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08 December 2020

Anupama (1966)

 Directed by: Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Music: Hemant Kumar
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
Starring: Sharmila Tagore, Tarun Bose,
Dharmendra, Deven Varma,
Shashikala, David,
Brahm Bhardwaj,
Durga Khote, Dulari,

December 8 marks the birthdays of two of my favourite actors – Dharmendra and Sharmila Tagore. They made a gorgeous couple. To celebrate their joint birthdays, I decided to review one of my favourite films of all time.

The story of a young girl who breaks off not only from the shackles of her own personal trauma, but learns how to make her own choices, free from coercion – benign or otherwise.

The story of a young man, who loving the girl, cannot, will not, take decisions for her, because he doesn’t want her to trade a father who rules her for a husband who will.

The story of a man, who torn apart by personal tragedy, cannot love his daughter except through an alcoholic haze. And who feels guilty because he cannot accept her when he’s sober.

As always, there aren’t ‘bad’ people in Hrishida’s universe. Painfully flawed, perhaps, but human in their flaws. That doesn’t lessen the hurt they inflict on the ones they love dearly, however.

Anupama opens with a different kind of love story – that of an older man, Mohan Sharma (Tarun Bose) married late, who dotes on his new bride, Aruna (Surekha Pandit). They are deliriously happy, and soon Aruna is expecting a baby.
Mohan is quite satisfied with his life but is swept away by Aruna’s happiness. Alas, complications arise during the pregnancy, and Aruna dies in childbirth. 

Inconsolable, and blaming his little daughter for Aruna’s death, Mohan banishes her into the keeping of a nurse, Sarla (Dulari). Mohan turns to his work for solace. That takes care of the days, but the nights are a different matter. Soon, Mohan is seeking solace in alcohol. And his little daughter, Uma, is growing under the shadow of neglect and utter dislike.

It’s as if Mohan is torn – sober, he doesn’t want to even see his daughter’s face. Drunk, he’s remorseful, and showers her with love and gifts. Internalising his dislike and blaming herself for her mother’s death, Uma grows up into a shy, retiring young woman (Sharmila Tagore).

Uma is socially inept and faced with her father’s vacillation between rage and lachrymose affection, is terrified of meeting anyone, or indeed of voicing an opinion at all. She finds her comfort in her writing, her books, and in Nature.

But Mohan’s alcoholism is beginning to affect his health. And his family doctor advises him to take a break from work and alcohol if he wants to live. So, Mohan, with Sarla and Uma in tow, decides to accept his friend, Suresh Bakshi’s (Brahm Bharadwaj) invitation to visit him at Mahabaleshwar.

There, Uma is introduced to Anita (Shashikala) – ‘Annie’ – a preternaturally cheerful young woman her age. Anita, too, had lost her mother at an early age. Unlike Uma, however, Anita is a lovingly spoilt, confident young woman, the apple of her father's eye. Visiting Mahabaleshwar is Arun (Deven Varma), the son of Mohan’s late friend, who Mohan hopes, will marry Uma. With Arun comes his best friend Ashok (Dharmendra), a principled teacher, and the latter’s mother (Durga Khote) and sister, Gauri (Naina). Annie, who is of the ‘Hail fellow, well met’ well-meaning but overbearing type, harangues Arun and rides roughshod over Arun's mother and sister, forcing everyone to come and stays at the family guest house adjoining their spacious villa.

Setting a chain of events which will eventually lead to Uma’s emancipation.

Ashok, a teacher by profession, is also a poet and writer. He’s drawn to the quiet Uma, and his sensitivity does much to draw her out of her shell. His mother’s affection is balm to the love-starved young woman; for the first time in her life, she has found someone who accepts her whole-heartedly.

Watching her bloom under their warmth, both Sarla and Annie encourage the friendship that continues even after the families return to Bombay. Ashok’s feelings towards Uma are deepening and it is clear that she reciprocates his quiet affection. It is a romance that grows slowly, organically, and is all the more realistic because of that.

Unbeknownst to them, another romance is flourishing. Arun is finding the talkative, chirpy Annie more to his liking than the proposed match with Uma. And Annie, despite teasing him mercilessly, finds herself falling in love with this gentle man. Waiting in the wings is Uncle Moses (David), who is happily encouraging both couples to discover their own hearts.
But poor Arun, ‘promised’ to Uma, is frightened stiff of letting Mohan know that he’s changed his mind. And Mohan detests Ashok – for not being rich; for not using his education to get ahead; for not being ‘worthy’ of his daughter. He even forbids Uma to meet Ashok. And Uma is terrified of her father.

How will these tangled relationships be resolved?   

Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anupama was poetry on celluloid. In this, he was aided by Jaywant Pathare’s cinematography, that delicately framed shades of black and white.

Hemant Kumar composed some lovely melodies for this film, even lending his voice to Dharmendra for Ya dil ki suno. Dheere dheere machal (Lata Mangeshkar), picturised on Surekha Pandit is a perennial favourite. Kuch dil ne kaha, also sung by Lata, Bheegi bheegi faza and Kyun mujhe itni khushi de di (both rendered by Asha Bhosle), complete the soundtrack. Kaifi Azmi, who wrote the lyrics for all the songs, excelled in expressing the turmoil in a young girl’s mind in Kuch dil ne kaha:

Dil ki tasalli ke liye jhoothi chamak jhootha nikhaar
Jeevan to soona hii raha sab samjhe aayi hai bahaar
Kaliyon se koi poochta hasti hai ya roti hai
Kuch aisi bhi baatein hoti hai
Kuch dil ne kaha kuch bhi nahiin
Kuch dil ne suna kuch bhi nahiin

Sharmila Tagore plays Uma. Shy, withdrawn, afraid of her own shadow. Deeply hurt by her father’s neglect and shouldering the blame for her mother’s death on her frail shoulders. Sharmila barely got to speak until halfway through the film, and even then, her silences held more eloquence than the most eloquent dialogues. Sharmila lived that role – of a daughter who yearns for her father’s acceptance.


Her growing fondness for Dharmendra’s Ashok was also in character – a few furtive glances, a half-smile allowing her dimples to flash. Hrishida gave Uma room to grow, and Sharmila (bouffant or not) breathed life into her.  
There is one scene which I found heart breaking – the scene where Mohan, in alcoholic stupor, goes into his daughter’s room. Having experienced his anger and his hatred, Anupama shuts her eyes and pretends to be asleep. Mohan gently stoops down and kisses her on her forehead; the pain on his face, the trepidation on hers – it’s filled with a hint of ‘If only…’ 
Ashok is not a white knight riding to the fair damsel’s rescue. Ashok has seen the world; he knows Uma has led a sheltered life until then and that he’s perhaps the first person who’s truly listened to her silences. So, when Anita exhorts him to run away with Uma, he demurs. Main nahin chahta uske baap ki tarah apne khayalat, apne asool uspe thons kar use dimaagi taur par apahij bana doon. Ek insaan ki aazadi utni hi keemti hai jitni ek desh ki. (I don’t want to impose my thoughts and ideals on her like her father does; a person’s freedom is as important as that of a country’s.) He loves her, but he will not make her choice for her – she has to come to him of her own free will.
Ashok gives Uma the tools with which to make her decisions. More importantly, he implies – through his actions – that she has a right to make her own decisions. He offers her unconditional friendship and unconditional love. When he gives her a copy of his book, Anupama (The Incomparable One), he confesses that she’s his muse. “Aap hai meri Anupama.” (You are my Anupama.)
An achingly handsome Dharmendra showed us what a sensitive actor he could be given the right director. His quietness has its own charm, and even a ‘we are poor but happy’ speech didn’t sound preachy – it sounded like a self-respecting man standing up for himself. Films like Anupama and Satyakam makes you wish he had done more of such roles. We lost a fine actor to the mindless action films he became known for later.

It also helped that in Hrishida’s world, the rich are not villainized just for being rich. And so, we have Anita and her father, who are both rich and generous, kind and compassionate. Annie fights not only for her own love, but for that of Uma's and Ashok's as well.

Annie is the oak on which the emotionally fragile Uma leans, the person who vocalises the feelings that Uma cannot bring herself to express in words. She also has no patience for what she sees as cowardice, as is seen when she snaps at Ashok for just sitting and waiting. Why can’t he just elope with Uma?
I must confess that Hrishida’s mentor (the film is dedicated to 'Bimalda') did better with the stock gregarious character in Sujata than did Hrishida here – Annie's peppiness grates after a while. Shashikala is a fabulous actor though, but I do wish she had been reined in a little bit. 

They were supported by a rich ensemble of actors – each competent in their own roles however big or small, with fully fleshed-out characters – Deven Varma, David, Durga Khote, Dulari, etc.

Deven Varma as Arun, supposed to marry Uma, but falling in love with Anita ‘Annie’ is adorably confused; David plays the stock benign uncle, but he too is charming as Uncle Moses, an older gentleman who understands the hearts of youngsters better than they do themselves.

Their inter-relationships are also warm and loving - the loving camaraderie between Arun and Uncle Moses, Arun's very real friendship with Ashok, Arun's relationship with Ashok's mother (Durga Khote) and sister are all relatable and smile-inducing.

But if Sharmila was the soul of Anupama, then the man who played her father – Tarun Bose – was its flesh and blood and heart. 

As Mohan Sharma, Bose played the role of a man who is so desperately in love with his wife that her death destroys him. Spiralling out of control in a vortex of grief, he begins to drown his sorrow in a bottle, leaving his baby daughter to be brought up by a nurse. Sober, he hates Uma, seeing in her only her dead mother’s face. Drunk, he is remorseful. “Tera qasoor kya hai? Main tujhse kyun nafrat karta hoon?”  (What’s your fault? Why do I hate you so much?) he asks, looking at his infant daughter.
As the alcoholism takes its toll on his health, he is forced to come to terms with not just his own mortality, but his teetering relationship with his daughter, who finally finds the courage to make a choice. And voice it.
explores a rich tapestry of relationships – with all its knots and flaws and human frailties. In the penultimate scene, Uma, who has fallen asleep reading Ashok’s novel, wakes up and shuts off the bedroom light. Caught between her own crippling shyness and the chance of happiness with a man who loves, respects and supports her, she moves to the window and draws the curtains apart – sunlight greets her, banishing the darkness from her soul. Her decision is made.

What follows is one of the most powerful scenes in cinema – a scene that is totally owned by Bose. His daughter is leaving. And Mohan – repentant, remorseful, filled with regrets – can only bless her from afar. The ties that bound Uma to him, that caused her such immense pain, are broken. So is he.
Poetry on celluloid. That will always be my view of Anupama.

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