Some days back, a blog reader wrote to me (after having recommended several Hollywood films over the past weeks) to tell me that I was ‘wasting my time’ watching and reviewing ‘silly Indian films’.
I was initially too furious to be able to respond, but I eventually wrote back to say how unjustified and insulting this comment was. This, after all, is my blog. Nobody— not my family, not my friends, not the people who might be considered to have some sort of say—tells me what to watch. Recommendations, requests: more than welcome. Judgemental and rude remarks, no. You do not govern how I spend my time.
Once I simmered down a bit, I decided this called for a tribute to ‘silly Indian films’. So, for the duration of August 2022, I’m only going to be focusing on Indian cinema. Not one film from outside India is going to feature on Dustedoff all through this month.
So, to kick off ‘Silly Indian Film Month’, a review of a film I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time now.
Bhabhi ki Chudiyaan begins by introducing us to Mohan (Master Aziz), who lives with his elder brother Shyam (Balraj Sahni). Shyam and Mohan only have each other for family; their mother died giving birth to Mohan, and their father died a few months later. On his deathbed, he entrusted to Shyam the care and bringing up of Mohan. Shyam works as a clerk, and in order to be able to focus on Mohan’s education and upbringing, hasn’t even married. The two brothers somehow make do, but on days such as this—when Shyam has been too busy to make it to Mohan’s school function, where Mohan is getting various prizes—there is angst. Mohan is annoyed and tearful.
Sometime later, after Mohan goes to attend a wedding in the neighbourhood, he returns with the suggestion that Shyam should get married. Shyam tries to brush it off, but in office, a colleague who’s mentioned the subject before brings it up again. Someone known to him wants a groom for their daughter, Geeta. Shyam tries to fob him off, but finally gives in to pressure and agrees to go meet the people.
Once he’s back, having duly approved and said yes, Shyam tells Mohan. He makes it out as if he’s been looking for a ‘servant’, rather than a wife, because he and Mohan have to do so much housework and they need time to focus on office and school respectively… when Mohan discovers that Shyam has gone and chosen a bride for himself, he throws a minor tantrum. He already hates the woman! She must be ugly and vile, if Shyam refers to her as a servant! And how could Shyam go see her by himself?
So Shyam gives Mohan Geeta’s address and tells him to go see for himself. He solemnly tells Mohan that if Mohan doesn’t approve of her, Shyam will break it off. Just like that.
Mohan, therefore, arrives, and when he introduces himself to Geeta’s father, is made much of. He’s addressed as ‘samdhiji’, he’s made to sit down comfortably, and Geeta is summoned.
This is a pivotal moment in the film, and it’s a scene beautifully done. Almost no dialogue, nothing but the expressions of the two main characters. Geeta (Meena Kumari), her ghoonghat pulled over her face, comes through the curtains and sits down. Mohan looks into her face with trepidation, and she looks up at him, her eyes sparkling with mischief—her fiancé’s little brother has come to see her?—and in that moment, both fall in love, in a beautifully mother-son, brother-sister sort of way.
Geeta marries Shyam and comes to stay with them. Initially, Mohan is a little awkward, as is Geeta; but they soon settle in. They do things together around the house, with Mohan even joining her in the religious rituals around the house (lovely song, this one: Jyoti kalash chhalke). Mohan throws one of his hissy fits, and says “Katti!” to Geeta, but instead of cajoling and wheedling, she tells him that he isn’t the only one in the house who can get angry. So “Katti” back to him. Which serves to bring Mohan back to her side, begging her to forgive him and be friends again.
Then Geeta gets pregnant, and tragically enough, the baby is stillborn. In the hospital, Mohan comes by himself to meet her, and admits that he knows what has happened. From his blazer pocket a tiny rattle falls out, and Geeta cannot help the tears that come to her eyes. But Mohan, bending down and hugging her, assuages, perhaps, some of that pain.
By now, Mohan has put up Geeta’s portrait in the photo frame where he had once hung a page on which he’d written “I have never seen my mother”. In school, he gets a special commendation from his teacher for writing an essay on ‘Ma’, and the teacher is so pleased, he even gives Mohan a rupee. With this, Mohan ends up buying bangles for his bhabhi…
And with Mohan placing the bangles on Geeta’s wrist, the story segues into some years later. Mohan (now Sailesh Kumar) works as a professor in a college, and is as devoted as ever to his bhabhi. It is Geeta, in fact, who discovers that Mohan is in love with a girl named Prabha (Seema, later Seema Deo), and she encourages her brother-in-law and husband to arrange the match.
The problem is that Prabha comes from a wealthy family, and her henpecked father (Om Prakash) is too meek to stand up to his bossy wife (Durga Khote, cast rather against type). From the first she hears of this proposed match, Prabha’s mother is against it. Her daughter has been brought up in great comfort; how will she live in such a small, meagre household? They are so poor, and Mohan is a mere professor…
When she and her husband meet Shyam and Geeta along with the pandit to discuss the nuts and bolts of the wedding, Geeta and Shyam are quick to emphasize that they wish for no dowry to be given. Prabha’s mother, interpreting this as a slight to her wealth, passes many snide and cutting remarks.
Eventually, though, since everybody except her mother is amenable to the match, Prabha marries Mohan and they start living with Shyam and Geeta. Prabha, unused to housework, is bad at it, and huffy about the fact that they don’t have a maid. Geeta, seeing her plight, takes on all the work: and Mohan, so devoted to his bhabhi, sees red when that happens.
All the while, Prabha’s mother, egged on by her dear friend, Mrs Manchanda (Sulochana) has been fretting and fuming. Her poor child, caught in that hovel of a house! Slaving away till she’s been reduced to skin-and-bone! When she learns that Prabha is now pregnant, it only serves to make her determined to bring her daughter back home. Geeta, who has miscarried for the third time, is inauspicious, she says: her grandchild will be in danger by being anywhere near that woman.
And thus it is that a happy little home begins to develop a rift.
What I liked about this film:
Bhabhi ki Chudiyaan has a core storyline not very different from one depicted in many other films, from Bhabhi to Chhoti Bahen to Ghar Sansar: a loving family, its members devoted to each other, is torn apart by the coming of a spoilt and wealthy bride who wants her own way in everything and who refuses to be forced to make sacrifices for the happiness of others (oh, how reprehensible that behaviour is). While Bhabhi ki Chudiyaan does go down that path, it manages to be a little less extreme.
For one, the villains aren’t horrendously, over-the-top villainous. Prabha, while she snaps at Mohan and is sullen, is rarely outright disrespectful to Shyam or Geeta. This is a young woman who isn’t bad, really, has let her mother bulldoze and brainwash her into thinking ill of her in-laws and their situation in life.
And yet, one can see the plight of Prabha’s mother, somewhat. This woman isn’t the sort of ruthlessly ambitious shrew that Lalita Pawar (for one) played in countless films. True, she’s not a paragon; she’s too proud of her wealth and she looks down on others to the extent of being rude, but one can (sort of) also see in her a mother who’s very worried about her only child. She does not deliberately set out to ruin Shyam and Geeta; that isn’t her objective. What she wants is for Prabha and her baby to be comfortable and happy.
This somewhat balanced approach helps tide over what was, for me, the rather more mundane part of the film. The rest of it, when Mohan is a boy, was pure gold. The way director Sadashiv J Row Kavi handles this, with sensitivity and a sweetness that doesn’t cloy, is brilliant: the way Mohan and Geeta become friends, and how their relationship develops into that between a mother and a son, is touching without being melodramatic.
Plus, Meena Kumari. What a fine actress, and how well she plays Geeta. Geeta, luminous bride. Geeta, a childless woman aching to have a child, falling apart in private with her grief at yet another dead baby. Geeta, dignified when faced with the unfair prejudices of Prabha and her mother (I love that Geeta does not become all quivery and teary and beg them to be kind; she stands tall and dignified through it all, holding her own).
And her chemistry with Master Aziz is superb. I recalled, while watching this film, what Vinod Mehta wrote about Meena Kumari’s love for children in his biography of the actress: she does seem to have a special equation with children, as can be seen in films like this one, Majhli Didi (with Sachin), Bandish (with Daisy Irani), and more. Several of her scenes with Aziz here brought a lump to my throat.
What I didn’t like:
The occasional melodrama surrounding Prabha and Mohan’s marriage, especially when their baby arrives. One can see why each of the characters involved would behave the way they do, but still, it sometime gets a bit too overwrought.
Other than that, though, a poignant and memorable film. Youtube has several versions across various channels; the ones of about an hour and 50 minutes have the songs lopped off. This one is a reasonably intact version.