Further thoughts on Dahej and the mean mother-in-law… This movie is another fine V. Shantaram film. It might have some situations and characters which we would consider cliche at this point (though maybe not so cliche in 1950?), but like some other V. Shantaram films that I have seen, it is also very sweet, romantic, heart-wrenchingly tragic at one point, and very socially conscious. Also like some other Shantaram films, it has a very strong heroine – in this case a young woman named Chanda (Jayashree) – who boldly fights against limits, conventions, and the obstacles put in her path.
Interestingly, the main thing that Chanda fights for constantly is her right to be a good, loving wife. The only other film I can think of in which a woman has to fight so hard for her right to love her own husband is Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. But in this case, it’s not a decadent culture of philandering men and evil landlords that she’s fighting against; it’s the ethics of the dowry system and the way that it instigates her evil mother-in-law. And it’s also the cultural convenitons that in many ways make her powerless against that evil mother-in-law – though it doesn’t help that her husband, Suraj (Karan Diwan), is also an incredibly wimpy guy who has to constantly think of his father’s death bed request that he always please and obey Mom. (So, when Suraj’s evil mom kicks Chanda out of the house and makes plans for Suraj to divorce and remarry, he’s incredibly conflicted about whether he should refuse this plan – though he supposedly loves his wife so much…)
The problem at the beginning of the film which leads to all these other problems is that Chanda’s father, Thakur (Prithviraj Kapoor), though descended from a proud family of “warriors,” is so poor these days that he could not come up with a dowry that was sufficient to satisfy his daughter-in-law’s family. Suraj’s father (Ulhas), being an affluent lawyer, is demanding enough in this area, but of course, the woman whom this problem particularly displeases is the evil mother-in-law. Then, when Suraj’s father dies (of unspecified attack, though it seems like a stroke from all appearances), Suraj’s mother blames the daughter-in-law for “jinxing” the family. Actually, she hates her daughter-in-law because of jealousy (like just about every bad mother-in-law that I’ve seen in old Hindi films), but she uses the “jinx” idea as an excuse to be especially horribly nasty.
And this could be the nastiest woman character I’ve ever seen. She makes Nadira at her meanest look sweet and lovable by comparison. But I’m thinking, maybe this actress was even better than Nadira.
As people who recognized the woman in the picture above know already, I am talking here about Lalita Pawar. I have actually seen her play all kinds of mother types in different places on a broad spectrum, from nice (Shree 420) to somewhat mean in the beginning but ultimately well intentioned (Parchhaiyan) to….this…
And I think that in the future, if I see that Lalita is in a movie, I’m going to find out in advance whether she plays a meanie, so that I can brace myself.