Movie review – “Bhumika: The Role”

DVD cover from Wikimedia

It is always a fascinating experience to watch a Shyam Benegal movie. All of his movies are works of art and need a discerning eye to appreciate the most of it. By no means I am implying that he makes ‘art’ movies, for I make no such distinction. I will take the risk of sounding cliched and say “there is only good cinema, and bad cinema”, because that is a fact. Mr Benegal makes good cinema and is one of the very few directors who have never compromised on the quality for commercial reasons. While it is debatable how far it is objective to try and sell quality to a public, for which, cinema means predictable love stories, song and dance sequences, slapstick comedy and graphic action, all manifested in one word ‘masala’. Because, in business, a product must sell, and movie making is serious business.

Coming to the reason why I am writing this because I have just been treated to one of his movies and I am all charged up. ‘Bhumika: The role‘ was released exactly 30 years ago in the year 1977. It is the story of the central female character Usha, played by Smita Patil. It is her story from childhood in a village to being a successful film actress in Mumbai and her middle age. A quest for love, an experiment with life and a search for the meaning of existence.

Right from the first scene where Usha comes home from work, to a mean and suspecting husband Keshav (played by Amol Palekar), one is gripped. The palpable tension in the eyes, dialogs to a minimum but sufficient, expressions fantastic. The build up of tension in the eyes, and the movements in the house immediately tells you everything, that there is nothing right in this house. Watch Smita’s sudden and frequent change of expressions while dealing alternately between the husband and the daughter. Effort, minimal, effect, maximum.

Then the movie alternates between a flashback in black and white, and the present in color. Story is traced to a family in a village where Usha is still very young and learning singing from grandma. How she has to move from the village in search of work, to Bombay film industry, her adolescent and innocent love with Palekar, taste of early success and marriage forms the next few sequences in the movie.

Back to present, fed up with the good for nothing and quarrelling husband, she leaves home to stay in a hotel. She is thinking about her past and we are in for some more flashbacks. Her quest for love takes her to different people, each different from the other. We meet Rajan played by Anant Nag and Sunil played by Naseeruddin Shah. Naseer’s very small role introduces us to an objective person. Look out for certain dialogs uttered by his character. He believes in reality, his dialogs rejecting all notions of sentimentalism, emotion, the belief in religion and rebirth. Fascinating stuff, but watch out for a twist 🙂 Consider the following dialog uttered in typical Naseer style. Brilliant.

“Apne desh mein to dimaag se koi sochta nahin. Dil se sochte hain sab.”

Back in the present, in comes Vinayak Kale(Amrish Puri). This twist takes me entirely by surprise. And believe me, having been through the masala for decades, I dont bet Hindi movies can actually surprise me. Usha makes another experiment with her life. But does she get what she is searching for? You must watch the movie for this.

“Bhumika : The role” is a good example of minimalist and great cinema. Cinema is all about story telling, everything else comes later. A good story, and a director who remains honest to the story can be very appealing. Add a few actors who can really emote, and you have a masterpiece. Special mention must go to the background score, the use of folk drum beats, the sound of news in All India Radio indicating a probable time-frame etc. Have they stopped teaching subtlety in the Film Institutes now?

A few words about the actors. Amol Palekar did not yet have the Golmaal success, and to watch him play this mean character from young to old so efficiently, was a revelation. Anant Nag and Kulbhusan Kharbanda are just sufficient. A very small role for Naseer, and he sparkles. Amrish Puri, how I wish he was used more efficiently by the filmmakers. To imagine he is remembered as Mogembo, describes exactly what is wrong with Hindi cinema today. And I cannot even begin to appreciate Smita Patil’s acting prowess. I guess I can not judge her yet.

For me, the best line in the movie comes in the scene where Keshav is forcing Usha to take oath infront of God that she will not be an infidel. On being forced enough, she says “Kasam khati hun”. Keshav leaves happy thinking he made her do it. And after a pause Usha screams “ main jo chahungi wahi karungi”! 🙂


2 Responses

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