When the best part of the movie features a pregnant Om Prakash, you know you're in a mess.
Kanyadaan started out strong - with magically sublime (magicablime?) shots of a young Shashi Kapoor against a background of crisp mountain air, with soul-plumbingly beautiful music by Shankar-Jaikishen, with interesting 'war of the sexes' themes. It all went wrong though, when the narrative started veering off in irritatingly predictable-yet-insufficiently-alluded-to ways. Add to that, the main source of melodrama - country bumpkin Rekha's (Asha Parekh) inability to adapt to changing 1960s bourgeoise norms of marriage and divorce - was on pretty shaky ground, as no one seemed to be troubled by everything as much as she was, so her troubledness just looked more and more bizarre. Nay, attention-seeking!
The usual Shashi way of dealing with things: get shashed.
Consider, for example, one of the final scenes: after much drama, Rekha visits the Shash, who is currently Devdasing himself to death. Presumably her visit is out of compassion; it's an effort to prevent his suicide by bottle. The Shash proclaims, "Very well. I'll stop drinking because it hurts you. But what will I do? How will I live my life without this crutch? I just don't know. Sob." Goodness, such despair! And he thinks getting wasted is a crutch now? Never mind that it's been all of a week, get that man to an AA meeting. Or at least, I don't know, address what he just said. Instead self-centred Rekha goes, "I regret ever coming into your life." Huh? OK, we weren't talking about you anymore, you silly cow. Why must it always be you, you, you?
But this is the film's fault. It can't seem to decide who the protagonist is. Is it Super Bourgeoise Man (Shashi Kapoor), the sensitive soul and poet, young, orphaned, rich, looking and acting as if he wandered out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel? Or is it his love, Bumpkin Woman (Bumpkini?), poor despite her gallons of hairspray, who was a child bride, unbeknownst to everyone including herself and her supposed husband? Or is it even the Fred and Ethel neighbors? Who knows, who cares?
Neither can the film decide where it stands on gender relations. In the opening scene, a boys' team is playing field hockey against the girls' team. The boys lose, but then it's revealed that their star player - Amar (Dilip Raj), AKA Fred - threw the game. When one of the girls confronts him about it, he says, "I threw it to teach you girls some self-confidence!" (Well, we're paraphrasing.) What? Isn't that terribly patronizing? It's certainly counterproductive! (That said, a wonderful sequence on gender relations follows Om Prakah, who plays the silly servant and resident populist comic subplot protagonist, who is desperate to impregnate his firebrand wife. At one point, he exclaims, "Tut! If I was her, man, I'd be popping those babies out like muffins out of the oven." He then proceeds to dream about himself being pregnant, and this part was hilarious!)
It's always gotta be you, you, you, Bumpkini! Even when the Shash is burning up his Jawarhalal Nehru outfit and just kickin' it classic style.
Look at him. Just look at him! He's hot. And he's so melodic when he's melancholy.
And then there's the whole re-marriage issue, source of much needless angst. Bumpkin Woman wails and despairs and generally acts melodramatic that, alas, she is already married (even though she didn't know about it, and no one cares) and is therefore incapable of marrying the Shash. Meanwhile, her supposed husband - who, we'll give it away, is Amar the Fred character - was likewise unaware that he was already married, likewise got married, but the movie doesn't seem to fussed about this. He certainly didn't jump in front of the first speeding car when he found out (Bumpkini's typical response).
In fact, the melodrama is then completely undermined in the end, when, after the Bumpkin Mom (Mrs. Bumpkini) has arrived from Eastcabumpkin, India, to see how her daughter is shashing it, even the freaking Mom - purveyor of all things traditional! maintainer of all things conservative! - tells her daughter, "Look, maybe you're taking this child marriage thing a wee bit too seriously." There proceeds a brief lecture on how child marriage isn't really valid if the children, as adults, don't recognize the union anymore, and, as interesting as it is to hear this coming out of a 1960s Hindi movie, it's still just horrible narrative form. We just spent 2.5 hours waiting for the last bastion of blindly conservative idiocy - sorry, Bumpkini - to wake up to the reality every other character seemed already fully aware of. Even more irritatingly, there are a couple subplots that are just overinflated balloons: when Ethel the Neighbor suspects Bumpkini of seducing Fred, or when Shashi appears to be going to the whorehouse and is actually just writing the play. What?! Ugh. Don't waste our time with this trash!
Some genderbending: a woman smokes a cigarette outside the baby department!
Anyway. Despite the horrible narrative form and just the horrible plot, this film is - like Jab Jab Phool Khile - another example of a very didactic but very aesthetically pretty 1960s film. The music is uniformly amazing, with two of the songs - Likhe Jo Khat Tujhe, and Mil Gae Mil Gae - reaching states of such transcendent bliss that our love of Bollywood was reaffirmed big time. Also, the camerawork is likewise very, very good - and it's interesting to note how Apollonian it is (compared to the Dionysian masala 70s?): all rigorously measured golden ratios, geometric patterns, and so forth. Our absolute favorite moment in terms of filmmaking was during Likhe Jo Khat: Shashi and Bumpkini are frollicking around a tree in the usual forest. Just as the music pauses, Shashi grabs Bumpkini's hand and pulls her around to him, singing, "Kaha tum ho, vaha mein hoo." (Wherever you are, there I am.) During these lyrics, the camera pulls in tighter and tighter until we can see only her face pressed against his chest. That shot, we think, perfectly captures the delirious joy one would feel if singing at high altitudes with the Shash. And because of its transcendence, we'd say it captures any delirious joy, anywhere, anytime.
And now presenting:
Things We Have Noticed Are Becoming a Trend in 60s Shashi Movies
1. Mohammad Rafi sings for Shashi (sometimes - ed.). Yay. Editor who has been schooled in the comments: But not always! See comments.
2. Shashi has a shelf of hair and wears tapered trousers, like a true dork.
3. There will be 1 song featuring crisp mountain air and wooded areas.
4. The heroine's hair will resemble a beehive.
5. The moral of the story will be the oppression of women, or some variation thereof.
6. There will be a play-within-a-play.
7. At least someone will be super bourgeoise.
Examples: this movie, Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965), Pyar Ka Mausam (1969), Abhinetri (1970), Sharmeelee (1971).
OMG. Give us 70s masala anyday.