Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Parineeta, or, Kyaa Hua?

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.


  1. I guess the versions are a show of different times and their viewpoints. The older versions would indeed look aged to the modern viewer - for example, I was freaked out when I heard Lalita is really young in the novel and the age gap is considerable. In modern Parineeta it was a few years at the most. And Lalita is also a pretty independent lady in it, not simply a dream wifey for Shekhar.

    Mostly for that I haven't even really been interested in watching this version..

  2. I really don't like any version of Parineeta. I thinik that makes me a bad person. =X

  3. Thanks for linking me Ajnabi! I havent been able to bring myself to watch this version of the movie, and the more I read about it, the gladder I feel I havent!

  4. I am with you on this movie, i liked the new one waaay better, this one seemed to capture the book quite well, but it doesn't really delve into lolita-esque feelings Shekhar has for lalita! I'm gonna hold out for a new parineeta movie that is very close to the book and has lalita as a 14year old and shekhar as a 20year old. perhaps its yuck but i love the novel, and i did a whole project on this and devdas and wondered, when will their be an indian film that has the child-marriage aspect in all of the devdas/parineeta stories!?
    LOL sorry for the rant, this movie made me groan as Meena was too wallowy as Lalita , wasn't plucky enought, though Dadamoni was cute and captured shekhar well!

  5. I also liked the new one. Even, Devdas, I liked SRK's movie, rather then older one. Maybe its all gloss, and color cinematography, that took its toll. Here is my take on newer one. Yes, thats Saif, who made all difference.

  6. I'm not a huge Saif fan, I do think he's a good actor and like him in Parineeta. However, I don't think I can watch an older version of Parineeta. I agree with others who say that it's the eras of the movies that were filmed. Okay, I admit, I'm a bit prejudice towards films before the 70s mainly cause I find them slow-paced. I know. Me bad.

  7. Veracious, in the Wikipedia entry for the book it says that Shekhar is in his early twenties and Lalita is 13, which totally weirded me out as well. You're probably right to skip this version.

    Nae: not bad, just unusual. ;-) Really, you didn't like the newer one? Was it the story that got you or something else?

    Shweta: given your views in the (excellent) post I linked to, I doubt you'd enjoy this version. LOL

    Rum: No apologies needed; actually I'd like to see a more balanced take on child marriage than Deepa Mehta's. Although it can't be anything other than awful from my American woman point-of-view, it can't have survived as an institution for so long without a few positives from the participants' perspective. I think the main problem would be casting; if SRK caught flack for being cast opposite Anushka then can you imagine a hero opposite a girl in her early teens? It'd have to be someone who looks younger than his age, like Shahid.

    Darshit: higher production values automatically make me tend to like a movie more, so you're not alone. But Saif is an even greater factor. LOL

    Nicki: I used to watch American Movie Classics in high school a lot, and old American movies are a lot like old Hindi movies; I don't think there was a huge divergence till the mid-sixties as far as style goes. I don't think you're bad; there are very few older movies that stand the test of time.

  8. I'm just not in to the story of Parineeta, or any of its film adaptations. Oddly enough, I would rather read Devdas...I think it's my love of melodrama shining through! =P

  9. Quite until the 1970s Indian women never used to call their husbands by their names. The traditional way would be "Bablu ke pita, aaji sunto ho" (translation - Bablu's dad, can u pls come over here).

    It is only in recent times (with changing social mores) that indian women have started calling their husbands by their names - this too must be more of a urban phenomenon

    hope this answers ur query

    I think Lolita is the correct bengali way of saying the name. her name must be lolita in the original bengali novel by Sarat Chandra. The Ashok Kumar - Meenakumari version must have adapted it to Lalita for wider appeal ie rest of India

  10. Hi Anonymous! Thanks for dropping in and answering my questions. As you can see from my profile I'm quite ignorant so I depend on kind readers like yourself to educate me. :-) It also lets me know that Lalita/Lolita could've told her relatives who her husband was if she'd really wanted to. I need to read the book now. LOL

  11. yes she could have without taking his name directly - for eg - "so and so's son, or so and so's sister etc. Or Aunt so and so's son.

    I think there is a reason why she keeps quiet in this particular movie


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