Doli (1969)

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!

31 thoughts on “Doli (1969)

  1. Is it the first time that you have stamped a film thus- “Do not watch.” ?
    You however seem to have had a wonderful time in tearing the movie. The whole review was fantastic but the one below is just too good!
    ” His daughter, this being Hindi cinema, doesn’t recognize him, though I do.”
    How could she not recognize her father? It was not as if she got lost in a mela when she was young?
    The story writer seems to have lost his marbles.
    Is it possible not to see a girl who falls down on your feet?
    Oh my my! I do need a time machine to go back in time and watch this movie in a theater with my hostel friends and enjoy the stupidity….. as only we at that time could!
    Babita as the sati savitri is a curious choice?
    To be fair to the makers though, from your review it would seem that all the characters were stupid irrespective of gender. their own take of gender equality perhaps.
    Your pain in watching the film would definitely be alleviated by the enjoyment of us readers.
    Chin up!


    • “Is it the first time that you have stamped a film thus- “Do not watch.” ?

      No. There are plenty of others which I have tagged with that. Dil Ne Phor Yaad Kiya and Noormahal among the more recent reviews, for instance.

      That bit about her not recognizing her own father, actually, isn’t all that rare. After all, there are so many films where people disguise themselves – with beards, sun glasses, face paint – and seem to be able to fool lovers, parents, everybody.

      Agree about Babita being an odd choice for the Sati Savitri. And about the stupidity being across genders. ;-)


  2. His daughter, this being Hindi cinema, doesn’t recognize him, though I do.

    This sentence is classic Madhulika Liddle. Makes me almost want to watch the movie. Almost.


  3. A lesser known film from Kaka’s filmography, this film Doli was a remake of a telugu film by the same director. Both were hits. Its not the worst films I’ve seen. Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya (1966) which you reviewed recently was much worse and that was also a hit and the Dharmendra-Nutan-Rehman trio returned with comparatively much better (atleast to me) ‘Dulhan Ek Raat Ki'(1967), a version of the Thomas Hardy novel ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’.
    All these films though have good music. I liked the music of ‘Doli’ and love the Prem Chopra song.
    ‘From being a scholarly, home-loving Indian male who eats parathas and drinks milk, he’s become a whisky-swigging, suited-booted boor’
    Didn’t the same happen to Prem Chopra in Upkar and Purab aur Pashchim’?


    • Yes, the same happened to Prem Chopra in other films too. And to other male characters in various other films… this trope of the ‘good’ Indian man going abroad and being corrupted by Western influences is another regressive trope which I find very irritating.


  4. The real issue I have with such melodramas is not patriarchy but that we, the audience is supposed to root for the ‘self-sacrificing’ lead character. Seen it in many films.
    Strangely, the first film I saw that self sacrificing trope was not by a female character and not in the earlier years but the 70s. It was Amitabh of all people in ‘Muqaddar ka Sikandar’ , the first Bachchan film I ever saw. It has been hailed like a classic, specially its tragic ending which I disliked. I did realize Amitabh played devdas in it. But I rewatched it and everytime I wonder. Amitabh is depressed in the entire movie. why still it needs to end tragically? Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari suffer in their tragic films but they do have a happy ending, mostly. don’t they?
    the film did make me a Rekha fan and I was sympathetic to the so called villain , Amjad Khan by the end. ( not sure if that is what the director intended).
    For some reason, Rajesh Khanna not seeing the bride’s face in ‘Doli’ kind of reminded me of Vinod Khanna not knowing who Amitabh’s ‘memsaab’ was till the climax. Vinod was wasted in the film anyway IMO.
    ps. Dev Anand is my favorite probably due to his films not having such tropes. Shammi Kapoor’s movies as well, but the ‘stalking’ in his films just doesn’t look good these days.


    • Those love triangles so popular from the 60s onwards seem to have done the self-sacrificing bit very often. Oddly enough, Feroz Khan was often in films of that nature – Safar, Upaasana, Qurbani, Aarzoo are among the films where he and his best friend both fell in love with the same woman, and one of them gave himself up so that his friend could get the girl (another thing I find regressive: the woman is generally assumed to have no say in the matter).

      I watched MKS so long back, I’ve pretty much forgotten all of it. I do remember that it made little impression on me.


  5. When I started going through this article and saw that Rajesh Khanna was one of the leads, the first thought that struck my mind was that he was considered to be the ”First Superstar of Indian Cinema”(the only reason I think he was given this title was because cinema had become much more commercial and outreaching in the late 60s….ideally it should have been given to Ashok Kumar.) Anyways, coming back to the point … I don’t remember any female being given that title…..even in the 50s Meena Kumari,Nutan,Nargis,Vyjayantimala could hold a film on their own….but none were given that title…


    • I suppose that’s another example of the heavily male-biased nature of the Hindi film industry? And I don’t think it’s changed, not even in all these years. I don’t recall any of the more recent actresses being referred to as ‘superstars’.


  6. It seems it’s better to stay away from the film. Anyways, Rajesh Khanna is not among my favourites.
    And it’s really not a good idea to offer a Sati Savitri role to Babita.
    Anyways, thanks for the review. Saved precious hours.



  7. Oh, I’ve seen this movie – way back when I was young and naive and hadn’t learned about the dangers and horrors that lurk behind film titles like “Doli.” 8-D I remember thinking, it’s a 1969 Rajesh Khanna movie, how bad could it be? Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have your bitingly hilarious review to warn me – do not watch! Oh, well, as you note at least there a few nice songs to console oneself with.


  8. I remember thinking, it’s a 1969 Rajesh Khanna movie, how bad could it be?

    Madhu, Madhu, Madhu, you’ve outdone yourself. One thing that bad movies do to you is to hone your humorous asides! I must say that my enjoyment of your review is exponentially more than my enjoyment – or lack thereof – of the movie. Having been weaned on HIndi movies, I knew that films with names like *Parivar, Bhabhi, Badi Behen, Devar, Doli, Sindoor* et al were regressive as hell, but I still watched *Doli* because, as Shalini said, ‘It’s a 60s Rajesh Khanna movie, how bad could it be? Well, I lived and I learnt!

    But your review made me laugh so much. I don’t much care for Babita (though there’s a marked resemblance to Karisma in two of the screenshots above), but poor Nazeema – what on earth did she do to deserve such a fate?


    • :I knew that films with names like *Parivar, Bhabhi, Badi Behen, Devar, Doli, Sindoor* et al were regressive as hell

      Yes! What is it with all these ‘family-and-marriage’ titled films that make them so absolutely execrable? To that list I’d add Chhoti Bahen, Bhai-Bhai and Bhai-Bahen. If not horribly regressive, at least melodramatic, silly, and not worth sitting through.

      I don’t care for Babita either; never did like her – but yes, Nazima is sweet, and didn’t deserve this mess of a film. I adore her in Manchali, by the way.


  9. “The Hindi film industry has always been an upholder of patriarchy” — you deserve so much appreciation just for stating the simple truth boldly and right at the top of this review @Dustedoff! And many critical reviews of one recent ‘big film’ show that not much has changed between 1965 and 2018:

    Kindly permit me to take a somewhat lengthy issue with this film’s patriarchal premise and ‘message’, which even makes Bollywood appear misogynist — with all due respect to the filmmaker’s right to his freedom of expression, the idea of women jumping into fire to ‘save their honour’ is both gruesome and so very futile, and also deeply offensive in these troubled times, even to so-called men like myself, although it was programmed into those women’s minds by male-dominated society, when in fact the survival of the people should always be the highest imperative.

    This queen (who may or may not have existed in a bygone era) led thousands of women to their doom even though invaders historically don’t tend to kill the ‘enemy’ females, who are actually perceived as wife material.

    Do we really need such characters and such themes? Blindly internalising and obeying such a catastrophically patriarchal idea shows, to echo your line from this review, that “this woman has no self-respect” — and making a whole film depicting and thereby upholding such dubious ‘virtue’ in this day and age is so useless and so regressive.

    Leading anyone into certain death is immoral in any situation. What was the actress thinking while portraying this leadership role: do or do not lead actors and actresses have an ethical responsibility in their own right, quite distinct from the filmmaker?

    I declined to watch this film because its storyline is too faithful to a legend that only serves the interests of patriarchy. Even a highly critical portrayal of such ideologically-compelled mass suicide cannot achieve any effective protest against male chauvinist society or serve as a condemnation of antiquated or extant tribal codes.

    Why couldn’t the director have instead made a thick slice of socially relevant alternative history where the heroine-queen refuses to lead women into the fire, whatever be the consequences? The resultant ‘constitutional crisis’ could have been the real focus of the narrative. It would have created a rebellious and memorable finish, even if ahistorical, though this whole incident as currently believed lacks the proof of history anyway. But we should not expect a mainstream Bollywood director to make a feminist film…

    Bollywood is patriarchal because Indian society (like all other major nations, to varying extents) remains patriarchal. Films are produced and consumed from men’s point of view even though fully half of potential viewers are women. There is a deeply unattractive “male nexus” between filmmakers and their audience, which used to dictate the choices and behavior of female characters in the golden age of Hindi cinema, and continues to do so today.

    Certain male characters and male directors might occasionally act as ‘saviors’ but women are still not expected to save themself, nor rebel against the status quo. Hence feminism in movies can get bashed by vested political groups and also rejected by the viewing public.

    Women should be prepared for that, but they still need to become independent filmmakers and make many more hard-hitting feminist films, in order to highlight historical and current systemic injustice, and demand change from both cinema and society. Also, Indian women in general should support and celebrate feminist films.


    • Bravo! That’s a really insightful comment, and I agree with it so completely. The problem is that too many women too have been so utterly brainwashed into accepting this patriarchy, that they don’t see anything wrong with it. Not in the way women are supposed to be the ones making sacrifices, and not in the way women are always stereotyped (I find something deeply unsettling even in the ‘devi’-fication of women, the idea that a woman must be either a goddess or a mother in order to be respected).

      There are women making good films now (and web series), but I think we’re still a long, long way from being anywhere close to parity when it comes to gender equality on that front.


      • “Too many women have been so utterly brainwashed into accepting this patriarchy, that they don’t see anything wrong with it […] I find something deeply unsettling even in the ‘devi’-fication of women” — that’s very true, thanks @Dustedoff. Your reviews and comments have been helping me to understand the broad trends and tropes underlying the ideologies of Indian cinema, particularly in quite naturally and unconsciously serving the wider patriarchal agenda of Indian society.

        A good scholarly article I read last month makes the notable point regarding the “courtesan film” that women characters in Bollywood could be either the Devi or the Tawaif, but not both, nor something-in-between (though this might be possible today) and a born Tawaif could never become a Devi, though she might die trying, although a born Devi that had through unfortunate circumstances become a Tawaif could become a Devi again, if she found a male saviour and a sympathetic director! This was apparently what led to the “rescue” of [Ram Teri] Ganga Maili and Pakeezah:

        In short there are ‘good’ women and ‘bad’ women, both of whom serve society’s purposes, though never the twain shall meet, except in competition for a male person. Even our religious epics make that explicit. Reflecting this age-old Indian societal dichotomy, the whole moralizing of Bollywood is intended to discourage the Devi of our country from being tempted to become a Tawaif, who however must try to ‘steal’ a Devi’s husband, in following the impossible dream of herself becoming a ‘good’ woman.

        Patriarchal societies thus set women against women in competition for male favor, which is conferred as if a great privilege. The business of patriarchy is to make women feel unworthy and unwelcome in every area of human activity, so that they cannot realise their potential to truly express themself, and will therefore sell their abilities, labor and resources cheap, which creates huge wealth and institutionalised power for men who control women.

        A male-dominated industry will never willingly share power with women, which is why feminist filmmakers need to create their own power by finding the resources to make independent films.

        This is actually possible today because of online content creation and advance sale of digital rights. Moreover the ubiquitous, affordable Internet and mature online video platforms have recently combined to free film-making from both the clutches of a restrictive distribution system and the not-always-disinterested scrutiny of state censorship, so the way is now clear for feminist cinema to surge ahead and find its true audience, which is Indian women.


        • True. I think the opening up of the Internet and of alternate media of entertainment does a lot for indie film-makers, and women are bound to benefit from this – as we have seen, actually, in recent years.


      • This comment got posted in at least 2 additional places here without the attribution of author and website due to connectivity lag from my device — please delete these incomplete repetitions @Dustedoff.


  10. How do you feel when you have spent a good part of 3 hours (how long was this movie?) watching utter tripe? Why do you do it? Going by your synopsis I wouldn’t have watched it even if dear Kaka (my favorite actor in my adolescence) came down from heaven and begged me to. Thanks for the tip off.


    • You’re welcome!

      When movies are as bad as this one, I don’t think my time is wasted, because I realize that these dreadful movies make for funny reviews. So I get a bit of satisfaction out of that. The “I wasted my time” movies are the ones which have nothing to recommend them, yet aren’t interesting enough (or bad enough) to merit a review. Those I hate having sat through.


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