The Hindi film industry has always been an upholder of patriarchy. Its male stars attract ridiculously high prices in comparison to their female colleagues, and have disproportionately longer careers than them (plus a much longer time as leads). Sexism is rampant, ranging all the way from sexual discrimination to violence. And, though more women directors, scriptwriters, lyricists etc are around now, it’s still pretty much a male-dominated industry.
Hardly surprising, then, that most of our films tend to look at things (at best) from a male point of view. At worst, they uphold patriarchy in its most virulent forms, reducing women to a cypher, expected to devote their lives to the service of men. Ever-forgiving Sati Savitris, wrapped in saris and simpering prettily every time their lord and master deigns to be kind. Or unkind, it doesn’t matter; he is still her devta.
Doli is one such film, steeped in patriarchy and regressive in the extreme.
It begins in a college, where Amar (Rajesh Khanna) and Prem (Prem Chopra) have just graduated. Amar is the star athlete, Prem the star pupil who has topped the college and won a scholarship for higher studies in America. Later, in their dorm, both Prem and Amar receive letters from home, informing them that their weddings have been fixed. On the same day, in the same town, Nasik. Neither of them is happy about this, but Prem, having known already that a match had been found for him, is rather more resigned.
Prem’s fiancée is Shobha (Nazima) who lives with her widowed father (Nana Palsikar) and little sister (?). When we first meet her, Shobha is busy slaving away in the kitchen, clad in a sari and being the good traditional girl.
Amar’s fiancee is Asha (Babita), who had seen Amar’s photo in the newspaper after he won such accolades on the sports field. She swooned so much over him that her parents (played by Raj Mehra and Sulochana Chatterjee) approached Amar’s parents (played by Sunder and Praveen Paul) with the match, since they knew Amar’s family anyway. (This is alarming. Isn’t it risky marrying someone you’ve never met simply because he’s dishy?)
Prem goes home for his wedding, taking the news of his imminent departure for America. His brother and bhabhi (played by Om Prakash and Sulochana Latkar) are delighted, but this news makes Bhabhi realize that here’s a chance to arm-twist the prospective in-laws. So she bulldozes her husband, and off they go to Shobha’s, where Bhabhi makes it clear to Shobha’s distressed dad (Nana Palsikar is so good at doing the distressed dad) that he has to shell out Rs 10,000 to contribute towards Prem’s airfare and clothes.
Naturally, Daddy is distraught. He’s by no means wealthy. All his attempts to borrow from friends come to naught. On the day of the wedding, Prem’s Bhabhi and her hen-pecked husband (hen-pecked, it seems, only in this matter) again turn up to put the screws on Daddy. Having promised them that the money will be there at the time of the wedding, Daddy sees them off and sits down to fret.
His younger daughter Guddi, very concerned, asks him what’s the matter. When he tells her, she wonders why he doesn’t go get the money from the bank. From the mouths of babes, decides Daddy, and promptly goes off to see what can be managed. Naturally, the bank’s not going to give money to any passerby who doesn’t already have money in the bank, but Daddy sits there, watching people withdraw money…
One of these, though he’s unknown to Daddy, is Asha’s father. Asha’s father works as a khazanchi (treasurer or accountant) at a company and though it is his daughter’s wedding today, he has come to the bank to withdraw money for salaries. Shobha’s Daddy sees him stuff his bag with Rs 20,000 worth of notes. He therefore follows this man and at the bus stop, in the crowd getting on and off the bus, Shobha’s Daddy manages to steal the bag.
Thus it is that Prem’s greedy Bhabhi gets the Rs 10,000 she had demanded.
But Asha’s father, shattered by what he sees as a huge failure on his part (and affected by the callous remarks of nasty bystanders who are certain he must have stolen the money himself) legs it. He has lost his honour, how will he show his face to anybody, etc etc.
What happens as a result of this, of course, is predictable (which just goes to show how irresponsible Asha’s Dad has been by fleeing the scene). At Asha’s wedding mandap, people start getting restive when the bride’s father doesn’t turn up. Just as Amar’s father is starting to spout insults, the police turn up along with Asha’s father’s boss (Randhir). The boss, though he admits that his khazanchi has always been a good and very honest employee, is now certain that Asha’s father has embezzled the Rs 20,000 he had withdrawn from the bank.
Amar’s father throws a fit. Amar, who hadn’t been keen on getting married anyway, follows suit. Asha’s mother tries to plead with Amar’s mother, but while she’s sympathetic, she cannot summon up the courage to tell her boor of a husband (and equally boor of a son) that this is just not done. Both men decide they’re not getting Amar married into a family of thieves. So, up and away.
Asha, having discovered what’s happened, comes tearing out of her room and falls at Amar’s feet, clinging to his legs and begging him not to go. He is her everything, she loves him. Please, please. He doesn’t even look down at her (important thing to note. Also important thing to note, this man hasn’t even seen a photograph of the woman he’s supposed to have been marrying). Asha pleads anyway, begging him not to leave, he is her god, etc. (This woman has no self-respect).
Amar, having now shaken off Asha, is free to go and attend Prem’s wedding. Prem, of course, is surprised to see Amar turn up, all clad in wedding sherwani etc. Amar and his father explain what had happened, how Asha’s father, who works as khazanchi at so-and-so company, had embezzled Rs 20,000, and so on… Shobha’s father, standing nearby and eavesdropping on this conversation, is appalled. Oh, Lord. He has ruined another girl’s life just for the sake of his own daughter’s life. Oh, the guilt.
While Shobha settles happily into her in-laws’ home with Prem (who is quite besotted with her), her guilt-ridden father pulls out the remaining Rs 10,000 from inside his trunk and takes it to Asha’s house. When he gets there, he sees that Asha and her mother are leaving home: they’ve decided to make a fresh start in another town, where they won’t be the subject for gossip. The tonga in which Asha has stowed all their luggage is standing at the gate, and Asha goes in to fetch her mother. Shobha’s father, unseen by anyone, quickly tucks the ten grand into the bed roll before slipping away.
What happens, therefore, is that Asha and her mother, on reaching their destination and opening their bags, discover the ten thousand bucks and immediately jump to the conclusion that Asha’s absconding Daddy, whom they have loyally always believed to be innocent, is a rascally embezzler after all. Asha’s mother wants to burn the money, but Asha, showing a bit of common sense (for a change) takes it and says she’ll keep this to return, eventually, to the rightful owner. And she’s going to get a job so that she can earn enough to make up the shortfall.
Coincidentally enough (this film is full of coincidences), Asha gets a job in a typing school which is right opposite a school where Amar is the PE instructor. And, equally coincidentally, on her first day at her job, Asha meets Amar on the road. He, naturally, does not know who she is, but—(equally naturally, given that this is Hindi cinema)—he immediately falls for her, hook, line and sinker. He gives her a lift to the typing school, and writes a love note to her.
Asha is in seventh heaven. She pulls out that old newspaper clipping in which she had first seen Amar’s photo and lavishes it with more affection: now that destiny has sent him her way again, she will finally make sure he’s hers. (As I mentioned before, this woman has no self-respect).
Two years have passed by the time Prem gets home from America. America, as is to be expected (this being Hindi cinema…), has wreaked havoc with Prem. From being a scholarly, home-loving Indian male who eats parathas and drinks milk, he’s become a whisky-swigging, suited-booted boor who scoffs at bhindi and baingan (I’m not making this up. There’s a scene where the two vegetables are actually named). Of course, poor Sati Savitri Shobha stands no chance. This new and unpleasant Prem has been indulging in rang-raliyaan with smoking-drinking firang females in sheath dresses: Shobha in her sari and with her doe eyes doesn’t stand a chance.
She begs and pleads with Prem to stop drinking, and he throws her (and her father, and Guddi, who have all been living in this house along with Bhaiya and Bhabhi) out. Bhabhi and Bhaiya are furious and ashamed at how Prem’s behaving, so they also decide to leave, but Shobha begs them not to. Who will look after Prem if Bhabhi leaves? Who will feed him (presumably, something other than bhindi and baingan?) Who will be mother to this overgrown toddler? Please look after him for me, Shobha pleads, sobbing brokenly. (Another woman with zero self-respect).
So Bhabhi agrees (Woman #3, no self-respect). Shobha, Guddi and Daddy (who’s now wishing even more that he’d never stolen that money, if all it got him was this sorry excuse for a son-in-law) move to another home. Coincidentally, bang next door to where Asha and her mother live.
Meanwhile, the Asha-Amar romance is proceeding well. Asha has got a new job, and on the day before, meets the owner of the company. We see this man only in passing; as a character, he’s only there so that we can meet his driver. Who (coincidentally) is Asha’s Daddy, though now bearded and wearing sun glasses as a disguise. His daughter, this being Hindi cinema, doesn’t recognize him, though I do.
And guess who Asha’s boss, the manager, is? None other than Prem, who immediately gets the hots for Asha.
From which point on, the story goes even more haywire, with some nonsensical plotting, some more crazy coincidences, and just general regressiveness all around.
What I didn’t like about this film:
Most of it is detailed in the synopsis above, but if you want a summary: the story is horribly regressive, too reliant on coincidences, and just too full of irrational behaviour, extreme self-sacrifice (for no good reason) and other idiocy. Plus, characters are allowed to get away with really bad behaviour, not just by other characters, but by the script itself. Bhabhi’s greedy insistence on the ten grand, for instance, is what lies at the root of a lot of the problems, but nobody holds this against her.
Instead, all the women are busy devoting their lives to the men in them: being servile, obedient, ever-loving and patient, no matter how rude and boorish the men may be. And they are: to a man, each of the male characters in Doli is far from being a paragon. Om Prakash’s character addresses his wife as ‘Ulti khopdi’ even in public, while Sunder’s character keeps saying ‘Kin gadhon se paala pada hai’—besides being officious, insensitive and mean. Raj Mehra’s character runs away leaving his wife and daughter to hold the fort. Prem may be the designated ‘villain’—the drinking, womanizing sort—but Amar, suspicious and small-minded, is really not much better when it comes to morality.
Do not watch.
P.S. I nearly forgot. Yes, there is one thing that’s not bad: the music. Ravi composed the songs for Doli, to Rajinder Krishna’s lyrics. Sajna saath nibhaana is a song I was familiar with and like, but what came as a revelation was Aaj pilaade saaqi, which has to be one of the rare songs to which Prem Chopra lip-synced. And a good song, too!