Had this been the first Hindi movie I ever watched, I would have slit my wrists before I ever let anyone convince me to watch another. It’s that bad. It’s bad in the worst possible sense, my worst nightmare: a Red Mist movie. It is characterized by that maudlin, useless self-sacrifice which makes even its recipients unhappy: “For the love of God, didi, please don’t sacrifice for me!” “I will I will I will, and you can’t stop me!” “But I don’t want you to, it’s making both of us miserable!” “I don’t care, it’s my duty and my karma!” “But it’s not necessary!” “I am sacrificing because I’m noble, it’s what I do! You can’t stop me!” “But you aren’t helping anything…” “It’s my sacrifice! I’ll cry if I want to!” and on and on and on and on.
The only bright spots in this—and they should have joined hands and said “RUN!” and gone off to make a different movie together—are Geeta Bali, Rehman and Ulhas. I couldn’t even like Pran (although of course that was his objective, as usual).
As you’d probably guess from the title, the story is about two sisters. The older sister, Shama (Suraiya) is that idealized Indian female paragon of virtue: she is working as a servant (for one of those harridan types, more on that later) in a house to earn money for her younger sister Kiran’s (Geeta Bali) education. Kiran for her part is not interested in her education; she’s interested in Ajit (Pran), a scoundrel who is only pretending to woo her to get her to pay for his parties and his luxuries (which, of course, she is doing with the money her sister sends her for school fees).
My, what big eyes you have, Pran! He’s so good at being suavely and slimily BAD. Despite my hearty dislike for her character, I love Geeta’s performance. She just sparkles! And she’s so good at being bad: if I didn’t know that their relationship can only end in tears, I would love this pair together. They have great chemistry and look like they are having fun when they are onscreen together.
Kiran is completely selfish and thoughtless, but she’s a lot easier for me to tolerate than the saintly Shama. Shama works for the Amarnath family, consisting of Seth Amarnath (Niranjan Sharma), his second wife, her daughter Indu, his son Shyam (Rehman), and their two small children Munni (Baby Tabassum) and Pappu (Papoo). Mrs. Amarnath is a banshee of the worst sort and since I never figured out her name (or the actress’ name) that’s what I’ll call her. She shrieks her disapproval at decibels which are never less than ear-splitting as everyone around looks on in misery.
Shama of course is her main target (although only her daughter is always spared). Nothing Shama does gains the approval of the Banshee, and she submits meekly to egregious abuse all day long, every day. The Banshee’s secondary target is Shyam, Seth Amarnath’s son from his first marriage.
He is very handsome indeed, being a young Rehman, and a good (and sensible) person to boot. He and the Amarnath’s neighbor, the Colonel (Ulhas) are the only characters in this wretched film whom I can support wholeheartedly.
Actually, the two younger Amarnath kids are pretty funny as well, with far more common sense than most of the grown-ups, at least on Munni’s part. Pappu seems a little “differently enabled” but it may just be that his enormous size belies his actual age.
Shama and Shyam bond pretty quickly when Shama hears him talking about how he’s given up his profitable clinic in the city, because he wants to take care of poor people in the village who have no access to a doctor. He’s tired of taking care of hypochondriacs with more money than things wrong with them. He is the only person in the whole world who stands up to the Banshee, and he goes to bat for Shama when she is particularly maligned. Their growing romance is sweetly depicted, and if Suraiya’s over-acting and sacrificial lamb character weren’t so irritating I would kind of enjoy it. But as it is, I shout at the screen: “Run, Shyam! Run like the wind!”
The kindly Colonel keeps an indulgent eye on the romance brewing next door and helps it along.
Because matching names are so important!
Meanwhile, Kiran sends letters asking for more money to support her Ajit habit, until Shama decides to find out exactly what’s going on. She goes to see Kiran. Kiran abuses her too, telling Ajit in front of Shama that Shama is the family servant! Now I would have smacked my little sister upside her head for this; but Shama goes quietly along with it like the long-suffering example to womanhood that she is, and gives Kiran all the money she has brought with her before returning sadly home.
There, Shyam refuses to marry the wealthy (but ugly) girl who is the Banshee’s choice for him, and Shama is fired when the Banshee discovers that she is the reason for his refusal.
Shyam asks Shama to leave town with him: they will get married and settle down somewhere where he can practice medicine for those who truly need it. Of course she argues with him and tries hard to sacrifice the happiness of both of them for the sake of the Banshee and Shyam’s totally spineless coward of a father.
He points out that his family don’t really deserve such consideration, but she’s busy being noble and doesn’t listen. It gets worse:
The scenery vanishes rapidly into that gaping maw. I beat my head against the arm of my chair. Shyam for some reason still wants her, and finally convinces her to come with him.
But when she reaches home to pack her things, Kiran is there, sobbing. Ajit has predictably dumped her, and even more predictably she is pregnant. She asks Shama for forgiveness, and asks her to help her find Ajit and make him marry her, because a man who has lied to you, knocked you up, and then abandoned you is such a great catch. But naturally Shama instantly agrees and takes Kiran out the back door to avoid meeting Shyam, who is now on his way to get her.
Thus abdicating any responsibility for honest communication with the man who has treated her with respect and love, she disappears with Kiran, leaving Shyam bewildered and heartbroken.
There is still another hour and a half of wallowing melodrama, self-pity and selfless (and pointless) sacrifice. Kiran becomes the only bright spot at this point: she doesn’t want Shama to give up her love, her life, and everything else for her and her child. After her initial shock, she is willing to stand on her own two feet but Shama won’t hear of it. This causes Kiran to slip into occasional rambling despair.
I want so badly to lock Shama up in a room with the Banshee forever so that the rest of us can get on happily with our lives.
I cannot recommend this film to anyone, but if you think you want to watch it beware of the spoilers that follow from now and stop reading. I will leave you with this gem, which I don’t believe had any intentional irony attached to it:
What really enrages me about these movies is the message(s). I wrote a comment recently on Beth’s post on Mere Apne (a film I haven’t seen) which pretty much sums up everything that is wrong with this one:
I love your point about making a woman who has been mistreated, not educated, taken advantage of, etc. the “beacon” for humanity. It shows up in so many films, and makes me see red—especially when it is meant as a progressive message. A society dependent on self-sacrificing, unhappy females for its success is a society I want no part of. It is so fundamentally regressive and inhumane that I can’t forgive it even in a film that’s 40 years old…
Or in this case, 60 years old! Shama is held up as a shining example of womanhood: she allows people to abuse her unfairly, she forces others to accept choices that aren’t really hers to make (thereby ennobling herself even further), she isn’t honest with those she supposedly loves, and she’s stubborn to a fault. She is hell-bent on making herself miserable, and if others suffer alongside her, well so be it. Her sacrifices are “rewarded” at the end by completely unrealistic about-faces on the part of Ajit and the Banshee, who marry Kiran, and vow to be nicer, respectively. Oh happy ever after! Riiiight.
Run, Shyam! Run like the wind!
I think I will make my own vow to avoid films with the words “Behen” or “Bahu” in them from now on.