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25 October 2017

Anuradha (1960)

Directed by: Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Music: Pandit Ravi Shankar
Lyrics: Shailendra
Starring: Leela Naidu, Balraj Sahni, 
Abhi Bhattacharya, Nasir Hussain, 
Hari Shivdasani, Ashim Kumar, 
Ranu Mukherjee, Mukri, David
Asit Sen, Rashid Khan
How much should we sacrifice for love? And is love enough? Does giving up on your own dreams to follow your heart bring you happiness? 

In a tiny village, a dedicated doctor, Nirmal Choudhary (Balraj Sahni) is making the rounds, along with his little chatter-box of a daughter, Ranu (Ranu Mukherjee). 
She ‘helps’ her father examine his patients and keeps him entertained in his [sparse] spare time. Here, we also meet Anuradha (Leela Naidu), Nirmal’s beautiful wife of ten years. We'd heard Anuradha before – when the film begins, we hear her voice over the radio (the beautiful Saanwre saanwre) – she is Anuradha Roy, the famous singer, says the announcer.

This Anuradha is a quiet, lonely woman who has been away from the public eye for ten long years. During this time, she has been married, has had a child, and now spends her days cooking and cleaning, and her nights, waiting for her husband to return home. 
Nirmal has dedicated his life to caring for the villagers, and it is Anuradha who’s paying the price. However, she’s delighted when Nirmal promises he will take her to the festivities in the village that evening. It’s something to look forward to amidst the drudgery of her daily life. As she finishes her chores, and begins to look for a sari to wear that evening, she spots an old sari that triggers her memories of how she had first met Nirmal.
A young, chirpy Anuradha was at a store shopping for saris. Her brother, Ashim (Ashim Kumar) was getting impatient – she’d been there for two hours! Cross, he'd walked out of the store only to bump into Nirmal, a friend. He'd enlisted Nirmal’s help to somehow make Anuradha buy the sari he'd chosen for her. Anuradha had not only realised what they were up to but was also aware that Nirmal was captivated by her. She wasn't indifferent to him either.
Later, after a performance on stage – a misstep had caused her to sprain her ankle badly. Nirmal, who’d attended the show with Ashim, took her home, where he prescribed an injection to alleviate the pain.

Ashim’s and Anuradha’s father, Brijeshwar Prasad Roy (Hari Shivdasani), was not very enthused about this young doctor’s treatment of his daughter, and had called in his family doctor. Luckily, the family doctor assuaged Mr Roy’s fears – Nirmal is an extremely competent doctor; in fact, he’s brilliant.
Mr Roy wasn't too convinced, but his daughter was more impressed with Nirmal’s medical (and other) skills than he realised. In the month that it took her to recover, Anuradha had fallen deeply in love with Nirmal. She was attracted to his sense of humour, his kindness and his ideals. Nirmal, on the other hand, was attracted to Anuradha’s beauty and talent. 
However, all that is past... Nirmal has forgotten that he promised to take her to the festival that evening, and when he returns late at night, she tries to jolt him out of his preoccupation. Does he recognise this sari? Not really. And the music that wafts in from the village? It disturbs him. Despite all this, their relationship is underscored by affection and Anuradha seems to be relatively content, if not happy with the man she's married. 

Her past refuses to stay interred, however, and Ranu's demand to listen to one of her mother's old records opens the floodgates of other memories - learning that her father had his own plans for her marriage, Anuradha had hastened to tell Nirmal.

Nirmal had been committed to returning to his village to work; his mother had died for lack of medical facilities. Life in the village is hard, he'd warned her, and his life’s mission was not compatible with Anuradha’s talent as a singer and her dreams of a recording career. Who would listen to her sing in the village? Deeply in love with him at this point, Anuradha had brushed off his misgivings. He would listen to her music… She was determined that nothing – not her father, nor his wealth, nor her music – would stand in their way.  

Mr Roy's choice of bridegroom was Deepak (Abhi Bhattacharya), the son of Mr Roy’s dearest friend, who had just finished his studies abroad. When Deepak, egged on by Mr Roy, had come to talk to her that evening, Anuradha had confessed that she loved Nirmal.
Poor Deepak – so in love with Anuradha… however, he’s a decent man, and was well aware that it wasn't enough that he loved Anuradha. But he'd had one question for her: Would she be happy with Nirmal? Deepak had also offered to take the blame to protect Anuradha from her father's wrath. She, rightly enough, had refused. Sadly, Deepak had left, but not before he'd assured her that he would always stand their friend. If she ever needed him, all she had to do was call. 
When Mr Roy heard the news, he had fallen into an apoplectic fit and laid down the law – Anuradha will not meet Nirmal again. That had worked so well: Anuradha had left her home to go to Nirmal.

And now, ten years later – the man who wanted to hear her sing, the husband who wanted her to wear the sari he had chosen for her, the one who ran out to buy her flowers – she doesn't know where she's lost him. Or herself. 
Her husband is too preoccupied with his patients to have much time for her – any spare time is spent in his laboratory; sometimes, he even falls asleep over his research. Anuradha is beginning to feel more and more trapped.

One day, a chastened Mr Roy appears on their doorstep. Having disowned his daughter upon her marriage, it’s taken him ten years to realise that his stubbornness is hurting no one but himself. He befriends Ranu (who's alone at  home when he arrives), and he finally makes peace with his daughter and son-in-law, both of whom greet him joyfully. 
When Anuradha refuses to return home with him (for a holiday), he asks if he can take Rano with him. Before they leave, however, he cannot resist asking his daughter what she got out of marrying Nirmal. ‘Happiness’, replies Anuradha – unconvincingly.

A few days later, another visitor drops in on them – accidentally. Deepak, still in love with Anuradha, has never married. However, he’s deemed a prize ‘catch’ and an heiress named Seema is busily trying to catch his eye. She is furious when Deepak not only turns down her advances, but refuses to explain why he won’t marry her. 
Her driving, already erratic, becomes dangerously so, and soon enough, they are introducing themselves – while still in the car – to a nearby tree.  Seema is badly hurt, but Deepak escapes with minor injuries. As the local doctor, Nirmal is soon on the scene. Seeing the scope of Seema’s injuries, he has her removed to the Zamindar’s residence where he operates on her. Since Deepak is not seriously hurt, Nirmal has him taken to his house. 
When Nirmal discovers that Anuradha and Deepak know each other, he insists that Deepak stay on as a guest. Deepak soon claims his rights as an old friend, and requests Anuradha to sing. A song that expresses many unvoiced regrets and long-repressed feelings, and one that makes Deepak privy to Anuradha’s unhappiness, and to Nirmal’s total disinterest in her music.
What will happen now? Deepak’s visit is obviously a catalyst in Anuradha’s unhappy life. Will he offer her his love (it is obvious that he still cares for her) and a return to her career and old way of life? Has Anuradha had enough of waiting for her husband to notice her? Will she grasp this second chance that life is seemingly offering her? And will Nirmal ever realise just how much he’s been taking his wife for granted?
Anuradha is a complex film – sometimes slow – that sensitively portrays a marital relationship, and the responsibilities of both husband and wife to make it work. Balraj Sahni and Leela Naidu (in her debut) play the protagonists. (While Leela Naidu is exquisite, I did wonder what Nutan would have done with this role.)
Sahni turns in a restrained performance and manages not to look like he was double his heroine’s age. (Naidu was barely 20 then.)

I also loved the music – Pt Ravi Shankar composed some lovely songs for the film, and while director Hrishikesh Mukherjee was not overtly fond of songs in his films (which he only added out of commercial considerations), he did know how to use them in his narrative. Starting with Saanware saanware that establishes who Anuradha is, the songs come in at pertinent plot points and help further the story. My favourite song in this film has to be Haay re woh din kyun na aaye, followed by Kaise beete din kaisi beeti ratiyaan, both plaintive songs of regret that exquisitely portray (courtesy Shailendra) the protagonist’s state of mind. 
Hrishikesh Mukherjee excelled in making films about ordinary people leading ordinary lives, and Anuradha is replete with this ordinariness – the villages scenes while the good doctor goes on his rounds, the motley characters who people that village, the dialogues that are ordinary conversation and not declamatory speeches, even the silences that speak volumes – all lend an authenticity to the script. Anuradha is a thoughtful treatise on how marriage can threaten the individuality of the spouses. 

So why do I have faint misgivings – despite not really apportioning blame, it was clear that the film idealised Nirmal. He's a doctor who could have minted money in the city; however, he chooses to move to a remote village to serve the poor. Anuradha's art is not deemed significant – either by her (she throws it all up without a second thought) or by her husband or by society at large. Compared to saving lives, what merit can art claim?   

The reason for my conflicting emotions is also due to the care that Hrishikesh Mukherjee took in not painting any character in stark colours. 
I will agree that Nirmal is not a villain, for all his self-absorption. He had foreseen that Anuradha would miss her music. Where he falters is in taking her for granted, so much so even her little desires – like going to the village festival – or her hopes – that he would actually remember their anniversary – are dashed before they are even formed. It is not that he has stopped loving his wife; it is that his life is bound in medicine and research that he has no time to actually see his wife or realise she aches for his company, as she does for her music. 
Anuradha, too, is a complex character – once so confident of standing up to her father so she could marry Nirmal, she is now a woman who's a pale shadow of herself. One look at her face as she realises that Nirmal is not even listening to her sing (after such a long time), and you realise what a steady erosion of self-worth can do to any person. 
It is that lack of self-worth that renders her mutely helpless, unable to pick up the pieces of her life so she can achieve her dreams. When Nirmal had asked her who would listen to her sing, Anuradha had answered, ‘You’. Now, she’s lost her audience of one; worse, he hasn’t even noticed. Her music has been long forgotten, her musical instruments have been gathering dust, and Anuradha has been reduced to a cipher. At one point she asks him, 'Baatcheet karoon toh kis se? Deewaron se?'
 
If we are left not despising Anuradha for her ‘selfishness’ in wanting something for herself, it is because of the nuance that writer Sachin Bhowmick imparts to the female character (he based the story on Madame Bovary). Anuradha has no problems being a housewife – she conducts herself with the utmost responsibility, and there’s no evidence that she’s a put-upon victim. Anuradha may want her husband’s attention, and feel herself neglected at its lack, but it’s obvious there has been love and laughter, and she's ever mindful of his honour – however unhappy she is, and however much she agrees with Deepak's truths, she will not let him disrespect Nirmal. 
Deepak, the ‘other man’, is not a villain either – he is not trying to persuade Anuradha to leave Nirmal so she will turn to him instead. He understands her, understands her world, and is both loving and supportive. His frustration is at her choosing to ignore her talent. When she realises that Deepak hasn't forgotten any of her songs, it's a revelation to Anuradha 'Chalo, ye bhi achha hai, dus baras ke baad koi toh aaya, jisne mujhe bataaya ki main ab bhi gaa sakti hoon.'  (It is fortunate that after ten years, someone can tell me that I can still sing!)

Perhaps Mr Roy had a point when he wanted Anuradha to marry Deepak. Perhaps he knew his daughter better than she did herself. Because Deepak remembers her music, and is in fact, more respectful of her art than Nirmal, but it is telling that Anuradha’s eyes follow not him, but her immersed-in-a-book husband as she sings. (So telling that Deepak has a rueful smile on his face when he finally leaves.)

The end to me seemed rather convenient – a band-aid to plug a deluge – because Anuradha’s choices are not really choices. Stay, and risk being trapped within the narrow confines of a conscribed life. Leave, and destroy the family she loves. In other words, she has to choose between her art and her family. Is it so wrong for a woman to want both? When Deepak asks Anuradha: 'Kya apni taraf koi farz nahin?', I clapped mentally. 

When we watched the film, my husband and I disputed what the ending meant – he felt that Nirmal, having been rudely woken up to the realisation that he might lose his wife, would attempt to make amends. That the ending showed that the spouses had come to a genuine understanding of each other. My feeling was that Anuradha’s choice had precious little to do with ‘choice’ and I wondered what would happen when Nirmal, after an initial push to be more mindful of his wife, goes back to being the overworked, self-absorbed doctor he always was. (It was exacerbated by Nasir Hussain's exultation of 'a woman's sacrifice' and the 'woman behind a successful man' speech. Ugh!) Even today, nearly seven decades after this film was made, marriage – for most women – means they have to sacrifice their dreams and aspirations. And I wonder: is the sacrifice worth it for them?

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