awake only when the peon comes to his room the next morning, to inform him that the exam is already well under way.
Deepak rushes off to the examination hall, but (despite pleas to the principal) is refused. He is so upset that he writes a suicide note and sends it to Kailash and Uma, who read it and are beside themselves with grief. Fortunately for all concerned, Baanke arrives, dragging along with him a teary and remorseful Deepak: he tried to kill himself, but Baanke saved him.
Kailash comforts his brother, telling him that all is not lost; failures are merely stepping stones on the way to success. Deepak must pick himself up and continue to move on. At this, Deepak admits that there is a way: he can go to Delhi and give the exam there. The only problem is, that will need Rs 300. Kailash, despite his two jobs (both ill-paying) and Uma, despite her work as a seamstress, cannot hope to earn that much money, certainly not in a matter of a few hours.
… so, without telling either of the men what she’s doing, Uma again goes to Maneka’s father and this time gives him the only thing of value she has left: her mangalsutra. And, as blithely naïve as before, signs against a blank space in his ledger, which he promises he’ll fill later.
Deepak accepts the money, goes to Delhi to give the exam, and, as can be expected, is successful. Finally, finally, relief. Everybody is overjoyed.
The local purohit comes to Uma with a marriage proposal for Deepak (Deepak arrives just as Uma is turning down the proposal, saying that this wedding can never be, since the bride is the daughter of Kailash and Deepak’s old enemy). The purohit goes his way, and soon after, Baanke too turns up with a marriage proposal for Deepak: Jyoti. He speaks to Kailash, tells him about how Deepak and Jyoti are already in love, and basically convinces Kailash that this is the perfect jodi.
At the wedding, there is a hiccup: when, after many (increasingly frantic and suspicious) questions regarding Jyoti’s father (whom no-one from Kailash’s family has met yet), the man finally emerges. Kailash sees that it is the very man because of whom Kailash and Deepak’s father killed himself all those years back. Kailash immediately wants to stop the wedding, but Uma comes to the rescue. What Jyoti’s father did is no fault of Jyoti’s, so why should she have to pay for it?
So the wedding takes place and the new bahu comes home.
And, as may be expected, soon after, the scourge of the neighbourhood, Maneka, comes visiting…
What I liked about this film:
The music, by Ravi. My very favourite song from Ghar Sansar is Yeh hawa yeh nadi ka kinaara (which, I must admit, was the reason I watched this film in the first place), but there are several others which are good too: Chhedo dhun matwaalon ki is the quintessential picnic song; Soja meri rani mera kehna na taalna is a lovely little lullaby; and Bhabhi kare appeal aur phir devar bane vakil is a very unusual song when it comes to lyrics, because it’s all about lawyers and the law.
And, Nargis and Balraj Sahni. Both of them bring a quiet dignity to their roles and come across as kind and sweet people, but not the complete pushovers older siblings and their spouses often tend to be in this type of film. They bear a lot, but when it gets too much, they also lose their tempers, they also speak up against people who level allegations against them, and—most human of all—they also find it difficult to forgive.
What I didn’t like:
The predictability of it all: you could pretty much see almost exactly where this film was headed, pretty early on.
Not a brilliant film, but not even the worst of its genre. And the music is good.