Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam has so many facets to it. that one can hardly cover it up with one posting. Moreover, there are so many thoughts and ideas, which come into the mind while watching it, but I just couldn’t find words for it. I think one can surely write a doctoral thesis on it. I could leave mine and start with this one! 😉
The film begins with a view through an arch of workers at work pulling down ruins of an old mansion. It gives a feeling as if it is a peek through the keyhole. This is felt more when Bhootnath enters the haveli compound for the first time and he sees the women in the carriage. The camera follows his gaze and lets us have a look at things through his perspective. The camera moves in a way that one feels the awe and fear that Bhootnath.
The camera is often placed behind the character, which is being addressed. It gives the audience a feeling of being spoken to personally.
A distance is maintained, when Bhootnath after his arrival peeks towards the haveli. No close-ups of the persons are seen, just dimly lit distant persons; one can barely make out what they are doing. Only after Bhootnath has entered the mansion do we see close-ups of the people inside.
Guru Dutt plays the village bumpkin in a natural way not over-emphasizing his ‘dehatipan’. It is a pleasure to see him overjoyed when he hears that he will be getting not only Rs. 7 as payment but also lunch. One remembers the fact that famines were rampant in Bengal during those days. Famines partly caused by natural catastrophes but mainly by the trade and by the agricultural policy of the British.
As pointed out by dustedoff “there is the contrast between the bright, cheerful household of Suvinay Kumar, where all is openness and honesty—and the Choudhary haveli, riddled with unhappiness and mindless extravagance, heading for an inevitable doom”. This openness and honesty is seen in different ways. The first time is when Suvinay Babu is shocked that the proposed candidate for clerk in his factory has been made to wait outside and not treated as an equal. Second time is when he fires the cook for bullying Bhootnath. Third and most touching is when Suvinaybabu gives up his business, because he realises that his advertisement of his product wasn’t true at all.
The scene transition is wonderful. A good example is from the scene, where Bhootnath protests to the cook that he gets so little for lunch, and we hear ‘yeh jurm hai’ (this is unjust), but the voice is that of the farmer, who is protesting against the land grabbing by the Choudharys. His cries at being beaten up by Choudhary’s thugs go over to the fireworks at the celebration of Choudhary’s cat!
A not so simple to explain transition is when Jabba asks the shy, departing Bhootnath if the Durban should accompany him, since the night is so dark and lonely. Bhootnath angry furious at this statement retorts back ‘I haven’t put on bangles like you’. In the next scene he is shown walking through the red-light district in the morning, where he meets Bansi, who is in search of his master. The simple answer would be that he has to walk to this lane to his place of work. But normally such houses border on by-lanes. Hmmm…..
Much has been written of Bhootnath’s first meeting with Chottibahu. That is why I won’t go into it much. It is beautiful how it is shown that Chottibahu knows exactly what the matter is between Bhootnath and Jabba. Look at her change of expressions while he talks of Jabba, from surprise to irritation to laughter. His feeling at ease with Chottibahu is quite in contrast to his awe of her. Firstly because of her kindness; she is the first person in his life who doesn’t laugh at his name, but lauds it as one of god’s names. Secondly also because of the customs, which require him to sit on the floor in front of the mistress, which he familiar of due to his rural upbringing and at Suvinaybabu’s house where equality reigns and he is able to talk on the same level with others he is not so comfortable. Jabba’s teasing him naturally also doesn’t help matters much. One thing that I always feel, when I watch this scene is that Chottibahu is completely aware of her sensuality and uses it to ‘manipulate’ Bhootnath.
As a comment to dustedoff’s review I wrote:
I agree with all of you about the movie and the story being a commentary on the fall of the zamindari system and the rise of the ‘industrialism’.
And I think it is Abrar Alvi in Nasreen Munni Kabir’s Docu on Guru Dutt, who waxes about Guru Dutt putting women in the spotlight of his movies.
Philip Lutgendorf sees in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam “female-centred meditation on gender inequity”. But giving Guru Dutt’s track record on his image of women, I hardly think it is a meditation on gender inequity but rather a deliberate depiction of a role model for women of India.
It is not a straight-forward message as in Mr. & Mrs. 55 but very subtle.
It starts with certain comments on Brahmo Samaj, a Hinduism-Reform movement.
We have Jabba, who is the daughter of a Brahmo Samaji, modern, independent, voicing her opinion and taking initiative. But to find her happiness she has to abide by the rules of ‘conservative’ Hinduism and accept her husband of child-marriage, from which her father had saved her and even found a good suit, who loves and would like to marry her. Since she is such a ‘pativrata’ her husband turns out to be her beloved. So you see, if you are a real ‘Sati-Savitri’, God will fulfill your wishes.
Then there is the central character of the movie, the Choti Bahu, who is a Sita impersonified. She loves her husband to a fault. She is even ready to ‘drink’ and behave like a ‘tawaif’ just to hold on to her husband. And if I remember right the character of Bhootnath is fascinated by her loyalty and devotion to her husband, which we often see symbolized in her big tikka on her forehead. It is four years since I last saw the movie, but doesn’t she tell Bhootnath, to fill her mang with lots of sindoor, when she dies? I might be mistaken.
Hence, we see in Jabba a woman, who is modern, learned, free and independent return to the fold of conservative society and is rewarded with a ‘happy married life’. We assume it is a happy married life, since she the man she was married to turned up to be the man she loves/d. But the way which she sits in the carriage coy and subdued it looks very much like ‘Taming of the Shrew’.
Choti Bahu on the other hand is conservative, uneducated (she comes from a poor family), shackled and dependent. But she revolts within the conventions of her society. She takes up drinking, she sings, she dances and more importantly demands hers rights. The rights, which her society has bestowed upon her. She doesn’t want much. She wants company of her husband and, very important for an ‘Indian’ woman, her right to be a mother. She is even bold enough to blame her husband for not giving her a child. In the Indian society, as I know it, the blame lies mostly on the woman’s side. But what is the reward of her revolt? Her husband ‘returns’ to her because he can’t go anywhere else. He has paralyses. And then she does a too bold an act, from which even her status can not save her. She crosses the threshold, the ‘dahleez’, the Lakshman-Rekha and that too with a man not related to her. Sita of Ramayana had to repent this act woefully and so does Choti Bahu as well. She has to die.
Therefore, the message, which comes across the film for me is “Women of India, don’t be too bold, you will get your happiness if you suffer enough and (more important) are ready to sacrifice”.
And still, despite of all these irritations (too subtle a word for that), I love watching this movie. The way the story is told is spell binding. Each frame is poetry. Each glance of a character tells a story.
Waah, jawab nahin!
Now I am not so sure of the ‘message’ as I have written above. And I surely take back my statement on Brahmo Samaj. It seems I just misunderstood something. And moreover at that time I still hadn’t watched the DVD, which I had, but made the comment from memory of watching the film some four years back. I would have sworn that in the last scene Jabba sits meekly without saying a word or showing a gesture. Now the ending as I have seen it, is quite a nice one and her gesture of holding his hand and consoling him is very touching.
All the same, Jabba is one character, whose development doesn’t make sense. An independent, self-confident Brahmo Samaji woman suddenly at the death of her father turns her back to the reform movement, which has shaped and formed her. That just doesn’t sound logical to me.
As Richard says “A lot of credit has also been given to the cinematographer, V. K. Murthy, which makes sense, because Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam is so beautiful to look at right from the start.” Look at the pic below, doesn’t it remind one of M. C. Escher’s paintings. I have put one below it. It is eerie!
Now compare the screen cap above, which is when the ruin of the Choudharys is under progress and the screen cap below
This is a screen cap when the masters of the house are at the peak of their power. The pillars support him and are like a fortress around him. In the Escheresque screencap, though the pillars are standing, the light which passes in between give the effect as if fallen pillars are strewn on the floor, thus reflecting the crumbling of power.
Pillars do play a major role in the film. The film itself begins with the raising down of a pillar.
Pillars hide the going ons in the haveli.
Pillars hold up the power at the haveli.
They separate Bhootnath and Jabba, when her marriage is announced.
Pillars frame Chottibahu’s and Bhootnath’s secret meetings.
The songs are all sung by women. The only male-song by Hemant Kumar has been cut. A pity!
One can go on about this film this way for a long time, but I think this is good place to end. This I think will be the last post in the Guru Dutt series. I hope, I can write about a film other than Hindi cinema soon!