Wednesday, 24 October 2007
Ek Chadar Maili Si (1986)
An adaptation of Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Urdu Novel by the same name, Ek Chadar Maili Si is a poignant tale set in rural Punjab of one woman’s fight against custom and tradition.
The Punjab has seen the literature of its soil being transcended to the silver screen many a time be it Amrita Pritam’s Pinjar, Nanak Singh’s Pavitar Paapi or Mohan Rakesh’s Uski Roti, but Ek Chadhar Maili Si is perhaps one of the most underrated of the cartel.
A woman’s place in society is only intact until her husband is by her side…the home she lives in after marriage, the children she has borne, the dowry she brings with her…none of it belongs to her but is instead the property of the man who married her. So what happens when that man no longer exists? Is she left to fend for herself under the scrutinizing eyes of society or will tradition bind her back into social acceptance?
Ek Chadhar Maili Si follows this ethos and takes an insight into to the old age custom of chadar-andazi within Punjab, a custom which allows widow remarriage and is prevalent amongst the Jatt community. Taking the audience on a journey of one woman’s trials and tribulations within her family, Ek Chadar Maili Si questions whether or not the practices which are in place hinder people rather than help.
Ranno (Hema Mailini) lives with her husband Trilok (Kulbhusan Karbandhan) a brutish horse and cart driver by day and an alcoholic by night. Making up the family is her disparaging and malodorous mouthed mother-in-law Jindhi (Dina Pathak), blind father-in-law, her carefree daughter Guddi (Neena Cheema) and her infantile son. Adding mischief to the proceedings is her tardy rogue of a brother-in-law Mangal (Rishi Kapoor) who manages to bring laughter into the household with his jovial demeanor.
Ranno is living a respectful life in a small village of Punjab with her husband and his family, albeit she is plagued with the daily abuse of her haggard mother-in-law who finds fault even with perfection, and the spiraling misbehavior of Trilok as he takes to the bottle every night, resulting in Ranno being at the receiving end of his violent outbursts.
Yet still, head held high, she is able to engage in gossip with the other women of the village or dance to merry abandonment at a neighbor’s family function, trading the cantankerousness of life for a few moments of glee, proof of her unflinching and never say never character.
Meanwhile, Mangal, with his purposeless and insouciant lifestyle, which consists of spending days roaming around with his friends stealing watermelon’s from fields, falls in love with a nomadic girl of a brash nature, Raaji (Poonam Dhillon). Raaji brings a halt to Mangal’s frolicsome antics and with her infectious personality; she hones him into a world of love and longing, trading his aimless wandering for angelic moments of passion where the two dream of tying the nuptials.
Woe betides when Trilok is murdered under a case of mistaken identity leaving Ranno widowed with two children and with the family’s sole breadwinner dead, a wake up call for Mangal to shoulder the responsibility of the household.
Ranno is subjected to the taunts and vilifications of her mother-in-law who holds her as criminal for her son’s death and when Mangal is arrested after brawling, the omen of bad luck upon the family is considered to be the unsought present from Ranno’s ill-fated hands.
Penniless, on the verge of starvation and with nowhere to turn, Ranno takes to lending money from the local villagers in order to buy food for her in-laws and her children turning a blind eye to the comments on the amount of handouts she is receiving to aid her plight.
Meanwhile, Jindhi takes to selling Guddi off for marriage in order to bring in money to the household but Ranno becomes aware of this ploy and in an attempt to ensure her children are in no further danger, for the first time stands up to Jindhi’s shrewd ways, much to old woman’s amazement.
Returning home to a cloud of privation which effuses dust of tension and squalor is no delectable prospective for any being, so when Mangal arrives home to once again pull the plough from the mud, his only respite comes yet again in the form of Raaji who still awaits the day the two will wed, whilst Mangal works day and night to improve his family condition.
Desperate to consolidate a place of her own in her in-laws home and to protect her children, Ranno becomes exhausted of any way out of her claustrophobic situation and finds it harder to keep hold of Guddi who seems ignorant to her own growing beauty and age.
Help comes in the form of the village counsel who agrees the only way to ensure the well-being of Ranno’s future and that of her children, is for her to wed Mangal under the custom of chadar-andazi, a remedy which will cure all of Ranno’s problems and protect her honor and sanity.
The decision hits both Ranno and Mangal like a javelin in it’s sanguinary grandeur, restraining both and leaving them at a point in life where duty seems to prevail over a humans desire.
Ranno, who has nurtured Mangal like her own child is suddenly forced to accept him as her husband. Mangal is bound by custom to unwillingly sacrifice the pining Raaji whilst the family all believe that they stand to gain from the extrication that chadar-andazi will bring for them.
Just how and why do social norms restrict mankind? And will the custom of chadar-andazi which is supposedly in place to solve woman’s quandary ultimately harmonize Ranno’s wounds?
Ek Chadar Maili Si is a social drama which presents itself in a simplistic manner to the viewer, heart-rending and mettlesome in its approach, aided by its authentic rural ambience.
Sukhwant Dadda has handled several portions with extreme sensitivity and allowed the actors to develop situations with subtle nuances rather than to present a garishly melodramatic saga, the kinds of which were quite common during the 80s.
Several scenes have been executed with the finesses of a maestro, for example the depiction of the relationship between Ranno and Trilok, both fiery and entrancing as we see Ranno await her husband at the doorway each day to give him his food despite his shortcoming as an individual.
The scene where Trilok attacks Ranno is extremely realistic, exempt of any ostentatious sound effects or background music but instead relying itself upon the shrieks and cries of Ranno and the blasphemous language of Trilok, filling the air with tension and disgust, leaving the viewer genuinely appalled by the antics that unfold before their eyes.
In contrast, the scene where Trilok’s dead body is carted before the doorway of the house and the villagers look on in bewilderment as they identify the body is extremely underplayed, relying on slow camera shots and actors expression. This serves to be a cleverly conceptualized scene. The very doorway which Ranno often stood at awaiting her husband or the doorway that constantly served as a threat for her to be thrown out of the house becomes the benefactor of her spouse’s corpse, plunging her from married woman to widow in split second, the doorway constantly acting as a reminder of the fragile place she holds in her husbands home.
Similarly, the scene where Ranno can not bring tears to shed from eyes upon seeing her husband’s body is exemplary and witness to Hema Malini’s capabilities as a performer. Her use of expression and complete portrayal of helplessness and confusion is so deftly presented that one wonders and regrets as to why Sukhwant Dadda did not have a longer career as a director in the industry.
The weakest point of the film is its climax which lacks punch in its deliverance. The viewer is left feeling quite perplexed as to why the character of Ranno would react in the manner she does and no real resolve is advertised. Given, the realistic treatment of the film allows there not to be a convenient culmination to the tale but a statement upon the films premise would have been apt. Instead, we are left with the feeling that the characters of the story are victims of their circumstances and the conflict that ensured earlier on can almost be deemed as irrelevant.
Also, it seems in order to add an element of cliché into the story, the love angle between Rishi Kapoor and Poonam Dhillon is actually forced and highly irrelevant. In the novel, the character of Raaji is only a passer by in Mangal’s life but in the film, the two develop a relationship offering ample scope for song and dance and couplets…a facet of the story which was not needed.
In an author backed role, Hema Mailini dominates the film with a stellar performance of a woman trapped by destiny. Her character undergoes a drastic transformation from bubbly housewife to vindicated widow and its Hema’s conviction that makes this a noteworthy effort. Those who have branded Hema as just a dream girl, enacting glamorous and spunky roles in films like Sholay, Seeta aur Geeta and Trishul surely need to watch Ek Chadar Maili Si to view the depth the actress can reach. Her eyes convey measureless emotions and even in scenes where she is required to screech and scream, there is a remarkable restraint apparent making her live the life of Ranno on screen.
Kulbushan Kharbanda is perfectly cast as the proud Jatt husband, augmenting the Punjabi accent and making his character both loveable and disgusting at the same time. He turns out a performance which is extremely rustic and creates a fine balance between menace and buffoonery.
Rishi Kapoor is given a character that like Ranno, encounters a metamorphosis and proves his versatility in both comedy and serious subject matter. Back in 1982 where he had happily accepted the widowed Padmini Kohlaupre in Prem Rog portraying an extremely sensitive character of a dejected lover, here in Ek Chadar Maili Si he appears on the other side of the spectrum, showcasing guilt, confusion and subordination all in one, making for satisfying viewing. His control over the Punjabi accent is commendable and effortless and as a result Mangal is a character that appears extremely natural.
Poonam Dhillon has little to do in the film apart from act as the young girl in love blissfully unaware of her lover’s strait and seen as her character is unnecessary, she fails to leave an impact.
Dina Pathak is superlative in a role that makes one realize just what a powerhouse of talent she was. Her performance makes you hate the character right from the opening scene and rightly so as Dina ejects an extreme irritable quality into the character of Jindi, making the viewer detest her with all their might.
Musically, Ek Chadar Maili Si offers two highly likeable songs. Firstly in the form of “Margi Margi” an upbeat folklore number of the Punjab, accentuated by Asha Bhosle’s powerful vocals. Filmed on an energetically, furiously dancing Hema Malini in a courtyard of a village house, the song makes for great viewing due to it’s fast-paced choreography and credible ability to portray a Punjabi gathering in all its glory.
The second treat comes in the deliciously enticing “Na Sona Na Chandi” which is filmed on both Rishi Kapoor and Poonam Dhillon amongst the picturesque fields of Punjab and serves as a pleasantry for its beautiful lyrics.
Although regulatory song and dance is kept as a minimal in the film, the soundtrack by Anu Malik gels well with the mood of the film and is only glorified when accompanied by the on screen visuals.
Cinematographically, Ek Chadar Maili Si earns kudos for its culturally correct setting and the panning shots of rural Punjab with its quaint alleyways and gleaming fields is as fluid as the subtle expressions of the actors.
Ek Chadar Maili Si is a film that trades in melodrama for intelligence and that is the biggest plus factor. It brings about and raises many questions to the audience, proving to be challenging and intellectual cinema which still holds, in bizarre forms, entertainment value.
The mere factor that the title is extremely ironic in itself, presenting the chadar as “maili” (sullied) when in actual fact it is supposed to redeem the characters speaks volumes of the cleverness the story holds and thankfully, Sukhwant Dadda has translated this to the big screen in a pristine fashion. It will be extremely interesting to see if his much delayed “Chooriyan” starring Gracy Singh holds the same eminence some twenty one years later.
An earthy tale, exuding high voltage emotions, piquant visuals alongside meritorious performances, makes Ek Chadar Maili Si a duvet of cinematic snugness. A must see for connoisseurs of discriminating taste.