Today is a good day to revive this blog (yet again), which tends to get severely neglected as I juggle my professional and personal commitments.
Let me start off by wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May this season bring good cheer and joy to all!
Smita Patil died the day I saw the Taj Mahal for the first time. We had come back from Agra, when Doordarshan relayed the news of her untimely and tragic demise. Memories do have a strange way of resurfacing. This recollection came back as I was surfing through some site and came across an article remembering Smita Patil on her 32nd death anniversary a couple of weeks back. What this recollection did was to hasten my viewing Bhumika (1977), so that it could be reviewed.
Inspired by Sangtye Aika (which I had read and reviewed on the blog), Bhumika, a Shyam Benegal movie won two National film awards (Best Actress for Smita Patil; and Best Screenplay – Shyam Benegal, Satyadev Dubey and Girish Karnad) and the Filmfare award for Best Film.
The film launches into the story straight away, into a set where a Lavani number Mera ziskila balam na aaya is being shot. As the credits roll in the background, the shooting is aborted mid-way due to a pulled ankle of a supporting artist and the rude director calls the shooting off. We see the heroine, Usha waiting for her car (that never comes) and she is dropped home by her co-star (Anant Nag). As she gets into the car, we see some studio workers carrying a poster of her new movie, Agni Pariksha. As she reaches home, her suspicious, jealous and mean husband Keshav Dalvi (a brilliant Amol Palekar) is angrily looking down from the terrace and a bitter row ensues. And a defiant, angry Usha packs her sarees (very hastily and badly) into a suitcase and leaves the house as her subdued mother (Sulabha Deshpande) and daughter (a cute Kiran Vairale making her debut. Does anyone know what happened to her? Where is she now?) watch on.
The tone of the movie is set. The movie moves from this tension-filled scene, minimal in dialogues but effortless in conveying the state of Usha’s domestic life, to a flashback of Usha’s childhood in a village. The childhood scenes are shot in black and white. It is said that Benegal was running short of colour stock due to some foreign exchange issues; he decided to shoot the past in b/w and the present in colour, something that the cinematographer (Govind Nihalani) did not approve of, but had to comply with.
A young Usha is running, trying to protect a hen, with her harried mother chasing her. She fails to stop the hen from being butchered; her defiance is unmistakeable. The hen had been slaughtered for the afternoon lunch and she walks out on it. We get a glimpse into their unconventional household – an alcoholic father, a devadasi grandmother and a tired, worn-out mother, Shanta, who wishes for her daughter a semblance of normalcy and social acceptance. There is also Keshav Damle, a young cousin/ uncle, who is a frequent visitor to this household. His relationship with the mother can be interpreted as a friendlier than a usual brother-in-law/ sister-in-law one. Interestingly, behind the scenes, he is forcing the young Usha to marry him. Usha finally relents and promises him, just to get him off her back.
While the equation between the mother and daughter is fraught with tension, there is an underlying deep love. Usha cannot sleep at night without her mother. And the mother is trying hard to save Usha from a fate that she seems to be destined for. She does not want Usha to become a gaanewaali. This is made clear when the family is trying to make ends meet after Usha’s death and Keshav suggests that they try sending Usha to become a cinemawali. Shanta protests vehemently; but in the end, tearfully gives in. The four of them then make their way to Surya Movietone where a mythological is being shot, to meet the producer Harilal (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) and find Usha a role in the cinemas. The young Usha is made to sing a song – which has the actress Bala in peals of laughter. Keshav derides Usha, her mother and her grandmother for messing up the audition. As they sit sulking, Bala passes by and informs them that Baby know that she has got the role. Usha has entered the world of movies.
We are brought back to the present. Usha, reminiscing her painful past, is in a taxi – going to her co-star Rajan’s house. Rajan is not there and as she waits for him, she spots a picture of him and her together in happier times.
Another flashback begins. Usha is now an established actress – carefree and playful. She is shooting with Rajan, who is besotted with her. She teases him, laughs at him and is generally having a good time at an outdoor shoot – when Keshav makes an unwanted appearance, subtly asserting his hold on her. Shanta, Usha’s mother, does not approve of her ‘friendship’ with Keshav and forbids her from meeting Keshav. But a naive Usha is still defiant. She feels bound to Keshav for having helped them out during their troubled times, and yes there was the promise! In her defiance, she runs to Keshav and wants to get married just then and leave films. Soon she announces her engagement with Keshav at a shooting, much to Rajan’s surprise and disappointment, who is unable to understand her choice and come to terms with it. Much drama ensues – Shanta is aghast but since Usha announces that she is expecting Keshav’s illegitimate child, the marriage takes place. Usha is forced to continue working and her dreams of a blissful married life come shattering down like a pack of cards as Keshav turns out to be greedy, controlling, suspicious and boorish and makes her life miserable. Cut to present – Rajan, her confidante and friend, is back home. She tells him that she has walked out of her marriage. He asks her to stay back and get a divorce. He is ready to wait for her.
As she shifts to a lodge, Keshav also tracks her down and asks her to go back home. Usha refuses and continues to stay at the lodge. It is where she meets Vinayak Kare (Amrish Puri), who becomes a significant part of her life. This turns out to be yet another dissatisfying relationship – as she grapples with her need to belong while retaining her independence and basic freedom.
What happens to Usha? Does she find what she was looking for? Does Usha take up Rajan’s offer of marriage? Does she go back to Keshav?
The rest of the movie answers these questions, as it follows Usha’s life through its various twists and turns.
My two cents:
Interspersed with flashbacks (all in b/w) Bhumika is a fascinating watch – a look into the life of a woman – an impulsive, bold woman who wants to lead her life on her own terms – neither compromising on her dignity or her independence. Longing for an ideal family life, she strives to get away from exploitation, until she realises and accepts her life for what it is.
The acting is superlative. One of Smita Patil’s finest performances, this is her film through and through. She conveys Usha’s character traits subtly – latent anger, her basic kindness and impulsiveness – using her eyes which breathe fire! No melodrama here. Giving her solid company are the three main male characters, Amol Palekar (excellent – gone is the affable man from Chitchor or Golmaal or Choti Si Baat; instead he excels as a creepy, controlling Keshav); Anant Nag (adequate as the kind besotted Rajan) and Amrish Puri (dignified and convincing as the patriarchal male chauvinist, Vinayak). The supporting cast also delivers – Sulabha Deshpande, Dina Patil and Kiran Vairale all play their parts convincingly. Using b/w for flashback and colour for present worked extremely well and added to the narrative value. I did not find it jarring at all. The music by Vanraj Bhatia is decent with melodies such as Tumhare bin jee na lage
All in all, a sensitive film about the life of a complicated woman, from her viewpoint, without judging her or her actions through a conventional prism. A must-watch.