Blast from the Past Friday Review

Swami (1977)

Girish Karnad and Shabana Azmi in “Swami”. Photo: NFAI, Pune   | Photo Credit: mail pic

This is a vibrant Mini, a bibliophile, just like her mama (maternal uncle), and garrulous too; as argumentative as one can get. She is a wonderful character who steps out of Saratchandra Chattopadhaya’s work, on to the screen, portrayed brilliantly by Shabana Azmi, one of the most distinguished actors of Indian cinema. “Mini” would have been an appropriate title for this classic but then it was an adaptation of Saratchandra’s novel of the same name.

Basu Chatterjee, Shabana Azmi, Utpal Dutt and Girish Karnad. Can you string a better combination to enact the novel? Saratchandra’s novels found their way to cinema in various eras, with “Devdas” being the most iconic. “Parineeta” was popular too, followed by “Charitraheen”, “Majhli Didi” and “Grihadaha” but “Swami” was an outstanding tribute to filmmaking. The cast and the treatment were meticulous to the last detail with music a vital contribution. The soulful “Pal Bhar Mein Yeh Kya Ho Gaya” and “Kaa Karoon Sajni Aaye Naa Balam” highlight the creativity of Rajesh Roshan, not to forget the melodious “Yaadon Mein Woh Sapnon Mein Hai”.

Shabana was in the formative years of her career, having emerged from the critical acclaim that was bestowed on her for “Ankur” and “Nishant”. She was soon to be recognised as the leading light of the parallel cinema, even though she had a few commercial ventures like “Amar Akbar Anthony” and “Parvarish” to her credit. The ease with she slipped into the roles of Lakshmi in “Ankur”, Sushila in “Nishant” and Firdaus in “Junoon” set Shabana apart as an actor of astonishing repertoire. With Soudamani of “Swami”, thanks to the handling by Basu Chatterjee, she came to be recognised as a stalwart when just five years into Hindi cinema.

Saudamani is influenced by her mama or maternal uncle (Utpal Dutt), a bachelor, kind at heart and an atheist who loves quoting great philosophers. Her mother is God-fearing, immersed in devotion, also kind at heart and largely concerned about Mini’s future. The mother’s goal is to find a suitable match for the daughter. The uncle’s aim is to stand by Mini and encourage her to be engrossed in books, study more. Marriage can wait as far as he is concerned.

Mini talks of Thomas Hardy and Victor Hugo. She receives “The Way of All Flesh” as a gift from Naren (Vikram), a young man in the neighbourhood, who loves Mini but takes long to express himself.

The mama’s world revolves around Mini, books and debates. He knows the reasons for Naren’s frequent visits to his house. The mother, however, resents the interactions between Mini and Naren and intensifies the pursuit of a match for her daughter. The search culminates with Ghanshyam (Karnad), who is given the consent by none other than Mini’s mama.

The film deviates from the novel keeping in mind the times prevalent then. Rightly too! Mini is the epitome of a woman who will not accept things just because they have been passed on as tradition. She is a rebel and is accepted by the family as different.

Her swami, so different from the city-bred Naren, is a mild person, treated shabbily by his immediate relations, despite being the major bread earner of the house as a wheat trader.

For the Thomas Hardy fan, life in the new household becomes insufferable. Mini does not accept this disturbing transformation in her life. In the process, her mild but doting husband suffers too.

Mini, a sort of recluse in her husband’s home, becomes a complex person as she looks for an avenue to escape. The rebel in her comes forth. Ghanshyam insists she apologise to her mother-in-law (Shashikala) for misbehaviour. Mini protests and refuses. A visit by Naren complicates matters. In a fit of rage following a row with her mother-in-law, Mini takes an ill-conceived, harsh and hasty decision. She walks out of the house, in the absence of Ghanshyam, and in the presence of Naren.

This is the most delicate but definite phase of the story. The train arrives. Time to introspect is little. Mini, her past flashing past, the present a turmoil and future beckoning fondly, pines for her husband in that moment of reality. Her life is with the caring Ghanshyam. In that moment of penance, Mini understands the meaning of compassion, forgiveness and tolerance, as personified and advocated by her husband.

This silent tumult within herself transforms Mini into Saudamani as she finds solace at Ghanshyam’s feet. Singing “Ghar chalo Mini (Come home Mini),” he puts his arms around her shoulders. Mini rediscovers her swami.

Karnad gives a compact performance, so does Sudha Shivpuri as Mini’s mother. Utpal Dutt, as always, looks an integral part but the star is Shabana, living the dream role of her life as Saudamani. She carries the film on her shoulders!

Cast: Shabana Azmi, Utpal Dutt, Girish Karnad, Vikram, Sudha Shivpuri

Director: Basu Chatterjee

Story: Based on Saratchandra Chatterjee’s novel “Mini”

Dialogues: Manu Bhandari, Basu Chatterjee

Music: Rajesh Roshan

Playback singers: Yesudas, Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle

Producer: Jaya Chakravarty

Awards: Filmfare Best Actress Award for Shabana Azmi; Filmfare Best Director Award for Basu Chatterjee;

Filmfare Best Story Award for Saratchandra

Trivia: Hema Malini and Dharmendra make a cameo appearance in the film as Nautanki dancers. The songs became hits, and Yesudas was nominated for Filmfare’s best male playback singer, while Roshan was pegged for best music, though neither received the award.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 4:48:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/swami-1977/article6267925.ece

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