Teen Bahuraaniyaan (1968)

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.

32 thoughts on “Teen Bahuraaniyaan (1968)

  1. Hi Madhuji, I saw this movie as a kid and was fairly fascinated by the goings on in this movie. As a kid I was not too critical and enjoyed watching movies so I do not remember the doctor at all. But I do remember the ladies fawning on the star and the men “falling” for her. To put it briefly, I enjoyed the movie thoroughly. Sadly, Jayanthi passed away on 26th July. She was a big star in Kannada movies in the70s.
    K B Patil

    • When I posted the link to this review on Facebook, someone else also mentioned that Jayanthi passed away last week. Sad coincidence.

      The film is certainly enjoyable; even as a critical adult I liked it, overall.

  2. Yes. I agree that it was a thoroughly enjoyable movie and you have reviewed it in an excellent way. I had seen the movie right at the time of its release in late 60’s.
    In a way, it’s a tribute to Jayanti, the Telugu actress who died only a few days ago.
    Prithviraj Kapur’s voice in the film was dubbed by Bipin Gupta, another character actor of the yesteryear who had a resonating voice.

      • I remember having read in some film magazine at that time that Prithviraj Kapoor’s voice had become too deep and unsuitable for recording with clarity. Hence Bipin Gupta. I was a school-going kid then and I remember having enjoyed this movie so much I watched it 3 times I think…

      • I am not very sure about the reasons for Prithviraj Kapur’s voice dubbing but logic given by Mr Jawahar below sound palatable !

  3. If you put this in the context of the age, it is quite a decent film. :) Now you make me want to go watch this….

    p.s. Kanchana is the second wife, and Mala is an actress called Vaishali.

    • Yes, it’s a decent enough film, especially given that the men behave as foolishly as their wives! And there’s a lot of fun and entertainment there.

      Thank you for telling me about Kanchana and Vaishali. Someone on Facebook mentioned it to me but cautioned me that she wasn’t sure. Now that you’ve confirmed it, I’ll change it. Thanks again!

  4. Oh, I remember “Teen Bahuraaniyan.” I watched it as a kid sometime in the 80s, or what I call the “Golden Age of the VCR.” Even then I was irked a tiny bit by “it’s the women’ fault” sub-text, but the general tone of the movie is so good-natured that I was able to get past that irritation pretty easily. Besides, “aamdani aathani” is such a delightful number that I would have been willing to forgive the movie far graver sins.

    • Exactly. It’s generally so good-natured (and, all said and done, I think the three brothers are as silly as their wives) that I didn’t find it irredeemably irritating. And Aamdani atthanni is a joy. :-)

  5. Yes if you weigh the movie’s premise by today’s standard the story line would seem regressive. My daughter would definitely sneer at the way the women are portrayed! But you have to take it as nothing more than a farce( which you too have rightly mentioned) and there is much enjoyment to be had.
    A few points though…
    I think you have mixed up Kanchana and Jayanthi! In the Tamil original she was the one with the glasses and from the screenshots provided by you too confirms it is Kanchana. Jayanthi is Rajendrakumar’ s pair which would again fit as she was Nagesh’s pair in Bama Vijayam.
    Who is the Vaishali that you mention later? I don’t seem to remember either the actress or the character in the original.
    Also you have mixed up the director bit quite a bit. You have rightly credited the direction to the father son duo of Vasan and Balan but towards the end in what you like you mention that “Balachander write (sic) and directed both the original and this film”

    A quibble perhaps but you are quite fastidious when it comes to facts right!
    Regarding the movie I liked Agha better than Major Sunderrajan and I could not shake out the Akbar in Prithiviraj . Of course I saw the movie a long time back on Doordarshan and found the dialogue delivery of the southern starsa bit awkwardAs a youngster I felt a colour movie started off with an advantage over a black and white movie. So this movie had that going for it too! Sasikala was may be the better actress but with Rajasree it is not a very high bar!
    Nagesh of course was in a league of its own and the mayhem towards the end had me in splits( his father in law mistaking him to be dead and what follows).
    Good I came here to lighten my mood after the heart breaking loss of our team to Belgium ( small consolation that I know they played well for the most part and 2-5 is not really reflective of the match)

    • Sorry about the mix-up about the director. I don’t know how that happened; have corrected it now.

      As for the actresses, I give up. I’d initially identified them differently, then was told by two people that I’d switched Kanchana and Vaishali. So I switched them. Now I don’t know.

      I personally didn’t find the dialogue delivery of the Southern stars jarring (even though I’d been prepared for that) – when compared to (say) Ragini or even Padmini in some films, these three ladies were all right. But of course that’s all perspective. I was very keen on watching Bama Vijayam, but the old grouse… not a subtitled copy in sight anywhere. So frustrating.

      It’s a shame how India fares in sports. Two medals, and we’re so pathetically happy. :-(

      • ” I’d initially identified them differently, then was told by two people that I’d switched Kanchana and Vaishali.”
        I am sure that in this film the daughter in laws eldest to youngest are played by Sowcar Janaki, Kanchana and Jayanthi.
        Like I said it is ages since I saw the film but I do know jayanthi from kanchana. A cursory google image search will tell that I am right.
        You are usually spot on ( in films like Thilana Mohanambal and Karnan which had a huge caste in comparison) Kanchana was one heroine who knew how to wear her make up in the olden days–her working as an air hostess sure would have helped! She was introduced ( technically rediscovered ) by Sridhar in that wonderful movie Kathalika Neramillai.
        But Vaishali is another thing altogether. I suppose she played the sister of the middle daughter in law right. ( The one who is Jagdeep’s love interest ) This role was played by Sacchu in Tamil and there was no Vaishali in the tamil film as far as I know.

  6. I really liked this movie! Because it was done so lightheartedly and because it was so farcical and absurd, the ‘messaging’ was easily ignored. Matlab, you knew where it was going so obviously that it was easy to ignore and focus on the comical situations, and the twists and turns. And since the husbands were equally silly and besotted, one knew it would be the grand father (not grandfather, but the ‘grand’, sorted in head, I must you show the sahi raha father) who in his grand magnanimity would forgive everyone and the movie would end with touching of feet and pallus on head, and loud laughter. But the point is, ki one knew one was hurtling towards that, so it became utterly insignificant and the moments in the movie took centre stage. And Shashikala was so pretty! Sigh. Loved the song Aamdani Athanni, Kharcha Rupaiya. I remember singing it off key for weeks to come after watching the movie with family. Good memories :-)

    • Exactly. One knew what the message was, and because the rest of it was so funny, it was easy to shove the message to the back and enjoy the journey. I wish there were more films like this – it was such a joy. Loved it!

  7. Madhuji, I remember watching the movie on DD as a kid. The song Aamdanni Atthanniis a fun song. The fact that there were no real stars among the 3 male actors – all of them were largely known as supporting actors – is rather interesting.

    • Yes, Aamdani atthanni is really fun! I think the fact that the male actors not being major stars probably has something to do with the somewhat offbeat theme of the film. I can’t see any of the major stars agreeing to do a domestic comedy like this, in which even the men come out as pretty silly. Also, the fact is no single one of them has a particularly prominent role – they’re all on par, which may not have been acceptable to most of the stars back then.

  8. Madhuji.

    An enjoyable review of an enjoyable movie.

    I remember seeing this farcical comedy first time during my school days on DD.
    I revisited it a few years ago and enjoyed it again.

    The scenes, the cast and the music make it an entertaining comedy. Shashikala did a fine job as the actress. whose arrival creates havoc in the joint family.
    Both the songs Aamdani atthanni and Aa sapnon ki rani are a delight to watch.
    I had posted the sapnon ki rani song on your post on Shashikala.

    During my second viewing, I had realized that Prithviraj Kapoor’s voice had been dubbed. Happy to know from the comments that it was Bipin Gupta’s voice.

    20 years after this one, it was remade in Marathi as Lapwa Chhapwi (1989) but did not make much of an impact. Aruna Irani reprised Shashikala’s role, while top Marathi actor Laxmikant Berde played her secretary.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the review. Yes, it’s an entertaining and enjoyable film, truly a delight. Thank you for the information about the Marathi remake – that sounds interesting.

  9. Tribute to Jayanthi and thanks to you for presenting this delightful review of a highly entertaining fun movie which I had watched on Doordarshan some 37-38 years back. Despite obvious flaws and male bias, it’s an enjoyable watch for sure.

  10. I hadn’t seen the film earlier but I watched it first and then attended to the review..
    I liked the movie.. Its a simple entertainer sans any unnecessary dishum dishum and the mandatory villain is done away with..
    Yes those breaking news blackboards are a bit annoying and the so is the male centricism.
    .
    And the review is even better than the product itself.. What I especially relish is the use of delectable adjectives which perfectly depict the story..
    Thanks for reviewing !

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