Saturday, July 26, 2014

*Ahem* Reviews: Indrani (1958)

At first, this film seems to be about two students who get married rashly, outside of their respective castes, and then have to deal with the ongoing pressures of unemployment and disproportionate success. It also appears to be the cautionary tale of woman, Indrani (Suchitra Sen), whose education goes to her head. . . and needs to be taken down a few pegs before she can have the home she wants.

But let me tell you, even though I thought I'd seen this story before, it is NOT about what I expected it to be about.

On the one hand, Indrani is clearly set-up as the modern woman who goes a bit mad with her own independence, seizing all the power in her marriage and stepping on her husband's self-respect for good measure.

Compared to Indrani's hot and cold adoration and abuse, her husband, Sudarshan (Uttam Kumar) is a catch. His only faults being: his inability to confront people with his true opinions or decisions, and his related tendency to run away from problems. He's working on his PhD thesis; he's good tempered, poetic, hopeful. But he's also the slow burn kind of angry, which is the kind you want to watch out for. All the necessary elements for a morality play's final, judgmental curtain fall. Think Gone With The Wind: a woman dares to break the rules and the man she loves eventually breaks, too.

But on the other hand, the earliest ideals on display in the film are (A) equal  education for both sexes, (B) an indictment of the caste prohibitions against marriage, and (C) an honest look at how loving families turn hateful when those prohibitions are disregarded.

In their marriage, Sudarshan happily lets Indrani make major decisions, even when they turn out to be insulting or hurtful (like when she curtains off two rooms and assigns them separate bedrooms--saying that she will come over to his side when she feels like it, but won't allow him to do the same). And during the "shame" of his ongoing un-employment, Sudarshan doesn't blame Indrani's success. This clearly wasn't the "poor-me" male-arc of A Star is Born or any of its Indian equivalents.

By the middle of the film, I was starting to go crazy with all these perceived inconsistencies in the narrative and in the characters themselves.

Indrani's reckoning arrives (or so I thought) when not only has Sudarshan been maligned by the community for being dependent on his wife and mocked for taking a small tuition job . . . but Indrani herself has joined in the abuse, telling him that his pittance pay has caused her to lose face. Insult to injuries, Indrani's father, suddenly feeling like he wants to undo the whole disowning thing (because his roof needs fixing and his daughter has money) shows up, acts like the house is his and takes Sudarshan for a charity case boarder. Rather than standing up for himself, Sudarshan just leaves.

And this is where the writers' cards were finally revealed. Drifting around in a sort of hungry, zen sadness, Sudarshan is swept up into a grassroots regional improvement group. You know, just a few folks creating their own tiny subsistence community sans paisa, with lots of grand ideas about the value of manual labor and free childhood education.

Yeah, this film is about socialism. Surprise!

The monster here is not female liberation, but materialism. Indrani is being criticized for her love of wealth and prestige, not her level of education. The more her career gives her what she wants elsewhere, the less she appreciates what she has at home. Conversely, the less Sudarshan achieves, the less he asks for. Eventually, through leaving his credentials behind, and engaging in hard labor and social collaboration, he finds an intangible kind of fulfillment.

But if it was just about breaking Indrani's ego and greed, and the idolization of Sudarshan's new life, this film would have ended differently. [This is your cue to stop reading if you don't want to know.] When the lovers do eventually reunite, the humbling is NOT one-sided. I was dreading the "fall-at-his-feet" reunion, the credits rolling seconds later with some maxim about "loving your hubby right."

It didn't happen. Indrani is conciliatory, but firm. She doesn't spend time blaming herself, nor does she make any grand pleas or promises. She tells him she has left everything (true: she left her employment and applied for a "job" in the commune before even trying to speak with Sudarshan) and is ready to build a different kind of life with him. But it takes Sudarshan some time (and a small catastrophe) to conquer his own desire for independent success outside of his marriage (however much his efforts appeared to benefit the community first). . . as well as that nagging habit of leaving when things get tough (perfectly symbolized by his matured reaction to a crisis in the new commune). However, when they do reconcile, they renew their bond in a remarkably egalitarian manner.

Looking back at the progression of [downright gorgeous] songs and poetry, I was impressed by the way the lyrics of even the early romantic serenades perfectly set up the final conclusions of the film.

And the smallest of interactions (like Sudarshan ceding a job interview to another candidate who is more in need) served to plant the seeds of ideology long before the grand message's reveal or denouement.

This film may be collectivist propaganda, but it is also rather clever in how it uses a relationship as a microcosm for the problems of society and an eventual prescription for reform. Here and there, you might even find yourself nodding in agreement.

2 comments:

  1. I haven't watched this film, so I shall have to remedy the situation as soon as possible. :)

    I'm usually wary of such storylines - they tend to be so negative towards the woman character and have to show her the error of her ways in the last reel where she will turn into this absolutely martyr-ish doormat. I'll take your word for it that this is not so. :)

    Thanks for the recommendation.

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    1. You're welcome :) I hope you enjoy it. It's somewhat heavy handed, but by the end, I was pretty happy with how all the threads tied together. And I've already watched the songs on repeat more times than I'd care to admit.

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