Call me shallow, but had Tarana not been so utterly beautiful, I'm not sure I would have made it through all the obstacles, near-misses, fires, slapping, and threats of choking and immolation. Madhubala as feisty village belle Tarana (a remarkable 18 years old here!) and Dilip Kumar as confident, mostly-charming Dr. Motilal scorch up the screen, and even in brain-boggling moments of anguish or postures evoking paleolithic gender relations, they're just so gorgeous it's hard to look away. And when they're happy in love, they're a joy to watch, especially in the admirable meet-cute and snappy, flirty dialogue, reminding me of Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant.
Why do we always see his left profile? I got over 100 screen captures while watching, and in almost all of the scenes of them together, and all of the big embraces and dramatic exchanges, we see his left profile, whether or not she's facing him. Was he fussy about having a good side?
Even though I had a faint memory of Tarana's ending from Memsaab's detailed writeup (with a well-marked finale spoiler in the comments), it was hard to remain convinced I knew how this was all going to end, with so many barriers and nail-biter almost-reconciliations - and I really did want these two to end up happy together, even if just because it would mean I got to stare at them smiling some more. There's a jealous wannabe husband (the hopeless Toteram, played by Gopi), another woman (Sheela, played by Shyama),
and two overbearing fathers,
Hers (Kumar) locks her up; his (Jeevan, looking a lot like Jonathan Pryce) guilt-trips him into marriage.
not to mention the mostly unspoken differences in social power, status, and mobility: he is an educated doctor from a (relatively) wealthy family in the city, and she is a villager taking care of her blind father and their house. These come into play when Dr. Motilal first teases Tarana that he will go off to the city and forget her, leaving her heartbroken in the village, a threat which is realistic and implied to be impossible for her to mitigate by coming with him; later he actually does have to leave, and their reunion is repeatedly thwarted by bad timing and very dark forces.
She's just outside his door, but he's knocked out on sleeping pills! Nahiiin!
I forget whose feet these are, but I loved how the couple's beautiful, love-filled faces were occasionally tied back to the dirt and muck the relationship stirred up.
A word on those dark forces, becuase they almost derailed my willingness to participate in the story. On Tarana and Moti's way out of the village to go sight-seeing, jealous Toteram spies him sweep her up into his arms and walking away. When Moti becomes too ill to walk back, they spend the night in some ruin far away from village supervision; Toteram takes the opportunity to spread rumors that he hopes will get rid of his competition. The villagers believe him, dad and an angry mob discover the couple and beat Moti, and Tarana is locked up at home. Later, Toteram continues his scheme by bribing the midwife to say that Tarana is pregnant; at this point, her father can no longer cope with the shame her reputation causes him and tries to burn her alive. Yeeeah.
The usual verbiage about a father's reputation being at the mercy of his daughters is one thing; immolation is another entirely. Even worse, there are a few scenes that really muddle physical violence with sexual attraction and romantic love, which always bugs the daylights out of me. In the scene below, Tarana refuses to believe Moti that he has come back for her, and as she struggles against him he throws her against a pile of hay, then on to the floor, where he pins her, grabs her hair, and threatens to choke her if she won't stop talking.
The words clarify what's going on, but one of the Beth Loves Bollywood screenwriting rules is that romantic reconciliations (romantic scenes of any kind, really) probably shouldn't look like rape. This is the most egregious extent of the much lighter physical expressions of the verbal sparring that accompanies their first meeting (of the typical "these two hate each other on sight and will obviously fall furiously in love" development).
What saved this for me, other than how gorgeous the whole thing was to watch, was that two of the people who behave very badly are punished and repent (too late, but at least they state they know they were wrong). I'm not necessarily in favor of punishment, but it was somehow satisfying to know they reaped the consequences of what they had sown.
Tarana has its share of trauma-drama-o-rama and protracted tensions, but I still enjoyed it very much, helped by some moments of real humor, the lovely songs, and the palpable charisma of the stars (both separately and together). I don't often find myself looking for "a good cry" - crying makes me dehydrated, headachey, and distracted - but I'd definitely turn to this when I need a classic film blitz of black-and-white beauty and elegant, understated, rich visuals.
Everybody hurts sometimes, but especially Dilip. But he sure does look amazing in a white button-down shirt!
Going into hour three of Dilip-drama-o-rama, I was proabably too worn out to be fair to Aadmi.
Oh yeah, it's that kind of movie. And its late 60s colors look so garish and forced next to Tarana's beautiful black and white.
It's just not my preferred flavor, and after Tarana I was on edge over women being pushed around and fathers raving on about their own world ending just because a daughter may or may not have done something non-dad-approved with a man.
Good daughter Meena tries to stop dad from beating his other daughter when he discovers she has married in secret.
Poor Waheeda Rehman is saddled with a wet noodle of a character: her Meena, who is dancing in the forest when we first meet her, soon buckles under a life determined by other people and shows very little evidence of her own mind.
Before and after.
I've mentioned before that I strongly prefer female characters who are able to make their own choices freely, and that's the sort of nourished context Meena never got. It was unclear to me that she even knew her own opinions or feelings, instead just operating by a sense of duty uncomplicated by thought. Maybe we are to believe Meena really evaluated all of her options and considered them carefully and took the mental room to think and change her mind, but I don't think there's evidence of that. She does as she's told by a father who beats his children.
Aadmi's got a ton of the type of poorly explained, uncontextualized sacrifice-driven plotlines that tire me, and by the time it ended, I was too bothered by the lack of explanation for why people were doing what they were doing to be happy for the characters who got what they actually wanted. Viewing companion Antarra brilliantly summarizes her taste for melodrama: "from time to time I feel the urge to watch good-looking people in beautiful surroundings making each other's lives miserable. Aadmi is wonderful for this." I won't say I was so frustrated or put off as to be miserable (nor will I call the surroundings in Aadmi beautiful - more on that in a sec), and I have no issues with the performances that weren't dictated by the script, but yeah, not my cup of tea. Filmi Geek has thoroughly covered my dissatisfacitons.
But like any 60s Bollywood movie worth its film stock, not without its delights!
• Projected anguish mega-Dilip!
When I write my ethnography of filmi mansions, this one's going in as an example of the kind of house that is clearly supposed to be impressive but is actually an interior design trainwreck.
• A totally unexpected Agha in a bear suit trying to frighten Pran in his straw-blond wig!
• Female doctor (Simi Garewal)! Yay!
• The biggest relief of 1968.
• A gesture-off between the male stars! Who's the first-class face-coverer? Is it fabled youngster Manoj Kumar?
Or all-time tragedy king Dilip Kumar?
That's Dilip for the win, folks!
• Stupid decisions. There's already been one cliffside accident in this movie; why are you standing on this little daintily-roped, flimsy wooden balcony?
• Doll in a special cupboard made super creepy by Rajesh's mental prison of secret memories!
• Rajesh's mental torment leads him to a weird armed confrontation with his chandelier.
• The very important life lesson that if you're in love with someone, make sure you both know each other's names, and try to get around to mentioning your parents' names as well, just to be on the safe side. Most of the contemporary tragedies in this movie could have been avoided if people knew who everyone was.
• Does a character playing the piano in the main floor of a gigantic filmi house with balconies and/or a grand staircase ever herald anything but doom or gloom?
Actually, as Antarra pointed out after our afternoon of Dilip, these particular selections were not nearly as tragic as his usual fare (at least for his character). Clearly I need to keep this - and his generally smarmy and proprietary demanor towards the heroines - in mind if I'm going to try out more of his movies.