Anupama is a 1966 Hindi film directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. The film stars Dharmendra, Sharmila Tagore, Shashikala, Deven Verma and Surekha Pandit.
At the heart of the film Anupama, is the irreplaceableness of love and the aftermath of its loss. The film begins with a haunting and memorable rendition in the soulful ethereal voice of Lata Mangeshkar, “Dheere Dheere Machal, Ae Dil-e-bekarar, Koi aata hai..Yoo tadap ken a tadpa mujhe baarbar, koi aata hai..” The lyrics by Kaifi Azmi set the tone for the maddening love Mohan, impeccably portrayed by Tarun Bose, has for his bride Aruna played by Surekha Pandit. Their love remains short-lived as she dies during childbirth in the subsequent scenes. These opening sequences establish and evoke empathy by consolidating the irreplaceable love between Mohan and Aruna, and Mohan blaming the newly-born child for killing his one true love.
Mohan is incapable of loving his daughter, Uma as she reminds him of his late wife. In her growing up years, Hrishi da, deftly depicts a father’s and husband’s conflicted state of mind – expressing joy at her growing daughter, and feeling sadness, a grave void at the loss of his love. He ignores his daughter through the day, spending most of his time at his office. The daughter is specifically encouraged to avoid coming in front of him, but actually in the nights, when he returns from work totally inebriated state, he showers her with gifts.
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As a grown woman, when Sharmila Tagore first makes an appearance as Uma, she hardly speaks any dialogues. It’s her eyes, magical and hypnotic, that express her horror, loss, pain and confusion of an abandoned childhood. Sharmila’s eyes are bewitching, mischievous, scared, expectant and shy at different times. Her powerful acting painfully portrays the anguish of a young woman caged in a non-existent relationship, parentless childhood and an isolated home.
Uma’s silence in a home besotted with all material wants, and yet lack of a parent’s love begets the explanation of how women are subjugated and silenced in the absence of love? She has all the material things a child could want for but lacks the most important aspect of all – love of a parent – which is how she remains muted through major portion of the film. Uma hardly speaks in the film, her first dialogue is only in the middle of the film, that too when she is surrounded by a loving family.
In a recent rewatching of this film, her silence reminded me of Audrey Lorde’s seminal essay, ‘Your Silence Will Not Protect You,’ where she implores, “My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you…. What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialised to respect fear more than our own need for language.” In Uma’s silences, the film plants many of the injustices of growing up in a loveless family. As the audience, you see her eyes shrieking for help but subdued at the same time. You wish she speaks to someone of her plight unburdens her mind, but the film offers no respite of that sort.
The plot follows a family trip to Mahabaleshwar, where Mohan is advised by doctor to rectify his failing health being a workaholic and an alcoholic. This is where Mohan and his friends plan to have Uma meet and marry Arun, played by the charming Deven Verma, just returning after studies in the UK. Deven Verma instead falls in love with Anita played by an exuberant Shashikala. Deven invites his childhood friend Ashok (Dharmendra) and his family. Ashok is a writer and idealistic character, who is enamoured by the silent and stoic Uma. Uma is also attracted by Ashok’s ideals and principles, and when she reads the book, Anupama, which Ashok writes inspired by Uma, she falls head over heels for him.
In his book Anupama, Ashok envisions a character Anupama (the one that is unique) who marshals her energies to protest to act against her father who blames the child for the mother’s death. This is how progressive women’s movements have revolutionised women’s lives world over, and Ashok believes this is what will empower Uma to take a bold step towards her freedom as well. However, being reticent by nature, Uma is afraid to marry against her father’s wishes who has so far considered her only as a burden. Like any narrative film, this film also reaches a crescendo towards its climax with a confrontation between Mohan and Ashok, followed by Mohan and his daughter.
Anupama is a powerful story, told from a female gaze, and Hrishida provides a nuanced and layered perspective to Uma’s character and Ashok’s enabling role in her life. A recent viewing of the film bothered me most in how achingly it portrayed the systematic mental violence symbolised by Uma’s muteness. Sharmila Tagore gives a raw and refreshing performance that implies the injustice, entrapment and intricate web of fate that Uma has grown to accept in the absence of love, validation and acceptance from her father. Her muteness is foiled by the self-righteousness of Ashok’s character.
In one rhetorical scene between Dharmendra and Shashikala, Ashok tells Anita that he has opened his heart and world for Uma and is ready to welcome her anytime she chooses but he cannot cage her like her father did for all these years. Bimal Dutta who is the screenwriter, and Hrishida who is credited with the story have created strong characters with depth and nuance. Dharmendra delivers one of the finest performances in his early career with a caring, persuasive and endearing screen presence. This team effort is commendable that Ashok acts as an enabler and doesn’t enforce his ideas in his sharp portrayal of a writer who doesn’t want to be the hero rescuing the damsel in distress.
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This film has aged quite well in its complex understanding of relationships – each scene, each shot meticulous, lingering and observant. In the hands of a deft filmmaker, the camera knew which chords and emotions to evoke in its viewer’s mind. When the film released it received critical praise for depicting the nuances of the fractured relationship between the father-daughter, but this relationship is actually non-existential. Only towards the climax do they encounter each other when Uma expresses her opinions in the face of her father’s opposition. This scene embodies the director’s vision about how challenging it is for women to unshackle the silences of injustices that they have suffered, and yet walk with grace towards freedom and independence.
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