Friday, June 7, 2013



Khubsoorat (Beautiful, 1980), centers on the friction between generations and sensibilities within a family.

Directed by Hrishiskesh Mukherjee

As the hearts dotting the i's and j in his name suggest, Hrishikesh Mukherjee's films don't feature reincarnated sons seeking bloody revenge, villains with secret lairs, or heroes who single-handedly beat up armed gangs. Instead, they feature middle-class families struggling with modest dilemmas that reflect broader social issues, often presented in a gently comic way.

Nirmala Gupta (Dina Pathak) and Dwarka Prasad Gupta (Ashok Kumar) have raised a family of four sons. As is often the case, one of the parents (him) is the indulgent one, and the other (her) is the disciplinarian.

Nirmala enforces household rules of decorum, which include speaking softly, cleaning up after yourself, being on time, eating meals together, and offering food to others before taking it for yourself. She also limits her youngest son's pop music enthusiasms and her middle sons' obsessive bridge-playing. Nirmala's final, impossible task is to keep her husband on the straight and narrow; he has diabetes and a heart condition, but still tries to sneak cigarettes, tea and sweets when she's not looking.

Into this reserved, rule-bound family bursts Manju (Rekha). Manju is the irrepressible sister of the demure Anju (Aradhana), whose marriage with second son Chander has just been arranged. Manju immediately earns Nirmala's disapproval for being loud and boisterous, speaking her mind without hesitation, and generally lacking manners. It's pretty shocking to see a film heroine behave this way, and Nirmala is not amused:

Nirmala is not amused

Not everyone in the family has the same reaction, though:

Laughing father

But it's Nirmala's household, and Manju chafes under the rules she imposes:

It's like the Martial Law! How do you live here?

The youngest son, pop music-obsessed Joginder (Ranjit Chowdhry, later of FIre (1996) and Today's Special (2009), among others), tells Manju how the family manages under Nirmala's benevolent dictatorship:

The problem is, you have to fulfill your desires secretly in this house
Can anyone identify the album visible over Joginder's left shoulder?

So Manju decides to organize this hidden resistance to Nirmala's prohibitions. She encourages card- and game-playing, Joginder's music, Dwarka Prasad's gardening and tabla-playing, and the dancing of Sunder's wife (Shashikala)—which she gave up, of course, when she came into her husband's household:

The music was composed by R.D. Burman, with lyrics by Gulzar. The playback singers on "Piya Baawri" are Asha Bhosle and Ashok Kumar himself, with choreography by Gopi Krishna.

Manju and the third son, Inder (Rakesh Roshan), engage in the sort of teasing practical jokes and insult exchanges that immediately signal that they like each other. And, late '70s hair and fashion aside, you can definitely see in Rakesh where his son Hrithik got some of his good looks:

Rakesh Roshan

It doesn't take long for the observant Nirmala to realize what's going on between Manju and Inder, and she's not happy about it:

She is hardly suitable for our family

Inder urges Manju to charm his mother, rather than deliberately antagonize her:

You are a magician. Cast your spell on her as you have on the others

But when Manju stages a parodistic play for the other members of the family about the overthrow of a dictator, Nirmala walks in and is offended, hurt, and upset. Her rules, she tells them, arose out of love and concern for her family: she has been trying to maintain Dwarka Prasad's health, Chander and Inder's focus on family and work responsibilities, and Joginder's success in his studies. Manju realizes that she has to leave—but then a crisis occurs that requires all of her boldness, plain-speaking, and lack of deference to authority.

As Manju's reference to martial law suggests, Khubsoorat can be seen as a parable of the Emergency, with the overly strict Nirmala representing Indira Gandhi's government by decree, and the freedom-loving Manju representing the forces of opposition. (The dialogues of the film were written by Gulzar, whose own films often focussed on social issues, and whose Aandhi (1975) was banned during the Emergency.)

At the 28th Filmfare Awards Khubsoorat won Best Film, and Rekha won Best Actress. (Little did the voters know that her greatest role would come the following year in Muzaffar Ali's Umrao Jaan (1981), for which she was nominated but did not win.)

You can watch Khubsoorat on YouTube, with English closed captions, for free.


  1. Looks like one I'd want to watch! Thanks for the review and link.

    1. Jean, I confess that Hrishikesh Mukherjee's film generally hit my sweet spot, too: they are gentle, affectionate, and humanistic. And if you're a Rekha fan, Khubsoorat showcases her in a very different kind of role from the tragic heroine of Umrao Jaan.

  2. Good review of a very popular film. I must confess I have liked Rekha only in 4 films - Umrao jaan, Khubsoorat, Aap ki Khatir (a good comedy with vinod khanna) and Ghar (beautiful songs by RD and a movie addressing a sensitive issue which is very relevant to the sad things happening in India today). Rekha won the National award for umrao jaan. Hrishikesh Mukherjee's movies are a truly delight to watch. Please see his other movies including Jurmana and Bemisaal for Amitabh for very different roles. Another famours HM movies is Golmaal with Utpal Dutt and Amol Palekar

    1. Filmbuff, I haven't seen the last two Rekha films you mention, but I'm adding them to our list. And you're right to point out that, although she did not win the Filmfare Best Actress Award for Umrao Jaan, she did win a well-deserved National Award.

      Along with the Hrishikesh Mukherjee films you name, I can also recommend Anand (1971), Bawarchi (1972) and Mili (1975) to readers.

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Anupama, Anari and Namak Haram are other HR films worth watching.

    1. Thanks for the recommendations, Filmbuff!