Bimal Roy's middle-of-the-road Sujata is a film with a message but it is not a dire dirge. It weaves its plea for disregarding caste differences into a song-and-romance tapestry.
Sujata is born a Harijan [low caste] and the film makes a strong case for a more humanistic society based on equality. Its titular character's self empowerment may not be strident but even when gentle and subtle it's so effective.
| Bimal Roy
|| Bimal Roy
|| S D Burman
|| Sunil Dutt, Nutan
The black-and-white film begins in a big house redolent of a bygone era. Upen Babu (Tarun Bose) and Charu (Sulochna) are celebrating their daughter Rama's birthday when a 'low-caste' orphaned child is brought to them. When Charu hums the lullaby Nanhi kali sone chali hawa dheere aana for her daughter Rama, the bawling orphan in the other room too is soothed by the maternal embrace of her voice.
The orphaned baby is named Sujata. Unlike her more liberal, progressive-thinking husband, Charu tries her best to resist forming a bond with Sujata. The maternal spirit within her won't be denied nor will it allow her to send Sujata off to an orphanage.
The two girls grow up diametrically different personalities --- tellingly captured in the song Bachpan ke din. Rama (Shashikala) is a carefree lady of leisure, plonking the piano while Sujata (Nutan) is soft-spoken and hard-working, enjoying the song even as she expertly folds the laundry. Nutan yearns for her mother's affection but is made aware of being an achhut by her foster mother in a fit of pique.
What Charu really resents is that Sujata might hinder Rama's chances of marriage. Charu is keen that Rama wed Adheer Babu (Sunil Dutt) but Adheer falls in love with Sujata.
At Rama's birthday party, Sujata is deeply wounded when Charu refers to her as beti jaisi [like a daughter]. A sensitive Adheer is like balm to her stricken soul. Later, when Sujata is stopped from attending Rama's stage programme, Adheer leaves the show midway and meets Sujata. He conveys the programme's message and boosts Sujata's self-confidence with the film's best line: Aatma ninda aatma hatya se bhi bada paap hai.
But Sujata's dreams are shattered when she overhears her mother saying that she wants Adheer to marry Rama.
Roy, a master of semiotics, shows Sujata retreating to another room and switching off the lights --- her hopes. Even when Adheer insists that he doesn't believe in caste distinction, Sujata turns down his marriage proposal. Sujata doesn't sacrifice her love because of her caste but because of her devotion to the only mother she has ever known. It takes a convoluted catastrophe to open the floodgates of Charu's heart.
Hindi cinema had made films against untouchability since Achhut Kanya (1936), but Roy obviously believed in raising his own voice against unfairness. Using Gandhiji's sayings and example in his narrative, Roy makes palpable his desire for an egalitarian world.
The central mother-daughter relationship is calibrated really well. The mother's innate goodness is captured as well as the paradigm shifts in her attitude towards Sujata.
I found Shashikala's character truly endearing. She is probably the person who has accepted Sujata unconditionally. She calls her Didi, stands up for her sister when Adheer's granny scoffs at Sujata's illiteracy and giggles teasingly with her sister while pointing out knowingly that she knows Sunil Dutt's tastes.
Gratifyingly, she does all this with a casual air without either her or the director making a major production of this, heartwarmingly underlying the fact that this is nothing special --- this is how 'any' sibling would behave.
Roy interestingly uses Nature to convey Sujata's moods. A fluttering fern mirrors Sujata's state. And when a devastated Sujata goes out near Gandhiji's statue in the middle of a thunderstorm, the whole cosmos seems to be weeping with her.
There's a subdued yet entrancing romanticism in the love scenes, whether it is Adheer conspiring to meet Sujata in the garden and lauding the fact that tumhara sabse bada gun yehi hai ke tumme gun nahin hai [your greatest quality is that you have no good qualities], or the silken serenade over the phone --- Jalte hai jiske liye.
Sunil Dutt exudes sincerity. His character is the embodiment of good and Dutt makes him believable.
Nutan, of course, marvellously carries the film's dramatic weight. She is often quiet yet her expressive eyes illuminate her character's innermost thoughts and feelings.
Shashikala, who later became famous for her vampish roles, is a delight in this positive role. She played much the same part -- a harbinger of light and happiness in a film full of shadows -- in Roy's disciple Hrishikesh Mukherji's Anupama (1966), too. But while Shashikala was way over the top in Anupama, Roy held her in check in Sujata. The result is one of my favourite offhand performances.
* With Sujata and Anadi released in 1959, Nutan was at the peak of her career. Within three months of Sujata's release, she was officially engaged to Lieutenant Commander Rajnish Bahl. She was married before the end of the year. Despite the accolades she got for Sujata (including the Best Actress award), Nutan decided to take a hiatus from work.
* Nutan and Sunil Dutt went on to form a popular pair, reteaming in the Sixties for three more successful films -- Khandaan, Meherban and Milan.
|Famous songs from Sujata: |
| Jalte hain jiske liye
|| Talat Mehmood
| Kaali ghata chhaye
|| Asha Bhosle
| Nanhi kali sone chali
|| Geeta Dutt
| Sun mere bandhu re
|| S D Burman
| Bachpan ke din bhi
|| Geeta Dutt, Asha Bhosle
| Tum jeeyo hazaron saal
|| Asha Bhosle
| Wah bhai wah
|| Mohammed Rafi
* Talat Mehmood's velvety rendition of Jalte hai jiske liye makes it one of his best known songs. It was his comeback bid after his three 1958 films as hero --- Sone Ki Chidiya, Lala Rukh and Maalik --- had failed to turn him into a successful leading man.
* Sujata was made during the time when SD was not recording with Lata. This boosted Asha's career tremendously. Especially since Burman let Asha render the heroine's song (Kaali ghata chhaye), while Geeta Dutt was given the mother's lullaby Hawa dheere aana.
* Burman's own playback to Sun mere bandhu re marked his first success as a singer.
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Design: Uday Kuckian