As many of you know, I tend to avoid films with titles like “Woman” or “Daughter-in-Law” or “Sister” or “Bride” like the plague they generally are. But after my dear friend and devoted Rajesh fan Suhan sent me a link to one of the songs from this, I investigated further and discovered that, besides a very young Rajesh, the cast included a very young Feroz Khan, the lovely Nazima, PRAN! and a host of other stalwarts (Padmini, Lalita Pawar, Leela Chitnis, Mohan Chhoti, OP Ralhan, Baby Rani—OH Baby Rani. How I love/hate you). I figured with these people and the lovely music by Ravi maybe I could survive the Red Mist that I would likely be afflicted with, and I am so glad I took the chance.
I found it unexpectedly sweet and funny, and if the story went a bit overboard in places…well, such is life. Plus, no Red Mist at all! Or hardly at all. While it is certainly true that Padmini sacrifices early and often, her actions make sense and she is no weeping helpless pushover.
Parvati (Padmini) is the eldest of eight children: seven daughters and one son, Suresh (Rajesh Khanna). They live with their widowed mother (Leela Chitnis)—a sweet but ditzy woman—and although they are poor, Parvati holds down three jobs as a maid in order to purchase eyeliner by the boat-load and put Suresh through medical school. As was/is common, all the family’s hopes and dreams are focused on Suresh’s eventual success and prosperity. Parvati is diligent, dependable, and indispensable; in short, she verges dangerously on being perfect. But she avoids that particular pitfall by yelling at her mother when she is particularly dense, or becoming exasperated with a lecherous employer.
She also has a dreamboat of a boyfriend: Anand (Feroz Khan), whom we meet when she’s washing clothes in the river and he interrupts with a lovely song (and she is really cute too, playfully spouting water out of her mouth like a fish).
Anand is involved in a property dispute which, if he wins, will net him 4 lakhs, enabling him to marry Parvati and help out the family. Unfortunately at the same time as he is convinced by his shady lawyer that his chances of winning are slim, Parvati discovers that her usual source of loans has dried up and the bill for Suresh’s final year of medical school is due; AND (because if things are bad in Indian cinema they must always get worse) Parvati’s mute sister Kamla has “come of age” (i.e. is curled up in a corner) and now they will need dowry for her too.
But on Parvati’s visit to the now destitute moneylender, she is spotted by Manoharlal (Pran), a wealthy widower with six children who is about twice Parvati’s age and looking for a young and beautiful second wife.
He is smitten with her on sight, and sends his representative to offer his proposal—a proposal which infuriates Suresh (who has no idea that things at home are so tight, because Parvati keeps it from him and he always has his nose in a book). But Parvati, being the sensible and responsible eldest girl that she is, has other ideas. She agrees to meet Manohar and strikes a bargain with him: she will marry him if he agrees to support Suresh through the rest of medical school and provide for the rest of her family.
Unbeknownst to Parvati, however, is the fact that Manohar is such a bad person that his younger brother Ratan (OP Ralhan) has moved out of his house and squeaks out a living as a taxi driver; and Manohar’s sister Asha (Nazima) and mother (Lalita Pawar) refer to him in every sentence as a “rakshas” or “shaitan” (no blindly indulgent ma-bahen here!). If they knew Manohar was looking for a bride they would interfere, and he knows it.
Anand is somewhat annoyingly placid and philosophical about the whole thing, which makes me think maybe Parvati has had a lucky escape even if he is a handsome hunk of man with a welcome mat on his chest.
When Manohar’s family find out about the marriage though, it is apparent that Dadi Ma anyway has maybe watched too many fillums featuring wicked stepmothers.
I love Lalita Pawar in everything, and she is hilarious with these kids, who are themselves less annoying than most of their ilk in cinema.
Of course, they soon discover that Parvati is a paragon of virtue, and bond quickly with her. There are some very funny scenes as the children are first terrified of her, and then begin to trust her—and she has a thing or two to teach Asha about kids who are old enough to have developed spines and neck muscles.
At this juncture, I am struck again by how different this film is from the usual female-sacrificing-her-all types of films: in her new home, Parvati is soon much loved and appreciated by her mother-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and stepchildren. She seems quite happy and fulfilled, and certainly her life is better than it was as maid to three households.
The only one unhappy with her success in his home is selfish Manohar who wants her to dote on him; he takes Parvati away to Mussoorie so that he doesn’t have to share her with the rest of his family. There, he tries to reform prim Parvati into a modern woman. I love the sight of Pran doing up Padmini’s hair, and although she goes along with him she makes it clear that she’s not happy about it. And after the party—which features a great little dance scene where I look hard for my friends Terence and Edwina—she goes back to her regular style with no repercussions.
Meanwhile, back at home, Suresh (who moved with Parvati to Manohar’s house) has fallen in love with Asha and she with him. So so sweet (and two pretty love songs)!
I am always happy to see Nazima, and she is very cute with Rajesh. But alas! Parvati is pining for the family, and convinces Manohar to return home. He finds Suresh and Asha romancing, flies into a rage, and throws Suresh out of the house. He also stops paying for his education; and although he’s only been giving a bare minimum to the rest of Parvati’s family to begin with, he stops that support as well.
What will Parvati do? By now she loves Manohar’s children as her own, as well as Dadi Ma and Asha, and she is Manoharlal’s wife. Plus, it’s 1967 so leaving him is probably not much of an option. But her own mother and siblings have nothing to eat, Suresh’s education is at a standstill, and he is himself now looking for a job instead of studying. Will all of her sacrifices have been in vain?
Do watch Aurat to find out. The moments of irritation are far outweighed by the humor, sweetness and the lovely songs of the rest of it, plus the last hour is more devoted to the secondary family members than to Parvati and Manohar and they are fun. It’s a great cast (OP Ralhan deserves much more of a mention than I’ve given him but I don’t want to spoil the ending). They are having a good time and their talents are mostly put to good use; the Gemini production team of SS Balan and SS Vasan seemed good at that. Best of all the women (especially Nazima’s Asha), despite the societal environment they live in, are strong-minded and stand up for themselves and each other.
If nothing else, look up the songs—but honestly I recommend this film, surprised as I am by that!