& MRS. '55
(1955, Hindi, 157 minutes)
Produced and Directed by Guru Dutt
Dialogues: Abrar Alvi; Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri; Music: O. P. Nayyar; Cinematography: V. K. Murthy; Art Direction: D. R. Jadhav
This clever romantic comedy is one of the lighter products of the Guru Dutt team that would later craft such heavyweight masterpieces as PYAASA and KAAGAZ KE PHOOL. Evoking debates over social legislation and womens rights in the immediate post-Independence period, the narrative pokes fun at upper-class liberal reformers who seek to impose their ideology on society at large. Since the reformers in question happen to be women, the film delivers an essentially reactionary message vis-à-vis gender: its Westernized, bespectacled feminists are man-hating harpies out to deprive good Indian women of the simple happiness they ostensibly derive from traditional roles as cooks, servants, and baby-machines for their menfolk. The predictability and (now) political incorrectness of this theme (for which the director perhaps atoned in his probing and female-centered meditation on gender inequity, SAHIB, BIBI AUR GHULAM), is offset by the witty plot, atmospheric mise-en-scène, fine ensemble acting, strong score, and inventive cameraworkall trademarks of a Guru Dutt production.
the credits (superimposed over a newspaper front page that alludes to a climactic
courtroom scene) the film opens with feminist firebrand Sita Devi (Lalita Pawar)
presiding over a meeting in support of a proposed divorce bill that will give
women more scope to terminate marriages. Though parliamentary passage of the
bill appears imminent, Sitas cadre of upper-class housewives seem more
interested in debating the relative merits of skin-softening facials, and her
unmarried niece and charge, Anita (Madhubala), slips out at every opportunity
to drool over a tennis pro named Ramesh. Anitas escapades lead to a chance
meeting with the impoverished Preetam Kumar (Guru Dutt), who instantly falls
in love with her. Preetam is an out-of-work cartoonist (the films few
glimpses of his drawings feature the handiwork of famous satirist R. K. Laxman)
whose single rumpled suit and fedora, as well as his silence throughout the
first two scenes (finally broken with the song Dil par hua aisa jadoo,
Such a spell has been cast on my heart), contribute to the Chaplinesque
quality of his characterthough understandably Guru Dutts version,
unlike Raj Kapoors Raju, evokes the soulful and melancholic
rather than the manic and clownish sides of the Tramp.
Sita Devis plans to mold her niece according to her own ideology as an independent woman are further frustrated when it is revealed that Anitas late fatheranticipating the aunts designsstipulated in his will that his daughter must marry within a month of her 21st birthday, or lose her inheritance of seven million rupees. With the deadline fast approaching, the would-be heiress eager for conjugal bliss (signaled by the song Thandi hawa kaali ghata, A cool breeze and dark clouds, with which she attempts to woo Ramesh in a swimming-pool scene), and no Suitable Boy in sight (Ramesh having spurned Anitas proposal and departed for Wimbledon), the scheming aunt contracts a marriage of convenienceto be terminated after one monthwith a hired groom, who is expected to be poor but educated, and willing to forego further contact with his bride after their cursory civil ceremony. In fact, he turns out to be Preetam, who is uninterested in the promised fee but hopeful that Anita will fall for him too. She of course does, eventually, but not before the plot has taken several unpredictable twists, in part through the machinations of Preetams rakish friend and benefactor, the newspaper photographer Johny (Johny Walker). The latter has his own love interesta secretary at the newspaper officewhom he woos with the song Jaane kahan mera jigar (God knows where Ive lost my heart).
those able to pardon (or laugh at) gender stereotyping and an implicit appeal
to male fears that womens rights will threaten family valuesfears
that have not yet been laid to rest in the ensuing half centurytheres
plenty of good fun and good music here, including notable vocal performances
by Geeta Dutt, the directors wife. Simple yet highly inventive song picturizations
are enhanced by fine use of outdoor locationsBombay teashops, bus stops,
and a swimming pool. Madhubala looks radiant in Murthys chiaroscuro framing,
and Guru Dutt himself appears lovably wistful but not yet tragically doomed.
[The Yash Raj Films DVD of MR. & MRS. 55like the companys other Guru Dutt offeringsfeatures only a mediocre-quality print; one hopes that better footage survives somewhere. Though the subtitles miss the finer turns of Abrar Alvis witty dialogue, they are otherwise adequate and are provided for song lyrics as well.]
[return to homepage]