Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bandini : A review in retrospect

This review was posted on rec.arts.movies.local.indian in 1998.

Bandini : 1963, Black and White, Bimol Roy Productions
Producer and Director : Bimol Roy
Music Director : S.D.Burman
Lyrics : Shailendra, Gulzar
Cast : Nutan, Ashok Kumar, Dharmendra, Raja Paranjpe

"Bandini" is perhaps the last complete motion picture directed by Roy. Is it his best ? I avoid such questions, but Bandini is certainly a candidate. And considering that Roy is one of the best directors from India, "Bandini" is arguably the best of the best. It can certainly be considered as a classic case study of the genre - Indian social drama.

Since it's such a well-known film, most of us would have already seen it. So I am not going to worry about avoiding any spoilers so to say. If you haven't seen the movie, you may want to see it before reading further.

On the outset, "Bandini"s storyline is not complex. A young, simple woman (Kalyani, played by Nutan) is serving for murder in a 1934 prison. There she comes in contact with a doctor, (Deven, played by Dharmendra) who wishes to marry her. She respects him, but is afraid of her ill fate, the society etc, and declines his love. The jailer, who is a family friend of Deven tries to persuade Kalyani. She then tells him the story of her past. Kalyani comes from a family in which "simple living, high thinking" is not just an empty slogan. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, she has to become a messenger for a freedom-fighter. Only once. But a friendship develops between her family and him, (Vikas, played by Ashok Kumar). Vikas and Kalyani love each other and due to a difficult situation Vikas has to proclaim Kalyani as his wife. Before the actual ceremony can take place, he has to leave the town, but promises to come back. But he doesn't. Naturally, the family has a difficult time in a small village, and Kalyani finds no option but to leave her home. She starts working in a hospital, where she learns that a difficult woman patient she is serving, is actually the wife of Vikas. This happens on the same day of her father's death. Unable to cope up with such extra-ordinary circumstances, she thinks of the woman as the reason of all her troubles and kills her. And hence finds herself in the prison. After reading this story, Deven's mother decides to accept her as daughter-in-law. Kalyani gets an early termination of her sentence. On her way to Deven's home, she meets Vikas, who is terminally ill. Vikas's friend tells her about Vikas's life and how he had to marry someone else etc. In the final climax, she decides to go with Vikas.

Melodramatic ? May be. Predictable ? Possibly. It's still a strong plot and the treatment from the director just takes it to a level not attainable to mediocrity. The secret of this treatment lies not in the technology, (found in any Hindi cinema today) but in the technique, which is rarely found. A technique strong in simplicity and subtlety.

Through out the movie, Roy avoids cliche. He doesn't burden any scene with heavy symbolism. There are many places where an ordinary mortal would have given to the temptation of overusing the prison metaphor, the plight of women, a preaching about patriotism. But Roy avoids such pitfalls and maintains a strong focus on narrating Kalyani's story in an often silent way and most undoubtedly in an unhurried style. This is a style which is almost impossible to find these days, and one yearns for.

A strong focus does not mean absence of subplots. There are some. There is after all Deven's love, with which the movie begins. There is a mention of Kalyani's brother, his life and his death. There is a freedom-fighter in the prison who is hanged. There is a small recollection of Vikas's part in freedom struggle. Here and there. But all these are secondary and Roy does not let the attention and concentration of the viewer to be diverted. Right from the beginning, the viewer is tied up to the main character. It's impossible not to fall in love with that character, to root for her, to respect her.

Everywhere in the movie, brilliance abounds. There are many frames worthy of praise. The obvious are the scenes where a jailer cuts the flowers of a plant and one can see Kalyani in a small angle. Or the one when Deven's horse-carriage is going away outside the prison and Kalyani follows the sound from the other side of the wall. My favorites include the brief long shot of Kalyani's friend trying to persuade her. And the one in flashback where Kalyani is watching ducks in rain. Pure brilliance. Some choose a flipping calendar to show that days are passing by. Roy chooses a Kalyani with an empty stare and a few ducks in the rain to show that days are not easily passing by. Of course, there are many great scenes, and one has a rare freedom of choice to pick the favorite one. How about the scene where the jailer, when he receives Kalyani's notebook, instead of just opening it and starting to read, keeps it aside and reads later ? How about the scene where Deven comes back home, sees his mother busy in 'pooja', and turns away, and his mother still hears him, talks to him briefly and tells him she will be right with him after the 'pooja' is over ? That's what I meant when I said the style of narration is unhurried. There is no rushing in. There is absolutely no rushing in.

The movie is certainly not short on talent. How it can be ? One measure is to say that two people later pronounced as genius by their fans were assistants here ! I am talking about Gulzar as an assistant director and R.D.Burman as the assistant music director. Music of "Bandini" deserves a review of its own. Is it S.D.Burman's best ? As I said, I avoid such questions, but it's certainly a candidate. "o panchhi pyare" and "ab ke baras bhej" by Asha Bhosle and "mora gora rang" and "jogi jab se tu aayaa mere dware" by Lata Mangeshkar are enough to put the music of this movie on a higher pedestal.

The lyrics of all but one song are by Shailendra and ably support the movie. A well known trivia is, Gulzar wrote his first lyrics. As another trivia, there is a flashback within a flashback in this movie. Is this a first such instance in an Indian movie ? I do not know. But perhaps a not so well-known trivia is, the actor who played Kalyani's father is Raja Paranjape. A director himself. Undoubtedly, one of the best of Marathi cinema. He also acted in many of his movies.

That brings us to the acting. Almost everyone gives a good performance. Ashok Kumar, Tarun Bose as the jailer and Dharmendra as the doctor. Dharmendra is not a great actor, but does remarkably well in such roles. "Satyakam", "Naya Zamana" for example, where he again plays a high-principled man.

But as everyone knows, this is Nutan's movie. It's difficult to praise such acting without using the overused phrases. "It's worthy of many Oscars", "She outshines everyone else" and so on sounds too trite. It seemed as if she is not acting, she is living Kalyani's character. The way a flicker of an expression comes to her face and she tries to control it is absolutely amazing. I am talking about the scenes when she hears the bad news about her father, or the last scene when Vikas apologizes to her. The way she sits on that bench, the way she walks after meeting Vikas in the final scenes is an ample proof of her natural talents. Such artists are born great, one cannot learn it. Nevertheless Nutan is a school of acting which every aspiring actor/actress should attend by watching her, by studying her.

In short, Nutan plays this character perfectly in this perfectly crafted movie. I am not saying this movie has no flaws or no goofs. But I don't believe such a movie has been made. In practicality, this is as perfect as a movie can get. One obvious complaint can be that, most of main characters are too nice, destiny being the real cruel villain.

And that's the theme. The title "Bandini" actually refers to a person who is a prisoner of her fate more than the man-made jail. She is just tossed from one situation to another by her destiny. She has very little control and is just going along with what life demands from her. She is a "bandini" of her fate, of the decisions made by people around her. But in the final moment of climax, when Shailendra's poetry strikes in the magical voice of S.D.Burman, during my best song of the movie, ... "maiN bandini piayaa ki, chir-sangini huN saajan ki .." comes the moment of realization. She can take matters into her hand, and she can refuse to be just a prisoner of fate. So she decides and chooses to go with Vikas. She again becomes a prisoner, a prisoner of her lover, but a happy one, and by her own choice, by her free will. That's the true "Bandini".

Rating (on a scale of 0 to 10) : 9
Alternative rating (* to ****) : ****

Recommended highly to all the cineastes.

- Abhay.


  1. is it true that mora gora ang laile is composed by Rd and not sd burman

  2. is it true that mora gora ang laile is composed by Rd and not sd burman


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