It is nearly three days since I saw Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam and I just don’t know how to start with the description. The story has so many layers, so many details. The whole picturisation is a revelation. In every angle there is something to be discovered. And I wanted and want to include everything, which is impossible. And of course I have to follow my day job as well. Thus, I’ve planned to go the Pyaasa way. I’ll post the synopsis and something about this and that. And then will arrive the Musings on… part. By the way a wonderful synopsis of the film has written by dear dustedoff, who is so much better with the language and has an art of expressing herself. She and this film are by the way also responsible for this blog. Richard has written in his expressive explosive manner on his reaction to the film. The Third Man at Upperstall gives many insights into the film and the big fan of Guru Dutt Philip Lutgendorf at his wonderful site has also written about this film.
As the credits roll in a book is shown lying on a table. It is the novel on which the film is based: Bimal Mitra’s Saheb Bibi Golam. We see at the end of the credits hands opening the book. Thus the story rolls.
The opening scene is of workers raising down ruins of an old mansion (haveli). The overseer is a pensive man of few words and as the workers go on their lunch break, he goes about the ruins and memories come back.
He remembers the day when he first arrived at the haveli, in awe and fear of everything new. His ‘brother-in-law’ (husband of his rakhi-sister), the Masterji (Kishan Dewan) fetches him up and brings him to his quarters on the grounds of the haveli. He tells him about the high prices and high buildings of the city but also the high strain of the carrying of this weight on poor people. He has also secured a job for him in Mohini Sindoor factory, where he will earn Rs. 7 a month AND get free lunch.
The next day they arrive at the factory, where he his asked his name and we for the first time learn his name is Bhootnath (Lord of the Ghosts, another name for Shiva), upon which the daughter of the house, Jabba (Waheeda Rehman) starts laughing. When he is asked about his origin and he informs that it is village Fatehpur in the district Nadia, Suvinaybabu, the factory owner is a bit perplexed. It is a Brahmo Samaj household and Jabba mixes freely in the conversation.
During his stay there, he learns more about the mansions going-ons from Bansi (Dhumal) and also from his glimpses inside. At night somebody sings a plaintive song calling back the beloved, carriages run in and out, and mysterious beautiful ladies arriving. Bansi tells him about the sad situation of Chottibahu (Meena Kumari), the youngest daughter-in-law of the mansion, who pines for her husband, Chottebabu (Rehman), who spends his time more at the brothel with Chunnidasi (Ranjitkumari) than at the haveli.
Meanwhile at the factory the cook bullies Bhootnath, who remains quite about it, but which doesn’t go unnoticed by the spirited Jabba, who complains to her father. Suvinaybabu and Jabba ask Bhootnath to stand up for his rights. Jabba’s teasing him makes him feel uncomfortable and so does her advances, but she is also happy when he asserts himself.
If there is ‘fem-lib’ in Suvinaybabu’s house, middle ages reign supreme at the mansion. Chotti Bahu won’t break her fast till she can drink water touched by her husband’s feet. Reminds one of KKKG, eh?
She has heard in between of Bhootnath, that he works at the Mohini (enchantress) Sindoor factory, who sell their wares promising that it will bring back wayward husbands back. Bansi smuggles Bhootnath in the janana (women’s quarters). His first meeting with Chottibahu is one of the enchanting moments of the film. He, completely taken over by her kindness towards him and her beauty starts talking with her about his travails at his working place. She listens attentively and afterwards asks him to bring him sindoor for her, but he should confirm first if it is really affective but be careful not to tell anybody why he needs this information.
Suvinaybabu sort of confirms the effectivity in that he tells him that the goddess herself came in his father’s dream and gave him the recipe for the sindoor. All the sindoor of the Mohini factory can not hold Chottebabu back. He asserts his ‘manliness’ and says that he is not impotent to sit at home and play with his wife.
Here Chottibahu loses her husband again, there Bhootnath nearly loses his life, he gets caught up in a shoot out between the police and freedom-fighters at the market ´place. He gets injured and is brought to Suvinaybabu’s house, where Jabba takes care of him. But distraught at the news that the Mohinisindoor didn’t have the desired effect, he leaves Jabba’s house, where they were on the verge of confessing each other their love.
Chottibahu, keeps him now in her quarters in a secret chamber and lets Bansi look after him. She hasn’t given up her efforts to hold back her husband. During one such confrontation, he asserts that he is a Choudhary and that normal housewives are not fit (trained?) to serve him. He asks if she can sing, drink, dance and sway with him the night through. Shocked but at the same time feeling challenged, she readies herself for this step as well.
Who but Bhootnath can she turn for help, now that he is practically living at her place. She asks him to buy a bottle of liquor for her. He warns her of the addiction, but she is firm. Her plan succeeds, Chottebabu starts spending his nights in his wife quarters.
If laughter echoes through the haveli, sadness seems to have put its veil on Suvinaybabu’s house. Struck by the knowledge that his products don’t have the desired effect, he has fallen sick. He tells Bhootnath that he has closed his factory and gives him Rs. 500,- as compensation and gives him a letter of introduction to a job as overseer. He also expresses his wish for seeing Jabba married and asks for his help. He presumes that he is meant as the bridegroom, but his dreams are shattered, when he is informed, that Suvinaybabu has somebody else in mind – Supavitra (Jawahar Kaul).
When Suvinaybabu dies, Jabba refuses to marry Supavitra. She has found from her father’s letters that she had been married away by her grandfather at the ago of one (!) and she feels obliged to respect this bond!
Industrialisation seems to have meanwhile arrived at the haveli as well. The Choudharys decide to sell their lands and invest in a mine. Their clerks and experst are in the pay of the middlemen, who sell them worthless land, but the Choudharys are too intent on playing pigeon wars than pay attention to such details.
Bhootnath gets transferred to a new job away from Calcutta. Chottebabu gets tired of his wife again and leaves for Chunnidassi’s brothel. Jabba is a married woman. Where does this leave all the protagonists? Surely they can’t go on living these lives.
And now at last, I can ask the question: Where the hell is Johnny Walker? He could easily have been given the role of Bansi. Why is he absent? Not that I don’t like Dhumal. He is a gem of an actor, but in a Guru Dutt film one expects Johnny Walker.
This is not the first film to be made based on this novel. Kartick Chattopadhyay directed the bengali film Saheb Bibi Golam based on the Bimal Mitra’s novel in 1956 with Uttam Kumar in the role of Bhotnath.
Well, as for all the other details and my likes and dislikes of the film, you’ll have to wait for the next post, cause’ I still can’t decide!