Bhumika is a story of an actress Usha. The character is a loose adaptation of the life of an adept artist of Marathi theatre and cinema, Hansa Wadkar and a story written on her called “Sangtye Aika.”
When Hindi cinema was high on characters tailor made for men, and at a time when feminism was a relatively an unknown word, Shyam Benegal boldly explored and exposed the raw wounds of the trials and tribulations of an actress without being derogatory or breaking away from reality. He showed how women are exploited in a patriarchal society where the choices for women are limited, if not non-existent.
As the name suggests Bhumika – the role; can be summed up as a constant struggle of a woman balancing the roles she plays on and off screen.
Cast and crew
Director – Shyam Benegal
Producers – Lalit M. Bijlani and Freni Varaiva
Screenplay – Shyam Benegal, Girish Karnad and Satyadev Dubey
Dialogues – Satyadev Dubey
Music – Vanraj Bhatiya
Cinematography – Govind Nihlani
Cast – Smita Patil (Usha), Amol Palekar (Keshav Dalvi), Nasseruddin Shah (Sunil Verma), Rajan (Anant Nag), Amrish Puri (Vinayak Kale), Kulbhushan Karbanda (Film Producer), Sulabha Deshpande (Shanta) and others.
Usha (Smita Patil) comes from a Devadasi tradition and lives with her mother, grandmother and father. After the death of her father, Usha is exploited by Keshav Dalvi (Amol Palekar) as he sees her as a money making machine to support his laziness and life style and so, introduces the child to films. Usha turns into the breadwinner for the family even before she grows up to be a teenager. Later, in a fit of emotional turbulence and in the hope of leading a normal married life, Usha marries the much older Keshav (who had been eyeing her since her childhood). She soon realizes that he is a blood sucking leech that thrives on her hard work and earnings. Later we see an actor Rajan (Anant Nag) proposing, coaxing her to divorce her husband as he has a soft corner for Usha. But, he doesn’t have the courage in reality, to see the plan through. He only portrays valor on screen. When Usha says, “Ek tum hi toh ho jisne sirf diya hai…Tumhe bhi kho doon?” she is scared, frustrated and lonely; but is not ready to let go of a friend that she found in Rajan. After a while, we see a young dynamic director Sunil Verma (Naseeruddin Shah) who has lofty ideas about love and life, walk into her life. He charms Usha but he too chickens out when it is time for action. Later, vexed with the film world, heartbroken Usha elopes and settles for a rich businessman Vinayak Kale (Amrish Puri) and chooses to live with him. However, she soon realizes, although enamored by her glamour and beauty, his idea of a ‘woman’ is in complete tune with the patriarchal tradition. She even loses the basic freedom the regular women have and lives practically under a house arrest. What Usha choose to do in the circumstances she unconsciously drifts into, forms the climax; and I would hate to divulge it to you.
Why you must watch it
The movie is a true reflection of society where a woman is dictated, often blackmailed into following traditions without ever being allowed to question the archaic norms of the society. Shyam Benegal meticulously contrasts the ideological screen life of each of the characters to their real lives – be it Usha, her husband Keshav, the soft hearted Rajan, the crazy director Sunil, the businessman Vinayak or even Usha’s mother. The beauty lies in the way each character struggles to come to terms with what is expected of them and what they desire to control in actual life.
In a scene, Benegal uses the story of Sati-Savitri and Satyavan where Savitri pleads Yama to leave her husband alone as she cannot (because society wouldn’t approve of it) live without him. She questions Yama if this is even a just action on his part. The question reflects her mindset as she struggles to make choices for herself in real life. It makes one wonder how difficult it must be for a woman raised on a heavy dose of tradition, to break away from all the shackles when time nudges her into action.
A film made 30 years ago still holds a mirror to women’s lives in India today. That in itself is a magnificent feat.
Ananta Nag did a great job as a shallow actor who wants to liberate Usha but doesn’t have the courage to do so in reality. Naseeruddin Shah did a splendid job in a cameo of a philosophical yet eccentric director. Amrish Puri carried his part with precision and played it well as a tradition bound businessman for whom, a woman’s place is within the four walls of his home. Usha is even expected to take care of his ill, bedridden first wife. The other notable performances were – Kulbhushan Karbanda (A film producer), Usha’s mother Shanta (Sulbha Deshpande) who wants nothing but a Brahmin husband for her daughter and resists every decision made by her daughter. Every time Usha refuses to comply, Shanta makes her pledge her vows before god, choking, restricting her, and emotionally blackmails her to succumb.
Screenplay is notable as there is not a single dull moment in the film and is grandly done by Shyam Benegal, Girish Karnad and Satyadev Dubey. Dialogues written by Satyadev Dubey do justice to the script and make the characters come alive on screen. The angst and emotions they go through are brought out well.
If I have to choose between Smita Patil and Amol Palekar’s performances, I’d be stumped. He did an exquisite job of using his body language to convey an emotion to make the scenes real. There are some scenes where he uses only his eyes to convey the intent and emotions of the character. As expected, Smita Patil single handedly shouldered the film and saw it through with meticulous ease.
Shyam Benegal chose to do half the film in black and white (Usha’s childhood) and the rest in color. It adds a layer of duality to the character that she grows up to be. Cinematography by Govind Nihlani is commendable.
Finally, two songs haunt our memory as the show draws to a close.
“Baajo re mondar baajo re…” and “Tumhaare bina jee naa laagey ghar mey,” composed by Vasant Desai and sung by Saraswati Rane, Meena Fatharpekar and Preeti Sagar respectively.
In a scene, Usha says, “Sirf bistar badalte hai… Mard nahi,” sending chills down one’s spine.
– By Ushasri, for IWI*
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