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Copyright 2004




Bandini: A classic convict

BIMAL Roy is no stranger to Indian cinema. His films were not just pleasing celluloid creations, but provocative social documentaries. His movies reflected the ills around and went several frames beyond projecting them - to suggest remedies. He was, in that sense, a reformist with a camera.

And he achieved this through distinguished methods. His cinema was far from fantasy; it was down to earth and realistic. There was an endearing note of authenticity, which he struck through a very liberal view. In fact, he was way ahead of his times - the Fifties and the Sixties.

His lens captured what his mind perceived in a harmonious blend of rhythm and realism. He shot his films beautifully mostly in black and white and used light and shade to enhance the mood, to underline human pathos. His sparse frames froze in their simplicity, the intensity of feeling and passion. Anguish and ecstasy throbbed with rare sensitivity on Roy's screen.

Helping him were his actors, who had to slip out of their theatrical tantrums and slip into a style that mimicked life in all its dramatic ordinariness. Obviously, his work had the power to touch you in a way very few others could. Let us look at one of his movies, "Bandini" , made in Hindi in 1963.

It tells the pulse-pounding story of a woman convict, Kalyani. As the prisoners line up for a roll call in a Central Indian jail on a cold wintry morning in 1934, there is one face that beckons you with its innocence and nobility. It is that of Kalyani. Could she have poisoned someone?

An extreme sense of guilt pushes her to commit the crime. Holding a woman - the wife of a nationalist leader who once promised to marry Kalyani, but disappeared leaving her behind to face social ostracism - responsible for her and her father's suffering, she stoops to murder.

Kalyani's life takes peculiar turns. In the prison, a young doctor falls in love with her and, as she is about to marry him, she runs into the nationalist leader, now terribly sick. Kalyani's heart has not really stopped ticking for him and, in a captivating shot taken on the deck of a steamer, we see the two embrace under a cloudy sky. Roy's message is clear: here is a woman willing to risk a life of uncertainty for love, throwing away in the process a secure existence with the doctor.

"Bandini" had excellent artistes to help Roy paint a great canvas. Nutan as Kalyani gave perhaps her career's best performance. Splendidly expressive, her understated role is something that cannot be easily matched by today's painted heroines. Fear and anger show up so lividly in Nutan's eyes that they haunt you long after you have walked out of the theatre. Ashok Kumar is the charismatic leader whose fine style adds a ton to the work. Dharmendra, as the doctor, brings in a rare refinement.

The story itself is remarkable. Written by a famous Bengali writer under the pen name of Jarashandha, "Bandini" was one among the many he based on his experiences as the superintendent of the Alipore Central jail in Calcutta. One can well understand why "Bandini" disturbs you so much.

(This story/review appeared in The Hindu dated January 8 2000)

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