Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Anuradha

Leela Naidu as Anuradha

How great a sacrifice should we make for love? The title character in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anuradha (1960) is a woman who was once a famous singer and dancer. But as the film begins, Anuradha (Leela Naidu) has been out of the public's awareness for 10 years. During that time she has been married to a doctor, Nirmal (Balraj Sahni); they have an adorable young daughter, Ranu, who often accompanies him on his rounds:

Ranu

Nirmal is idealistic and highly dedicated, and he has moved the family to a rural village so that he can provide medical care for its impoverished inhabitants. Of course, this means that he can barely provide for his own family.

Anuradha's days are spent in the domestic drudgery of cooking and cleaning; her nights are spent in the loneliness of waiting for her husband to return from his endless round of patients.

I am left alone all day. Who do I talk to? The walls?

Nirmal has devoted his life to the care of the villagers, but he has neglected the needs of his own wife.

The film is structured as a series of flashbacks of the couple's courtship. We learn that they met through her brother and fell in love as Nirmal treated her for a sprained ankle. Nirmal is attracted by Anuradha's beauty and talent; she is attracted by his kindness, humor, and selfless ideals.

Nirmal is committed to working in the village because his own mother died there for lack of a local doctor. But he recognizes that his work in the countryside will be incompatible with Anuradha's stage and recording career in the great metropolis:

What about your music? Who will hear you?

The love-struck Anuradha dismisses his misgivings:

You. You are my world, you are my music.

Anuradha's father (Hari Shivdasani) has his own plans for her. He has long wished to marry her to his closest friend's son, Deepak (Abhi Bhattacharya), just returned from studying overseas. Of course, Anuradha's father hasn't bothered to consult with her; she learns of it when she overhears him talking to Deepak:

Why ask her? I am her father. I know what is good or bad for her.

Anuradha has to break the news to Deepak that she's in love with someone else. Considering that his engagement has been made and then broken over the space of five minutes, Deepak takes it well. He's clearly a decent guy: he offers to tell Anuradha's father that he is the one rejecting the match, to spare her from her father's anger (she won't let him). But Deepak has a question for her:

But will you be happy with him?

Alas, this is a question whose answer will only become apparent over time. Ten years on, despite her lovely daughter and her caring but preoccupied husband, Anuradha has come to feel trapped in her marriage:

Bars

Things are brought to a crisis by the return of two figures from the past. The first is Anuradha's father. At the time of her marriage to Nirmal he disowned his daughter for her disobedience. Now, chastened, he comes to the village to reconcile with the couple and meet the granddaughter he has never seen. But he can't resist asking his own question of Anuradha:

What did you get by marrying Nirmal?

Anuradha replies "Happiness," but without convincing either her father or herself.

The second person to return from the past is Deepak. We see him travelling in a car driven by Seema, a woman who wants to marry him but doesn't understand why he's still carrying a torch for a past love. In fact, she's distracted by arguing about this when a child darts out into the road in front of them. To avoid him Seema swerves the car off the road and into a tree. By filmi coincidence, they happen to have been passing Anuradha's village, and Nirmal is called to treat the injured couple.

Deepak is not seriously hurt, and Nirmal has him carried to his own house for treatment. When Anuradha sees Deepak, a certain tenderness is reawakened:

Anuradha and Deepak

And when Nirmal discovers that Anuradha and Deepak know one another, he insists that Deepak remain in his house as a guest. As a guest, Deepak requests the privilege of hearing Anuradha sing—which begins to reawaken other long-buried feelings in her:



The music is by Ravi Shankar, with lyrics by Shailendra; Leela Naidu's playback singer is Lata Mangeshkar.

Deepak is dismayed to discover Anuradha's neglect of her music, and Nirmal's neglect of her. He urges her to leave Nirmal:

Return back to your father. Go back to music.

Anuradha is torn. She loves her husband, but has obviously suppressed a huge part of herself to become a wife and mother in this remote location. Worst of all, Nirmal seems to take her for granted; she even has to remind him about their wedding anniversary.

Nirmal promises to make up for his forgetfulness by spending their anniversary evening together. But (as we've seen before) his promises are meaningless. Nirmal, responding to one patient after another, doesn't make it home until dawn. For Anuradha, who has waited up all night, it seems to confirm his lack of concern for her:

You couldn't fulfill my desire even for a day?

In her hurt and anger she decides to leave with Deepak. When Nirmal learns of Anuradha's decision, he's stunned. He realizes too late how focussed on his own needs he has been, but seems unable or unwilling to try to convince her to stay. Perhaps it's because he realizes the justice of her accusations:

If you considered us one, you would have understood my loneliness.

All he asks of her is that she wait one day: a big-city doctor, Colonel Trivedi (Nazir Hussein), has been called in by Seema's rich father, and after praising Nirmal's skillful care of Seema he has invited himself over to dinner. Nirmal doesn't want to reveal his family troubles before strangers, and Anuradha agrees to help him by staying until the next morning.

When the guests arrive, Colonel Trivedi recognizes Anuradha and requests a song (tellingly, it is always their guests who ask her to sing, and never her husband). But this time, Nirmal stays and listens to her, as if for the first time. "Why don't the days of the past return?" she sings. "My music lies abandoned without song; my garland of dreams is withering":




Later that night, after the guests leave, Nirmal is called out on yet another emergency case. When he returns, Anuradha is asleep, and Nirmal finally lets his tears fall:


But is Anuradha really asleep?


Anuradha is full of such emotionally subtle moments. The characters (like all of us) are a mixture of selfish and generous impulses. And they find themselves (like all of us) caught in situations that are the products of long-ago choices, and facing uncomfortable questions.

Perhaps it's the movie's literary origins that make it such a rich experience: it's based on a short story by Sachin Bhowmic that was inspired by Flaubert's great novel of marital dissatisfaction, Madame Bovary. Clearly, too, we can also thank director Hrishikesh Mukherjee, whose humanistic vision imbues every major character (and most minor ones) with emotional depth and complexity.

But I couldn't help feeling dissatisfied at the end, perhaps because Anuradha's choices have become so limited. If she leaves Nirmal she regains her musical career—her art—but loses her husband and destroys their family. If she stays with Nirmal she gives up her music forever, and her life with its narrowed horizons will continue much as before. If for women marriage and family demand the sacrifice of their own hopes, ambitions and dreams, is the sacrifice too great?

Anuradha in tears

For another view of Anuradha, please see Dustedoff's excellent review.

Update 10 September 2014: Spoilers follow in the comments, so be forewarned.

8 comments:

  1. I just put this in my queue to see a couple days ago! For Balraj Sahni mostly. Sounds like it has some fascinating concepts but some frustrating ways of dealing with them...which is good to know.

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  2. Miranda, Anuradha is very much worth seeing. If Sachin Bhowmic and Hrishikesh Mukherjee couldn't come up with a satisfying solution to Anuradha's dilemma, perhaps the fault lies with a society (not only in India) that forces women to choose between self-realization and family. And if you come to the film for Balraj Sahni, you'll leave with a deep appreciation of Leela Naidu—this was her first film, and it's to be regretted that she appeared in only a few more.

    Best,

    P.

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    1. Pessimisissimo, I am a bit more optimistic about the ending than you seem to be :-)

      ***SPOILERS***
      Although Anuradha chooses to remain with her husband, it is likely that her own life will change for the better. Firstly, Anuradha's reconciliation with her father means that it would now be open for her to travel to the city on a more regular basis. If nothing else, Ranu's stays with her grandfather would provide the ideal pretext. While Anuradha may not become a full-time singer by remaining with Nirmal, she could revive her reputation by taking occasional assignments while at the city. Secondly, it seems that Nirmal has learnt an important lesson in appreciating his wife's wishes and her talent - Hai Re Woh Din may have rekindled his love for her singing! He may well be more supportive of Anuradha reviving her career - at least on a part-time basis. Finally, Nirmal and Anuradha now have the (then considerable) sum of Rs 20,000, which opens up several options for Nirmal's practice. He could set up a clinic in the village and relocate to the city for his wife and daughter's sake. After all, Colonel Trivedi predicted that Nirmal's name would become famous one day; benedictions from well-wishing elders usually come true in Hindi films ;-)
      ***SPOILERS over***

      I think the film wisely ends on an emotional climax and leaves viewers free to come to their own conclusion on how Anuradha and Nirmal sort out their respective lives from now on.

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    2. Aurelie, many thanks for your comment. You've outlined a highly plausible scenario in which Anuradha is able to return to her music while remaining with Nirmal, so perhaps my constitutional pessimism isn't justified. I will mention that Col. Trivedi, who is the moral conscience of the film, has a long speech in which he honors the sacrifices made by mothers in the interests of their families, but essentially presents them as necessary. And the last scene, where—my own spoiler alert here—we watch Deepak's car disappear into the distance without Anuradha, seems to indicate that she will remain in the village. But I hope, along with you, that these characters find a way to be fulfilled both individually and as a couple.

      I do agree completely that Nirmal has undergone a transformation. He now fully understands what his wife has given up in order to support his practice and raise their (delightful) daughter, and will no longer take her for granted. And as you say, it's clear that his love for her singing has been rekindled as well. Certainly Anuradha will no longer be voiceless in this marriage, and that should give us hope.

      Thanks again for your comment!

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  3. Anuradha is a very good movie indeed for its story, direction, performances and music. Join the club about the ending. It was really filmi and contrived. One would have expected Leela Naidu to stick to her original decision. But then the movie is set in 60s India when being a "sati savitri" - local lingo for a woman dedicated to her family and household at the cost of her real interests and lack of opportunities (actually has its origins in hindu mythology) so the ending should not have come as a surprise. Very few Indian women went to work in that decade. It was only in the early 70s that a lot of educated women joined the workforce and things changed socially in India. So her decision to be housewife may be part of the cultural set up of that time. Perhaps we are viewing this years later through our 2014 eyes!

    What impressed me is Balraj expressing his reservations about her giving up music during their courtship days. In that way the movie is quite progressive - he is not the typical guy who insists his wife give up everything to make a happy family home. Balraj wanting to practice in the rural areas is understandable. This movie was made less than 2 decades of independence from British rule. There were lots of things that Independent India had to address (and still has to) in rural areas - the shortage of medical facilities and a good doctor was quite acute those days. Apologies for my long post - pls feel free to edit if you want to

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    1. Filmbuff, I think part of the (near-)tragedy for this couple is that Nirmal clearly stopped listening to Anuradha's music long ago. I can't say that I was surprised by the ending—it's hard to imagine an Indian film of this (or any) era endorsing a woman leaving a husband who is decent, kind, and self-sacrificing. But as I wrote in the post, it seems as though Anuradha has reached the point where none of her available choices is very satisfactory.

      What's really necessary is for her husband to consider her needs the equal of his own, and to make some sacrifices for her fulfillment. But somehow that possibility is never raised. Instead, the sacrifices of women for the sake of their husbands are extolled.

      Nonetheless, the compelling performances, nuanced script (in which all characters are shades of gray) and gorgeous images (thanks to director Mukherjee and cinematographer Jaywant R. Pathare) make this film very much worth seeing—even if Anuradha's choices, constrained as they are by the social conventions of the time, are ultimately dissatisfying.

      Thanks for your comment!

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    2. Ha ha - her husband to consider her needs as equal of his own - in our dreams esp in the 60s! Agree with all the points you have raised. I simply love the songs by Lata and Ravi Shankar's music. Balraj Sahani is my favourite hindi actor and he was really good in the scene just before the end expressing his anguish through body language. Leela naidu as you rightly pointed out was indeed very good for a first movie. I have been trying to get hold of a copy of "The Householder" in India but no luck so far. I will try to send you a copy of Hrishikesh Mukerjee's interview from the archives of The Screen where he discusses his movies. What is the best email address to send this to?

      Cheers

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    3. Thanks, Filmbuff! You can contact me via e-mail from my profile page; click the "View my complete profile" link under "About me" at the top left corner of this page.

      Best,

      P.

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