India is a country where people have worshipped everything that they detest in their real lives. The “Khap Panchayat” kills anyone who doesn’t marry according to the norms of his / her society. A duo that elopes to get married is considered outcast.
But when the lord of their myths kidnaps a woman from her wedding and marries her or manages to get his sister to abscond with his best friend, he is considered as the warrior of love and stories are woven around his valiant act of eloping. When a boy on the street whistles at a girl, he is called an eve-teaser; but when a lord picks at the belle of his village, he is considered ‘Saawariya’! “Krishna” is possibly one of the most worshipped gods in India. But if we look at his story closely, we would see that his life was anything monogamous; neither did he seem to profess a stringent belief on the same.
In fact, Krishna is said to have married 16108 women. Really? Wow! That’s like one wedding per day for 44 years! Okay, I am not for polygamy if that’s what you thought. But what I am here for is the other side of the story we have overlooked. In a land where only connubial relations are considered sacred, “Krishna” is worshipped not with his spouse but his lover. He was in love with the much married Radha (the myths justify the same by accusing her husband of impotence) but went on to marry Rukmini, whom he had kidnapped. Now, why I am bringing in this context? No, I didn’t grasp the medium to complain about the Vedas or demystify one of the most revered divine and heroic characters in the pages of India mythology. Frankly, I quite admire the way Krishna’s shrewd political prowess or pragmatic sense of righteousness has been portrayed by the Mahabharata and other related epics.
Rather, why I ushered in the context is to illustrate how the stories that we grew up listening to had undertones of all the aberrations which we were then fed as illicit. If homosexuality was subtle and less than overt, infidelity was discussed and hardly considered sinister. As one of my friends says, and maybe he is right, the Indian society was actually way too egalitarian till the Sultans and Mughals invaded and ruled. However, whenever any book or movie had tried to explore the same, the public tended to turn away from the theatre – claiming the plot adverse to Indian sentiment and culture. One of the earliest instances was “Kagaaz Ke Phool” – a box office disaster but later reprised as a cult film. More recently, Karan Johar’s “Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna” which had superstars playing agonised spouses searching for love outside home was deeply criticised from multiple corners. However, the most prominent name in this genre that almost pioneered the idea of infidelity was Yash Chopra’s “SILSILA”.
Yash Chopra was known for his long association with actors Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor. After 3 consecutive successes in ‘Deewar’, ‘Kabhie Kabhie’, ‘Trishul’ and the moderately hit ‘Kaala Paththar’ – he reunited with the pair to make his epic saga on love, faith and infidelity ‘Silsila’. Though Kapoor had a smaller role here and was also playing Bachchan’s elder brother for the first time (he played the kid bro in Deewar & Trishul), AB still held the centre of the canvas to himself. Despite the heroes being in place, what kept the director in quandary was the selection of his heroines. The original star cast was Amitabh Bachchan, Padmini Kolhapure and Parveen Babi. Then Smita Patil replaced Padmini Kolhapure before the director flew down from Kashmir a few days prior the shoot and finalised Jaya Bhaduri and Rekha. Sanjeev Kumar played a smaller but quite significant of the relationship quadrangle.
Though I am sure, most people are aware of the story, I shall quickly recapitulate the plot before venturing into the further discussion of the movie.
Squadron leader Shekhar Malhotra (Shashi Kapoor) and author Amit Malhotra (Amitabh Bachchan) are siblings who share a camaraderie akin to friendship. While Shekhar is betrothed to a docile homely Shobha (Jaya Bachchan), Amit woos gorgeous Chandni (Rekha) and decides to get married to her. However, fate plays an ugly twist when Shekhar is killed in an air-crash, leaving Shobha bereaved and pregnant with his child. As a tribute to his deceased brother, Amit resolves to marry Shobha and give their child a family. Chandni is shattered by the news but decides to stay away from Amit and marries Dr Anand (Sanjeev Kumar). Years later, with Shobha’s child passing away due to miscarriage, Amit & Chandni meet again and rekindle their romance. They meet on the sly, but the closeted affair soon comes out in the open, and the four lives are intertwined in a web of desire, love, justice and faith. Shobha and Anand, who realise that they are forcibly holding on to their marriages, let their spouses go, only hoping that they would return. However, all falls into place at the end, when Amit decides to return to Shobha (now expectant with his progeny) and Chandni realises her love for the composed Dr Anand.
Yash Chopra had explored the greyer shades of love in “Daag” – that marked the beginning of his production house – Yash Raj Films (YRF). However, ‘Daag’ had three lives crossed by a bigger twist of fate and their illicit desires marked by a sense of righteousness and defiance of the destiny thrust wrongly upon them. ‘Kabhi Kabhie’ on the other hand dealt with lost love but didn’t show infidelity. ‘Silsila’ however, moved away from all these, and had two of its protagonists treading the forbidden path purely to satiate their pained memories of a relationship broken due to unforeseen circumstances. While Amit and Shobha’s loveless marriage was somewhat justified due to the way it started, what made people dissent to Amit’s yearnings was Shobha’s pristine character, which was that of a quintessential flawless wife. On the other hand, Chandni and Dr Anand’s relationship had no tangible strain of discomfort, with Dr Anand being another epitome of caring and complaisant spouse.
What people could never feel was the urge to return to a relationship that stemmed purely out of love and defied to look beyond a flawless but perceptibly immaculate marriage. What also made the film unconvincing to many is the moral dilemma that the characters seemed to suffer from – almost throwing the hint of being in love with two people at the same time. Can someone really be synchronously in love with two different individuals? Can true love be found in two different personalities? More than anything, what is adultery?
I, for one, would love to believe that it is as possible to fall in love twice as it is feasible to be in love with two people at the same time. Almost to justify that, Yash Chopra makes the two marriages loveless and the protagonists ex-lovers; which, though forced, makes all the more feasible for Amit & Chandni to fall in love. What somehow fails that purpose is the way he makes you sympathise with Shobha and Dr Anand – that you almost feel what does the maker want to prove – is it natural or is it unjust or both?
I don’t know how wise a decision it was for Yash Chopra to cast the trio of Amitabh, Jaya and Rekha for the film. Definitely, he did try to capitalise on the ongoing rumours in their personal lives, but surely the same didn’t work for the commercial fate of the film. Unlike Lamhe, another Yash Chopra’s unsuccessful films which went on to win the awards, Silsila wasn’t honoured at the award ceremonies either. However, Silsila has been resurrected over the years as a classic, and the actors are surely to be accredited for it.
Kulbhushan as Shobha’s brother and Deven Verma as Amit’s friend lend a lot of credibility to their roles. Sanjeev Kumar is a brilliant actor, and only an artist of his calibre could hold on to the character despite the small screentime, especially with such stalwarts around him. As Dr Anand, Kumar is poised, nuanced and expressed so much through his subtlety and pained eyes. Ditto for Shashi Kapoor! His Shekhar is a lovable elder brother and he enacted it well enough to evoke the ‘awww’ grief upon his death.
The film was definitely about the triangle of Amitabh, Jaya and Rekha. As the reticent wife cum perfect home-maker, who wants to hold on to her family and is pretty well aware of the affair, but doesn’t pay heed to her brother’s accusations, Jaya Bhaduri (Bachchan) is wonderful. She has perennially proved her histrionics in multiple films, and as Shobha – she just seemed tailor made. However, the film (at least for me) belonged to Amitabh and Rekha’s sparkling chemistry. Though their earlier days of romance are very conventional song-dance, it is the renaissance in the latter part of their lives that excels. In the very Yash Chopra-esque costumes, Rekha looks resplendent in the chiffon saris and long unbridled hair. No one else could have portrayed Chandni with such maturity and sensuality at the same time. For Amitabh Bachchan, on the other hand, it was a very unlikely role. As the grieving poet desperately trying to renew his lost romance, Bachchan never goes stronger than the character itself – maintaining his stardom with the vulnerability and sense of urgency the character needed. One must appreciate for taking a risky role that had more greyer shades than even an Agneepath had – purely because in a film like Agneepath, you are rooting for him.
The film’s music is a landmark not only because of the beautiful songs but also because it marked the debut of 3 people. Shivkumar Sharma, an eminent Santoor player and Hariprasad Chaurasia, a virtuoso flautist – better known as Shiv-Hari made their film debut with Silsila, along with eminent lyricist who was till then only a screenwriter – Javed Akhtar. Possibly, the most popular of the songs is ‘Rang Barse’ – sung by Amitabh Bachchan himself. However, ‘Yeh kahaan aa gaye hum’, ‘Dekha ek khwab’ and ‘Neela aasmaan’ are equally mellifluous.
The film was neatly photographed, with the songs deserving special mention. The song “Dekha Ek Kwaab” was shot in the Keukenhof tulip gardens in The Netherlands and looked beautiful.
There is no denying the cult status to the film, what mars the film for me is the writing in several places. Though there are a few scenes that stand out – the subtlest yet most effective scene for me is the one where Dr Anand narrates a fairytale as an allegory to the quandary of their relationships (about a demure queen, her king and a bewitching fairy), with Shobha asking her a rejoinder ‘What role do you play in that?’. The other scene is where Amit & Chandni reach at Amit’s friend’s place and faces the first bit of social unacceptance. Even the “Rang Barse” sequence is well etched with Shobha and Anand initially agreeable to Amit & Chandni’s flirtations but gradually becoming discomfited as the innuendos become stronger.
But those beautiful scenes are then tarnished by some dishonest moves which take away the iconoclasm from the film. The first one is, as I have written before, the uni-dimensional and almost similar character sketch for Shobha and Anand – as reticent and veritable, as if they have been created to form antithesis for their more extroverted spouses. However, the biggest blunder comes in the form of climax – from a verisimilitude representation of forbidden relationships, the film suddenly comes down to the rungs of predictable “Bollywood” fare. Of course, given the casting and the time in which the film was made, Yash Chopra could have never made Amit & Chandni settling down with each other. But the entire plane crash sequence with Amit saving Dr Anand, and then coming back to Shobha who confesses her pregnancy looks so contrived that you almost cringe and wish the writer and directors had found a stronger reason to reunite the spouses. While the video posted above the paragraph beautifully builds the tension among the characters, the one below showes how the director wrapped the film safely, without trying to break the conventions.
Another flaw of Silsila is the number of coincidences in the story. Amit & Shobha suffer an accident and meets Dr Anand for treatment. Now, Amit and Anand’s wife Chandni have a romance and another accident – with the investigating cop turning out to be Shobha’s brother. Plus, why would two mature individuals who are trying to hide their relationship would behave unabashedly during Holi, when they know they are being watched? Amit may have still had bhang but not Chandni. It was kept as if to create the drama of the spouses finally realising the big thing!
Well, despite all the flaws, Silsila remains a beautifully made film, that proved to be way ahead of its times. A stellar cast, nuanced performances and some beautifully aspects of faith and infidelity make Silsila one of the greatest films of Yash Chopra. But more than infidelity, I would love to view Silsila as a film on unrequited love – love lost and found – but only tarred by societal norms and conventions to be viewed as infidelity. Come on, we are a country of love where our legends have amorous stories. How can we be so restricted in our approach. As one of my friends had written on Facebook recently, “I would choose to live in a society where you get stoned and commit adultery, over the one where you get stoned for committing adultery.”
I would like to conclude the same with a poem – a poem of love lost and hoped to be regained, written by my friend Manoj Bharathi..
A Red House
With curtains in yellow
Contrasting with the blue divan
A dog called Buddy
Sticking his neck
Out of our blue sedan
Two tykes rummaging around
One a Sachin in the making
The other a Shaan to be
With eyes like yours
And voice like me
Your pile of clothes
Fighting for space
With my pile of pics
Your bangles and make up box
Propping against my new camera
One weather-beaten remote
That flits between
TLC and ZEE
One burnt kitchen
To attempts at cooking
A red house walled by
Stained glass windows
That frame the rain…
We love watching the drops
I stand beside
Another stained glass
As I take in the scene
Of memories forlorn
Of love left unseen
Of words unspoken
That never said what they mean
Of a wrecked red house
A red house…
That could’ve been…..
Note- This is post is part of the special Yash Chopra Blogathon as a humble tribute from MAM to the master filmmaker, Yash Chopra. You can also check out our posts on Waqt, Kabhi Kabhie, Trishul, Kaala Patthar and a tribute to Yash Chopra as well.