She's going, "SQUEEE!"
What interested the PPCC about Mili was not the cliché plot (2) about the boisterous, full-of-life cancer victim who teaches the brooding hero what it means to live. What interested us was that the brooding hero at one point attempts to commit suicide. First, we've never seen an attempted suicide on Hindi celluloid. We've heard characters talk about suicide, but they were always accompanied by the Blaring Horns of Taboo. Second, the thematic jumbliness - with one character loving life and dying despite herself, and another character hating it and surviving despite himself - had such an ironic and poignant structure that we thought, This the PPCC must see!
All of the action in Mili takes place in and around a sunny apartment complex near the Bombay airport. Although the apartment building is large and anonymous-looking, most of the residents know each other, and everyone knows Mili (Jaya Bhaduri/Bachchan). Mili, the young daughter of Mr. Khanna (Ashok Kumar), is everyone's ray of sunshine. She is stubbornly upbeat, even in the face of a mysterious illness which, in the beginning, is only alluded to. One day, a new tenant buys the terrace apartment upstairs and moves in. The building's main gossip quickly calls a meeting and informs everyone of two key points:
1. New tenant is the son of so-and-so, who did such-and-such a horrible thing. Yeah yeah, remember? Yeah, as a result, new tenant just gets wasted all the time and is clearly a h8r. (This rumor is interestingly undermined later on; and the ambiguity of what really happened makes things even more tragic. Or did we miss something?)
2. New tenant is also hot.
Hmm, brooding and yet hot? Angry and yet appealing? Why, it could only be a young Amitabh Bachchan! Indeed, Amitabh moves in with his elderly man-nanny (manny?), Gopi, in tow, and proceeds to rain on everyone's parade. He does not allow the children to play on the terrace, like they used to. He yells at people. He gets wasted at odd hours and breaks things made of glass.
Gosh, if you weren't so tall, dark and handsome, Amitabh, we'd be really annoyed.
Of course - and don't pretend you're not just salivating for it to happen! - Mili and Amitabh eventually become close. First, Mili instructs the kids to blast Amitabh with their rays of cuteness, and, despite himself, Amitabh is cutified. Second, Mili is one of the few people who manages NOT to say insensitive things about Amitabh's parents, and Amitabh is duly appreciative. Third, and here's the clinker, one evening Amitabh gets totally wasted and slashes his wrists. Mili and her father are called upstairs by Gopi to help, and Mili has to hold Amitabh's wrist. The next day, visibly embarrassed, Amitabh attempts to recoil back into his shell, but Mili's casual compassion and easy-going optimism break his armor like Saladin breaking Jerusalem's walls in 1187. Soon enough, Mili's coming over to Amitabh's house for stargazing and philosophical conversation, and with time, the two are holding hands.
Let's just take a minute: Awwwww! Come on, you'd have to have a heart of stone not to just feel all warm and cuddly by this point!
The slashed wrist scene.
The morning after. Note the parallels in camera angle and sitting positions. The scene is also played very poignantly. Amitabh's a poor, hurt dear.
Anyway, it is now Narrative Time for Mili to become very ill, which she does. We don't want to give anything away from now on, but let's say that the dennouement feels very real, and the ending in particular rings true. Expect no melodrama, despite the long illustrious history of Hindi melodrama. Quite the opposite! This film is soaked in emotional realism, even approaching La stanza del figlio at times. Even though Mili does all the things terminally ill people in movies typically do - wearing a brave face, refusing help, wasting away in a Victorian gothic way - it all feels genuinely poignant. Amitabh's behavior is likewise unexpectedly real. Of course, this makes it impossible not to cry, at least a little.
We really like Ashok Kumar in paternal roles.
It's interesting to watch early Jaya roles. We were first introduced to her in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and then Silsila, both roles in which she's portrayed as a very conservative maternal figure. Sure, she smiled, but mostly she didn't. What's surprising (and delightful!) is how fun Jaya was back in the day: from her fast-talking tough girl in Zanjeer, to the perky (in a good way) Mili, to the bit in the flashback in Sholay. It was like she was another person! Small, vibrant, excitable, and indeed a perfect foil against the tall, unmovable broodingness of Amitabh. I guess they've both mellowed considerably now, it makes you forget what a great duo they made back in the day.
Onto Amitabh. Well, he was as expected. Angry with a heart of gold. Tall, dark and handsome. We miss Shashi. But I guess you can't have everything.
What's especially interesting about this film is that it's almost like a proto-Parallel Cinema film - intelligent, subtle, real - and yet it's so, well, mainstream. But it's the type of film that the PPCC expected Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi to make (and, indeed, they too have covered the territory of health and romance and suburban India). It's also astoundingly short, coming in just under the 2 hour mark. Use this to ease your non-Hindi friends into the powers of Amitabh and Jaya. Edited to add: OK, so Prof. Lutgendorf's review of Anari cleared a lot of our misunderstanding re: this film. Like Anari, this film was directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who specialized in "middle class" films - not quite bombastically populist like the good ol' masala movies, but neither quite so cerebral as Shyam Benegal and the Parallel crowd. Ooh, got it.