As is obvious from the title of “Aurat” — a product of Gemini Combine, one of the most formidable production houses of Madras (as Chennai was then referred to) — it is based on a woman oriented theme, with Padmini in the lead role as Parvati. Shot in black and white, it is a remake of the 1966 Tamil movie “Chithi” (Stepmother) in which the central role was also played by Padmini. However, the film is certainly not in the same league as classics like “Mother India”, “Bandini” or “Millee”, despite an author-backed storyline for the main protagonist.
In the Hindi film industry, there are hardly a few examples in which directors work as a team, although instances of music composers or story/ dialogue writers working as duos abound. The only example that comes to mind is the talented duo of Abbas-Mastaan, and the directors of “Aurat”, S.S. Balan and S.S. Vasan.
The two manage to create some riveting moments, especially when animated discussions ensue between Parvati and the male actors, Pran — as Manoharilal, the ageing widower with a brood of six children, who wants to tie the knot with a girl half his age, against the wishes of his mother (Lalita Pawar), sister Asha (Nazima) and a conscientious younger brother Rattanlal (O.P. Ralhan) — besides her love interest, played by Firoz Khan, and her younger brother, enacted by Rajesh Khanna, then a gawky newcomer. But these are few and far between, and at times the going gets laboured and tedious.
Padmini, who was wielded with grace, passion and vision by the showman Raj Kapoor in his films “Jis Desh Mein Ganga Bahti Hai” and “Mera Naam Joker”, does show flashes of brilliance and infectious spontaneity, as the eldest of eight children, who shares the burdens of her widowed mother (Leela Chitnis). She dreams of educating her younger brother, Suresh (Rajesh Khanna), to become a doctor, and get her mute sister married. For this she does menial household chores, while retaining her modesty in spite of prying eyes. But unexpectedly, just when one begins to admire her formidable talent and screen presence, she lapses into an awkwardly theatrical and comical genre of acting.
Indeed, it is Pran, with his white wig, who is the real star of the film. He is not a villain in the true sense, but his meanness comes forth like the slither of a snake. He conceals his throbbing negativity under a garb of comedy, which will be difficult, if not outright impossible, to emulate by any lesser actor, as he goads his right-hand man, the ever Machiavellian Kanhaiya Lal, to find a nubile bride for him, on the sly. Undoubtedly, with his sheer talent and the opus of his work over the decades, Pran is perhaps one of the most complete actors to have graced the silver screen, in the same league as Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Amitabh Bachchan.
The search ends when Parvati, on the verge of destitution, takes the bait for the sake of her family, against strong resistance from Suresh. On entering her sasural, she faces stiff opposition from Manoharilal's family, but true to character, overcomes all the barbs to emerge as the endearing step-mother to six toddlers and a perfect filmy bahu, all the while bearing the lustful advances of Manoharilal. Spurned, he torments her mentally. The breaking point is reached when he discovers the love that is blossoming between Suresh and Asha. Enraged, Manoharilal stops the financial aid he provides for Suresh's education, a gap that is filled by Asha, albeit surreptitiously.
After a series of twists and turns and introduction of a few unnecessary characters, like Mohan Choti, the rigmarole reaches a dénouement: Suresh's education is financed by none other than Parvati's former lover, who also marries the speech-impaired sister. Finally, Manoharilal sees reason and unites his sister with Suresh.
Rajesh Khanna, who had started just a year earlier with “Raaz” and “Aakhri Khat”, lacks confidence and is overshadowed by Padmini, Pran and even Firoz Khan, who gives a more mature and nuanced performance. The future superstar was yet to develop the panache, the famous style and irrepressible mannerisms that made him a cult figure. Nazima is part of the furniture, but sadly, Lalita Pawar, the powerhouse of talent is subdued.
Lyrics of the film were penned by Shakeel Badayuni with music by Ravi. These include, “Yeh Kaun Hain Jiske”, “Shola Ulfat Ka Bhadaka Ke”, “Nari Jeevan Jhoole Ki Tarah”, “Soja Meri Ladli”, “Meri Gaadi Udan Khatola” and “Hame Unse Mohabbat Hai”. These were not chartbusters, despite being sung by Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle .
With Manoharilal having a brood of six and Leela Chitnis having mothered eight, it is no wonder that India was perched on a ticking population time bomb. Another marker of life in the first two decades of independence to be found in the film is the appearance of a refrigerator in the Indian kitchen, although the gas cylinder is still not visible, with cooking, even in rich households, being done on the chullah. The car, well there was only one brand — the ubiquitous Ambassador.