Bengali Classic Film Review

Indrani

While in college, the beautiful Indrani (Suchitra Sen) falls in love with Sudarshan (Uttam Kumar). The two get married and initially, Indrani has no compunctions about a husband who is unemployed. But slowly, as she grows to become the assistant headmistress of a small-town school where they have settled after marriage, the parameters of their relationship begin to change. Indrani gradually loses her patience with him though there is still deep love between them. Sudarshan holds a First Class First Masters Degree in Psychology and was working for his Ph.D. but did not take it seriously. Indrani slowly wearies of her husband’s lackadaisical attitude towards working for a living while Sudarshan develops a complex about his wife’s success. A point comes when he cannot take it anymore and leaves home. Though Indrani is devastated, she is confident that he will come back. He does not. Instead, he reconstructs his life with the help of an old man (Chhabi Biswas) who takes a liking to him. He comes to a remote village and helps the villages to cut through the rocks around there to draw water and also completes his Ph.D. in the meantime. Times goes by. 15 villages now have a steady source of water supply and Sudarshan becomes a household name. Indrani sees a newspaper article on his work. She quits her job at once and comes to his village to work with him. He rejects her help and asks her to leave but there is a catastrophic event when all the hutments of the village catch fire and are razed to the ground. Just like the villagers have to start their lives afresh following the disaster, so do Indrani and Sudarshan as they reconcile finally.

Indrani, directed by Niren Lahiri, is based on a story by Achintya Kumar Sengupta. It is a regular Uttam Kumar-Suchitra Sen love story with some additional twists that divert from the typical sugary on-screen romance of any typical film of the pair. On one level, it is a film much ahead of its time. It is one of the early films in Indian cinema to explore the ramifications of a husband-wife relationship where the wife is successful and the husband is a failure. Yet, at the end of it all, no one seems to bother about the irresponsible and casual manner in which Sudarshan not only left his wife because he felt humiliated but also did not care to turn back. Not even to find out how she was doing even after he had attained fame and success. Finally, it is she who has to give up everything and go to him. Perhaps this is so because it was typical of the 1950s where even if the woman went beyond certain accepted social norms, an acceptable status quo still had to prevail by the end of the film. The other question that remains with us after the film is over is – did Indrani come back because she still loved Sudarshan very much and could not live without him? Or, did she search him out because he was now famous, highly educated and successful? Of course, it is more than likely to be the former looking at the times, but the script shows little sympathy for Indrani once Sudarshan leaves her. In that sense, Indrani is unfair, both to the character the film is named after as well as to Suchitra Sen, whose talents are completely wasted in the second half.

This is sad as Suchitra Sen as Indrani has played out the different dimensions of her character quite lucidly. From a young girl coming for further studies to a hostel in Kolkata, to falling in love with her room-mate’s handsome cousin, through marrying him against the wishes of his family and her father, to comment caustically about how the same family that accepted her as ‘friend’ could not accept her as ‘daughter-in-law,’ to being an extremely supportive partner to her husband, Indrani knows her own mind. It is she who proposes marriage to Sudarshan and pushes him to marry her. It is she who informs her parents about it and walks out when her father rejects her. In fact, Indrani is a rather courageous character for the time and the social setting the film is placed in. Even more so, when we see that her father (Pahari Sanyal) used to bring out a paper that attacked women’s education. There is an ironic scene where the father reads out an article in his magazine. The article says, “When will that day come when girls will learn the difference between chopping potatoes for a vegetable dish and chopping potatoes for fish curry?” When his wife delivers a girl again, he is so devastated that the paper shuts down. But thankfully for Indrani, he educates her and sends her off to Kolkata for further studies.

An Uttam-Suchitra film can never ever be short of romance. There are expectedly some beautiful and tender moments of togetherness in the film. One is in the small cabin in a restaurant where Indrani and Sudarshan have a teasing exchange. Another lovely bit is during the song sequence Neer Chhoto Khoti Nei Akash To Boro (The nest is small but it does not matter because the sky is big) in which Sudardhan begins to sing and a smiling Indrani joins him.

There are seven beautiful songs in the film with lyrics by Gouri Prasanna Majumdar and music by Nachiketa Ghosh, both legendary figures as far as their contribution to Bengali cinema is concerned. Indrani is also among the films where Geeta Dutt has most effectively lent her voice for Suchitra Sen. Sen looks absolutely radiant in these songs – be it Neer Chhoto Khoti Nei, Jhanak Jhanak or  Jano Kaki Tumi Ki. Bhang Re Bhang Re Bhang Bhang, Pathor Bhang (Come, let us break, break, break the stones), sung by Hemanta Mukherjee and chorus, is sung in a rebellious Leftist (?) spirit accompanied with a strong, rhythmic beat sung when Sudarshan is working with the villagers and urging them to strike the rocks to draw water. It is used again in the end when the people are devastated by the fire and Sudarshan goads them into rebuilding their lives.  There is also a song by Mohammed Rafi in Hindi that goes, Sabhi Kuch Lutakar Huye Hum Tumhare sung by an anonymous street singer in the film. It is extremely poetic in its filming as the singer directs the intensely romantic song  to the newly wedded couple looking on with Sudarshan lovingly explaining parts of the song to Indrani. Another well picturized song is Surjo Dobaar Pala Ashey Jodi Aashuk Besh To (If the time for sun to set arrives, let is come, how does it matter?) after a sweet exchange between Indrani and Sudarshan when Indrani discovers suddenly that Sudarshan is a gifted and trained singer and is pleasantly surprised.

The cinematography is movingly handled by Bishu Chakravarty, a reputed cinematographer in the Bengali film world of the time, while the editing by Baidyanath Chatterjee and art direction by Kartik Basu complement the film perfectly. The film features some of the most outstanding stalwarts of Bengali cinema such as Pahari Sanyal, Tulsi Chakrabarty, Chhabi Biswas, Jeeben Bose, Tarun Kumar, Gangapada Basu, Shyam Laha, Chandrabati Devi, Tapati Ghosh and Aparna Devi. Though these are brief cameos, they all add to the total value of the film.

Overall, while Indrani remains a harmonious synthesis of good technique and storyline enhanced by a beautiful musical score and lovely songs, it is disappointing that at the end of it all, the title character is given short shrift by the director as well as the patriarchal nature of the script.

Bengali, Drama, Black & White

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