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Dinesh Raheja

At the close of the 1960s, in an era when colour was a strong currency at the box-office, the black-and-white Saraswatichandra defied convention with aplomb.

Released in 1969, the same year as the candy-wrapper bright Aradhana and Do Raaste, the film was the last of the big black-and-white hits.

Producer Director Music Director Stars
 Sarvodaya  Pictures  Govind Saraiya  Kalyanji Anandji  Nutan, Manish

It succintly established the primacy of an engrossingly-told story that touched the heart over all other considerations.

Saraswatichandra is a stirring saga of two made-for-each-other lovers who are repeatedly denied the joys of physical intimacy by destiny and tradition, but cannot be kept emotionally and spiritually distant. Lyricist Indivar sums it up in his lines: Tan se tan ka milan ho na paaya toh kya, man se man ka milan koi kum toh nahin.

To appreciate the finer qualities of the film, one had to consider the fact that the story was set in the nineteenth century. And, subsequently, some of the morals and values pertain to that era.

Saraswatichandra has been indifferently raised by his stepmother (Dulari). Yet, he grows up to be a compassionate youth with his sights on lofty ideals. His father, unaware of his son's decision to forgo personal happiness for a larger cause, fixes up his marriage with Kumud (Nutan) an educated girl from a well-to-do family. Saraswati decides to call off the engagement and pens a letter of regret to Kumud.

She replies and soon they are exchanging love letters (beautifully established with a lilting Lata-Mukesh duet, Phool tujhe bheja hai khat mein).

Ever the radical, Saraswati defies the custom of those days and decides to pay a visit to his fiancee. Kumud's serene beauty mesmerises Saraswati and a shortlived romance ensues. One is pleasantly surprised to see the love scenes treated with refreshing candour. Kumud has a midnight rendezvous with Saraswati, who serenades her boldly with a passionate full-throated Mukesh song, Chandan sa badan, chanchal chitvan.

After few blissful days, Saraswati takes leave but promises to return soon for the marriage. However, a family squabble results in an impetuous act from Saraswati --- he dashes off a letter to Kumud expressing his inability to marry her (one cannot but notice the startling parallel to Devdas' story in this episode).

A distraught Kumud succumbs to family pressure and is married off to Pramar, a wealthy but illiterate philanderer who has a roving eye. Parmar fritters money on a nautch girl (Madhumati) and covets the coquettish housemaid (Jeevankala) too.

To compound Kumud's woes, Saraswati, by a design of fate, is ensconced in the room next to her bedroom as a guest.

The next few reels make for absorbing fare as the director offers you an insight into Kumud's tormented soul. Her humiliation at her husband's hands seems far more pronounced as she can see her pain reflected in the eyes of her one-time lover. Saraswati's presence may have stoked the embers of her doused, if not extinguished, love for him, but Kumud bravely continues to be the devoted wife.

The folksy Kalyanji-Anandji tune Main tu bhool chali babul ka des, piya ka ghar pyara lage is a statement in irony. Though Nutan is no dancer, you do not notice this minor aberration as her expressive face holds your eyes prisoner. Kumud's unshed tears as she dances with forced abandon is an image that will stay vividly etched.

To relieve Kumud of some of her agony, Saraswati leaves the house. But Kumud too is sent away by her husband after being accused of infidelity. A failed suicide attempt brings Kumud to a math (spiritual retreat). Fate destines that she meets Saraswati once again here too.

Saraswatichandra is a consistently well-written film adapted from a novel by Gujarati literatteur Govardhanram Tripathi. The film's dialogue writer Ali Reza's penmanship reaches its acme in the climactic exchange between Saraswati and Kumud. Reza is probably inspired by the complex situation: Saraswati has been given the uncomfortable task of informing Kumud that she has become a widow, while she tries to convince him to marry and settle down with someone else.

She pleads, 'Yeh meri prarthna hai, na maano, toh meri aagya samjho' (this is my request, if you refuse to heed it, deem it my order).

One wonders if it is because it is a product of its times but the male characters in the film are largely more progressive than the women. When gossip about Saraswati and Kumud supposedly living as man and wife in the math reaches Saraswati's household, an appalled aunt begins berating Kumud, but the grandfather and father take up cudgels on her behalf. Also Kumud's father-in-law relieves her of all family obligations after she becomes a widow.

Kumud, though fiercely independent, is also a strong subscriber of traditional values. She emotionally manipulates Saraswati ('Chhod de saari duniya kisike liye, yeh munasib nahin aadmi ke liye'), forces him to marry her sister Kusum, and exhorts him to pursue his social work, while she returns to her in-laws to raise her mother-less brother-law.

The film fights shy of recommending widow remarriage but to its credit, forcefully communicates the message of placing community service before self-interest.

It is particularly piquant in its portrayal of a love story that may be unfulfilled only in the conventional sense. Director Saraiya creates an authentic period ambience especially in Nutan's marital house (cinematographer Nariman Irani was awarded for his work).

Barring the fact that he is distinctly stiff in the love scenes, Manish passes muster as Saraswatichandra. But Nutan holds centrestage. While Manish's character commmands respect, Nutan's character, with all its failings and weaknesses, is more human and therefore easy to identify with. The actress gives a tour de force performance.

Famous songs from Saraswatichandra:
  Song  Singers
  Chandan sa badan chanchal chitwan  Mukesh
  Chandan sa badan  Lata Mangeshkar
  Hamne apna sab kuch  Mukesh
  Phool tumhe bheja hai khat mein  Lata Mangeshkar, Mukesh
  Sau saal pehle ki baat hai  Mahendra Kapoor
  Vaada humse kiya, dil kisiko diya  Mubarak Begum
  Main toh bhool chali babul ka desh  Lata Mangeshkar
  Chhod de saari duniya kisi ke liye  Lata Mangeshkar


* Nutan was well into her thrities by the time the film was released and though she still looked personable, she had been playing heroine for 20 years by this time. Saraswatichandra was her last success as romantic heroine.

* Manish could not sustain a career for himself in Hindi films and neither could director Saraiya, whose subsequent efforts like Priya and Sajjo Rani proved commercial disappointments.

The Music:
* Kalyanji-Anandji brought home the National Award for their melodious score in the film. They were already successful, but this accolade sent them to the next level.

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