Ah! THE Classic!
Reviews done to death. Has been dissected and discussed umpteen times. Marvelled upon. Praised lavishly. And even frowned upon by some for its gloom. All in all, there is nothing more to say, nothing new to discuss.
Still, here I am with my insights on this masterpiece. I have been toying with the idea of reviewing Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam for quite some time but just couldn’t muster up enough courage, lest it turned out to be a superficial and shallow take on a film I revere. But then, my love for Meena Kumari and Geeta Dutt along with my prejudice towards Guru Dutt productions got the better of me and I decided to have a shot. I won’t digress into the story as it’s known to everyone. Neither would I go into the ‘praise-or-brickbat’ mode. This is just what I think of the film every time I watch it.
For me, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam equals to Meena Kumari’s lifetime achievement and Geeta Dutt’s blatantly poignant singing.
Chhoti bahu is a legendary lore of Hindi filmdom. No account of Hindi cinema can be complete without her. And it’s only because of Kumari’s flawless role portrayal that the character got its immortal stature. I just can’t imagine someone else as chhoti bahu. Please pardon my shallowness when I say that I haven’t seen any other actor getting so skin deep in the character that she starts knitting her life around that character.
I know it is my bias which makes me say these things for Meena Kumari, but trust me, when I say that there just can’t be anyone like her, ever. If I was to choose only one film which I could watch for the rest of my life, I would without any delay say, it is ye, chhoti bahu, whom I want to watch, forever. And would do so without tiring my senses, because you soothe me. Yes, her very presence soothes me. However contradictory it might sound, because there is nothing soothing about the whole film and the least is her character. She is turbulent there. Restless. Still, her presence invokes such warmth in my heart. See, I have once again jumbled the actor with the character. Sigh! No escape.
And if Meena Kumari is the visual reincarnation of chhoti bahu, Geeta Dutt is the voice behind her. She had successful songs before Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam and she found success after it too (albeit in bits and pieces). But, I think destiny made her a playback singer just so she can be THE voice of chhoti bahu. Lata was way ahead of her career wise and Asha was fast catching up with her. But thanks to god, Hemanta Mukherjee thought like me and refused anyone else but Geeta for the playback. Just can’t imagine if someone else could be that effortless with all the pain and pathos. Of course, she derived it all from her personal life. But that doesn’t take anything away from her singing prowess, all the more adds to it. The lyrics of those three songs were her life in black and white.
There are two stories of how she became a part of this classic. One says that she refused to work in Guru Dutt productions because of her personal strains only to be pursued vehemently by the production. Guru Dutt ran to Lata in the wake of events but she too declined. (Trivia: Chaudhavin Ka Chaand is the only Guru Dutt Production of which Lata Mangeshkar has been a part of.) Thus, Geeta had to step in. Another story states that Geeta dragged the production house to court to be given half the songs for playback and Guru Dutt relented. Wonder why she would do that?
Don’t know which one is true or are these just fables from the filmlore? Anyway, it hardly matters. What matters is she did playback in the film and gave us three ‘immortal’ songs - tales of longing, pain, sugar-coated harsh words, pleading, bereavement and above all, doomed love.
If not her, who could have pleaded “saajan itna toh na tadpaao... chale aao...” with such longing? If not her, who could have seductively crooned “machal raha hai suhaag mera.. jo tum na hoge toh kya karoongi...”? And that heavenly, “is darr se ke pi ki najar na lage... jhat nainan mein kajra laga baithi...” would have fallen flat if not for her.
It was Geeta Dutt who gave her everything to chhoti bahu. And it was Meena Kumari who ‘was’ chhoti bahu. These two make me swoon with ranging emotions every time I hit the play button and there, I start my roller coaster ride with them both.
P.S. – I was gifted this absolutely lovely wall calendar by my uncle and aunty seeing my craziness for all things filmi! And, just to match my current mood and love for this classic, the month of March had this on the page! Karma, I say!