I basically just stumbled on Seema on Youtube, and I am so glad that I did! But I’m not the only one who greatly enjoyed this film… There are a few good positive writeups out there that discuss Seema pretty well, with plot summaries and everything. If you want to go to a post with a good plot summary of Seema, you should check out Bollyviewer’s post. Here, I’m going to be a little more scattered and talk about a few specific reasons that I really liked this film…
1. Seema is a good, old-fashioned moral drama about inherently good people being helped (and helping others) out of rotten lives.
As a personal aside… Some more troubling things had happened in my own life this past week (not sure if I should go into that, though), so I found this movie at a time when I definitely could benefit from a story about someone who had an even worse life than I’ve had…BUT who pulled through in the end, overcoming built-up distrust and bitterness to see the goodness in human beings (helped along by a good, old fashioned good samaritan social worker type who also tries to see the goodness in most human beings). I don’t think they make movies quite like this anywhere these days – fully recognizing that the world is full of unfairness, rottenness, and poverty, but also telling a tale of virtuous people helping other people who end up helping other people, etc., without a touch of cynicism tainting the moral messages by the end. And all the while, encouraging enough tears to require a whole box of Kleenex – now, that’s what I call a drama!
2. Seema has a few things in common with one of my favorite movies, Kath Putli, due in large part to the director and the hero.
Seema was directed by Amiya Chakrabarty a couple of years before he directed Kath Putli, one of my favorite films. Since Kath Putli was one of my favorite films, I fairly quickly recognized a few similarities here. One thing that they have in common is that they star Balraj Sahni, who was so good at playing an incredibly good guy. This incredibly good guy is not the kind of hero who beats up bad guys or goes around swashbuckling; he’s the sensitive hero who’s just very good at helping the downtrodden (especially downtrodden women, but sometimes also men). I would bet that Balraj, who was a committed activist who’d come from roots in theater that promoted communism, was just a natural for that kind of part. (I know a little about this, by the way, because, as some people here are aware of, I read his memoirs not too long ago.) But even without knowing that extra little bit about Balraj, I think I would still be impressed by what a natural he is for this part.
In Kath Putli, Balraj’s character helps to bring a girl out of poverty to realize her full potential (as a dancer/artist), and that girl kind of falls in love with him, but he encourages her to stick with someone else, who is more appropriate for a girl of her age and place in life. In Seema, Balraj’s character helps to bring a girl out of poverty and misery to realize her full potential (as someone who could, well, help people), and she falls in love with him, but he encourages her to marry someone appropriate to her age and place in life – and also somebody healthy, since he is quite ill with some kind of heart condition. (Although…not to spoil things too much, his wish isn’t exactly fulfilled this time.) In both movies, the heroine at some point works desperately to bring Balraj’s character out of some illness or terrible malaise. And in both films, Balraj’s character works very hard to reform some guy here or there to stop him from being a complete jerk to women (although in Seema, that’s only part of a secondary plot).
Meanwhile, both movies have some of the finest singing by Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi and the finest music by Shankar Jaikishan (something that I’ll get back to a little more, later…) And both movies treat us at least a little to this theme I’ve grown very fond of, about people being dolls or puppets subject to troubles beyond their control (brought out mostly in the wonderful songs).
3. Seema features feisty, aggressive, rebellious women characters!
Of course, these movies have their differences too… Balraj in Kath Putli plays a theater director; in Seema he runs a “welfare” place (at least according to the subtitles) which seems to be a cross between an abused women’s shelter and a girls’ reform school. And while Kath Putli stars Vyjayanthimala as a sweet and somewhat weepy girl (named Pushpa) who can become spirited at times but remains always sweet and somewhat weepy, Seema stars Nutan as a sweet and somewhat weepy girl (named Gauri) who turns into an extremely spirited rebel who smashes windows when she’s angry and sneaks out of the “welfare” house with a stick so that she can beat up the guy who framed her for theft and ruined her reputation. (Actually, this is the second time in the movie that she goes after him with a stick!) Seema also stars another very spirited girl (whose name, interestingly enough, is Putli), played by a very spirited Shubha Khote, who at one point engages Gauri in a ferocious fight. (And that is a nice scene, by the way… Just to be a little sexist here, who doesn’t love a good cat fight?). But, of course, Gauri and Putli become best friends in the end… And, by the way, somewhat closer to the end, Putli/Shubha treats us to the only real action film heroics in the whole movie, by engaging in a thrilling bike chase with a guy who stole funds from the welfare center/reform school/orphanage, actually catching up with this guy even though he is much bigger and has much longer legs, and knocking him down so that she can get the money back.
But, of course, these active, feisty women all have big hearts and are likely to get very soft at certain times, especially when they need to support or defend Balraj. (In fairness, maybe I should refer to him by character name, Ashok. But he doesn’t at all seem like an Ashok; he’s one hundred percent Balraj!) Gauri, it should be added, just completely falls apart when she’s faced with a hurt or hungry child, as she obviously suffers from a great maternal instinct even when she’s ready to kill all the adults around her.
4. I love this line that Balraj says about how only the innocent will fiercely protest their punishment…
It goes something like that: The guilty will be able to stand their punishment, only the innocent will not be able to put up with it. I don’t know if it’s universally true, but have you ever gotten really angry about being accused or portrayed in a certain way that wasn’t true, causing you to act in a way that only made you look worse? I’m not going to get into it, but I have, and I know other people have as well. In Seema, when Gauri is violently breaking windows, this convinces Ashok of her innocence, because only an innocent person would react in this way to her punishment. I’m not sure how realistic that scene is, but I thought it was very nice.
5. Great Music
If I might get back to the Kath Putli comparison for a minute… Kath Putli has magnificent dancing, with Vyjayanthimala and Kamala Lakshman. I don’t see any great dancing in Seema. But as I said, like Kath Putli, it does have great music, thanks to Shanker Jaikishan and Lata and Rafi. Mohammed Rafi does some beautiful singing in several songs, but this one is by far my favorite, maybe at least in part because I also love the whole scene:
(And by the way, the guy on screen is Mumtaz Ali, father of Mehmood and Minoo Mumtaz – another reason to love this scene!)
If you’re thinking of buying Seema or catching it on YouTube, I would strongly recommend it. If you want to watch it on YouTube, though, I would do it soon, because…well, you know how these things are…