Since I have started avoiding films with words like “Bahu” in the title like the plague, I was a bit nonplussed when this film arrived in my mailbox. Then I realized that probably what I had planned to order was Teri Meherbaniyan. Not the same thing, not at all. I really need to pay closer attention to what I’m doing sometimes.
But since the stars are the likes of Rajendranath, Prithviraj Kapoor and Shashikala, I thought: how bad can it be? (Which admittedly has gotten me into trouble a few times, but I never learn.) And in what turned out to be a bit of serendipity, it isn’t bad at all. In fact, it’s quite sweet! It isn’t a feminist’s dream exactly, but given the time in which it was made it isn’t a nightmare either. Mostly it’s a funny story about a joint family and the plethora of complications that arise when a famous actress moves in next door. It reminded me of one of those 1950s Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedies. Plus, the songs are lots of fun (by Kalyanji Anandji) and hilariously picturized.
Dinanath (Prithviraj Kapoor) is the patriarch of a large, happy family consisting of his three sons and their wives and children. Dinanath is a retired school teacher, and he still gives his grandchildren lessons each morning at a chalkboard standing in the hall of their house.
To maintain peace in the household, Dinanath has divided it into separate areas for each of his sons, and he keeps separate bank accounts for each as well. The oldest son is Shankar (Agha), a music teacher married to Parvati (Sowcar Janaki), and they have five children. The middle son is Ram (Ramesh Deo) and his wife is of course Sita (Kanchana); he is a clerk at the high court and they have one child. The youngest son is Kanhaiya (Rajendranath), a pharmaceutical salesman, and he is married to Radha (Jayanthi). Sita’s unmarried sister Mala (?) also lives with them and studies at the local college.
Unfortunately the credits are all in Hindi, and imdb is not very helpful so I don’t know the names of most of the principal actresses. Updated to add: thanks to you guys, now I do!
This setup has worked well, and the fiercest arguments are over who gets to make Dinanath his morning tea. He has a sweet setup indeed! The three daughters-in-law do their chores together happily and sing a very pretty song, “Hamre Aangan Bagiya.”
This idyllic life is about to be disrupted, though. A famous film actress named Sheeladevi (Shashikala) buys the house next door and moves in, accompanied by her secretary Mahesh (Jagdeep). Our bahus are thrilled, especially when they invite her over for tea and she happily accepts.
A frenzy of home renovation ensues, with each woman roping her husband into making improvements to their parts of the house—new furniture, new plaster, new paint, new cushions and curtains, and radios and air-conditioning. Dinanath is horrified.
His sons assure him that they will pay for everything through “installments.” It’s the credit crisis—40 years early! The three women are increasingly competitive over whose home is the most luxurious and impressive, and arguments begin to erupt. Sheeladevi’s visit does nothing to mitigate this situation either—in fact, it only escalates it.
Meanwhile, her secretary Mahesh has fallen head over heels in love with Mala, Sita’s sister.
And the three husbands decide to milk their new friendship with the film star as well. Kanhaiya pays a visit to see if she will be willing to pose for advertisements for his company’s new headache medicine. Mahesh has some (possibly legitimate) objections to this plan:
and she’s away on a shoot anyway; thwarted for the time being, Kanhaiya indulges in a fantasy song where he ends up in some movie stills hanging on her wall:
It’s very cute!
Sheeladevi calls Shankar over to her house and asks him to teach her music. He tells her that he’s promised Parvati that he would never give music lessons to a single woman, since he began courting her during their music lessons.
(Is that not the best thermos you have ever seen? *Curse you for this obsession, Bollybob!*) He really wants to teach Sheeladevi though, and she agrees to keep the lessons a secret from his family. Then Ram shows up, wanting Sheeladevi to help him become an actor; and when the usually irascible and unhelpful Mahesh discovers that his beloved Mala is Ram’s sister-in-law, he promises to help him out.
Sheeladevi herself is a nice, down-to-earth woman who just happens to have a glamorous job. She gracefully fields the bahus’ intrusive questions (I loved this, having been subjected myself to blunt and very personal questions in India):
and genuinely enjoys their company, little realizing how her growing friendship with them is disrupting the formerly peaceable household. The sisters are increasingly acrimonious and competitive, and they spend all their time running around with Sheeladevi.
Dinanath is all too aware of it, though. Nobody fights over who gets to feed him anymore; in fact, the children aren’t even fed half the time, and they are neglected on other fronts as well.
And—horror of horrors!—the tulsi plant in the courtyard DIES.
Then Dinanath’s sons all fail to contribute their monthly paychecks to the household accounts: their wives are demanding every penny in their quest to “keep up with the Joneses” (in this case, mostly each other!).
Things clearly cannot go on like this, but his grumblings fall on deaf ears (except Mala’s and the children’s).
Biwi ka ghulam, indeed!
His sons are also busy vying with each other for Sheeladevi’s favors (except Shankar who is trying to keep their music lessons a secret), plus they are being harassed by an increasing number of creditors. Dinanath’s daughters-in-law are occupied in quarreling with each other, and Dinanath catches their manservant one day with a silver pitcher given to him by Parvati for pawning. He instructs the servant to bring anything his bahus want to sell or pawn to him and he’ll give the money for it instead, and tells him to keep quiet about it.
His cupboard is soon full!
He leads his granchildren in a very cute and hilarious song about managing one’s finances, “Aamdani Athanni Kharcha Rupaiya.”
Then three anonymous letters arrive, addressed to each bahu, and they all bear the same terrible news (and are signed “Satyavadi”—hilariously subtitled as “Honest Joe”):
Can this reunite the formerly close sisters-in-law? Or will it further complicate matters? (Here’s a hint: there’s still an hour to go.) Will peace ever be restored to Dinanath’s home, and to his sons and their wives and children? And who is “Honest Joe” (that just cracks me up)?
Watch Teen Bahuraniyan to find out! It’s frothy and fun, and although it is firmly on the side of “a woman’s place is in the home taking care of her family” it is not obnoxious given the time and place it was made (heck, even Doris Day’s films want you to believe that!). Dinanath’s preaching about not spending more than you make, or coveting what other people have, etc. is not overdone, and is treated in such a cute manner that it doesn’t grate; it may have even been a more novel sermon back in 1968 than it has become in the 21st century. The direction is deft, and the different threads of the plot gradually tangle into the final web just beautifully. And as I’ve said already, the songs are oodles and oodles of fun.
Plus how FAB is Shashikala as a movie star!
She was great—in fact all of the actors were great. I am always happy to see my Kapoor Papaji in anything, and the male comedy quartet are all relatively restrained and fun to watch. Thanks to you for helping identify the three very funny bahus! If anyone can help out with Mala’s portrayer I’ll be most grateful too.
Now I just need to find Teri Meherbaniyan. Teri Meherbaniyan…Teri Meherbaniyan…TeREE MEHERBANiyan…(I seriously wouldn’t put it past myself to order this one by mistake again.)