Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Silsila

A movie so sad, even the film is crying.


Also, Amitabh is Shaft.

But we always knew that, didn't we?

Also, a public service announcement: never, ever get into a car (or airplane) being driven by a Kapoor, especially this one.

But we knew that already too. Take away his keys, get him some coffee, and call him a taxi (not metaphorically).

A context disclaimer, specially crafted for Silsila: I have never been married, I have never (to my knowledge) been romantically involved with someone who is, I don't have any siblings, my parents are still alive, no one I know is in the air force, I have never seen any of the other Indian movies released around the same time that deal with adultery (mentioned by Filmi Geek here), and I only watched this one so that I could experience all available Shashitabh primary source material.


This post contains a ton of spoilers.

This movie drove me crazy: the constant wandering through people-less, plant-heavy outdoor locales; the sparse, uninviting interiors; the screeching violins that accompanied whooshing camera zooms on people's faces during dramatic moments; Shashi's hammy drunking and self-important character;

Shut up, Squadron Leader Shekhar Malhotra.
Shobha (Jaya Bachchan)'s largely unjustified shift from respect to love that glossed over what she'd been put through; and Amit (Amitabh Bachchan) and Chandni (Rekha)'s self-centered, hurtful decisions.

But what irritated me most of all was that I felt the film offered no significant discussion or examination of why Amit decides to marry Shobha - and thus set in motion all the painful and destructive behaviors he and Chandni indulged in throughout the film. If it's due to social pressures, then where were they? These characters glide around in a world in which playwrights flirt with socialites to get productions okayed, where parents acquiesce to their daughters when trying to arrange their marriages, where getting plastered at parties and flailing around is unremarkable - and, most notably, in which a couple was not judged for getting pregnant before marriage (and hurrah for that!). Yes, social norms don't have to come in prescribed bundles, and writers have every freedom to include one stereotypical convention but ignore others, but that's not how these sorts of movies tend to work.

Maybe the context in which he chose to marry Shobha is solely in his own head. Shobha herself only comments rhetorically on him as a potential spouse, and even her distraught mother says nothing to Amit about maybe him being able to step in. She says she can't, but she doens't mention it being anyone else's job, either. Maybe it's a sense of duty - "Duty, dahling! Duuuuty!" Shekhar says a few times to Shobha when she expresses concern for his on-the-job safety - then he's very inconsistent in following it: it's like he feels bound to Shekhar, and therefore Shobha, enough to marry her when he loved someone else, but not enough to follow through and be her partner. I wonder what Shekhar would have thought about that? Too bad we didn't get any from-beyond-the-grave transparent floating Shashi voice-overs! (I have those all the time. Except for the from-beyond-the-grave part.) If Amit wanted to honor the memory of his brother - so, internal factors rather than societal - why not help raise his child as a loving uncle rather than as a resentful father? Surely that have been better for all concerned, 'cause I don't see anyone being happy with what he did choose. If he did something out of a brotherly love-inspired selflessness, why then (and how) such a quick descent into a solipsistic affair? I didn't see him struggle. I just saw him flip from duty to desire then back again.

His decision didn't make any sense to me, and I felt the movie really failed to discuss it or comment on it. That's a pretty hefty thing to leave unexamined. With no understanding of why he did what he did, I was unprepared to be charitable in my subsequent assessment of him, even as Amit voices a fear of being judged for what they're doing. Maybe his swift decision is supposed to excuse his later behavior - clearly he made a rash sacrifice out of grief and didn't think it through, so he's off the hook? (But aren't playwrights generally heavy thinkers who achingly sift through words to get just the right meaning?) Or maybe it's supposed to be all that's left of the exuberant, jolly persona he had before his brother's death. He's just so incredibly selfish, sacrificing first Chandni, then Shobha and Dr. Anand (Chandni's husband, played by Sanjeev Kumar), to his own desire. Despite all of that, it seemed the movie wanted me to feel sorry for him. Fuzzy filters and snowy canoodling do not indicate criticism. And I just couldn't. Keep your freak to yourself, man. Stop being so awful to everybody. Mostly I just wanted to shake him and kept yelling "Just stop and think for a tulip-rompin' minute!" at the screen.

Two other major problems for me. One, Chandni came across as a wet noodle in all but a few scenes (her opening dance and her nervous meeting of Amit in a hotel), and I do not understand what was so compelling about her to Amit. As with Amit, the story would have really benefitted from some sort of explanation of her thought processes or feelings beyond misty forest cooing. Blurgh. I don't know if this is Rekha's fault or the writers'. Had she been a full character allowed to express things other than tears, there would have been much more complexity for me to sink my teeth into, and I bet I wouldn't have been so cranky. Two, its ending is a colossal lazy cop-out and leaves two major characters completely unresolved. It's like the story becomes as selfish as Amit is. Amit's lines about "the only thing that is true is that we're married" is stupid; just because you've reprioritized your life does not make other components of it, past or present, untrue. Less important, yes; false, un-real, or otherwise less extant, no. Oh, and two and a half: absolutely, great idea, pregnancies are a sure-fire way to solve and stabilize rocky marriages!

Despite being really irritated by and unimpressed with the whole thing generally, Silsila did have a few features that I responded to positively: Rekha and Amitabh's opening song "Pahile Pahile Bar Dekha," which actually had some life to it and made fine use of both actors' physical skills; "Rang Barse"'s effective creation of uncomfortable, relevant tension and awkwardness; the visual emphasis on contemporary architecture, which probably meant something but I'm not sure what (maybe that these characters have modern outlooks?); and the utter lack of judgment on the couple who were pregnant before getting married. And I loved Kulbhushan Khrabanda's police officer giving Amit the what-for - that's one death match I'd pay big money to see.

As for the Shashitabh, well, it was there, but it wasn't in top form. I'm considering slotting this movie under the heading "every now and then, even Shashi phones it in a little bit" (see also Shaan), but some of their bonding was cute, even if under the influence.

Then again, some of it was just weird. Do most grown men make sodomy jokes with their own brothers?


Silsila's meta factor is veeeeery interesting, and I had a hard time separating it out as I watched. If the timing of the supposed affair was before or during the making of the film, though, I think that's okay, because there's no way it wans't also on the minds of the people in and responsible for the movie. Did they or didn't they, and how did those relationships affect their decision be in the movie and how they felt about it? Even if none of the rumors was true, somebody had a lot of savvy for market and audience-milking - and a much keener taste for wry humor than I would have guessed possible in a soft-focus Yash Raj film.

The only other blog posts I could find about Silsila were Filmi Geek, PPCC, and Bitten by Bollywood (and apologies if I missed yours, dear readers! Please post the link!), yet somehow I've gotten the impression this is a Beloved Classic Treasure of Hindi Cinema. Or do I only think that because there are YRF ads on every DVD under the sun? And if it is a BCToHC, that's interesting too - a mainstream voice like YRF seeming to say that adultery is okay and ultimately not destructive! What I know is, I want nothing more to do with it (other than the comment thread here, of course! Comments ho!), certificate in Shashitabh Studies notwithstanding. Silsila may have made the PPCC SAD - Silsila Affected Depression - but it gave me SARS - Silsila Affected Rage Syndrome.

That's my reaction to the movie too, Amit.

20 comments:

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

I think the movie was made primarily to milk the Amitabh-Jaya-Rekha rumors- :S other than that, I really liked all the Shashi parts- everything before and after I'd fast forward. Esp all the Amit brooding :D

Also- no clue why Rekha and Sanjeev were paired up- they dont look good together- maybe his persona was supposed to underscore her supposed prettiness (?). eh :S

a ppcc representative said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
a ppcc representative said...

So I'm a dork and didn't even finish my comment before sending it. Okay, trying again...

Aw, harsh!

I also found it a total downer, however I did enjoy the songs very much. As I mentioned, I think, I wasn't really going through Hindi films with the fine-toothed comb I use now back then, so I didn't evaluate the contrived plot with any critical eye. Plus, I just find it so cheeky to capitalize on the adultery gossip in such a brazenly meta way!

But I am shocked - SHOCKED!!! - that Shashi's Shekhar didn't appeal to you. He was so hilarious and adorable! I wouldn't say he was self-important so much as, hmm, self-aggrandizing in an endearingly screwball way (like meeeee!). Totally my movie boyfriend.

bollyviewer said...

Beth, you've put your finger on everything that bothers me about this film. Why the hell couldnt Jaya's character have an abortion (its a perfectly acceptable solution in the Indian context) or let on that she had adopted a child if she was ashamed to own the kid as her own? And why couldnt AB's character have explained his problem to his gf instead of ditching her without a word? Or... well so many other sensible choices.

After much thinking I've come to the conclusion that Yash Chopra wanted to make a film about an extramarital affair and also capitalise on the real-life affair between AB and Rekha. But since he didnt have the courage to show a lead pair indulging in adultery, he plugged in the prior romance to justify the "sudden blaze of passion" when the two accidentally meet!

Amrita said...

ok, from what I remember of the movie, your subtitles screwed up because Shobha's mother has a conversation that hints that Shobha should really have an abortion. What is true is that Amit decided on his own to be the noble self-sacrificing friend. And now that I look at that shower scene, I'm beginning to get more than a little icked out at the implications for Amit's and Shobha's marriage later on. Bleurgh.

One of the reasons the movie makes no sense is because Yash Chopra chickened out at the last minute and sent Amit back to Shobha as though he really cared. If he'd stuck to his original idea, then the two selfish asses i.e. Chandini and Amit would have gotten what they deserved, which was each other and their sulky fits, and Anand and Shobha in the long run would have been better off.

However as it all turns out, Chandini is an idiot, Anand is a doofus and Shobha is all wet while Amit is a prick. While I can't say I hate this movie, I agree with Shweta that its intrinsic value in the Bollywood line up is that it starred The Triangle.

celluloidrant said...

Spot on!

People keep talking about this one and Kabhie Kabhie as the counterpoint to AB's angry young man roles. Frankly, if his alternative to beating people up was being the self-centered jerk he was in these two movies, I'd much rather he did the former, thank you very much.

Like Shweta and Amrita say, it was all about the triangle. If you take the casting coup out of the picture, there's very little left.

It does have one interesting scene, though. The one with the Holi song where Amit and Chandni are so lost in each other that Shobha and Anand are left gaping. Apparently, the only reason Sanjeev Kumar agreed to do the role was because of the potential that scene offered in conveying something without dialogue.

~ramsu

gebruss said...

Silsila affected rage syndrome is a very apt description of my feelings while watching this movie. Just reading your post makes it all come back. My poor screen was in danger of having something thrown at it.

That said, I did like the scenes with Shashi, I thought Shekar and Shoba were rather cute together. But the rest I have no desire to ever see again.

I wonder whether fighter pilots are particularly prone to father children prior to marriage in the movies. Neetu's father in Kabhi Kabhie was a fighter pilot, too. Maybe they are just more likely not to make it to the wedding day.

Banno said...

Bollyviewer, though abortion is perfectly acceptable in Indian society, it's a complete no-no in Indian films. It's usually the vamp or the rich, spoilt girl who wants to keep her figure who opts for abortion in the movies.

Beth, thankfully, 'Silsila' was a flop. I think most of the audience found it boring, and self-indulgent. And the end came so unconvincingly.

What it did start was this trend of people-empty, plant heavy foreign locations. Very tiresome.

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memsaab said...

As Rum would say, this film is pie-inducing.

That is all.

Anonymous said...

Oh Thank you! I hated this movie, and always have (it seems to be a favourite of Sony TV's and shows up fairly regularly on their late night lineups when I'm working).

You made all the points that irritated me about the movie...I've always thought that Jaya's catatonic act might have a been a way of disassociating herself from the real trauma of the relationship - wasn't there some rumor that she was "compelled" to do this movie?

Bitterlemons

Anonymous said...

AT the time this movie was made, it was a well accepted practice in Punjab for a brother-in-law or sister-in-law to step in to marry widows/widowers, especially where there were children to be taken care of. The same situation was the basis of Hum Aap ke Hain Kaun, if you remember.

I doubt if such a theme will carry much weight these days, but this film is more than 30 years old. They may not have beat you on the head with it, but it was largely understood by the Indian audience at the time.

Filmi Geek said...

Well I was more charitable to this film than most, I think. It's been more than two years since I've seen it but at the time I found it a series of very delicately wrought and effective moments, embedded in a very flawed matrix. On the subject of those flaws, Bollyviewer's observation that the the pre-marital romance was tacked on to justify the extra-marital one is, I think, very astute.

Having said that I am more sympathetic than most to people who for whatever reasons find their passions driving them to extramarital affairs, and I don't necessarily equate such actions with selfishness. I think the story did a reasonable job of motivating the affair to make it something other than mere selfishness or horniness, and that's really all I can ask.

The outcome - Amit deciding to commit to his marriage - is acceptable to me, but I agree (as I think I said in my review) that its execution is one of the film's ugliest warts. The reverse outcome would also had been fine had either just been motivated! I told Beth right after she watched this film that the reason Amit decided to commit was because the film was coming up on three hours and that's the outcome Yash Chopra wanted.

See *Arth* and *Masoom* - really, everyone, please see *Arth* and *Masoom* - for some different perspectives on extramarital affairs, both starring Shabana Azmi, who was at the time of course quite keenly aware of the issues raised by adultery and its far-reaching effects.

eliza bennet said...

It was also a well used practice in the eastern areas of my country for the widow sister in law to be married to the brother of her deceased husband.

And I had no problem with Amit choosing to marry Shoba trying to save his dead brother's child and help his grieving girlfriend to do that.

I also can understand how two people can succumb to their desires and try not to judge.

Having said all of the above, this film sucked.
Except the Rang Barse song, I simply love the song and Amitabh lipsynching to it :)

Pessimisissimo said...

Beth, I share your puzzlement that Silsila is considered a romantic classic in some quarters. I did my own joint review of Silsila and Lamhe and found that Silsila worked neither as a Krishna-Radha fantasy (Amit and Chandni's behavior towards their spouses is too self-involved and cruel) nor as a tawdry slice of realism (reality has already been left far behind by the time of the ludicrous rescue of Dr. Anand and the 180-degree turn of the ending).

Bollyviewer has said that every Yash Chopra film has a fatal flaw; Silsila has several. At least, there are the songs--though they don't redeem the movie, they are pretty great, especially the two you mention.

Sanket Vyas said...

I guess this movie made more sense back in the day as Amit's decision was just something that you did not really question. Nonetheless this movie will be remembered for the amazing songs and the 'outing' of Amitabh/Rekha. Alot of the scenes between Rekha & Jaya - no one was really acting they say.

When we watch the movie nowadays we just watch till (SPOILER ALERT) Shashi dies, the movie is kind of a buzz kill after that. I did a review of it as well -
Silsila

Anonymous said...

Hi Beth

LOL at PPCC's SAD and your SARS!

Some how this film never did interest me. To this day I have not bothered to see a DVD if some one was willing to lend me it to me for free.

This movie was made to boost AB's career at that time and to cash on the AB-Rekha affair. It flopped - people do know what movies they enjoy.

The fact that YR films is promoting this movienow is perhaps they are trying to sell it in vain via DVDs yrs on.

Meera

desipolitan said...

Well said, Amrita! I totally agree that this film could have been ground breaking, but alas, fell awfully short. The Triangle was clearly the big draw here.

Beth you completely summarized every major issue I've had with this film. Conclusion: love it for its songs. Also love "shashitabh" :) too funny.

fire breathing angel said...

http://bethlovesbollywood.blogspot.com/2009/02/silsila.html

Shreyans Goenka said...

To respond to some of the criticisms you propose -
1. While it is true that Jaya and Shashi did not face moral objection for their pre-marital relations, this is because no one knew about it till then. However, once the society would have found out that Jaya was an unwed mother, she and the child would have been stigmatized. Amitabh marries Jaya to save his brother's child from being labelled a bastard. It is not spelled out in the movie because as an Indian, this sacrifice is very common and laudable.
2. He then has the affair because of the miscarriage. The reason for the marriage is no more and he feels no obligations towards Jaya anymore. (No doubt this was very selfish!)
3. I agree with you that the ending was a total cop-out and un-justified. But consider the fact that Jaya agreed to do the movie, even though she had semi-retired from films, primarily to send a message to the gossipers. Rumor has it that she made Yash Chopra change the original ending, where Amitabh and Rekha elope, to the unsatisfactory climax where her husband comes crawling back to her. Life imitated cinema and eventually Amitabh also dumped Rekha and went back to Jaya, thus robbing real life bollywood voyeurs of their fantasy ending as well!