What impresses me constantly about Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films is his composed, blithe perspective of society and its workings. Where the unpleasant nature of conflict is most concentrated to harvest drama, he’d look at the same reality with a sense of humour and render it ultimately trivial.
Such rare dignity and transparency of views, even if I never saw him in life, forged a fond relationship between the two of us. And the reassuring feel-good ambiance, a home within a movie that he provided without an ounce of artifice is what I keep returning to.
The gentle filmmaker creates one such notable space with Khubsoorat starring Ashok Kumar, Dina Pathak, Rakesh Roshan and Rekha, which tries to seek a middle path between discipline and defiance.
I find the contrasts and parallels between this 1980 film and Hrishida’s other fine offering, Bawaarchi (1972) most fascinating. By examining both the sides of the same coin through two completely unlike but charismatic personalities, he gives us two entirely different films and viewpoints.
Both centre on a seemingly picture-perfect family. Both involve the entry of a free-spirited individual who brings about a change. Only while the topsy-turvy, cantankerous household of Bawarchi is in need of solace and bonding, the overtly controlled and stern setup of Khubsoorat pleads for loosening up a little. On both occasions, balance is the running theme.
What’s truly khubsoorat is how Hrishida never takes any sides.
There are times when Rekha’s shenanigans to incite rebellion might seem attractive in face of Dina Pathak’s dour-faced authority. But beneath the sternness of the latter’s tone, there’s well-meaning rationality too.
Pathak simply doesn’t want her close-knit family of a gardening-loving husband with a history of heart trouble (Ashok Kumar), four sons (Vijay Sharma, Amarnath, Rakesh Roshan, Ranjit Chowdhary), two daughter-in-laws (Shashikala, Aradhana) and a grand daughter (Baby Komal) to disintegrate and engage in internal politics like the joint family in Bawarchi.
What’s problematic is that her Nirmala Gupta goes so overboard with her bossy conduct she not only distances herself from the joys of day-to-day wonderment, aptly named nirmal anand, but balks at everyone else who can.
In her introduction breakfast table scene, one gets a good glimpse of Mrs Gupta’s existent terror. First she admonishes her doctor son Inder (Roshan) for conversing loudly, and then sizes up her youngest Jagan (Chowdhary) for not wearing a vest under his kurta and showing up with his hair in a mess.
“Kanghi kyon nahi ki?”
“Ki to thi…,”he mumbles.
“Toh phir baal khade kyon hai?,” she growls.
“Darr ke maare.”
We’re not done. It’s time for the genial significant other to get a scolding from his missus no thanks to the muddy imprints his footwear leave on the recently wiped floor.
Truth be told, everyone deals with that rigid someone like Dina Pathak in their own lives. And that’s where Hrishida’s mastery lies; every aspect of his cinema is believable, relatable.
On the other side of the spectrum is David’s happy-go-lucky brood. Having raised his daughters Anju and Manju (Aradhana, Rekha) single-handedly, the reliably endearing David indulges and encourages their carefree spirit by rhyming kaafiyas with gusto. It’s the sort of vibrant home where even the domestic help (Keshto) is part of the inner circle.
At one point, David remarks about former Deputy Prime Minister Y B Chavan deserting former PM Indira Gandhi’s Congress (post-Emergency aftereffect) to form his own party while emphasising on the need to stay united. Perhaps in the same manner Rekha sticks by Dina Pathak’s side despite her overbearing tendencies?
The idea of a boy coming over to check out his potential bride, understandably, distresses Anju’s firebrand kid sister. “Dekhne aane wale hain? Tu kya teen suron-waali ladki hai ya maut ke quvein mein chalnewali motorcycle jo tujhe dekhne aayenge?”
Atta girl Manju.
Anju marries Guptas’ second son, Chander and settles in her new life. Depressed in her absence, Manju decides to pay her a surprise visit. And thus begins Hrishida’s delightful tale of pranks and prejudice.
Manju is an instant misfit. Her boisterous, informal manners, cheeky repartee and appetite for nirmal anand (and apples) puts off Mrs Gupta but amuses and amazes everyone else in the family.
Realising how desperately these folks need a chill pill, Manju embarks on a sly ‘Saare Niyam Tod Do’ mission and develops an individual rapport with every single member. (Though she playfully addresses Ashok Kumar as boyfriend –it would have been cooler if she’d maintain that ritual till the end instead of going for the bahu route — Rakesh Roshan is the one fulfilling the designation.)
The insightful director here deftly imparts how needless restrictions on a family makes liars out of them. And so Manju learns about everyone’s secret interest – dance, music, cards, concealed from their disapproving mom.
Arguing the importance of ‘nirmal anand,’ Manju convinces everyone to yield into temptation and stages an entertaining skit (which comes alive through Gulzar’s fertile imagination) for the family by the family on their residential terrace.
Sneakily conducted activities usually meet with a terrible end. And so does Manju’s in-the-closet revolution. But an unexpected hour of trouble at this decisive juncture falls in her favour after she proves there’s more to her than fun and games. Mrs Gupta too realises that all that giggles is not vain.
In Khubsoorat’s unpretentious, clean-cut storytelling (D N Mukherjee), there’s no room for needless distractions, hyperbolic reactions and every single actor is tailor-made for the part. There’s a lived-in feeling about the sweet ‘n’ sour interactions between the family as well as freshness when Rekha shows up as a first-time guest.
Dina Pathak strikes a perfect balance between humourless and responsible. She’s as crucial, if not more, as Rekha to the script. And Ashok Kumar plays her accommodating husband exactly like the adorable patriarch softie he’s known to be.
An underrated Rakesh Roshan is exactly what Khubsoorat’s hero ought to be – accessible, restrained and likeable. His banter high chemistry with Rekha delivers well-timed breathers from an on-going clash of strict versus spirited.
Rekha, sporting two French plaits, plays Manju like a star. She has to exhibit a leader’s aura, potent enough to draw awe and followers. But her reference point seems to be more Amitabh Bachchan than Pied Piper. In one scene, she even utters ‘Main’ as ‘Maii’ in unmistakable Big B style.
Magnetism aside, like I said before, Hrishida doesn’t take sides. Manju’s chirpy disposition can get a bit exasperating too. What’s with her creepy loud laugh? It has the potential to turn cringing Mrs Guptas of us all. To her credit, Rekha brings out that niggling facet of Manju’s personality rather well. Not too surprisingly, it won her a Filmfare trophy for Best Actress.
That year, Khubsoorat nabbed the awards for Best Film and Best Actor in Comic Role (for Keshto) as well.
While Rahul Dev Burman’s mellifluous score, especially the Asha Bhosle sung beauties — Piya Bawri and Sun Sun Didi infuse further cheer in Khubsoorat’s mood, Gulzar’s words (especially dialogues) gratify with their marvellous piquancy.
“Surinder, Chander, Inder.. ke baad Bandar nahi,” jokes Ashok Kumar while introducing his sons to David.
“Khadi bhandar mein rakhi hui gudiya,” is Rekha’s review of her sister, dolled-up in traditional attire.
And when Dina Pathak scoffs about Rekha munching on a paratha with unwashed hands. “Munh toh dhula hua hai,” comes the reply.
Now where have I heard that before?
Certainly not in the recently released promo of its upcoming remake.