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Mr. & Mrs. 55 (1955)

23 May

It is so hard to decide if I like this film or not. The story is anti-feminist and traditionalist. But at the same time the director/story-writer’s take on “upper-class liberal reformers who seek to impose their ideology on society at large”, as Philip Lutgendorf  puts it, in the form of Abrar Alvi’s witty dialogues are simply great. It is simply difficult to have a single opinion on this movie. Dustedoff  has also provided a nice review of this movie on her blog.

The film begins in fact, if we look at the background of the credits properly, with a flashback.

The opening scene shows a newspaper boy (Jagdeep) shouting out the newspaper headlines of the imminent divorce bill.

Inside a Villa we see Sitadevi (Lalita Pawar) holding a meeting to discuss the divorce bill but her listeners seem to be more interested in debating over the effectiveness of milk cream or orange peel for the skin.

Meanwhile Sitadevi’s only niece Anita has gone off to see a tennis game, against her aunt’s wishes. The reason: her flame the tennis pro Ramesh (Al-Nasir) is playing there.

Trying to runaway from her aunt’s secretary she bumps into Pritam (Guru Dutt). He is dumbfounded by her beauty and can’t get a word out till his friend Johnny meets him. Dil par hua aisa jaadoo…

Anita is a heiress to her father’s millions, who died when she was still small. At the age of 20 she is going to inherit all the money but on the condition that she marries within a month of reading the will. Sitadevi wouldn’t like seeing Anita married off she would rather have her ‘independent’.

Pritam lives off his Casanova-friend Johnny, who is a press photographer and a Christian family gives him boardings and free meals. Though he is a cartoonist by occupation, he is unemployed and this leads him to visit Johnny’s boss (Bir Sakhuja) often. During such a visit he gets a phone call from Sitadevi, who is in search of a suitable, respectable man.

Pritam, who is still unemployed, though shocked when he hears of Sitadevi’s proposal, agrees to get married to Anita, when he realises who she is.

Seeing that Ramesh has no plans to marry her, Anita is heartbroken and meets Pritam unexpectedly while running away from her Nanny. Abhi to ji hone laga kisike nazar…

Anita is also not pleased with a fact that a man is being bought for her to get married. When she discovers that it is Pritam, she is even more disappointed, but all the same gets married to him, because of the inheritance.

Pritam can’t stand the fact, that Anita is angry with him. A complete macho that he is, kidnaps her and takes her to his brother’s place in the countryside. Chal diye bandha nawaz…

Pritam’s sister-in-law (Kumkum) gives her a basic course on duties of ‘Hindustani’ woman and wife. That would include even getting beaten up by your husband, cause he makes love to your afterwards with ‘tan aur man’ (body and mind)! Deeply impressed by this philosophy (and I think her eagerness to get married as soon as possible) and Pritam’s soulful singing in Mohd.Rafi’s voice (Udhar tum hansi ho…), she says YES!

As far as I am concerned this could have been the end of the story, but we have already seen in the headlines of the newspaper that further drama awaits us. Anita (clever girl!) had already telegraphed her aunt about her kidnapping and given her, her whereabouts. Well, she didn’t know that she would be swept off her feet by Pritam’s singing and Bhabhi’s lessons. Anyway, Sitadevi and her secretary come to her rescue, which she doesn’t need anymore. Pritam, the ram avatar he his, suspects her of being not true to him and raises his voice and accuses her of all things possible. Well, effects of soulful singing have also their expiry date and I think, the more the accusations, faster it wears off. Off she goes with her aunt.

Pritam goes now into a Devdas mode and to facilitate the divorce proceedings, which Sitadevi demands, he even poses for a photo with a whisky (Ballantine?) bottle and two girls on his lap, which he delivers to Sitadevi. Seeing this as proof of Pritam’s infidelity even Anita agrees to the divorce. Meri duniya loot rahi thi… .

This song gives one a feeling as if one has already jumped to Guru Dutt’s next film ‘Pyaasa’.

As far as I know, by mutual agreement the divorce case doesn’t go to the court. But that would deprive us of Pritam’s masochism, Tun Tun’s comic scene and the camera angle above.

I know you are biting your finger nails off, eager to know if Pritam and Anita will ever come together and if yes, how? What is Johnny Walker doing in all this? Will Sitadevi get an assembly seat or become a MP or still better a Ramdev? All these questions will be answered when you watch ……………… MR. & MRS. 55!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What I liked about the movie?

The fantastic photography by V. K. Murthy, see for e.g.: Thandi hawa khali ghata. Madhubala. She gives credibility to this otherwise naïve role. O. P. Nayyar brilliant songs and music. Johnny Walker and Yasmin in the csp. They keep you going through the hard parts and depressive mood of later Pritam.

Abrar Alvi’s witty dialogues.

Some examples:

Anita: Tumne khabhi kisise prem nahin kiya Nanny, warna mujhe aise zabardasti se khana nahin khilati. (You have never fallen in love, Nanny, otherwise you wouldn’t feed me forcibily)

Nanny: Hamar zamane me prem karte the khana khake, bhukhe pet nahin. (In our times we used to love with a full stomach and not hungry)

Sitadevi: Tum communist ho? (Are you a communist?)

Pritam: Nahin, cartoonist. (No, a cartoonist.)

Pritam: Yahan to do roz bhukhe rehke bhi roti nahin milti (I can’t even get a bread slice at times)

Anita (in Marie Antoniette mode): Roti nahin milti? To cake biscuit kyu nahin khate? (No bread? Then why don’t you eat a cake or a biscuit?)

Pritam: Kya meri chahiti biwi bhi yahi chaahti hai? (Does my beloved wife wish the same?)

Sitadevi: Woh tumhari chahiti biwi nahin hai. (She is not your beloved wife?)

Pritam: Woh meri biwi nahin hai, to talak kyu mangti hai? (If she is not my wife, why is  she filing for a divorce?)

What I didn’t like about it?

The whole business of Hindustani aurat and her duties.

Some samples:

Anita: Lekin aunty, ladkiyan kam bewakuf banti hai. zadatar wohi mardon ko bewakouf banate hai.

Anita: Aapke pati, kabhi pitthe bhi hai aap ko? (Does you husband beat you at times?)

Bhabhi: Tan man se pyaar bhi to wohi karte hai! (But he loves me with body and mind as well)

And since women talk about their roles, the writer gives his views a female credibility. Moreover the women’s rights activist Sitadevi has been given an extreme position. By doing that no sensible dialogue about gender roles is possible. And by letting her admit, that she has learned about these views from women of America and Europe, they clearly demarcate her as being an alien. A Hindustani woman would never do such thing.

The characters:

Pritam: Again one of Guru Dutt’s passive, self-pitying male lead characters. The only action on his side is to debase himself by making that incriminating picture. He is selfish and egoist. Not really a sympathetic guy.

Anita: A naïve girl of 20 years, but behaving for the most time as if a child. She shows all the same more verve than Pritam. She jumps off balconies, sends off rescue telegrams, goes off in search of her lover!

Sitadevi: Did the writer give her this name on purpose to show that the women of India are no more Sitas of Ramayana? A very two-dimensional character. Thank God, Lalita Pawar got this role. If anybody else had tried it, it would have become just laughable.

Background

The Hindu Marriage Act  was passed in 1955. This Bill provided for Hindu marriage divorce. In Hinduism as such marriage is seen as a bond for the whole life and thus divorce didn’t have a place in it. This is at least, what is propagated by the traditionalist. But in the Dharmashastras even Manu allows for marriage termination.

Kautilya in his Arthashastra even takes for granted the woman with several husbands (Wendy Doniger  p. 327; which is by the way a wonderful book about the Hindu theology and mythology but not much on spiritualism. I had a great time reading it.)

One can imagine the in the years before passing of the Hindu marriage Act, people were discussing it a lot. And this movie is Guru Dutt’s answer to it. Not quite feminist, not even humanist.

The Cast:

Madhubala      Anita

Guru Dutt       Pritam

Lalita Pawar   Sita Devi

Johny Walker  Johnny, Pritam’s friend

Yasmin           Julie

Kumkum         Pritam’s sister-in-law

Uma devi        land lady

Rooplaxmi      street singer (?)

Cuckoo           Bar Singer (singing neele asmani)

Anwari            Nanny

Radhika          Sita Devi’s Secretary (?)

Moni Chatterji            Judge

Bir Sakhuja     Editor

Agha  ?

Haroon ?

Can anybody please check if I have recognised the following actors and actresses correctly:

Roopmala: 

Radhika:

And does anybody know which characters were played by Agha and Haroon? I don’t know the Haroon but the Agha we know was not to be sen anywhere.

Remake

If it is an exact remake, no thank you! But it would be great if a woman director takes up the topic and gives it a feminist turn and make a gender communication in Indian urban context possible.

Any suggestions as to plot twists?

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18 Comments

Posted by on May 23, 2010 in Bollywood, Guru Dutt Series

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

18 responses to “Mr. & Mrs. 55 (1955)

  1. dustedoff

    May 24, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Yes, the ‘traditional Hindustani’ woman’s role in this got on my nerves, but even then, there’s just something about this film that I liked – maybe the music + Madhubala + Guru Dutt (he looks so good when he’s not in a depressing film like Kaagaz ke Phool)? Not to mention Johnny Walker and Yasmin in the fantastic Jaane kahaan mera jigar gaya ji!

     
    • harvey

      May 24, 2010 at 1:08 pm

      That is what troubles me, you know! Am I supposed to like such films, however good packaged, which go against all that I stand for?
      But you are right the music and the cast and the witty dialogues compensate for it.

       
  2. sunheriyaadein

    May 24, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    As always, I watched this movie for the songs. Love Jaane kahan mera jigar gaya ji , Thandi hawa kali ghata and Udhar tum haseen ho . I liked this movie for O.P Nayyar’s music, Songs and Madhubala. Storywise, I didn’t care much for it, it actually got into my nerves too. Though like you mentioned some dialogues were very witty,

     
    • harvey

      May 25, 2010 at 1:10 pm

      You are right. The music is great and so are Madhubala and Lalita Pawar.
      Storywise, I think, a lot could be developed a lot can be developed so as to lead to a proper gender communication.

       
  3. harvey

    May 25, 2010 at 7:09 pm

     
  4. bollyviewer

    May 25, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    I saw this long ago in the DD days, and remember liking it a lot back then. More recently, I’ve seen the original (Come Live With Me starring Hedy Lamarr and James Stewart) and that is a lot less sexist – at least I dont remember any monologues about the duties of women. I do love Madhubala, but the more I see of Guru Dutt the more I am inclined to stick to the Hedy Lamarr/Jimmie Stewart version.

     
    • harvey

      May 26, 2010 at 10:57 am

      Hey, thanks for the tip!
      I will have to look this one up.
      Hedy Lamarr was not only a beautiful and good actress, she was a renowned physicist as well and she is from Austria.

       
  5. bollywoodeewana

    May 26, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    This was shown at a horrible late night hour on mainstream British Tv, about 1.15 am at night. i only got to admire madhubala’s pretty look and quite cool fashions (esapadrilles etc.) if i remember clearly before dozing off, i’ll come back with my thoughts on the film when i finally get my hands on the moserbaer Guru Dutt classic series

    Guru Dutt films are always shown whenever Channel 4 do their bollywood season, just weeks ago they showed Chaudvin ka chand, the hours they choose to do so though are always late and in as much as i’m interested, i can’t help but fall asleep.

     
    • harvey

      May 26, 2010 at 2:26 pm

      That reminds me of DD policy on such films. In the late 80s they borught a Guru Dutt series which was aired sometime at 11.30 pm or something.
      Talking about fashions, I wonder how many men in the 50’s really wore hats in Bombay.

       
  6. coolone160

    May 30, 2013 at 4:23 am

    The movie had such beautiful songs in it ! esp—–“Thandi hawa kali ghata”.Agree with you on you views onthe film.Perhaps Guru Dutt did this film for commercial point of view(a typical masala Indian film with melodrama included). I liked his “Pyaasa” avatar more………….

     
    • harveypam

      May 31, 2013 at 9:35 am

      The songs are all simply GREAT!
      ALL! No exceptions there.

      Why the topic of the film as such? I think because he was convinced of what he potrays, I would say.

       
  7. Arunkumar Deshmukh

    June 18, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Harvey ji,
    Agha Haroon is ONE single person and NOT Agha + Haroon.
    If you see the Titles of the film,this is given as a single word/name and not 2 separate ones.
    -AD

     
    • harveypam

      June 18, 2013 at 6:51 pm

      Thank you Arunji!
      Bas ek tumhara hi sahara hai. Since the names were all written in block letter, I couldn’t differentiate.

       

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