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08 February 2017

Phagun (1973)

Directed by: Rajinder Singh Bedi
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Starring: Waheeda Rehman, Jaya Bhaduri, 
Dharmendra, Vijay Arora, Om Prakash
Before we watched Satte pe Satta together-apart, Blog reader Shalini and I had watched Phagun, because she said she wanted to discuss that film with somebody. Phagun puzzled her, she said. So we decided to deconstruct the puzzle to see if we could make it less puzzling. As with Satte pe Satta, the watchalong was interspersed with several exclamations, many, many, many comments, much swooning over Dharmendra, irreverent (and irrelevant) musings, spoilers, etc. [Shalini’s comments in red. Mine in green.]

Gopal (Dharmendra) comes into a house late at night, trying not to wake the servants sleeping in the hall. He walks into a room where his wife is fast asleep.
[Me: 'I love how she's all decked up in gajra and jewellery to sleep.'
S: 'She's definitely high-maintenance.']

Shantha (Waheeda Rehman) is the daughter of the wealthy Shyam Rao Damle (?), who is throughly disappointed that she has married a struggling writer. While Gopal goes to change, Shantha wakes up, and upon not finding him in the room excoriates her parents (whom she has woken up from their sleep), but most especially her father for not liking her husband because he’s poor. While they are sleepily trying to remonstrate with their daughter, Gopal, hearing the hullabulloo, comes down the stairs. 

['I'm with F-I-L...sleep is important.'
I grin.]

Shantha is upset with Gopal. She hates that he comes late – it worries her. Gopal is penitent; but he wants to make enough money so he can rent a place and support her. ‘Don’t be too rich,’ Shantha tells him. 'No woman wants her husband to make so much money…’ 
['What?  I'd be perfectly okay, if K was really rich.'
I’m too fascinated by Dharam to worry about whether S is rich or not. 'Dharam is damn good looking!'  
Shalini agrees.]

Dr Effendi (Om Prakash), Shyam Rao's friend, warns him that his attitude towards Gopal is turning his daughter neurotic. Shyam Rao is both unrepentant and contemptuous.
['Ok, so F-I-L is a jerk...'
'Yup. I think we've established that, no?']

At a party at Shyam Rao’s house that evening, an irascible Shyam Rao refuses to wait for Gopal; it’s not important, he says. However, Gopal (D) arrives just then, much to Shantha’s relief and his FIL’s chagrin. 
['The problem is the khuddari is also so extreme, isn't it?' I muse. 
'Well, we know how bad you are at learning the lessons Hindi films try to teach you!']

Upstairs, Gopal is troubled, but it is clear that he loves Shantha deeply. When she apologises for her father, and tries to make amends for the constant ridicule and disrespect that he’s subjected to, Gopal stops her. If she were to humiliate him, it would be different.
It's the season of Holi, and Gopal would like to buy his wife a decent sari. Unfortunately, he cannot afford it. The shop owner, recognising him as Shyam Rao’s son-in-law tells him not to worry about money, but Gopal, stung to the quick, leaves the store.

Back at the house, Shantha and her friends are preparing to celebrate; initially, Shantha demurs at playing Holi in her expensive Benarasi sari. Her friends drag her away, however, promising not to throw colour at her. 
['How do they play Holi and not dal rang?'
'Because they know the sari is expensive.' 'Duh' remains unsaid.
'Ah... now you kn0w why I don't learn any anything.']

All the while that she's singing and dancing, Shantha is awaiting Gopal’s arrival. Gopal though, is already back home and is happily planning to take part in the revelry. With unfortunate consequences…. 
['She's so happy, till she notices everyone...'  
I agree that her reaction is natural.  
'Something said in the spur of the moment destroys everything.']
Gopal agrees that he had no right to despoil something that he couldn’t afford to buy her. Turning, he leaves the house, never to return. Shantha's mother is bereft What has her husband achieved? Shyam Rao, however, is still unrepentant, even yelling at Effendi, who tries to interject some sense. (We both like the mother.) 
'Oh, she fainted.' 
'She’s pregnant, no?'
 'Yes, I learnt one lesson!'

As the pregnancy progresses, Effendi and Shantha’s parents try their best to search for Gopal. The stress of her husband’s continued absence, and her father's belligerence sends Shantha into early labour. Holis come and go, but there’s no sign of the missing Gopal. Anasuya passes away, and not soon after, Shyam Rao dies as well. Shantha is all alone. Dr Effendi is the only person left that she can depend on. 
['Both parents dead.'
'Yes, fotoo on the wall.'
'Unfeeling woman!'
Hey, she cried!
'I meant you!'
I hang my head in shame.]
Years pass and soon, Santosh (Jaya Bhaduri) is all grown up. Called Tosh/Toshi for short, she’s a chirpy collegian who drives herself to college, but is bound by her mother’s fret and worry if she’s even a minute late. 
(Shalini and I agree that she looks tres chic here.)

It’s quite clear, though, that Tosh is perfectly capable of thinking for herself. She also has a very close and affectionate relationship with her mother, teasing her about the latter’s love for her husband.
['Jaya was very open about her crush on Dharmendra.'
'Who can blame her?']
Later, upon telling her mother that boys harass her on the street, Shantha advises her to retort, 'Ghar mein maa behan nahin hai kya?’ Tosh takes the lesson to heart, and gets a chance to practice it the very next day when she goes to the hospital to pick up her friend, Yasmin. Unfortunately for her, the answer to that is ‘Nahin toh’, which flummoxes the girl. Her mother hadn’t taught her what to say if they responded.
Yasmin persuades Tosh to bunk classes and go to the movies.  
[Shalini and I giggle over Tosh’s ‘Main ek bachche ki maa hoon’. We also notice that the film they’ve gone to watch is Dastak, a bit of self-referencing there. 
'I love Jaya’s dress in this scene. I had one just like that.' 
S weeps.I didn’t. 
‘You had a deprived childhood,’ I grin.]

Tosh and Yasmin get back from the film when Yasmin suddenly realises that she is supposed to be at the operation theatre. (Didn’t Tosh just pick her up from the hospital? And this airhead is a doctor? Her poor patients!) Tosh follows Yasmin into the operation theatre (and Shalini and I have a WTH? moment), and promptly screams at the sight of blood. Dr Suman (Vijay Arora, the young man Tosh had met earlier, who had no mother or sisters), concerned, follows her out.
(Are doctors allowed to just leave their patients mid-operation?) He tries to console a shaken Tosh, and is taken aback when she snaps ‘I hate you!’ at him and runs away.

Back home, Tosh confides in her mother that she hates a young man. Why? What has he done? asks a surprised Shantha. Nothing, mutters Tosh. Whereupon Shantha, like all good Indian mothers, sharply informs her that this is not the time for her to hate or love anyone; she should be focusing on her studies. (I grin. We both admire Waheeda’s designer grey streak, though we admit we are too lazy to cultivate it ourselves.)

The next morning, in the hospital, Yasmin waylays Suman, claiming to be in love with him. ’Pyar kya hota hai tum jaisi ladki ko kya maloom? 
['And just like that, I hate Suman.' 
'What’s with the ‘tum jaisi ladki’?']  
But worse is to come. 
Mard sirf usi aurat se pyar karta hai jo apne aap ko bachaakar sambhalkar rakha ho.’ (Our heads meet our keyboards in disbelief.) Suman is very clear that women who grow up without their fathers all turn into sluts. Like Yasmin. He ends by equating her to a corpse. Just then Tosh comes to meet Yasmin. Or is to see Suman?  
['And this is what Santosh likes about him? Oi Vey!'  
 'They’re in love? Just like that?!']

Suman's and Tosh's newfound camaraderie is soon put to test. Suman decides he has to warn Tosh about Yasmin. She’s an ‘awaara badchalan ladki’ he tells Tosh. He forbids her from maintaining that friendship.  

['Sigh. Yup. He gets to tell her who she should be friends with!'  
I'm speechless! S sends me an evil grin emoji as she dares me to discuss man-woman relationships in 70s Hindi films. I’m too shaken to take up her dare.  
‘I’m beginning to hate this film; I don’t remember all this rot!  
Shalini promptly welcomes me into her head.]

While Tosh is mad enough to ask him what right he had to tell her what to do, and who to meet, it is clear that she’s madly in love with him. It’s also clear – to us – that she has serious daddy issues. In any case, she’s forthright enough to tell him that, if she did marry, it would be to someone who would allow her mother to live with them. 
Suman agrees – if not a father, he’ll at least gain a mother. What about his parents? Oh, he’s an orphan. 'Kitni khushi ki…' sparkles Tosh girlishly before she cuts off that thought in mid-sentence. (Shalini and I collapse into laughter.)

Shantha comes to know of their romance, and despite Toshi’s slight apprehension, gives her blessing to their marriage. 
She asks Suman to stay with them, but he demurs; he makes a counteroffer: she could stay with them. (We admire Jaya’s hair and songs that start abruptly, but stay in context.) Waheeda is a little verklempt at the thought of her bitiya getting married.

Issues begin to raise their head soon after their marriage. It turns out that Shantha has decided to go with the couple on their honeymoon. (Shalini and I are horrified at the thought. We feel a twinge of sympathy for Suman.) But better sense (and the advice of her maid) prevails, and she sends them off with some sensible advice to her daughter. (‘You can only belong to one person; don’t let a third person interfere with your marriage.’)

A week passes. [Shalini’s sympathy for Suman wanes. Because Toshi is feeding Suman like a proper wife should. 
'I’ve never ‘fed’ S. Bad wife!' I am properly chastened. 
'I think K would run away in panic if I tried that.'  
'S would be scared I was going to eat his food.' 
'Wise man.'
Thankfully, Toshi feels the same way we do.

But we are back to sympathising with Suman again – Shantha, driven by loneliness, decides to come stay with them on their honeymoon. 
More foreshadowing takes place. Shalini and I nod knowingly, and have a discussion about social norms that’s probably interesting only to us.

Minor issues keep cropping up – Shantha making breakfast for Suman, the young couple’s increasing lack of privacy, Shantha’s loneliness leading her to cross the line many times. Finally, the gloves come off, and Suman and Toshi have a showdown.
Written, produced and directed by Rajinder Singh Bedi, Phagun is a sensitive look at people and relationships. In Waheeda’s character, we have a woman who is neither ‘devi’ nor ‘whore’. She’s prickly, has her issues, loves her daughter to bits and wants nothing more than to not repeat her parents’ mistakes.
Only, as Toshi tells her, her grandparents ruined their daughter’s marriage by not loving her enough to want her to be happy. Her mother will ruin her marriage by loving her too much. Waheeda Rehman shone in a role that required her to show a complexity of emotions, including the taboo one of seeing herself in Suman’s arms. 
Her horrified reaction to that moment, the pushing away of his offering of flowers, or even deliberately insulting him as a reaction to her weakness was a subtle but powerful scene.  She also stands up to her parents, not as much as she should have, perhaps, but her love and support for her husband is genuine. And therefore, her punishment seems all the more overkill.
Dharmendra appears in a cameo. As a man who takes his self-respect seriously, it is easy enough to see where he becomes so caught up in the principle that he forgets that his wife is a living, breathing human being. As she so poignantly asks him in the end: ‘Itni chhoti si bhool, aur itni badi saza’? He has the grace to admit, ‘Maine apne aap ko saza diya.’ He, of course, looked gorgeous (even with an ill-fitting wig).

Jaya’s Toshi was a girl on the cusp of womanhood; the slight immaturity in the beginning is balanced by finding her own voice and her own self as time passes. Initially drawn to Suman because he resembles her father, she soon learns that growing up brings along problems that she needs to resolve on her own.
Torn between mother and husband, she is the most grounded of the characters. While Suman is the average MCP, Toshi ticks him off quite well. There’s an understanding of what Suman feels at Shantha’s intrusion, tempered by her recognition of what’s driving her mother’s actions. She’s sympathetic to both, but does not let either of them get away with their behaviour. 
Jaya played her role with the sensitivity that it demanded, never letting herself be too chirpy (a flaw I’ve associated with some of her roles) nor too maudlin. One of her best scenes is towards the end where, after Shantha leaves and Suman begs for affirmation, she tells him, ‘Woh main thi; main woh thi.’ 
Suman is a narcissistic, self-absorbed man-child, or as Shalini says, the average Indian male. He is certainly sanctimonious, but the movie treads a middle path – even as it allows him the right to be irritated, it slams his reaction to that irritation as over-the-top. Both Toshi and Effendi are clear that he’s not right.
Shalini concurs that the film took a compassionate, not judgemental look, at all its characters. (Plus, she gives me credit for rescuing her from her filmi hangups.) For a sensitive look at human frailties, of how relationships need careful handling, how we need to be aware of what we are saying and how we say it, and of how, sometimes, it's the silliest things that cause a rift, Phagun certainly fit the bill.

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