I had read a review of this film on a blog years ago, but besides the fact that it starred Prithviraj Kapoor as the father-in-law of three women, I remembered nothing of what I’d read. Then, some weeks back, when Shashikala passed away, a couple of people remembered her role, as a popular film star, in this film. I was tempted to watch it.
The teen bahuraniyaan (the three daughters-in-law) live in one rambling house along with their husbands, their children, and their father-in-law Dinanath (Prithviraj Kapoor)a retired school teacher. The patriarch’s three sons, from eldest to youngest, are Shankar (Agha), Ram (Ramesh Deo) and Kanhaiya (Rajendranath). Appropriately enough, their wives, respectively, are Parvati (Sowkar Janki), Sita (Kanchana) and Radha (Jayanthi). Sita’s sister Mala (Vaishali), who’s come to town to do college, also lives with them.
The film wastes no time getting down to business. The three wives are up on the rooftop terrace making vadis and setting them out to dry on mats, when they hear sounds next door, in the house which has so far been unoccupied. Someone’s finally coming to live there, they’re getting neighbours. And—as a peek over the parapet reveals—obviously someone wealthy, with three cars and an Alsatian.
Some more peeking, and to their great joy, Parvati, Sita and Radha discover just who it is: the very popular film star, Sheela (Shashikala)! They’re all in a flutter, and when Sheela smiles and returns their greeting from her balcony, the women nearly fall over themselves.
Their husbands, who’ve also come up on to the terrace, also fawn over Sheela, and are all starry-eyed and fanboying. Their wives, unable to contain themselves any more, invite Sheela to come over to their home someday. On the 16th? Sheela, who seems to be quite an approachable sort, not at all the haughty celebrity with starry airs, happily agrees. 16th it is. She’ll be there.
To make sure that there is as little friction as possible, Dinanath has divided his house up into three separate households, for each of his sons and their respective families. Now, with Sheela’s visit looming, all three wives go into a tizzy. How shabby their homes are, how the plaster is flaking off the walls. They don’t have a radio, their sofa is old and dusty. They don’t have silk saris or jewellery… the three husbands find themselves nagged incessantly, and soon fall into the spirit of complete and utter revamping.
Savings are pulled out, things are bought on credit. Parvati borrows a fine diamond necklace from a wealthy friend (and when Sita and Radha plead with her to be allowed to wear the necklace when Sheela visits their respective homes, grudgingly agrees). Masons and painters are brought in to touch up the house, hired furniture is lugged in, there’s hustle and bustle and everybody’s in an excited frenzy. Dinanath tries to caution his family to control themselves, but he goes unheard.
Sheela is gracious and sweet, and calmly goes from one household to another. She does not comment on their obvious references to the radio and the new sofa, she does not remark on the fact that the necklace she sees adorning all three daughters-in-law, one after the other, looks the same.
The daughters-in-law compete with each other to impress Sheela. Parvati’s husband Shankar teaches music in a college, but Parvati tells Sheela that he is not a mere lecturer, he’s the college principal.
Similarly, while Ram is a clerk at the courts, Sita is quick to tell Sheela that he’s a lawyer, and that too one with a booming practice. Sheela, who has already been told by the others in the family that Shankar and Ram are respectively a teacher and a clerk, is too polite to say anything. She also doesn’t bat an eyelid when a brood of children pours out of a locked room (Parvati has locked up the three eldest of her five children, just so that Sheela can’t tell how old Parvati is).
This is just the start. The three daughters-in-law use this occasion to further the acquaintance, begging Sheela to come calling again, and making plans for more meetings. They also badger their husbands to have a telephone installed. Why? Because Father (Dinanath) remains so ill, and what if there should be an emergency? A telephone will be very useful… Dinanath, eavesdrops, is aghast. Especially when it comes obvious that the telephone is hogged all day long by one bahurani or the other, talking to Sheela.
Soon, the bahuranis are going off everyday to be with Sheela. They go to see her shoots, they go with her on picnics, they spend more time with her than with their own families.
And while Dinanath and the children fend for themselves (with Mala helping in to bathe the littler children), the three brothers, in their own way, too begin gravitating towards Sheela. For completely innocuous reasons.
Shankar, for instance, is summoned by Sheela. She wants to learn music from him, though Shankar is reluctant. He tells her that his and Parvati’s romance began when he was teaching Parvati music; since then, Parvati has become very leery of him teaching music to any young woman, fearing a repeat of a guru-pupil romance. Sheela asks if it will be fine if Parvati doesn’t come to know, and when Shankar agrees, the pact is sealed: they will keep these music lessons a secret.
Ram too begins to frequent Sheela’s house, in the hope that she will be able to get him into films. Ram doesn’t even get to meet Sheela; her secretary, Mahesh (Jagdeep) fields all of Ram’s queries and is initially inclined to send Ram off with a flea in his ear—until Mahesh realizes that Ram’s wife Sita is the sister of the beautiful Mala, whom Mahesh has already met and fallen in love with. Instantly, Mahesh becomes Ram’s biggest promoter, promising to get him at least one role in cinema. But this must be kept secret, Ram says.
Kanhaiya, not to be left behind, also comes to meet Mahesh. Kanhaiya works as a salesman for a pharmaceuticals company and wants Sheela to do some advertising for them. Mahesh keeps fobbing him off, but Kanhaiya is not the type to take a hint. Or even more than a hint.
That, then, is the set-up. The men are going to Sheela’s home again and again. Mahesh is in love with Mala. And the three wives, gallivanting about all day with Sheela, are neglecting home and hearth, and going so deep into debt that they’ve had to begin to pawn or sell their silver utensils—all of which Dinanath is taking out of the hands of the servant, paying for them, and putting them in his cupboard.
Until suddenly, there comes flying, like a bolt out of the blue, three copies of an anonymous letter. Three letters, each addressed to Parvati, Sita and Radha, telling them that the husband of one of these three women is philandering.
Directed by SS Vasan and SS Balan, Teen Bahuraaniyaan was a remake of the 1967 Tamil film Bama Vijayam, with Sowkar Janki, Jayanthi and Vaishali reprising their roles in the Hindi film. The Tamil film was a big hit; the Hindi film, by comparison, seems to have been less successful. A pity, because it’s certainly worth a watch.
What I liked about this film:
The plotting, which is delightful. There is very little here, from Radha’s myopia coupled with her vanity (which makes her leave off wearing her spectacles at even crucial times) to the Mahesh-Mala romance, that doesn’t in some way contribute to the increasingly tangled web that is woven. K Balachander, who wrotethe original film as well as this one, and Kishore Sahu (who wrote the screenplay and the dialogues) deserve credit for turning what could well have been a tiresome and melodramatic lecture on living within one’s means, into a delightful farce.
That said, what a farce this is! Nobody does things by halves, nobody listens to anybody else, and everybody (in the family, that is) is out to get everybody’s happiness. In small ways; when it comes to what really matters, they do show that they’re family, and that blood runs thicker than water. The three daughters-in-law of Dinanath might squabble over whose home Sheela will visit first or about the diamond necklace that’s been borrowed by Parvati, but when push comes to shove, they do realize that they’re all in this together.
And the ensemble cast is very good. Besides the people I’ve already listed, the cast of Teen Bahuraaniyaan includes Dhumal, Lalita Pawar, Niranjan Gupta and Kanhaiyalal. All very seasoned actors, and all excellent. And Shashikala as Sheela is a joy: good-hearted, not above a little bossing around of Mahesh and the others (often with what looks definitely like a twinkle in her eye), and unassuming. A star, but a nice star. You can see why a bunch of starstruck fans, once having made her acquaintance, would want to go on being friends with her.
Lastly, the music, which was composed by Kalyanji-Anandji, to lyrics by Anand Bakshi. The songs aren’t superlative, but some of them, including Aamdani atthanni kharcha rupaiyya, Humre aangan bagiya, and Aa sapnon ki raani, are not bad. Aa sapnon ki raani has a delightful Paanch rupaiyya baarah aana sort of vibe to it: that same faux romantic (actually comic) ‘love song’.
What I didn’t like:
The scene with the coughing doctor. Oh, how I hated this man. His makeup was all wrong (that badly whitened hair didn’t make him look at all old, sorry), and his badly contrived coughing: he really, really got on my nerves in that short scene of his.
And, those remarks about what was going on, written in chalk on the blackboard: too over the top, and too unnecessary. That’s like telling the audience that, just in case they didn’t realize what was going on, here it is, loud and clear.
I was also annoyed by the general underlying theme that a woman’s place is within the four walls of her home, looking after family and house. The shallow flightiness of the three women here is somewhat tempered by the (often equally) stupid and short-sighted behaviour of their husbands, but the final message seems to be that it’s the woman to blame.
But, overall, a fun film.
Edited to add: This review turned out to be a sad coincidence: Jayanthi, who acted the part of Sita, passed away on July 26, 2021. This, therefore, is also a tribute to her, and to her delightful acting in this film.