Seema (1955)

Every now and then, I am reminded of a film which I’ve seen—often, many years ago—and which would be a good fit for this blog. Right time period, a cast I like, music I like. Some of these (like Pyaasa, Mughal-e-Azam or Kaagaz ke Phool) have been analyzed and reviewed so often and by so many stalwarts infinitely more knowledgeable than me that I feel a certain trepidation approaching them. Others are a little less in the ‘cult classic’ range, but good films nevertheless.

Like Seema. I remembered this film a few weeks back when I reviewed Naunihaal (also starring Balraj Sahni). At the end of that post, I’d inserted a very striking photo I’d found, of a young Balraj Sahni standing in front of a portrait of Pandit Nehru. Both on my blog and elsewhere on social media, some people remarked upon that photo: how young and handsome Balraj Sahni was looking in it. And I mentioned Seema, as an example of a film where Balraj Sahni appears as the hero. A hero of a different style than the type he played in Black Cat, but a hero nevertheless.

Billed first in the cast, however, is Nutan, who plays Gauri. Gauri lives with her Chacha (Shivraj) and Chachi (Praveen Paul). Chacha is an inveterate gambler who has convinced his wife that he’s busy hunting for a job—even Chachi knows that her husband is jobless. The only income of the household is courtesy Gauri, who works as a maid at a relatively well-off household.

Here, she is constantly hounded by the lecherous cook, Bankelal (CS Dubey), a nasty character who keeps making passes at Gauri. Gauri rebuffs him angrily every time, and in the process, ends up breaking a porcelain cup…

… which brings down on her head the wrath of the mistress. The end result is that, after many apologies, Gauri is allowed to retain her job, but the price of the cup is deducted from her salary. Not a pleasant situation to be in, especially when your salary is so meagre anyway.

This news is greeted with much raving and ranting on the part of Chachi. Chachi bemoans her generosity in having brought this orphan home: she’s a no-good burden, she can’t even do housework properly, and look at her, eating them out of house and home.

Never mind that Gauri is the one who does all the housework, and is yelled at if she doesn’t have her uncle’s breakfast ready when he decides to leave home early. Never mind too, if when she comes home late at night, it’s to find her relatives asleep—and all the food wiped clean from the pots and pans.

But Gauri, long-suffering and gentle, says nothing. After all, she has nowhere to go.

Matters come to a head one day at work. Bankelal, as usual, has been flirting with Gauri; she curtly dismisses him, and he decides to have his revenge. Banke has been playing with the toddler of the household; she’s wearing a gold chain around her neck, and Banke quietly pockets this. Then, while Gauri is busy scrubbing dirty dishes, he ties the gold chain in a knot at the end of Gauri’s sari pallu. Gauri doesn’t realize what’s happened.

… which is why, when the theft is discovered and the police are called in, Gauri calmly agrees to be searched. And is shocked and distressed when the mistress, searching Gauri, finds the chain. Gauri pleads her innocence, but nobody’s listening. Gauri is arrested.

Fortunately for her, the judge takes into account Gauri’s tender years and her so far unblemished reputation. Her Chacha is called upon to give a surety of Gauri’s future good conduct, and with that, a very relieved Gauri is allowed to go free. The relief, sadly, is shortlived. Chachi is furious: this wicked girl has blackened their name, besmirched their honour. And that, in addition to the fact that she’s now lost her job too.

Gauri is hopeful that she will get another job soon, though. She goes to various homes, asking for work, and finds none. At one home, the mistress of the house, asking Gauri why she left her previous employment, doesn’t appreciate Gauri’s honesty in admitting that she was fired—though unjustly—for stealing (Interesting bit of trivia: the actress here is a Mrs William. Someone I know through Facebook mentioned that Mrs William was a neighbour of theirs back in the 50s, and used to often come and chat with his mother). At another home, the single man who lives there blatantly asks Gauri, in a leering sort of way, what else she can do besides cleaning and cooking.

At an employment office, a clerk recognizes her as a ‘thief’ and she’s told to get lost: they won’t even entertain her request for employment.

As if that wasn’t all, Chachi and Chacha throw her out. Gauri pleads with them to let her stay: after all, they are her only relatives, and she has nowhere else to go. But to no avail.

By now, Gauri hasn’t eaten for two days. She’s hurt, she’s livid and smarting at the injustice of it all. Therefore, armed with a stick, she goes to Bankelal’s home to beat him up. She manages to get in a hard whack too, but Banke begs her to forgive him, and promises he’ll get her something to eat, for a start. He’s persuasive and seems so genuinely repentant (at least to the naïve Gauri) that she relents and sits down, only to have Banke return with the cops.

The cops don’t know what to do with Gauri: Chacha (thanks to that surety) is summoned, but since he refuses to have Gauri come home, there’s no help for it but to have Gauri sent to an ashram, a shelter home for orphans, homeless women and the like. The man in charge here is Ashok (Balraj Sahni), who’s universally known as Babuji. Gauri is hustled into his office, mad as hell, and Babuji’s attempts to introduce her to the others around—the superintendent Didi (Pratima Devi) and Babuji’s right hand man Murlidhar (Sunder)—are met with helpless rage.

Babuji is patient and kind, willing to let Gauri take time to settle down; but Gauri, embittered by her experiences, is furious with the world. She refuses to eat, and throws away whatever food is placed before her. She breaks things, she pours a bucket of hot water over the warden who’s trying to persuade Gauri to have a bath in the warden’s presence (personally, I’m with Gauri on this one. Privacy is important).

Amidst all of this, there’s the former pickpocket, Putli (Shubha Khote, in her debut role), who is also at the ashram, and who seems to be the only one unfazed by Gauri’s tantrums.

And, of course, there’s Babuji, who’s been looking at Gauri’s file, and has realized what this girl has been through. Will his understanding and support, Putli’s somewhat boisterous friendship, and the atmosphere of the ashram help heal Gauri’s wounds?

Seema is one of those rare films that have stayed with me. If I remember correctly, the last time I watched this, I was a teenager. Even then, I remembered a good bit of it. Gauri’s hurt and humiliation, which morphs into bitterness and rage, not just against the people who have ill-treated her, but against the world in general. Babuji’s gentle calm (which does explode at times; he’s not always patient). The end, which I remember being puzzled about, the first time I watched it.

What I liked about this film:

Gauri, and the development of her character. I liked the way Gauri’s character changes, the gradual shift from the sweet and mostly timid girl of the beginning to the furious, nearly uncontrollable hellion of later on. You can see how it happens, how and why the change occurs, and it’s believable. Plus, Nutan, despite being so young (she was about 18, I think, when this film was made), portrays Gauri very effectively.

Balraj Sahni. One of my favourites, and bringing with him a lot of dignity to his role as Babuji.

Last but not least, the music. By Shankar Jaikishan, to words by Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra. My two favourite songs from Seema are the beautiful Tu pyaar ka saagar hai and Manmohana bade jhoothe, but there are several others which are also good: Suno chhoti si gudiya ki lambi kahaani, Kahaan jaa raha hai tu ae jaanewaale,  Yeh duniya gham ka mela hai, and Baat-baat mein rootho na.

What I didn’t like:

Firstly, the preachiness which creeps in towards the end of the film. Yes, I can see a good social message here, but I do wish it had been put across in a less blatant manner. Compared to the more nuanced way the first half of the film plays out, the second half comes across as less subtle, and far more melodramatic.

Secondly, the romantic angle. This came so suddenly and abruptly that it didn’t make sense. Did director (and co-writer) Amiya Chakraborty suddenly realize a film wouldn’t be complete without a romance? Because this one comes right out of the blue (in fact, when I first watched this film on Doordarshan, years ago, I couldn’t believe that was the end—I was certain there was more to come, that something had been skipped or edited out or something). Given two actors of the calibre of Nutan and Balraj Sahni, there was scope for building up a touching love story here. What we get, though, is a hurried and hard-to-believe tying up of loose ends.

Still, all said and done, not a bad filml. And if you like Nutan and/or Balraj Sahni, definitely worth watching just for them.

30 thoughts on “Seema (1955)

  1. There is something about Seema that once you watch it, you remember it even after a long time. Apart from Nutan and Balraj Sahni, who were both wonderful in the film, Shobha Khote too does a fantastic job, esp given that this was her debut film. Infact Amiya Chakraborty extracts good performances from his entire cast.
    Coming to Amiya Chakraborty, I have always maintained that he was among the finest directors of 40’s and 50’s hindi cinema, someone who had given remarkable films like Basant, Patita, Seema and Dekh Kabira Roya; the last two being among my personal favorites. I guess his early unfortunate death ensured that he isn’t talked about as much as he deserves, something which also happened with the equally gifted and his ‘intense’ rival Gyan Mukerji!!

    • I agree completely about Seema having great recall value – once you’ve seen it, it does tend to stay with you. Agree too about Amiya Chakraborty. That man will remain one of my favourite directors even simply on the basis of Dekh Kabira Roya, which is a favourite film of mine. I remember the first time I watched that one: it was being aired on Doordarshan, late at night, and all my father (whom my sister and I applied to, to find out if a film was worth watching) had to say was, “It had superb music.”

      From the name of the film, my sister and I expected something preachy and draggy, but since we always agreed with our father’s taste in music, we sat up late and watched the film – and ended up loving it to bits!

      Didn’t know Chakraborty died young. How sad. :-(

  2. I saw this film on Doordarshan sometime in the 80s and not after that. Completely agree about the romantic angle being sudden and incongruous.
    Nutan is brilliant – her range and ability as an actress especially given her age is amazing. One particular scene that has always stood out for me is the song “Man mohana baDe jhooTe”. I LOVE the song, but the best part is Nutan’s lip syncing for the song. It is next to impossible to believe that she is not singing it herself. I have gone back to just that scene on youtube multiple times just to be wowed by that.
    Balraj Sahni is as always brilliant – and Shubha KhoTe stands out – I did not realize that this was her first film. Really nice film despite the slightly over-wrought melodrama at times. One thing that bothered me was why the chacha and chachi would alienate the one wage-earner in the family (cannot recall if their circumstances changed to enable that).

    • Agree about the Chacha-Chacha pretty much killing the goose that laid golden eggs by kicking Gauri out. That was never quite resolved. Perhaps they had really deluded themselves into thinking they’d be better off without her, and that his gambling would start bringing in money? One can only speculate.

      Oh, yes. Nutan’s lip-syncing to Manmohana bade jhoothe is superb. It’s impossible to say that she isn’t singing it. Beautifully done.

      • Nutan was herself an accomplished singer. Not only ‘ manmohna ‘, but in majority of the songs that she sang on screen, her lip syncing has always been absolutely realistic.
        In film CHHABILI that her mother produced, Nutan had sung a solo ‘ ay mere hamsafar ‘ and a duet with Hemant Kumar ‘ lehron pe lehar ‘ wonderfully well. It’s strange how and why she did not get any singing assignments afterwards, at least in her own films. May be, she herself was against it.
        A great actress, no doubt and my personal favourite. To me, SEEMA is one of her very best along with BANDINI and SUJATA.

  3. Great to read this review. Yes, I too watched this movie as a teenager, (many many many years ago), though I saw youtube videos of some of the songs more recently, and I still remember the story. I too felt then that the end was too abrupt, good to know that I hadn’t missed out nuances earlier. I don’t remember preachiness. Maybe I should see it again.

    I think I saw this and Sujata in quick succession and became a Nutan fan for life!

    There’s another Nutan film that I saw then and again, remember the story quite vividly, but not the film name. Her character is in a rural area, her father is some big shot and it starts with her presenting a farming award to a young farmer. Then he gets married, has a child, his wife dies tragically, under much pressure to get a mother for his child he ends up marrying Nutan, but says he will accept her as wife only when his daughter will accept her as mother. And the 2-year-old is stubborn. But there’s a happy ending. Do you know this film? I think it had Raj Kumar.

    • Thank you, Meena, I’m so glad you enjoyed this review!

      I noticed that Anu provided an answer to your question, which is good, since I didn’t know which film this was. Is Rishte-Naate good? By the mid-60s, Nutan was working in a series of really melodramatic and weepy roles, so I tend to steer clear of her work from that era…

  4. Madhu, Seema holds a special place in my heart because that’s the first film I saw Balraj Sahni in. (Must have been around the same time you saw it too – Doordarshan in the 80s.) I’d a huge problem with the ending, not because he was so much older and she was his ward (and I would think that relationship inappropriate today) but because, as you said, I didn’t see anything but avuncular affection for her (from him), and I thought, for her, it was a sort of hero worship. That ending seemed shoehorned in.

    But it was a good movie nevertheless, and my favourite song in that, apart from Manmohana is Kahaan jaa rahi hai tu ae jaanewaale. Thanks for bringing back memories. I need to revisit this.

    @Meena, the film you’re referencing is Rishte Naate, a remake of Karpagam/

    • “I didn’t see anything but avuncular affection for her (from him), and I thought, for her, it was a sort of hero worship. That ending seemed shoehorned in.

      So true! There didn’t seem anything even remotely like romantic feeling between them. And these two are capable of depicting that – after all, they did play a romantic couple in Sone ki Chidiya – so I guess it’s just the writing that’s all rushed.

      Thank you for identifying Rishte-Naate. I hadn’t known which film that was. Any good? By the mid-1960s, Nutan was working in some truly awful films, so I’m inclined to not want to explore it…

      • Re: Rishte Naate: Wimpy hero, martyred heroine, manipulative father-in-law… avoid. :) (Maybe listen to the songs – they are by Madan Mohan.)

        The Malayalam version, VIshukkani, (remade from the original) is a far better film – the hero was not wimpish, the heroine was understanding not martyred and it has fabulous songs by Salil Choudhury.

      • As Anu said, “Rishte Naate” is meh. THe original “Karpagam” in Tamil which was KR Vijaya’s first film was better – though it is a typical tearjerker of its time. I was never a fan of Gemini Ganesan and this film did nothing to change my mind :-) But the female leads are very good. KR Vijaya in her debut is surprisingly good, and Savitri (who plays the role that Nutan did in Hindi) has always been a favorite of mine. The music is outstanding – all songs sung by P Susheela who excels. Madan Mohan did not come close in the Hindi version IMO.
        I did not know that Vishukkani was the Malayalam equivalent. Thanks for sharing that info Anu.

        • Hehe. Your remark about Gemini Ganesan made me smile. Because next month, I’ll be reviewing the first-ever Gemini Ganesan film I watched (it wasn’t bad, and he wasn’t bad, but yes, it didn’t endear him to me – and the second film of his I watched only made me like him less).

        • Missed responding to this, sangeetbhakt. If you understand Malayalam, do watch the film. It’s rather sweet. The acting is top-class. Sharada plays the role that Savitri played in the original. And the music – Salilda did give some of his best music to Malayalam films.

  5. Madhuji,

    It’s been a long time since I saw Seema. I remember only a few of the scenes, mainly of Nutan expressing her anger and frustration at an unjust world. I loved Shubha Khote in the movie. She looks quite a seasoned artist despite this being her first movie. Perhaps, Balraj Sahni’s role is too idealistic to be real. Even in today’s world, the indifference and brutality in today’s shelter homes have shown up the caretakers, so in those days it must have been worse. It is preachy indeed but the fact is that movies in the 50s never cared to be subtle. I agree that romance in this movie sticks out like a sore thumb.
    K B Patil

    • Yes, Nutan – especially given her young age – is really good in Seema, as is Shubha Khote, who doesn’t come across as a gauche debutante. I agree with you about Baraj Sahni’s character being too idealistic. He does have moments when he loses his temper, but he otherwise tends to come across as too good to be true.

  6. Thank you for reviewing this! Call me a sappy romantic, but the moment I saw your screenshots of Nutan and Balraj Sahni, my first thought was I hope they fall in love. Imagine how good looking their children will be 😊

  7. Excellent review.
    I haven’t seen this one, but now after reading all the comments, I think I can guess the ending.
    But still for Nutan I’ll watch it. I’m totally in love with young Nutan and young Meena Kumari (I think you would remember the latter being my crush).
    Both the ladies look gorgeous and most beautiful to me in the films of 50s at least.

    And, Shubha Khote looks too pretty as well. I always wonder inspire of having good looks and acting, why did not she get roles as a first lead? I know she did some films as a lead, but didn’t succeed. I wonder why?

    Manmohana bade jhoothe is excellent.
    So is Tu pyar ka Sagar Hai.

    :-)

    • Shubha Khote did not receive her due.
      She was slotted opposite Mehmood,
      which, you will agree is rather a handicap to
      be paired with established Heroes. The same
      happened with Aruna Irani.
      However, she was paired opposite Sunil
      Dutt in ‘Didi’ which had the excellent song
      ‘Tum Mujhe bhool bhi Jai’
      Nitin

      • Yes, Tum mujhe bhool bhi jaao is possibly the main highlight of Didi (and I agree, excellent song) – but even there, though she’s paired with Sunil Dutt, Shubha Khote actually doesn’t have a lot of screen time. The lead actress, who acts the eponymous didi, is Jayshree.

        A pity that Shubha Khote got slotted so early in her career. She did have a fairly interesting and unusual role in another Nutan film, Paying Guest, but otherwise most of the time she ended up being – as you so correctly pointed out – cast opposite Mehmood. In fairly forgettable comic roles (the only film I can think of where the Mehmood-Shubha Khote pairing wasn’t outright comic is Godaan). Such a shame; she could have been a far better lead than several other leading ladies.

        But then, we do have Dekh Kabira Roya, where she’s wonderful. :-)

    • Yes, it’s a good film, besides the songs. I think what really works is the gradual way Gauri is shown losing her faith in mankind and becoming bitter – it’s a series of events, not one sudden disaster. And yes, Nutan is lovely (though I think to see her in her absolutely gorgeous prime, you should watch Shabaab – she’s jaw-droppingly lovely there). ;-)

      Yes, Shubha Khote didn’t get her due. She was both pretty and a good actress, but got slotted far too early in her career. Such a shame.

  8. Madhu,
    Doordarshan’s new avatar DD National, too, comes up with old gems. In Nutan-series on a Sunday 12pm I saw this movie. My all-time favourite is ‘Bandini’, not only for Nutan, but a lot of other things, such as Ashok Kumar, the story, the script, the atmosphere, the climax and the music. ‘Seema’ is nowhere near. But the lead actors are outstanding, the music is very good. And your review is outstanding.

    What I stands out is Balraj Sahni’s patience and faith. I remember the song ‘Kahan ja raha hai tu aye jaanewale’. The final transformation follows naturally, but not the romance.
    AK

    • Oh, I’d no idea DD National still aired these old films. That restores my faith in humanity, somewhat.

      I agree about Bandini, I think it’s Nutan’s best film, and overall such a good film too. Unusual, haunting, and another film one can’t forget easily. So much to like and admire about it.

  9. What stunning music this film has. Not to mention it has Balraj Sahni – one of the finest actor ever produced by Bollywood – and Nutan too. I have seen the movie but had forgotten most of it. Thanks to your review I went down the memory lane. Precious ❤️

  10. Nutan was an actor par excellence, across comedies and the tragic. I love her in Tere Ghar ke Saamne, especially, and Sujata. I remember this movie from my childhood but it made me feel depressed so i have never wanted to go back to see it. I do remember even as a child feeling that the romance was very weird, and more from his side than hers…

    • I love her in Tere Ghar ke Saamne too – she’s so feisty and delightful there. I think Nutan was an extremely versatile actress, so good at so many different types of roles.

      To be honest, it didn’t even seem as if the romance here was on the Balraj Sahni character’s part. Neither of them really seemed to love each other, at least not in the way one expects in a romantic relationship. He treats her with an avuncular affection, and she hero-worships him. Or that was my impression.

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