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07 October 2011

Mili (1975)

Directed by: Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Music: SD Burman
Starring: Jaya Bhaduri, Amitabh Bachchan, 
Ashok Kumar, Aruna Irani,
Usha Kiron, Suresh Chatwal, Shubha Khote
1975 was to prove a momentous year for Amitabh Bachchan. If he joined hands with his favourite director and his girlfriend-turned-wife Jaya Bachchan to film Mili, it was but a taste of things to come. Having forged a place for himself with Zanjeer, Abhimaan (same director / heroine), and Namak Haram in 1973, and proven his acting credentials in Benaam (based on The Man Who Knew Too Much) and Majboor (as a man, who thinking he is going to die, implicates himself in a murder case, and then has to not only prove his innocence but also catch the real murderer) the following year, the middle-of-the-road Mili was the forerunner in a very successful year. 

1975 was to see Amitabh Bachchan rise to stellar heights with six releases, out of which two (Deewar and Sholay) became blockbusters, and the others (Mili, Chupke Chupke, Zameer and Faraar) had a better than average run at the box office. The ‘jinxed hero’ had turned his fortunes inside out, and was now considered not just a viable proposition but a bankable one.
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The movie opens with the shot of an aeroplane against the night sky, and a grave Ashok Kumar on the terrace of an apartment building waving goodbye. A voice over tells us that he is waving goodbye to his daughter, knowing she will never come back again. 

Cut to flashback: An apartment building in Bombay, in the mid-seventies and there are kids all over playing games. Suddenly, they spot a girl coming towards them and run off to meet their Mili didi (Jaya Bhaduri). Only, she is rather brusque, and they are surprised. So are the other residents who also seem to gravitate toward her like moths to a flame. One by one, they are all given the brushoff, and by the time the liftman is querying whether she is okay, Mili is beyond brusque – she is outright rude. 

Soon, she has locked herself up in her room, ostensibly crying, and her aunt (Usha Kiron) is distressed. So are the many neighbours who pop in to see why the usually cheerful Mili is so upset. No one can get a word out of her however, and the status remains quo until her father (Ashok Kumar) comes in.
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Whereupon we are treated to the sight of a uncontrollably laughing Mili, who explains that no one gives a damn when one is cheerful; it’s only when you are ill or otherwise upset that people care to ask you what is wrong. And thus is Mili’s character established – a cheerful, happy-go-lucky girl who is friends with everyone in the building, and is the person all her peers and the children go to, when there is something wrong. 

We are also introduced to a host of other characters – Mili’s brother, Ranjeet (Suresh Chatwal), the recipient of the Vir Chakra, who has come home for a couple of days, their gossipy neighbour (Shubha Khote), Runa (Aruna Irani), the secretary of the building society, and a motley group of kids. 

And around all this bonhomie is a foreshadowing of events – Mili is always ill. But Mili is organising a party for her brother, and has invited 12 guests. Only, it seems like the whole building has shown up. In the melee, Ranjeet slips out to meet Runa (Aruna Irani), the woman whom he had loved and lost.
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Runa is still as friendly as ever, but she has changed; while Ranjeet still holds out hope for their relationship, she warns him off – having been used by men, she decides to turn the tables and use them instead. Only to realise that at the end, she still felt used herself. There is disgust and bitterness and sadness, but it’s a burden she carries on her own. Ranjeet would be better off without her.

Into this mix arrives great news for the building – the terrace flat has been sold! It has been bought by the son of a certain Mr Dayal. Who? Oh, the man who killed his wife and his secretary? You know! Mrs Dayal was supposed to have had a… wink-wink nod-nod? Well! And the son Shekhar is no better. He is a drunkard and a lech. And the building has so many young girls! Hai tauba!
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Of course, the loudest voice in the congregation is that of the gossipy neighbour who never seems to have a kind word to say of anyone.

Finally, Shekhar Dayal (Amitabh Bachchan) does move in, bag, baggage, and man-servant Gopi in tow. The residents’ misgivings have come true. Shekhar stops access to the terrace where the children play in the evening. And is quite rude to people who show up unasked to his flat. As always, Mili is the one the children turn to, and she does try her best to get the new owner to give way, and fails.

Mili’s first view of the strange new resident is a shadow on the pane, drinking, while a plaintive song plays in the background. She is intrigued by the pain in the voice.
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But reality soon intrudes. When she goes up to his flat the next day to introduce herself, he is quite rude to her, and she flounces off in anger. 
However, when she is rebuffed, Mili, not being one to take things lying down, organises the children to have a singing (yelling) contest in the passage below. An angry Shekhar cannot take any more – he comes down to blast the whole gathering, and is asked whether he had also bought rights to the passage when he bought his flat. Even as he is retorting, he is brought up short by a little girl who advices Mili not to fight with him. Her mother has told her that Mr Shekhar is a bad man and has a gun with which he will shoot them – just like…
Mili tries to shush her but it’s too late. Shekhar goes back up, his mood blacker than ever. He has already called the office to talk to the secretary. 

Runa comes up just then, only to be told by Shekhar that he had only wanted to talk to her, not meet her. Runa is nothing fazed. Thank goodness, she says, there still remains one man who does not want to meet her! And when Shekhar remarks that he didn’t think she was the secretary because of the way she dressed, she gives back as good as she gets – didn’t he like her dress? She designed it herself, and calls it ‘provocation’! 

Shekhar is pithy – no, she looks like a second-class B-grade heroine! Runa thanks him, says he looks like nothing at all, and then asks what he wanted to speak to her about. When he says that he does not want the children to make a noise, she points out that that is what children do; and besides, no one but he has ever complained about the kids before. What does he suggest she do anyway? Tape their mouths shut? He suggests that it is her problem and theirs, not his, so she offers to send him some cotton for his ears, before leaving. Check and mate. 

He is annoyed, and tells Gopi to pack up – they need to leave this flat too. Gopi observes that it might be better to own only a suitcase, considering they have already moved four flats this year. 

Shekhar leaves to meet his architect who is building a bungalow for him; on his way down, he is met by the chillar party who, egged on by Mili, apologise to him for their earlier behaviour. Disarmed by their engaging ways, he relents and allows them to use the terrace again for a couple of hours, on condition that they do not disturb him too much. That evening, as the children rehearse for an upcoming programme, Shekhar watches from behind the curtains; unbeknownst to himself, he is thawing to their friendly acceptance.

Now, Shekhar might be the son of ‘those’ people, but he is young, handsome and wealthy nevertheless. And so, there is a fluttering in the dovecote, and some pernicious manipulations to see if he can be ‘caught’. And so, gossipy neighbour’s sister-in-law decides to bait the hook – with herself. 
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And they go up to Shekhar’s flat, ostensibly to tell him they are on his side, and even if the rest of the building feels that he is marred by his parents’ behaviour, they do not believe parents’ sins should visit the child. Very noble of them, only Shekhar doesn’t think so. In as many words he throws them out of his flat and drowns his sorrows in some more liquor. The thaw is beginning to freeze again.

That night, the residents are treated to the sounds of breaking glass, and shouts and other shenanigans from the terrace flat. Gopi is at his wits’ end – won’t they allow his master to live in peace? While he is talking to Mili and her father, there is another huge crash, and Gopi runs up, only to come calling for help. Shekhar, drunk and barely conscious, has managed to cut himself quite severely and there is no first-aid at home.
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Leaving Mili to staunch the blood, her father goes down to get the bandages and medicine. Shekhar regains consciousness enough to ask her what the hell she thinks she is doing, but Mili is not one to be intimidated. She yells right back and for once, Shekhar is quiet. And Mili finds herself strangely drawn to this embittered man who is so caught up in the ghosts of his past.

The next morning, Mili, seeing Gopi at the window asks him how his master is doing. Not knowing that Shekhar can hear everything, she offers to provide some glasses since theirs must all be broken. When she knows that Shekhar is suffering from fever, she offers to bring up some medicine. Gopi, knowing his master, is hesitant, but that has never stopped Mili and it doesn’t now.
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She comes up with the medicine, only to find a glowering Shekhar who is sure that like everyone else, Mili will also be friendly in the beginning, only to taunt him about his mother later. But he is not immune to her straightforward nature, nor her open friendliness. 

Even as they are discovering a strange kinship to each other, all hell is breaking loose elsewhere. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and the gossipy neighbour and her sister-in-law, with a little embellishment, are busy tarnishing Shekhar’s reputation even more. They succeed in making some of the women nervous about letting their children go up to the terrace again.

While Shekhar is amusing the few children who have still braved the terrace, Mili’s father and aunt receive some bad news that send them to Pune. Mili is alone and comes up to Shekhar’s flat to view the stars.
Shekhar asks her whether she had her father’s permission; when told that her father and aunt are in Poona, he asks her to go. Mili is angry – did he think she had taken advantage of their absence to come to his flat? Shekhar is disarmed at her innocence, and shows her the stars. In her excitement, she clutches his arm, and there is a quiet moment of revelation for both of them. These nightly sessions continue, and they are drawn even closer to each other.

She is the only person who mentions his mother naturally, and Shekhar gives in to a whim and shows her his mother’s picture, and the letter she had left for him. Mili’s quick defence of his mother, and her wordless comfort draws them closer.

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But Mili’s health is failing, and she is quickly bedridden. When Shekhar hears of this, he sends her flowers, and a note. This becomes an everyday occurrence, and the notes quickly move from being merely friendly ones to ones that bespeak a more intimate relationship. The flowers are always sent through Gopi, until one day, weeks later, Shekhar takes one to her himself. Not being able to see her, he leaves the bouquet with her father, who finds the note hidden in the flowers and is appalled.
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Quietly, and in a roundabout, and then, direct manner he tries to warn Shekhar off. Shekhar is sure that it is because of his parents, and Mili’s father is forced to reveal the bitter truth. A truth that shocks Shekhar to the core; his first reaction is to pack up and leave, he cannot bear to face the future, until Runa excoriates him for his selfishness. Soon he makes another decision but will Mili and her father accept it? 

Mili took Anand’s script, reversing the genders. While many bemoaned Rajesh Khanna’s bonhomie as the eponymous character in the latter film, I must admit to enjoying it more than Jaya Bhaduri’s incessant cheerfulness in this one. I, for one, found her irritating in her chulbuli avatar. Honestly? I wanted to smack her! If I were a new resident, and some one walked in to my flat unannounced, and then proceeded to talk to me like she was five, I think I would have been ruder than Shekhar. 

And don’t get me started on the cutesy Maine kaha phoolon se. (Watch at your own risk! It's got Jaya at her grimacing best!) It tops the list of ‘songs I love to hate’. But as the movie moves into its darker side, Jaya comes into her own. She is very effective as the young girl who has dreams like any one else, but knows they will never be realised. She shows an enormous sensitivity in her later dealings with Shekhar, and there is so much that she says with her eyes; she is the most effective when there is no dialogue. Especially the scene where Shekhar talks of his marriage - it is stunning in the way she underplays her disappointment. 

This is one of Amitabh’s softer roles; where, even if his manner is morose and bitter, the emphasis is on his sensitivity, and his loneliness. By Jaya’s own reckoning, Amitabh was far better in Mili than she was. She felt she had become too complacent in her roles by then. In an interview, she even mentions squabbling with Hrishida over the need to dub – why couldn’t they just use the dialogues they used while shooting? Her punishment was to dub for her lines blind - without watching her scenes.

While I really did not like the Lata solo in this film, I absolutely love the two Kishore ones. Again, this is one of Burmanda’s underrated scores, and two of Kishore Kumar’s best, most soulful numbers. Unfortunately, Burmanda was seriously ill when recording the score, and Badi sooni sooni hai was arranged and recorded by his son, RD.


  1. I agree that the Kishore songs were better than the Lata song, but I liked them all. Long time since I saw this movie, reading this review makes me want to see it again.

    Can we claim that Amitabh's 70's work was in many instances an order of magnitude better than his post 70's ? Even his not-so-big-blockbuster films like Mili, Saudagar, Majboor, Abhiman, Manzil, were far ahead of his later decade efforts. Also, who would you say was more dominant; Rajesh at the peak of his super-stardom, or Amitabh at his peak. I distinctly remember both periods, although I am not able to decide.
    Anyways, like you I too was a die-hard Amitabh fan, at least from the mid 70's to early 80's.

  2. From what I have seen of his films, I would say his best output in his initial years was until Amar Akbar Anthony, which was the film where he peaked as an entertainer. This is an opinion that has only been strengthened by seeing interviews where his colleagues like Moushumi Chatterjee, and Javed, the script writer who was responsible for so many of his films, have said pretty much the same thing.

    I think Amitabh himself would have put Rajesh Khanna's superstardom as something way ahead of his; I would respectfully disagree. I think Amitabh's superstar period dominated filmdom in a way that no one before, or since, has done. Besides, (I may be biased, but) I think Amitabh is a *far* superior actor.

    I was never much of a Rajesh fan, though I did like him in individual movies. And he was a darn sight more bearable than people like Manoj Kumar, Bharat Bhushan, Rajendra Kumar and their ilk.

  3. Ha, read this review, dusted off my old copy of Mili, refreshed my memories and am now ready to comment on your blog! My god, Anu, the details you give! And it still makes me want to watch the movie. I must say Jaya grated on me too with her incessant cheeriness. But she is one of my favourite actresses, so I try to look past her foibles and see her in her sensitive roles. Koshish and Parichay are two of my favourites. In fact, I loved her in Sholay too. (Not the hyper part in the flashback, but the grave widow, whose eyes speak more eloquently than dialogues.)

  4. Long time since I saw Mili - I remember watching it as a kid, but not since then. And I hated Maine kaha phoolon se even back then!

    Perhaps I should see this again. I recalled the basics of the story, but I'd forgotten the finer points of it. And I don't remember anything of people's performances... oh, if only I had another couple of thousand years to live, I might be able to get through some of the films I have on my to-watch list!

  5. I'm glad I 'inspired' you to watch Mili again. Barring my distaste of an overly-hyper Jaya, I *liked* the movie! And I do like her as an actress, only her persistent 'happy-ness' got on my nerves. I liked her much better in her serious roles too.

  6. *sigh* Come into my arms, sister mine. I knew there had to be a reason why I liked you so much! I hate(d) Maine kaha phoolon se too.

    Oh, do watch this. I know what you mean, though. So many movies, so many books, so little time... :(

  7. Wow, so many people who hated 'Maine kaha phoolon se'? I loved the song and Jaya in this movie :( I really liked her as the cheery girl before she became all sari-clad and grave and dying. And I LOVED Amitabh - he looked like a little boy, and made me want to go 'awwww'. This was a cute movie - wasn't Aruna Irani super cute?

  8. This was a movie I loved to hate when I saw it years ago; actually, I hated everything about it. I hated Jaya's cheerfulness, I hated Amitabh's self-pity, and most of all, I hated Aruna Irani's character - it was so totally unnecessary to explain how she was a 'fallen woman' and so not worthy of Ranjeet.

    But your review makes me want to go and watch it again to see if I would still feel the same.

  9. Hey, it helps that we are all different, right? How boring it would be to say 'Yea' and "nay' to the same things all the time. Almost all of us here have liked the movie; the preference for the more-serious Jaya or disliking the song? Well, now we have you balancing *us*! And that is all to the good.

  10. Tina, see, now you have someone who absolutely hated the whole movie! And impugns Amitabh's character on top of that! :))

    Ruhi, if you have the time and the inclination, watch it again, and let me know if time has made a difference to your opinion. (By the way, I agree that that whole scene was unnecessary to the plot.)

  11. I like Amitabh; I do, really; but I preferred his strong, loner roles to this one - it did seem like he was wallowing - maybe I am the sort of person who made his 'angry young man' persona such a hit. :)

  12. Fair enough. :) I, for one, could do away with his stern patriarch roles.

  13. I think we should found 'maine kaha phoolon se' hate club!
    But I liked AB in the film and Aruna Irani. She was fabulous!

  14. Ha ha ha. So typical of you, Harvey. I second that. The club will be overfull in no time. Mostly everyone I know hates that song! Yes, I liked Aruna Irani too! She was absolutely brilliant in that small role. (That I loved AB goes without saying!)


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