The Rakhee-Rakhee duo! Not to be ridiculous, but honestly how do they do the doubling in Hindi movies? Because it's always really impressive.
Sharmeelee is a flurry of motion and energy. We went into it with a firm intent to study its gender relations and approve/disapprove of its treatment of the Modern Woman, always so controversial in 1960s Hindi movies with Shashi ji, and instead we came out at the other end, bewildered, confused and not a little charmed. Because everyone in this movie - everyone, even the anti-Shashi, Ranjeet - is compelling. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, and some really crazy shit goes down, too. The PPCC was shocked repeatedly by things like bunny and lamb cameos, dropping babies, underwater fistfights and attempted molestations. It was just SHOCKING, all of it. It was also, often, hilarious and wonderful.
The plot is your standard masala fairy tale/moral parable. Once upon a time, there lived two twin sisters. The sisters looked so much alike that even their closest relations could not tell them apart. One sister, Kamini (Rakhee), was a feisty, go-get-'em Modern Girl, on the fast track to a Master's in Modernness. The other sister, Kanchan (also Rakhee), was chronically shy - we're talking Social Anxiety Disorder shy. Kanchan had little education and less personality, so her parents were anxious to marry her off. Yet every suitor who met the spunky Kamini first immediately lost interest in her mute twin sister, and, alas, poor Kanchan seemed doomed to spinsterhood.
Shy twin Kanchan kind of sucks initially but grows on you.
One day, Kamini went to Kashmir and ran into a load of jolly army guys. After attempting to steal some fruit and sandwiches from their barracks, she was intercepted by the dashing, incredibly handsome Ajit (Shashi Kapoor). Ajit seems to have inherited the Prince Charming gene. He is an army man, yet he writes poetry. He has a great sense of humor. He has great hair (very clean, all shiny, Herbal Essences perhaps?). He does this thing with his voice that's just...
Oops. Getting carried away. Anyway, he is clearly perfect. Or is he? (cue music)
Anyway, Kamini and Ajit hit it off and then - amidst the torturous ironies that are standard to the genre - Ajit arrives at the Kamini-Kanchan home in order to marry Kanchan. He doesn't recognize the difference, and takes the shy twin for the sassy one. But then realizes what's up, and switches back to the sassy one, leaving the shy one destitute. But then the sassy one has the evil, thuggish Kundan (Ranjeet!!) on her tail - a goonda who mixes with the wrong crowd.
Shy Kanchan and Prince Charming.
One of the coolest fight scenes ever.
And that's when the really crazy shit starts happening. People start hallucinating, slapping each other senseless, dropping babies, running each other over in cars, exploding in cars, returning from the dead, and slipping time bombs into each other's purses. It was like the plot just went HOG WILD EVERY WHICH WAY. That's not to say it was confusing, or meandering. No, no. We were clearly on our way to Crazyville with purpose. Nothing that happened could be described as predictable, but, once it did happen, we weren't so surprised. When you've got a good twin, a bad twin, and a hot guy, you can just imagine all the potential shenanigans.
Since the film left our head spinning so speedily, we have practically nothing to say on the gender relations. Gender relations definitely are present, but what the film is trying to say is beyond our capabilities to comprehend. Maybe after watching it again a couple dozen times, we'll be able to disentangle everything into something a bit more coherent. What we did notice was:
- The objectification of Shashi Kapoor (something we too are guilty of). The character of Ajit is objectified to no end. He serves only one purpose: to be the Hot Guy, the object of love and lust for both twins, and the ultimate tension between them. His personality is clearly made of plastic, all shiny and new, just like the rest of him. As we told Beth, there were a number of scenes that also objectified him visually. Scenes, for example, where it is one of the twins singing to him, cradling his head, kissing him, and so forth. Ajit is clearly the Trophy Boyfriend.
Our mini-mission was to cap as many scenes of obvious Shashi objectification (Shashectification?) as we could. Here are some samples. Sample #1: sassy Kamini cuddles Shashi by the pool.
Sample #2: Shy Kanchan cuddles Shashi by the river.
Sample #3: Shy Kanchan pretends to be Sassy Kamini and nurtures Shashi by the mountains.
Sample #4: Shashi cuddles his way under the dupatta. Does he want to wear the dupatta? We know not. We hope not.
- The modern twin becomes the evil twin. We know, we know. You're probably sighing and groaning and rolling your eyes and feeling disappointed with 1960s/early 1970s mainstream Hindi cinema. But there was something about evil, modern, demented Kamini that was... hard to pin down (like the rest of this movie!). She was sympathetic and repugnant at the same time, and the film doesn't seem to fall hard on either side. For example, the most disturbing scene in the film is when Kamini is almost raped by Ranjeet's character. It is very unlike other "rape scenes" from similar films in that it's much more realistic and gruesome. It's also shockingly explicit by the genre's standards, and it's also surprisingly morally ambiguous. So what are we supposed to think at the end of it? We don't know! But it clearly illustrates the dilemma of Kamini! We don't think she demonizes the modern woman, but, well, she doesn't not demonize her either.
- The super-lame shy twin becomes sympathetic. In the beginning, the movie treats Kanchan's shyness with more than a hint of disdain: her interactions with the caged bird (ahem, the bell of symbolism goes clang) are a little, well, painful to watch. But then the vibe changes: Ajit the Perfect Man is undermined and revealed to be quite morally ambiguous and scary himself, and Kanchan suddenly becomes a real person! Dammit, what is going on in this movie!?