Gender, Politics, Power and the World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee: Part III
In the third part of the series, Saumya Baijal looks at Guddi and Bawarchi. Two beautiful, endearing films, replete with Hrishida’s trademark style of warmth, simplicity and real, human and humane characters.
Guddi and Bawarchi
What could a story about an infatuated girl with a film star, tell us about politics and gender? What could a story about a household of perennially bickering inmates tell us about inclusivity? In the world of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s cinema, that is exactly what these stories do. They speak to us about politics, inequalities, inadequacies, farces, our tendency to look at people from what we expect them to be, and so much more. In the third part of the series, I look at Guddi and Bawarchi. Two beautiful, endearing films, replete with Hrishida’s trademark style of warmth, simplicity and real, human and humane characters.
There are very few films that look at the world of cinema with both an empathetic and disdainful eye. The world where dreams can always come true. When almost is romanticised. Kaagaz ke Phool has been a favourite for more reasons than one, but a film that does this beautifully, is Guddi. It’s a glorious insider’s view through outsiders’ lenses on the inadequacies both in and out of the industry, what it means to live in a fickle world as the spotlights threaten to wane, and what affection it takes to tell a story. Guddi’s deeply affectionate yet critical view of the world it takes birth from, is refreshing and reflective each time. And the reality and honesty inherent to Hrishikesh Mukherjee films, Guddi is both disarming and deeply charming.
The scene when Dharmendra speaks of Bimalda and Bandini, and the burnt down studio, is testimony to how immortal stories are created and yet the creators and spaces they are born in, lie in decay to be forgotten. The light on which the camera zooms, is almost watching us, staring us down, as we force ourselves to forget those iconic pictures. The fickleness of the world around us, is almost seen impermeably by the light. At least in one of the frames of cinematic lore, it has been immortalized. Dharmendra’s dialogue as it comes after, of his realization that he is loved just as long as he is in the spotlight, is true of each of us as we live through our lives.
Guddi (Jaya Bhaduri’s first foray into Hindi cinema), is a lovely, endearing story of a teen girl falling in love with Dharmendra (Dharmendra playing himself)), a super star of Hindi cinema. Mamaji (Utpal Dutt in a sublime layered role – mischievous and tender) ropes in Dharmendra to help break that utopian image she has of a man. There are scenes in the film when Mamaji first enters the studio and ends up giving money to a beggar, who later turns out to be an actor, an educated man. The irony and beauty of the ability to act as a beggar, despite one’s own reality is a mature moment that forces us to think. Similarly, the entire sequence when a spot boy falls because he is unwell, the actors get together to help, and Om Prakash laments on the inside-outside dichotomies of the world of cinema are just as true to our society. Even in today’s India we probably have this chasm – technological progress and burst of opportunities on one hand and the unsettling economic divide on the other, attenuated by an over-reactive society irrespective of religious, gender, political, social and other identities.
Another scene that stands out, is when Pran (playing himself) enters and immediately gives Dharmendra the watch he is wearing since the latter appreciates it. Guddi’s reaction telling Dharmendra not to accept it, shows her vulnerability and innocence when she warns Dharmendra not to accept it, and the ease with which we believe the cinematic world to be true. Pran, as is known even to us, was a person of genuine empathy, yet demonized by the role he plays. Right after that is the scene with the body double. It indicates to us, like in cinema, the fact that certain lives are more precious than the others. Why this inequality? Are all relationships, the love that each family shares with their loved ones, not exactly the same? Why do we evaluate the preciousness of life on the standards of their standings in economic spaces?
The most beautiful aspect of the relationships in Guddi, is that they aren’t hierarchical at all. Relationships between generations, are more that of friends, and are equal, laced with warmth. Semblances of patriarchy, of what a teenage girl must wear, come from the women and not as much the men. Women are patriarchal, subjects to their own conditioning and silences that come down the ages. In the film, the men aren’t patriarchal, and they are articulately not so.
The agency of choice, even with Guddi, is palpable. She refuses the idea of marriage because she articulates that she is in love with someone else. She chooses to then break out of that mirage and pick the man, Naveen, whom she wants to be with. Even in small things like not wanting to see a shooting, like demanding attention, she is the agent of her own will, demandingly so.
Now moving to Bawarchi. The film has long depicted to me, a microcosm of the society we actually live in. A slight departure from the narrative of this article, but the credits in the film are voiced (by Amitabh Bachchan) on the backdrop of a closed curtain on a stage. The proverbial start to a performance or a play. The constant allusions to Shakespeare across each film of Hrishikesh Mukherjee (Anand, Chupke Chupke, Golmaal, Guddi, Khoobsurat – that have a play within a play almost Hamlet-esque, and so many more), when he reminds us that we are all mere characters that we play, at the hands of a writer – sometimes a director, sometimes a God, sometimes our own circumstances is visible here as well. In this film too, Vishwanath urf Baboo (Asrani, staple in Hrishida’s films) works as an assistant music director in cinema, and right at the beginning makes a comment on how plagiarism is ripe.
Another scene, with school teachers conversing, sees a dialogue of ‘Fruit of knowledge has become the burden of society’ as a response to a report in the newspaper on an educated youth who is a criminal, working to win confidences of his employers and robbing them soon after. It’s a sharp comment on unemployment and the contrasting ambition.
Bawarchi, has more patriarchal undertones than most of Hrishida’s films. The constant conversation on how the daughters-in-law of the home must do the household work, and their unwillingness to do so, is a testimony to their care. The effeminate nature of the Kathak teacher, or the conversations between Krishna (Jaya Bhaduri) and Arun, that post marriage she won’t be allowed to work, reinstate stereotypes that other films have attempted to break. However, these themes appear in the first half, and with the entrant of the outsider who eases things, that melt in the narrative. There are liberating narratives around gender as well, that make the film a lovely bundle of contradictions. Meeta is a young girl, who stands in defense of Krishna’s studying in a room with Arun, when the entire home rushes to malign that idea on the back of patriarchal morality. The personal political shines through, as Meeta confronts her parents on their unequal behavior for both the young girls, how she goes to parties and returns late night herself, where there are men too. Why separate rules for her and separate ones for Meeta?
The joy of Bawarchi, is in its insistence to spread love. A narrative more desperately required than ever before. If ‘Shanti Niwas’ is proverbially our nation, where despite being different, flawed, we must live with acceptance of each other, what will enable that is empathy. The coming in of Raghu (Rajesh Khanna in the title role) is the outsider who comes and makes peace. But how he creates it, is by taking away the stresses of survival, and introducing the characters with what they already knew for years – things they love about one another. The things that they had forgotten in the quest to survive, in anger and one-upmanship.
The constant edits to remind us and place doubts in our heads that Raghu would be aiming to steal from the family, almost accentuate our inability to trust anyone around us, assuming that by being nice to us, would invariably have an ulterior motive to satiate. The end of the film has audiences reflecting and questioning this assumption in themselves too.
How different are these narrative from the ones running in our country today? And do we need an outsider to tell us to look within ourselves for warmth? Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s cinema insists that we look within. And to sustain the syncretic fabric of our nation, and our families, we really must.
Read the two other parts of this 3-part series
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