Sharmeelee, 1971

Directed by: Samir Ganguli (Ganguly)

This contains spoilers. Are you shocked? You shouldn’t be. The plot is readily available everywhere  and I’m terrible at secrets.

When you, as a DVDwallah, hand me Sharmeelee and say “Oh, you will like this one, if ‘Shashi Kapoor is your man'” you are assuming a lot of things about me based on 10 minutes or so of conversation.

I think my DVDwallah is my soul mate.

He knows.

Everything and anything there is about my personality he has pegged, because this film has it all: Raakhee, Shashi, twins, goons, scars, moments of hatred and love, explosions, The Voice, cute sequences with animals, Kishore Kumar on playback, songs by Burman…

I could go on but I’ll stop, lest my post turn into a laundry list of perfection.

This film also did something miraculous. It converted my mother to the ways of Masala! We were snuggled up watching this film while our Thanksgiving dinner cooked and for nothing could I tear my momma away from the movie!

Magic!

She is, after all, the same woman who sat through Pyar Kiye Jaa and was unmoved, even hostile.  (As if that were even possible!)

Sharmeelee is so interesting! It’s Masala but there is something tangibly different about it that I cannot put my finger on. Trying to explain my feelings on this is like giving a speech and forgetting a very obvious word that you just cannot remember.

On the whole the film is engrossing and the pace is kept fresh by twists in the plot whenever there is a  threat of listlessness, either on screen or in the audience. There is also an interesting “need to know” feel established wherein, for example, after pulling off a heist (that goes largely unseen) the Bad Guy says “now we’re rich”. You aren’t informed why they might be rich or what they had to do to become so, they just are. It is an amusing if unhelpful path to take. The ploy is used several times, mainly to establish back story or to introduce characters, but it should have been reworked when one of the main characters turns pure evil for apparently no reason what-so-ever. More on that later.

On paper Sharmeelee could easily have been read as a bit campy. Two twins (Raakhee), a shy, “traditional” one (Kanchan) and the rambunctious, “Westernized” Kamini fall in love with the same man, Captain Ajit Kapoor (Shashi Kapoor). Arranged to marry Kanchan Ajit instead chooses Kamini after discovering that she is the girl he met and fell in love with on a night in Kashmir. When Kamini comes into some trouble and “dies” (disappears, more or less) Ajit is tricked into marrying Kanchan and runs away from her after learning the truth.

The saving grace to this film (besides its outright brilliance) is the abilities and the strengths of the lead actors. Shashi Kapoor and Raakhee give their characters such earnestness and complexity that it is easy enough to slip along with them into their experiences.

In playing both twins Raakhee gives a superb performance. Not only does each twin have their implied characteristics but they are also given different temperaments, expressions, voices and attitudes. Even when she is Kamini pretending to be Kanchan you can still tell that it is Kamini; this is more easily identifiable when Kanchan is forced to play the outgoing Kamini, there is still a sense of ill ease and shyness  that pervades her person.

Raakhee’s skill is further displayed when she becomes the “evil” Kamini. The effect is chilling and a total abandonment from the care free Kamini seen earlier in the film.

What I wonder about concerning evil Kamini is why she became that way. Sure there is some slight suggestion that she is mixed up with the wrong people, and she has a few terrible encounters* with the Baddies; but it is never shown or described why she became (or if she always was) as ruthless and terrible as she is at the end of the film. Of course she has her moment of redemption as she draws her last breath and uses it to save her sister but I feel as if it was the one moment where the “need to know” curtain should have been lifted and more insight into the making of evil Kamini would have been greatly appreciated.

Another thing that outrageously miffed me the first time but only slightly gnawed at me in subsequent watchings was the self-sacrifice of Kanchan’s personality to appease and enable Ajit. Sure he had lost the will to live and had been tricked into a marriage to someone he was not expecting (and I can understand all of these reasons) but… ugh… why force Kanchan to be Kamini anyway? Who cares if the wedding doesn’t happen? Who cares if Ajit is depressed for a while? Who cares about telling the truth? It was so painful. Kanchan didn’t want to be Kamini as much as she did want to be Ajit’s wife, so why not make the story about how Ajit falls for Kanchan as Kanchan, not as Kanchan pretending to be Kamini so that her parents’ reputation is upheld and so that Ajit doesn’t suffer disappointment and heartbreak?

Oh wait… he still suffers through all of that anyway, so why not just out the truth and be done without the added heartache of having been lied to?

Sure, at the end Ajit realizes he is in love with Kanchan as Kanchan, maybe? It just seems too contrived to me that after being told the person he thinks is Kamini is actually her sister that he could just SNAP! say “Oh yes, I’ve loved her the entire time!”

I would have much preferred an honest relationship established on the premise that Ajit know what girl he was wooing. I can’t even imagine the pain and anguish that Kanchan had to endure in the name of saving face.

Gross.

And just one more tiny thing that vexed me about this film: you can see a TON of production helps. Characters in glasses have spots obviously pointing at them face-on and every time someone is in a car you can see the outline of the umbrella shielding the glare from the glass. In a film that is pretty spot on otherwise in terms of production quality and craftsmanship, these and other oversights are unfortunate.

I do not mean to take this film to task, I really do love it and it has sandwiched itself up on my “Favorites” list but when there are minor annoyances with such perfect (and I use that loosely) work, than generally we focus on the annoyances.

On to things I did like, shall we?

The music is to die for. There is something about Burman’s work that just sparkles and haunts at the same time. Combine his ear for melody and Kishore, Lata and Asha’s talents; hold me close and let me weep. I can’t get enough of this soundtrack. I wish, now more than ever, that films still had songs like these.

Locations, costumes, props, design… everything was so laid back! Alongside the effortless portrayal of our complex characters was the stunning “real life” feeling houses and hotels and clothing. I am all for the glitz and the glamor that tends to run rampant in Masala but it is also nice to see a restrained set that suggests “Yes, people might actually live here and they might actually wear these very common looking clothes”. Oh, and before I forget, I need ever sari featured in this film ASAP.

Thanks.

I want that salmon one on the hanger especially!
And this white one is a must have!
 It looks fairly similar to one I wore to a wedding in Dharavi, 
but more sparkly… and lacking in bubble-gum pink color. 
And just a little something to look for when you’re watching Sharmeelee: The twins wear different rings on their “wedding ring” fingers. In an odd twist Kachan’s is large and flashy and Kamini’s is small and understated. It bothered me from the beginning that Ajit simply couldn’t tell them apart from just this small detail, but I guess it’s frivolous to expect men to ever notice jewelry.

*I am choosing to omit reference to the EPIC battle between Kamini and her attacker. That, simply must be seen, and not described.

Oh, and just because I must…

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