About 14 years ago, pregnant and slightly out-of-breath, I strolled into the cool interiors of Bimal Roy’s bungalow in Bandra. As I settled into a settee, there was a strange sense of homecoming. Maybe it had something to do with the motherly woman I’d come to meet. Manobina Roy, I’d been told, didn’t entertain journalists. But recuperating from a knee surgery, she’d surprised me by agreeing to this interview that had brought me down from Vashi. She took one look at me and pressed a plate into my hands, insisting I finish the huge chunk of cake and the sweets on it before we started talking.
No changing the end
The spacious living room was scattered with mementoes from the past. Dogs lounged around comfortably. One of them stole a mishti (sweet) from my plate and earned a disapproving look from his mistress. Chastised, it slunk under the table, and with a laugh, I turned to the late director’s wife for her insights into one of my favourite films, Bandini.
“I really tried very hard to get my husband to change the end,” Mrs Roy admitted, pointing out that there was no reason for Kalyani to go away with Bikash Ghosh, the freedom fighter she’d saved from being captured at the cost of her sanctity. “He’d proposed to her, then left the village without a word and married someone else, leaving her and her postmaster father behind to face the music, that eventually results in her imprisonment. To me that was a unforgivable betrayal! And I didn’t think Kalyani owned him any loyalty and should instead have settled down with the prison doctor Deven, who wanted to marry her, in spite of knowing that she’d committed a murder.”
Roy respected his wife’s opinions and had submitted to her wishes during Do Bigha Zameen. He’d let Paro live after a near-fatal accident, to return with her husband and son to their village and gaze, shocked, at their two acres of land, the black smoke spiraling from the factory that now stood on it, symbolising the end of their dreams. Prisoner of love This time, however, he refused to veer away from the original end of Jarasandha’s 1953 novel, Lauha-Kapat. It wasn’t advisable to take artistic liberties with a well-known author’s work. Also, as his daughter Aparajita reasoned, her ‘baba’ (father) must have realised that Kalyani was too close to her elderly lover, who was dying, to go away with a younger man.
“Bikash had been a political prisoner who’d lost everything to the cause. Kalyani could empathise with his suffering having been a prisoner herself. Even after getting out of jail, she’d remained a prisoner of love whose dilemma is reflected in SD Burman’s ‘O mere majhi, mere sajan hai iss paar…’ that ends with the words, ‘Main bandini piya ki, main sangini hoon saajan ki.’ Intellectually, I understood why she had to run after him, but deep down I was disappointed. I still feel that if it had a slightly happier end, it might have done better,” she pointed out.
She was right. Bandini not only bagged the National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi in ’63, but swept six popular awards, including Best Movie and Best Director for Roy, Nutan was adjudged Best Actress at the Karlovy Vary Festival. But commercially, it was only a ‘semi hit’ and realising that times were changing, Roy was forced to start a more commercial Sahara with saleable stars Dharmendra and Sharmila Tagore.
After a week’s shoot he returned home with a fever and never went back, the film was eventually completed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
101 not out
I first saw Bandini in my teens, when life was rose-tinted with Mills & Boon romances. Yet, this stark, black-and-white movie, its darkness unrelieved by any touches of light, made me cry. I saw it many times after, and each time my heart broke. I remember Mrs Roy saying, it’s hard to accept Bandini, but impossible to deny it. I still remain a prisoner of Bandini. And on Bimal Roy’s 101 anniversary that falls on July 11, I salute the master who proved you can make a perfect film even if its world is far from perfect.