Monday 2 June 2008

Sharmeelee (1971)

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!?
It's too much for our tiny brains to cope with. Thank goodness it's a lot of fun. The fun comes well-wrapped. Three of the film's songs are real stand-outs. The PPCC's personal favorite was the horny O Meri Sharmilee which featured such typical icons of fertility as bunnies, heavy breathing, and an athletic Shashi Kapoor. (OK, OK, we promise that's the last of our objectifying him!) Then there is the melodious Khilte Hai Gul Yahan and its haunting reprise.
Captain Cute says it's springtime somewhere!
In terms of performances, we already noted that everyone was fully invested and in form for the film. Rakhee, in the dual role, demonstrated amazing range. In fact, what's a shame about Rakhee is that - like Jaya - she had the capability of playing really in-your-face colorful characters, and instead she often got stuck playing these straight-laced and conservative characters, so buttoned up they sometimes seemed demented or even were. As a result, while the men got to go off and have fun being crazy cool cats, really cool women like Jaya and Rakhee and Rekha got stuck in the background with their eyes perpetually lowered. Sigh! Carla and Beth have already made ample notes on the Power of Shashi in this film, and we can concur that, indeed, Shashi is at full blast here. If you can sit through this movie and not fall in love with him, you are clearly missing the critical gene for Shashi Kapoor appreciation. That is sad.
Ranjeet was so young in this!
A very special note about Ranjeet must be made. Poor, poor Ranjeet. We at the PPCC often hate him with the passion of numerous suns, and that's only because we are stupid and tend to conflate actors with their onscreen personas. He's probably a really nice guy. He certainly doesn't seem mean. Anyway, apparently he really made a splash (ha! pun intended) in Sharmeelee, because that's when his whole Ranjeet the Rapist persona became huge in the masala industry. Indeed, there is something incredibly compelling about Ranjeet in this film. Just watch the scene when he's confronted by the evil Prem Nath-lookalike villain (ah, no duh, he was played by the younger bro, Narendra Nath): Ranjeet's acting up a storm! OH YEAH. And because we almost forgot...
When in doubt, ask Iftikhar. Why? Because the man is in EVERYTHING.


Anarchivist said...

The modern twin might turn out to be evil, but I know whose hairdo I'd rather have!

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Okay, first, we need to hold a benefit to fund research for the cure for Shashi Appreciation Deficiency (see what I did there?).

Second, I like your assessment of the complexities of the movie - I've seen it at least four times and am not much further along in processing it. It's very confusing, but in a good way, as you say. Destination Crazyville, full speed ahead!

Ajit may be plastic, but I think he's also super idealized - ideal Modern Indian Man, or something like that.

As for the modern woman, I think the movie comes down against her, eventually, but not hard, and not without admitting both her struggles and those of others regarding her (Modern Indian Man sure loves her for awhile! and has a hard time letting go of her! Traditional Sister loves her! as does Family Unit! but so does Bad Guy! aaaah!) And what are we to make of it that it's Modern Girl who gets assaulted and then takes revenge and then shows remorse and then can't/won't escape the forces of evil whom she previously disavowed? I DON'T KNOW! And how did she get involved with them in the first place (before the time frame of the movie)? SO MANY QUESTIONS.

I can't wait to watch it again. I have hooked my in-town Bolly-watching companion on Shashi - "Such pretty eyes!" "Such pretty hair!" she keeps saying mwahahahahaa - and I think she should watch this next.

Plus it's so pretty, and if I was limited for the rest of my life to the clothes in Rakhee's wardrobe, I would be really happy.

Anonymous said...

Rakhee is so great in this. She does make the Good Twin gradually so appealing that you don't realize she's not annoying any more but you are actually rooting for her. And Bad/Modern Twin is v.v. fun (a woman you could steal horses with, as they say in German).

I love this film. One of my watched over and over and over get the idea.

Long Haired Spider said...

Oh my lord...I was soooo hoping you'd review this movie.

I watch it whenever I need a hit of Shashi-ness, and it never fails to deliver. Kanchan's wedding night daydream is especially delicious.

I love Rakhee in her Kanchan role; I was very shy in high school, so I identify with that part of her character. I think her acting was top notch.

ajnabi said...

I think I need to go re-read this post, because I was all distracted looking at the pretty pictures. Oh my goodness. Rakhee is *gorgeous* in this movie! (Shashi looks good too. Can't leave a comment on the PPCC without mentioning that. But the bunny brings back uncomfortable "Fatal Attraction" allusions.)

Anonymous said...

Absolutely love this movie and havent so far been able to understand why because it has all the plot elements that I normally hate:
1. two sisters and one man
2. modern girl=bad end
3. repressed traditional girl=happy-ever-after

But as you say, it was so much fun, that it doesnt really matter!

I dont even remember how many times I have seen the movie but never picked up on the 'trophy boyfriend' bit. Now that you point it out, its perfectly clear. Except for going into a decline for Kamini and slapping her later (thought that was a lot worse than the rape scene - after all heros are not supposed to hit women!) Ajit is not really very active in the movie.

The movie was actually based on a novel by Gulshan Nanda who was a sort of Hindi equivalent of Danielle Steele and Harlequin romances in 60's and 70's. So, you can see where the plot holes on the way to Crazyville come from!

Beth, we certainly need to find a cure for SAD people!Such afflictions shouldnt be allowed to go untreated. ;-)

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

bollyviewer, that is such a good point about the things this movie has that normally are vile, especially the slapping. But like you and memsaab, I've watched this a ton, and somehow those things just don't weigh on me. What is it about this movie?!?

FANTASTIC re: the novel. That does explain a lot.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

I was so rooting for the modern twin- and simply itching to kick the "shy" one hard. I agree w/ BEth and hate the way Bollywood loved to kill off modern women and made em vampy- sucks.

aside form this major quibble, I am v torn about this movie- its the hate Rakhi - love Shashi conudrum- sigh- so sat thru it, out of pure shashilove :\

Filmi Girl said...

This movie is going on my to-watch list ASAP!

I like your analysis of the modern girl/good girl dual role. I have to admit that I usually find the good halves of these types of pairs endlessly annoying - Sharmila Tagore in An Evening in Paris for example. (Her 'good' role was just one of the films many failings, which also include pudgey Shammi and a really grating twist on the stalker-plot romance. On the plus side - Pran in a blond wig!!)

It's strange, but I tend to interpret Bollywood as reflecting back real life roles rather than showing an ideal. So instead of modern girl being victorious, she has a tough time and maybe a rough upbringing. If the more traditionally minded among us can draw some strength from her, then her job is done.

We'd all love to be Helen dancing in her sequins and go go boots, but truthfully if we did go around dressed like that, we'd have to fend off the advances of so many creepy men!! You know?


Crazy on Bollywood said...

Sharmeelee is a very good movie with nice songs.I never seen Rakhi as cute as jolly.

the PPCC is a big fat idiot said...

Anarchivist - Totally agreed. It's so funky fresh!

Beth - SAD is truly a tragedy. I think we need an awareness campaign.

I actually quite liked how they undermine plastAjit's Perfect Manness by having him occassionally choke poor Kanchan or just generally degenerate into temporary madness (the Twinkie defense!).

Agreed re: Kamini in that it's condemnatory, but not 100%, and it leaves a lot of questions.

And OMG I too have just converted a local movie comrade to the cause of Shashi. We have nothing to loose but our dils!

Memsaab - It's so well-done how they make Kanchan gradually more sympathetic! As I mentioned in the review, I think it's also interesting in that we gain sympathy for her by realizing that Ajit's heart might be made of plastic, too. I kid. Not plastic. But radioactive material that can explode at times.

Long Haired Spider - Haha! Have you and Beth consulted each other on the wedding fantasy? She loves it, too! The PPCC prefers brooding men, so I actually found him at his hottest when he was unshaven, chain-smoking and brooding in bed. Yeah, man. Agreed that Rakhee is so great in this!

Ajnabi - There's actually a blog-wide law of the PPCC wherein every single post or comment must contain SOME reference, no matter how oblique/esoteric/torturously contrived to Shashi. My personal favorite is watching a non-Shashi movie and then just going, I miss Shashi! even though he has nothing to do with the film.

Bollyviewer - Totally awesome article, thanks for linking it! And I agree, in that normally this type of film would annoy me, and yet I find it... oddly acceptable. There's just something going on that I'm incapable of pinpointing, but I think it's not completely uber-conservative (a la Jab Jab Phool Khile), at least not as much as it seems like it could be.

Shweta - Though vamps have more fun! Actually, I agree with you - I find Kamini progressively harder to sympathize with, mostly because I can't stand the whole Demented Woman genre. I do, however, quite enjoy Demented Man scenes - and Ajit definitely goes demented a few times during the film! That I find quite hilarious. OMG I'm probably being really insensitive and sexist.

Filmi Girl - My Pran companion! My Pranpanion! PRAAAAAN!!!

Very interesting notes about gender roles in Hindi cinema. You should definitely write a post about it. Have you seen Juno? My favorite thing about that movie is that it presents a very fresh, very realistic and viable "new" teenage femininity. Juno herself isn't feminine by any traditional Western definition (I wouldn't say), but I don't see her as particularly tomboyish either. She's very much in control and empowered, and yet also vulnerable to the ultimate Girl Thing of all: pregnancy! At times, I felt the movie a bit frustrating, in that I found it to be unrealistic (e.g. her parents' reaction to her pregnancy), but a friend made a good point that perhaps it's meant to present an ideal!

Crazy on Bollywood - Agreed! I think poor Rakhee got stuck playing such conservative, boring roles later on (e.g. in Kaala Patthar... everyone gets to dance and sing during Dhoom Mache Dhoom, except her!). I think she's quite fun in Trishul, but still grossly underused!

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

I forgot to say: it's my understanding that dupattas tend to the idea that Shashi has wormed his way under hers is quite the statement.