31 March 2020

Parineeta (1953)

Directed by: Bimal Roy
Music: Arun Kumar Mukherjee
Lyrics: Bharat Vyas
Starring: Ashok Kumar, Meena Kumari, 
Asit Baran, Nasir Hussain, 
Badri Prasad, Protima Devi, 
SN Bannerjee, Manorama
The other day, while flipping through films on Amazon Prime, I came across Parineeta. I’d initially listed this film for a post I intended to do one August – for a ‘Meena Kumari Month’ on this blog. That August came and went; so did the next. And August 2020 is far away – for now. And Meena Kumari being my husband’s favourite heroine, he was more inclined to sit and watch the film with me.  So, since I’d just recently watched the film, and since today is Meena Kumari's 48th death anniversary,   here we go...

Parineeta is the story of two families – neighbours; one is the family of a wealthy zamindar, Nabin Rai (Badri Prasad), which includes his wife (Protima Devi), his two sons, Avinash (?) and Shekhar (Ashok Kumar), and Avinash’s wife (?). Their mansion stands next to Gurcharan’s (Nasir Hussain) modest dwelling. In it resides Gurcharan’s family – his wife, his three children and his orphaned niece, Lalita (Meena Kumari). The families are very friendly indeed, with the Gurcharan's girls making their way into Nabin Rai's household through a connected terrace.
Gurcharan is a poor man, having mortgaged his house to Nabin Rai for his eldest daughter’s wedding. He not only hasn’t been able to repay the loan, he’s finding it hard to even pay the interest, and put food on the table. Lalita strives hard to lend a hand to her overworked, overstressed aunt, but the latter often snaps under the pressure. Though it upsets her, Lalita is too happy a person to be cowed down by what she lacks; whenever she gets some time from her chores, she runs off to the neighbours’. Here too, she makes herself useful; she helps in the kitchen, she takes care of Shekhar’s things, and in turn, he teaches her to read and write. 
Meanwhile, Nabin Rai is putting certain things into motion – he had lent Gurcharan the money for his daughter’s wedding, and now he wants it repaid. He summons Gurcharan to enquire when he might repay the loan – poor Gurcharan! His meagre salary barely pays for the upkeep of his family; he has his daughter and niece to marry off, another daughter to educate and a babe in arms… could he have some more time?
This is what Nabin Rai has been waiting for; he informs Gurcharan that he cannot wait much longer. His wife is ailing and the doctor has advised him to take her to a more salubrious climate. He needs the money in a month. Gurcharan leaves, despondent. 
Nabin Rai is also trying to fix Shekhar’s marriage. Shekhar, who’s studying for Law, will soon appear at the Bar, and it is time he was wedded. And Nabin Rai has just the girl in mind – the daughter of another wealthy zamindar. He very nearly fixes the marriage when his wife throws a spanner into the works – the wedding will be fixed only if Shekhar likes the girl. After all, times have changed!
Reluctantly, Nabin Rai agrees, and a date is fixed for Shekhar to meet his prospective bride. Meanwhile, Lalita is busy comforting her uncle and tending to her other chores, when her friend Charu (?) comes to invite her to their house to come play cards. Despite her aunt’s disapproval, she gives Lalita permission. At Charu's house, Lalita is initially taken aback to meet a stranger – Charu’s uncle, Girin (Asit Baran) is visiting from Munger. 
But she hurries inside, where Charu’s mother (Manorama) is eagerly awaiting her so they can begin playing. Outside the room, Girin, struck by Lalita’s beauty is very restless, much to the amusement of his brother-in-law (SN Bannerjee). Girin grabs his chance to join the ladies; it only increases his infatuation with Lalita. 
The next day, Shekhar is reluctantly getting ready to ‘see’ the girl. Lalitha teases him about his prospective bride but helps him choose his clothes. Shekhar and Avinash are given a grand welcome at their destination – his future father-in-law even apologises for the ‘meagre’ table; why, when his niece was wed, there were 101 dishes to welcome the bridegroom-to-be! Shekhar is polite, but non-committal, and upon meeting the girl (who does not say a word), returns home, where his only response to his mother and sister-in-law is that the girl is a bit ‘healthy’ but so laden with gold that he really didn’t know how she looked. 
Both women realise that Shekhar is not very enthused about the relationship.  

Lalita, initially discomfited, is now beggining to feel very comfortable around Girin. Chachi, as she calls Charu’s mother, is an affectionate soul whose only interest is in playing cards and going out. So when Girin proposes a trip to the theatre, Chachi is thrilled. So are Lalita and Malti, for whom this proposed outing is a treat. But when Lalita, all dressed up, comes to Shekhar’s room to take some money, Shekhar snaps at her upon learning where she’s going. Lalita, who has no clue why Shekhar should be so angry, is nevertheless upset by his huffiness. 
So upset, in fact, that she feigns a headache and sends Malti and Anu off with Charu and her family, much to Girin’s disappointment.

He shouldn’t have been – his brother-in-law had already warned him; Lalita may be poor, but she’s a kuleen brahmin; Girin, for all his wealth, is still a shudra. Isn’t he aiming too high? Girin is falling in love with Lalita but he’s not blind to the social differences between their families. So, when he does go to meet Gurcharan, it is with the awareness that however eligible he might be, he will not be considered a prospective bridegroom. Gurcharan welcomes him warmly, having heard all about Girin from his girls. 
So friendly is Girin that on subsequent visits, the worried Gurcharan confides in him his hopes and fears – Lalita is already the age for marriage; Malti is not far behind, and soon, Anu will also grow up; where is he going to find grooms for all three? Especially when they cannot be dowered. Could Girin help? Perhaps among his acquaintances, there may be a brahmin boy who would not be loth to marry Lalitha? His niece is very accomplished, and will be the pride of any household she marries into! Poor Girin! However, he agrees cordially to spread the word.
Meanwhile, Nabin Rai is exultant – the grace period he had given Gurcharan is nearing and Gurcharan hadn’t paid a paisa towards the interest, much less the loan amount. Now, he can legally foreclose on the loan, and evict Gurcharan and his family. Nabin Rai has even got his munim to get the papers ready and asked Avinash to hire an architect to draw a plan for a house he wants to build on that land.
Gurcharan returns home, a broken man. Lalita hurries off to get him some tea when Girin walks in. Seeing Gurcharan’s state, Girin begs him to state the reason for his despondency. Initially reluctant, Gurcharan finally breaks down – he’s about to lose his ancestral home. Impulsively, Girin offers to lend him the money; no, he doesn’t want any collateral; no, no interest either. The money is of no use to him right now, and Gurcharan can repay him whenever he can.
Gurcharan cannot believe his ears! 3000 rupees! It’s like a weight has fallen off his shoulders. He’s genuinely grateful to Girin, who is embarrassed at the older man’s gratitude. But he has one condition – Gurcharan should not disclose his benefactor’s name to anybody.

This action has several consequences – for one, Gurcharan, once again called to Nabin Rai’s house, is now able to hold his head high. In front of Nabin Rai’s cronies, called to witness the man’s humiliation, Gurcharan is able to repay the entire amount – loan and interest to an astounded Nabin Rai, who’s forced to return the deed to Gurcharan’s house. Gurcharan also summons up his courage to tell Nabin Rai off for his usury.
Though Gurcharan has been very circumspect, Anu, prattling on to a morose Shekhar, lets the cat out of the bag – she informs him that ‘Girin babu’ is a very generous man; he had lent them the money to reclaim their house! Not only that, he's looking for a groom for Lalita. 
Shekhar is upset – Lalita is always taking money from him; couldn’t Gurcharan have come to him for the money instead? Lalita, sensing his disturbance but not knowing the cause, is upset too. Shekhar, by now, is very suspicious of Girin’s growing intimacy with Gurcharan’s family (and hence, with Lalita?), and has come to meet Gurcharan; he is taken aback to see Girin settled comfortably there. Gurcharan and Girin had gone to meet a few prospective grooms, Gurcharan tells Shekhar, and he had liked a couple of them. But Girin is very dismissive – this one’s not handsome; that one’s not worthy of Lalita, and so on. 
Shekhar is beginning to dislike this smiling young man very much indeed, but he masks his growing irritation, and quickly leaves the place.  

Meanwhile Anu, who’s busy organising her doll’s wedding, asks Lalita to make a garland because she’s too busy, Lalita agrees. Shekhar had jokingly asked Anu for a garland for him as well, and because Anu is ‘so busy’, she sends Lalita with it. And because Lalita is trying to coax Shekhar out of his sulks, she mischievously throws the garland around his neck. 
Only to be taken aback at his reaction. It’s as if her action was the catalyst that Shekhar needed to really realise his own feelings. “Today’s the only auspicious day for months,” Shekhar reminds her. (Anu had mentioned that her father had said so.)  And when a man and woman exchange garlands, what else can it mean? As a shocked Lalita realises what she’s inadvertently done, Shekhar puts the garland around her neck.
As Lalita undergoes a gamut of emotions – shock, bewilderment, shyness, and finally, happiness, Shekhar confesses that he loves her, had loved her all along, he just hadn’t realised it. And Lalita, acutely aware of her own feelings now, knows that she loves him too.

However, Shekhar has to take his mother to Madhupur. Lalita was to have accompanied them, but with talks of her marriage being discussed, Lalita had had to bow out. Also, Gurcharan had not been feeling too well. But when they return, Shekhar assures Lalita, he will talk to his mother. He hands Lalita the keys to his room, telling her that she should take whatever money she needs from the cupboard. Shekhar and his mother leave, and Lalita is engrossed in her own world. But neither of them know then that Gurcharan has asked Girin if he would marry Lalita, nor that Nabin Rai’s anger will soon wreak havoc on both their households. 
Parineeta, based on Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s novel of the same name, is a typical Bimal Roy film – a story of ordinary people who lead ordinary lives. The film revolves around Lalita, who’s the ‘parineeta’ of the title, and a young Meena Kumari shone in a role that gave her plenty of scope to perform.  
Her Lalita is certainly no pushover, and even when Shekhar misunderstands the situation, Lalita retains her dignity. There are several scenes where, having squabbled with Shekhar, she flounces away prettily, having had her say. (I must confess that Meena flounces very well indeed!) Lalita is a homemaker, finding joy in taking on the ordinary chores of everyday life. She helps Shekhar’s mother in the kitchen, and her aunt at home, and the former even takes her along wherever she goes. It is clear that Shekhar’s mother depends as much on Lalita as Gurcharan and his wife do. Neither is Lalita treated badly – her aunt might snap at her, but she’s not a cruel woman.

Meena is ably complemented by Ashok Kumar playing Shekhar, with the right amount of benign entitlement. He’s not a bad soul, but he certainly takes much for granted in the beginning, including Lalita. 
When he realises his mistake (and that scene was a masterpiece in the way it’s woven together), his genuine repentance makes you understand him even if you do not sympathise with his initial reaction. Ashok Kumar's Shekhar is mischievous, kind, possessive, jealous and cruel by turns, and the actor display his mastery over his craft - his mobile face says more than any dialogue ever could.
The relationship that grows between Shekhar and Lalita is also very realistically drawn; they have grown up together, going in and out of each other’s houses through a common passage through their terraces. Lalita is so comfortable with Shekhar that she doesn’t ask him before she takes money from his cupboard; she tells him. They even tease each other with the ease of siblings. It takes the appearance of an outsider for them to realise their feelings for each other.
That ease, that comfort, the fondness that grows into love is so serenely drawn, and with so much restraint that it’s not hard for us to root for them to be together.

That restraint shows itself in the rest of the film as well; Gurcharan’s distressful situation is not underlined; it’s there in his bearing, in the way he is cowed down before those whom he considers his betters, in his utter gratitude at even the slightest sign of friendship. Yet, he and his family are not destitute, and he can share a laugh with his niece, the children are relatively happy, and there’s laughter as well as sadness. 
Nabin Rai, too, is not an evil man, merely a greedy one. In effect, no one is a stereotype.

Much is left unsaid, and the silences speak as loudly than words. In this, Bimal Roy was aided by his leads – Ashok Kumar was already a thespian by then, and Meena Kumari, still a novice who considered Ashok Kumar her ‘guru’, was an apt pupil. 
Parineeta won Meena her second consecutive Filmfare Award for Best Actress. (Bimal Roy won his second consecutive award for Best Director as well.)

And of course, a word about the music:  Each one of Arun Kumar Mukherjee's compositions was used to pull the narrative forward and except for the ballet sequence, didn’t seem out of place. Parineeta is available on Tom Daniel's channel on YouTube. Unfortunately, his version is only close to 2 hours (the film is actually 2.5 hours long) but but I can't find a single version that's full-length. 

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