Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I watched the 1953 version of Parineeta today, and all I have to say is that, whoa, I like the newer version way better.
Oh, all right, you knew that wasn't really all I had to say, didn't you? However, part of my hesitation in reviewing it is that I couldn't follow a lot of the relationships. I knew, because of reading about the book and from watching the other film, that Shekhar and Lalita (given her proper name in this film unlike the Lolita of the newer version) were childhood friends, but I never saw anyone mention it in this version... and there were all these people called "auntie" and "uncle" but I couldn't tell if they were just being referred to politely or if they were actually relatives. I was utterly confused by the web of relationships, which didn't help.
(If I'm honest with myself, I might have to admit that Saif Ali Khan as Shekhar was possibly my main reason for enjoying the newer film, so by all means let's get on with the self-deception.)
Lalita (Meena Kumari, in full bharathiya nari mode) is a poor girl who lives next to Shekhar, played by Ashok Kumar. Shekhar is way too old for Lalita; also he takes her for granted and treats her like a servant, but hey, she likes that. Or at least expects it. Lalita's uncle is in debt to Shekhar's dad, who holds the mortgage to their run-down house. Shekhar's dad has nefarious plans to ruin his neighbor and tear down their house to build a new place for his younger son and future daughter-in-law. Enter the kindly Girin (or Girish, the subtitles were also confused), played by Asit Baran. He's the uncle or older brother or something of Lalita's best friend. He takes care of Lalita's family when Shekhar is too wrapped up in his own concerns to notice theirs. Shekhar gets jealous. Lalita gets self-sacrificing. They end up secretly married, although I couldn't figure out why it had to stay such a big secret. It's all pretty...
Okay, fine! I admit it, I couldn't get into this film although I paid careful attention and tried really hard to like it. Lalita was such a doormat and Shekhar was such a dipstick that I guess they deserved each other, but it seemed to me that she enjoyed wallowing in her distress a little too much. I mean, torn dirty clothes and glass bangles? Aren't sisters or brothers-in-law allowed to buy their relatives clothes too? And why does a Hindu wife never mention her husband's name? Seems to me I've seen quite a few filmi wives ignore that particular rule, why not Lalita? (Is it because it's supposed to happen around the turn of the last century?) Even if she can't say it, can't she just refer to him obliquely until those who could hold him accountable do so? Why does she choose to just let him ignore and neglect her? If these things were at one time reflective of their audience's values then bring on the 90's masala. I'd rather have SRK rubbing his nose on Madhuri's throat any day.
At least Ashok Kumar was somewhat sympathetic as Shekhar, although not nearly as much as Saif's take on the character (then again, Saif had more to work with IMO). You can truly believe that he's just to wrapped up in his own little world to notice what's going on around him. I guess since there was a pretty clear demarcation between a woman's world and a man's, and Lalita and her saas get along well, this wouldn't pose too much of a problem eventually, but I'd kind of like a husband who cared enough to take note of my life. Guess Lalita wouldn't agree. I never noticed him acting all that loving toward her, although his heartbreak at hearing of her marriage being arranged is utterly believable.
The acting was pretty realistic; few of the "broad strokes" of emotion to which I've become accustomed. The soundtrack was also very minimal; only three songs. Two of these were in the context of performances (the first at the theatre, the second by a street minstrel), and the third was simply a background for the main character's acting rather than a lip-sync opportunity. The second song, "Chali Radhe Rani," was particularly lovely, although I was hampered in my enjoyment by the fact that (true to form for older Bollywood films) there were no subtitles for the musical numbers.
I might be totally unfair to this film; Bollyviewer has a much better (and better-informed) take on the movie at Old is Gold. Her point of view is quite different from mine, but differences of opinion are the spice of blogging life! In any case, I'd recommend viewing both just for comparison; they're so different that I'd bet one will work for you even if the other doesn't.