Saturday, November 22, 2008

Suhaag

[Spoilers abound! Image-heavy post!]


Many thanks to Antarra for sending me Suhaag, which is impossible to get in my town!

Doc Bollywood has just posted about Suhaag too!


Can we talk about title for a moment? Is it used ironically? My Oxford Hindi-English dictionary says suhaag means "the auspicious state of wifehood." But other than the birth of her children, there is exactly one remotely good thing that happens to Durga (Nirupa Roy) because of her relationship with villain Vikram (Amjad Khan). There are several very bad things: he refuses to recognize their marriage; he refuses to recognize their twin boys or give them any support and therefore they are split up by evil Jaggi (Kader Khan), with one, Kishan (Shashi), being raised in poverty by single Durga and another, Amit (Amitabh), being raised by creepy Jeevan in a bar; the confrontation over this issue causes her father to have a heart attack and die; as adults, her sons are both physically injured by Vikram; and he lies to her, kidnaps her, and abandons her in a car wreck as he flees the police. To quote her dad, Vikram destroyed Durga's life. Yeah, totally auspicious.

Which leads me to my only real problem with this movie. Despite all the wrong and harm that he does - and I haven't even listed his deeds as a general criminal blight on society - Durga goes on and on about how Vikram is her husband and she owes him support and respect and blah blah blah.

Even at the big climatic fight scene at the end, when creepy Jeevan demands payment from Durga to tell her where her long-lost son is, she won't give up her mangal sutra with the rest of her jewelry. "Not this, no. The mangal sutra is my husband's memeto. I can't let it go, no matter what." Oh, the memento of the guy who blinded one of your sons, shot the other in the arm, and kidnapped you just now and brought you into this giant rambling fight? The one who's putting you and all the people you love in all this danger? Yeah, he's a peach. Do be sure you stay with him. Vikram then snatches it from her and says "Mere gold rolled on to this damn thread carries no weight." What possible reason, other than that in name they are married and were never technically separated, though lord knows they are in deed, does Durga have to maintain any sort of connection to or relationship with this man? I know it's 70s Bollywood, but this bothers me. I feel like the movie is saying that it's worse to be an unmarried mother, or a widow, than to put yourself and your loved ones in the path of a violent criminal who, in the 20+ years you have known him (or 41, if we want to go by Shashi's actual age), has given you nothing but financial, physical, and emotional grief and pain.

(On the plus side, the fact that Vikram and Durga are married does prevent any teeth-gnashing over her being "spoiled" or worthless etc.)


I've also been debating with myself over how much I care, and what it says about masala conventions, that sometimes the ironies and coincidences are so predictable and obvious that they're no longer very interesting. What does it mean for us, as viewers, that we expect the least likely thing and it is almost always delivered (and eventually becomes not unlikely at all - in fact, usually requisite)? Discuss amongst yourselves. In Suhaag's defense, of course this debate is not unique to or inherent in this film more notably than most other masala that comes to mind. I just happened to get to this particular stage of philosophizing about masala during this movie, somewhere around the time the two separated twins are almost immediately juxtaposed again.

It's never too soon to find your long-lost son!
As I watched this movie a second time and took notes, I kept writing "O THE IRONY" when really predictable things happened (yes, I am a snarky brat sometimes), like when the son that Durga raised turns out to be the cop and the one that creepy Jeevan (whose character is named Bhaskar, but that's not as evocative as "creepy Jeevan")

raised turns out to be the alcoholic petty criminal. Or when Vikram, while fleeing the police, leaps over a garden wall to find Durga celebrating Karva Chauth. At first I thought, "Using tons of irony, no matter how predictable or ubiquitous the setup, is a way to create dramatic tension and then resolve it, and you know how you like to have things all resolved at the end." But then I thought, "It's not actual tension if I knew it was coming and am certain it will be resolved, and also the repeated use of these tricks can foster some really lazy writing, unsubtle setups, and unnecessary, overworked convolutions." And then I thought, "Well, maybe letting the audience know things that the characters don't is a way to get the audience invested in the story and to feel good about that involvement." But then I thought, "But it's not particularly satisfying or special to be let in on information that you already know, is it?" And then I thought, "Okay, but think how nice it would be if the random people who impact our world and life's seemingly disparate events were all proven to be meaningful and purposeful. What if they all actually have past relationships with us or our inner circle, or have long-sought information and can explain why things have happened the way they have, or lead you to discoveries that make you feel complete, whole, and loved?" And that's when the conventional masala ironies and coincidences won. I'd shake my first at you, Manmohan Desai and Prayag Raj and Kader Khan and Salim-Javed, but I'd rather you just come and write my life.

Suhaag does has brilliant moments of less obvious, smaller-scale ironies. For example, still unaware of who his and Durga's sons have grown out to be, Vikram makes a threatening phone call to the police officer investigating him - who is, of course, Kishan. When Kishan demands to know who's speaking, Vikram growls "Tumhara baap." Hee. What makes this work for me is that it's a throw-away line, an aside. The plot doesn't hinge on it. Earlier in the film, Amit's love interest Basanti (Rekha) sings to him that she will never give in to his proposals, that she'll only leave her dancing if she's in handcuffs. Later, Amit has become a police officer, and as she reveals her tragic back story of poverty and an attack in self-defense against a rapist, he has to arrest her for murder, leading her away in handcuffs.

During the arrest, Amit and Basanti have voice-overs of the song, their sad faces giving the flirting lyrics a new meaning. Sniff. There are some good masala in-jokes and self-contained references, too. Amit repeatedly uses the phrase "You can be sure I'll do X Y Z, or I'm no Amit." Later, Kishan borrows it. In a lengthy conversation about arranging a marriage, it is the mother, not one of the intendeds, who hides behind a tree. Fab!

Other than that, I thought Suhaag was really fun. As people pointed out during the masala polls back in September, this movie has pretty much everything you could ever want. In fact, the rest of this writeup will consist basically of a big list of R(ecommended) M(asala) A(llowance) items and related images and comments. And as other blogs have said in their reviews, a plot summary is pointless, and I think I already blew a gasket working through the issues of female submission and overuse of overblown irony, so a list is probably all I have left in my brain. Here we go!

What's with the shoe theme? In addition to Amit's loopy sandal-as-weapon and accompanying patter,




there's Vikram's shoe-based threat (so it's inherited, maybe?),
Annu (Parveen Babi, in full-on blink-blink Barbie mode, despite being a medical student) leaving her sandals behind in Kishan's jeep, thus providing a clue for Durga that Kishan has finally found a girl,

I like how Durga quotes Amit's line. Self-referential! Woot!

and Annu messing up the housework Durga asks her to do to show Kishan what a fine homemaker she would be.

That's what happens during half of my cooking attempts too.

Oh! And later still, Kishan orders Vikram to make sure his shoes keep talking so that he (Kishan) can use the sound of his (Vikram's) footsteps to keep his (Kishan's) gun trained on Vikram's location. Back to Vikram and his talking shoes! See? That's good irony because it's taut.

Decked-out lair! I always like monumental stair cases and living rooms in Bollywood homes.
A dragon presides over meetings.

Several of you have asked me what I think of Vikram's smokey glass ticket window/puppet theater/cupola. Frankly, I think it's pretty stupid. Even if you couldn't see through the glass, which you can, he usually walks into it from a meeting, so everyone present sees perfectly well who is in there. It would be a lot cooler if it worked like a magician's box - a henchman could spin it, tap on it once, and open the door to reveal that Vikram has disappeared! Also, there's a gap between the dark glass and the wooden base, so you can see part of the person's torso. A serious design flaw.

It doesn't even have any interesting controls in it, does it? No buttons to make the room revolve or rockets fire or chairs tip backward into a lava/piranha/fire pit? Maybe it's supposed to be pointless and just serves to show that Vikram is so rich and powerful that has resources to spare on such frivolities and has no fear of showing his face?

Child alcohol abuse! By which I mean both abuse of alcohol by children and abuse of children via alcohol. Shaaaame, Kader Khan and creepy Jeevan! Poor Kishan, forced to drink in an "evil game of quarters" (great turn of phrase, Doc Bollywood!) to get money to pay for Ma's medicines! Noble Amit, helping his drunken, unbeknownst-to-him brother, then punished with more of the same by creepy Jeevan!



The den of iniquity. Oh how I love this. It's even better than the actual villain lair.


Note the green toothy thing in the background.

Based on decor alone, it's where I picture Teleport City, Todd, House in Rlyeh, and Lurple hanging out, even if they don't deal drugs or lace women's drinks. And while we're at the cartoon haunted house drug den, who invited Björn Borg?

How is it possible to make our Shashi so fugly! I am shocked and appalled!

This is the film of a thousand Shashi faces, as previewed in the sequence of stills of Kishan yelling at Amit. Inspector Kishan is easily ruffled, so a drunk Annu, a meddling mother, a surprise bhangra engagement, and other masala wackadoo bits lead to many funny expressions. He rolls his eyes at least three times in "Main To Beghar Hoon" alone.





I love this bit with Kishan trying help rambling drunk Annu back to the jeep. For once, passers-by seem concerned and intervene when a woman appears to be in danger, so Kishan has to flash his badge to prove he's on the up and up.


Funny, funny fake-pretend potential in-laws doing bhangra in the park that is really in London even though nobody says anything about being in London (or anywhere other than Bombay, for that matter).

I am so going to use that line.
Shashi clinking his bangles!

Confrontational dancing!



The very best thing in the whole movie: its generous helping of very fine Shashitabh! So loving! They're such a cute team! Even when each thinks the other is a villain and they fight!




There's even a song celebrating Shashitabh! Wheeeee! I can now die happy.


YEAH YOU ARE! Dil squish, as PPCC would say.

Amitabh is once again really funny. I love the character of Amit, cheery and goofy, a man of both thought and action, a man with a moral code. He worries about his path and his qualities.

He's so pleased with his new respectability! So cute!

And he occasionally breaks the fourth wall.

Yay mini Amitabh in the bottle!

Yay fierce mugging! Yay random jolly dancing! Yay fear of authority!



Are there lots of Sholay references or what? Shoes as a weapon! Coin flipping! Stepping on broken glass as you make a huge sacrifice for one you love! Comic scene of a drunk guy on top of a tall structure threatening suicide!


Durga's house has at least two stuffed and mounted animals in it. I don't really know why I noticed these, other than that they seem incongruous given that this is neither an ancient ancestral home nor a country lodge near good hunting grounds. Also, the way the lion is mounted reminded me a lot of the Ashoka column.


The clothes! Oh how we love our 70s magic masala clothes! Great neckwear!



Yes I do. You're Colonel Sanders.
As Doc Bollywood points out, the first time Shashi appears on screen, you just see his feet in a menacing walk...in black leather pants and cape and carrying a cane. Badass!

Sadly that is the most badass - and most rawr-evoking - that Shashi looks for the rest of the film. It's downhill from here almost immediately. Oh my stars. The open shirt, the high-waisted pants....


Just another everyday conversation.....

Ah, the helicopter. Actually, my favorite part of this sequence is that Amit is wearing a yellow t-shirt emblazoned with a classic 70s smiley face and the words "KISS ME."

Durga hasn't exactly had an easy life, but she hasn't suffered as long or as much as other Nirupa mas we've met. Her relationship with the son she raised is so cute and affectionate.
And Nirupa actually has some lines that aren't just wailing or pleading! She gets to be funny!

Rekha looks super pretty here, with quite possibly the best hair ever.

Sadly neither she nor Parveen has a lot to do.

Valuable life lesson: never go upstairs with Ranjeet.
Never.

My favorite exposition-of-a-written-letter ploy: ghostly face of the writer reads her words!

Questionable medicine: how does being hit on the head by a chandelier cause blindness?
Sanket, can you help us out with this one?

Annu's hostel has posters from Grease and lots of Elvis. I'm really delighted by the juxtaposition of Elvis with Amitabh Bachchan

Somehow it speaks to the well-orderedness of the cosmos, don't you think?

Despite excellent Shashitabhity (Shashitabhness? Shashitabhiance? Shashitabhiality?), Suhaag has not dislodged Parvarish from my top masala spot. I just wasn't quite on board with all of it. In addition to my problems discussed above, its heroines lack oomph and are not remotely used to their full potential, which means it will never get full marks from me. However, it has some really nice touches - a more well-rounded ma, some loony lines, a good serving of small but satisfying jokes in addition to the larger comic threads, and very fine songs (oops! I forgot to talk about those. They're really good, especially "Aye Yaar Sun"). It's solid masala goodness with a few sublimely cute and silly moments and a lot to enjoy throughout.

The end!

19 comments:

bollyviewer said...

Yay for masala-madness. I re-watched yesterday and was stuck on the two songs - Main to beghar hoon and Teri rab ne bana di jodi. Shashi's caped-crusader outfit was such fun, too!

About the shoe theme - shoes are considered dirty. They are always to be removed in a place of worship, and anything - especially books - touching shoes is considered really bad. So I'm guessing that being hit by a shoe is the most demeaning punishment for a villain.

And the suhaag part that gave you such trouble (I hate it too!) is a recurring theme in Bollywood as well as Indian mythology and folklore. A "good" woman stands by her husband no matter what, and is ultimately rewarded by the love of her husband or respect from society and the gods! And the state of being married is considered "auspicious" because being married to a living jerk is much preferable to being the inauspicious widow of a dead saint!

gebruss said...

There it is. What a nice way to start a Monday: a review of my favourite seventies Shashi-movie.

About Vikram's villain booth: I thought it needs to gap so he can push pictures of people he wants killed through them which then accidentally end up on the floor with the back up so there is a moment of suspense before the would-be killer finds out who he is meant to kill.

One of the things I really like about Suhaag (apart from featuring temporary blindness, which is one of my favourite plots) is that it avoids some bits I often find irritating. Ma doesn't have a screaming fit when she finds a sandal in her son's jacket and Kishan and Anu don't have the "now I am blind please leave me" conversation.

Anonymous said...

I liked this movie too. Just one grammatical correction - in that phone conversation, the dialog should be "tumhara baap" - tumhara is singular.

Beth said...

Bollyviewer - re: shoes: I wondered about that. Totally makes sense as a weapon. A weapon of degradation! And Annu's shoe is very Cinderella, isn't it? Why didn't I think of that before!

re: suhaag theme: Yeah. Ugh. It's also not the most relevant title...while the emphasis on Durga's marital loyalty is there, there are other themes or plot points or whatnot that could have been highlighted in the title. Is there a word that means "the auspicious state of brotherhood"? :)

gebruss - Ooooh. Suspense booth, rather than hiding booth! Nice.

Oh yes, that's a good point. There is no wailing over wayward sons or loose girls, and there's no relationship sacrifice due to blindness. Some of these interpersonal interactions seem...gasp!...normal.

Anon - Duly corrected!

memsaab said...

I love this film, although I agree completely re: not enough of the women in it (esp. Parveen, who looks so gorgeous throughout, especially in her pink dress)...as I said over at Doc Bollywood too, my version of the DVD has completely hilarious subtitles which I have mined several times.

Filmi Girl said...

I will be promptly viewing this myself!

Thanks for the write-up!

(How is the Rekha/Amitabh chemsitry? I've never actually seen them together in anything...)

Beth said...

Memsaab - Yeah! They were wasted. And I have no such loopy subtitles, sadly. I don't remember any that were noteworthy.

Filmi Girl - Do it! You'll have fun with it, I am certain.

Re: Rekha/Amitabh.... Hmm. Nothing special, I'd say. I've seen them together in Muqaddar Ka Sikandar but that didn't particularly impress me either. Of course, in this movie she's a bit of a dishrag when she's not doing flirty songs, and she really doesn't have much to do, so it's not much to go on. And Amitabh has chemistry with everyone in the movie, so his work with Rekha here doesn't really stand out.

memsaab said...

I don't know, you got some good ones ("stone-hearted man" being my favorite...:-)

Have you seen Jugnu, by the way? It's still my topmost favorite masala film...

the ppcc said...

YAAAAAAY!!! Loooove.

You also seem to have been blessed with a copy WITH DECENT SUBTITLES. Mother of God! So lucky!

Aww man, I'm sorry to hear that the whole Suhaag thing ended up souring a lot of the fun for you. I guess the reason it didn't bother me, and this film remains one of my top Hindi films, is that it doesn't seem to be taken seriously - i.e. the film doesn't seem too concerned about preaching the whole "good wife" theme, it's just using it for some juicy melodrama. At least, any movie where a girl can succesfully woo a guy while drunk and possibly high can't be ALL bad for women. And the fact that the mother doesn't mind at all! Guh! I just love Parveen in this, she's so hilarious. (My favorite Parveen bit is when she tries to flee from the door and Nirupa has to grab her and drag her back in.)

Aieeee, and my all-time favorite song: Teri Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi! Shaaaasheeeeeeee!!!!

Rum said...

Suhaag yaay! My aunt is the lady in blue behind Shashi and Parveen, she said Shashi was gorgeous but Parveen in a bit of daze during the filming. I love this movie, its on my list of greatest 70's and fun movies ever! Aww even my filmi bachha master tito is here too, and the shoe threat never ends in my house, my sister literally uses a slipper to shoo me away!
I think shashi looks suitably great in the fugly getup as a hippy, he's so funny!
And Ranjeet's line "Daddy" for Kader has been incorporated into my language whenever i call my daddy!

red42 said...

Hi Beth - excellent review.
I love this movie, even though the copy I have is missing subtitles frequently, and the ones that are there are often very suspect (as even I can tell with my limited Hindi) My biggest problem with the movie, as you mentioned, is the blindness - probably because I'm an optometrist, and it just doesn't make sense (Cortical blindness, dear writer, means that the brain can't see, so replacing the eyes wouldn't work, even if you could replace the eyes - which you can't!) But as that is typical BW medicine, I can ignore it, in much the same way as I ignore incorrect playing techniques for various instruments That means I yell at the screen, hit my forehead a lot and roll my eyes - glad to know that I'm in good company as Shashi does that a lot in this movie :)
Apart from that minor plot irritation, I love this movie - the Shashitabh is a great jodi, and Rekha is really beautiful in this. You should check out Sawan Bhadon for some very early Rekha (and great hairstyles!)
My copy of Suhaag also has Mr Natwarlal - a movie with good tiger scenes, as well as more great Rekha and Amitabh :)
Aaah - must go and dig out more Shashitabh movies from my collection. Great screencaps too - you can never have too many of the Shashitabh

Beth said...

memsaab - I really am going to hurl that line around. It is fiiiiine. And no, sadly that one is still missing from my collection.

PPCC - It's true! I should never, ever complain that I have missed out on subtitle humor and just be thankful that this is one of the times when I have not had to deliberately filter the subtitles through the idea of "well, they suck, but at least they might be funny if I squint." Praise the subtitle gods! (Who's in charge of that? We should assign someone. Ganesh, maybe, scribe that he is?)

I agree with you that the film probably doesn't mean the suhaag thing to be taken very seriously. It just got stuck in my craw, especially at the very end, if you know what eye mean. I was annoyed that Vikram did anything good and therefore Durga's loyalty might be the teensiest bit justified - he was completely write-off-able other than that.

And yeah, you're right about the acceptance of Parveen's unintentional foibles. That is nice. So: big point awarded for not putting out a double standard about alcohol!

Rum - OMG that's cool! Parveen seemed a bit in a daze, but I just assumed it was on purpose and perhaps an effect of proximity to Shashi. :)

red42 - Thank you! I am SO EXCITED that you're an actual optometrist and can help out with this question! It seemed totally dodgy to me, but what do I know? You, thankfully, know tons! :) The very few times museums show up in Bollywood, I have a hard time writing off the bad portrayals, but fortunately for my brain they don't appear very much. Yes yes, Shashi is good company in the forehead-smacking department. I love that picture. Thanks for the title recommendations - I shall add them to the giant list.

I now have only three Shashitabh films left to go - including Silsila, which I sense I will not like. Soon I can write the ultimate treatise!

Temple said...

Hi Beth - I love this movie! I do understand your issue with the role of a wife in this, but I treat "vintage" movies the way I do vintage novels - Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers etc wrote descriptions of ethnic and religious groups that make me cringe but were the norm for when the work was produced. So I try and turn off that particular part of my thinking. I just tend to accept that it is a stupid and offensive notion to me, times have (hopefuly) changed for the better and...ooh look! Shashi in pleather and away I go.
Red42 does indeed have a wealth of knowledge and very good attention to detail, but don't be sitting next to her in a cinema if any filmi person picks up a violin!
Mr Natwarlal is brilliant and again, Amitabh and Rekha are a delight. I will have a question for you once you watch it (shhh red42, wait until she watches it!)
And we should all remember that even an evil man can give up his eyes for a useless made up medical procedure to help his newly found son recover from another made up medical condition that was caused by evil father. Thus are we redeemed by masala...

eliza bennet said...

Thank you for the very funny review Beth.

The screencaps are so good, I love Amitabh and his scarves.

I fail to see Rekha-Amitabh chemistry in Silsila (or in Mukadder ka Sikander) and the film is a bit of a yawn but Amit and Sashi take a bath together in this one so it may just be worth it!

SpyGirl said...

You know, in badass picture number two, the one where his collar has flapped up, Shashi looks like Tom Welling (Clark Kent on Smallville, of course).
I think once you enlarge the picture there's not such a resemblance, but when I was scrolling through the post, I had to stop and take a second glance.

Lurple said...

I would totally have a giant tiger head as the living room door... I will see if Maura will go for it. My guess is no. ;)

Beth said...

Very late on responses! Ack!

Temple - I can appreciate that approach. Sometimes I am able to say "Oh, it's just a movie, and it's old" etc and sometimes I'm not. I'm not sure what makes the difference for me.

Redemption zindabad!

I must get this Natwarlal movie.

Eliza - :) Yes, the scarves are fab! The black and white shirt is my favorite, I think.

SpyGirl - I see what you mean! I once was struck by how much Nathan Fillion reminded me of Vivek Oberoi (and yes, in that order, as I am still yet to experience Firefly but have found him adorable for years in Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place, which has otherwise not left much of an impression).

Lurple - What you need is a vanishing giant tiger head! One that can only be seen by connoisseurs .

Hans Meier said...

Inspired post about an inspired movie. But i can't help thinking that Amar Akbhar Anthony has more fire - guess i have to look for Beth's post on that one now!

Is the Amitabh-Rekha jodi any special here? I don't feel so. Later they acted in Silsila, and there were all kinds of rumors around them, and even Mrs. Bachchan (née Badhuri) acted in silsila too - and even there i don't remember any sparks (which is just fair, as Mrs Bachchan's role manages to keep Mr Bachchan's role to herself).

As mentioned before, i also felt that the ladies in Suhaag were even more wasted than the male actors. Definitely not wasted were fill-up-on-drama writers, action directors ("fight composers", according to the titles) and stunt men.

Beth said...

Hans - Thanks! Despite its lack of Shashi Kapoor, I would say that AAA is better than this film in almost every possible way. I recently rewatched Suhaag and was still not as impressed as I wanted to be, though I do like it and think it's lots of fun in parts and full of Desai details and goodies like the drama you mention.

As for Rekha-Amitabh, I thought they had a few good moments and great glances (plus the song where he's in a bottle), but no, overall nothing as good as, say, Khoon Pasina.