I don’t know what had become of me. But I was direly seeking refuge. Refuge from the subterfuge and terror surrounding me. And so that I could escape from this terror, I decided to watch horror. Horror movies I mean 😛 That was when I first came across ‘Duvidha‘. I was careful not to read the spoilers but from whatever little I could fathom, it had the makings of a good psychological horror ala “The Tenant” or “The Haunting”. I was sold.
[SPOILER ALERT] The story is purportedly about a ghost impersonating a newly-wed groom to cohabit with his bride in his absence (which is for 4-5 long years). This ghost however, is conscientious and he discloses his identity upfront to the bride; so that whatever follows is with her full consent. As expected, things get tricky when the bride returns to his now pregnant wife about to deliver. His family takes him for an imposter and it is finally left to the local shepherd to trap the ghost and render justice. The concluding scene shows the bride sitting with her back toward a waiting husband and cradling the newborn. This was the scariest it got to. [SPOILER ALERT OFF]
The movie was later remade into Paheli by Amol Palekar with SRK reprising the role of the groom/ghost and Rani Mukherji playing the bride. The climax was also altered to make it more conclusive/decisive. I love anything by Amol Palekar but I’m not particularly fond of SRK, if you can take the hint. One SRK is hard enough to handle and here I had two. More than a handful. As WG Grace might have said – If the movie has SRK, give it a miss. If you have doubts, think for a while and give it a miss. If you have still graver doubts, consult a colleague and then give it a miss ! And so a miss it was.
But I digress. Back to ‘Duvidha’. There are quite a few things remarkable about the movie. This was the 2nd of Mani Kaul’s (MK) many movies and made probably sometime in 1972, a time when storytelling in Bollywood wasn’t without a pall of inhibitions. Therefore, in-spite of his bold championing of contemporary issues, MK probably felt comfortable relating the story in form of a parable. No macabre, scary, disturbing, or erotic content. And that’s a huge plus. It makes the movie suitable for all age groups and audiences. For the innocent moviegoer, it is just another Rajasthani folk tale and yet it has more than its share of “food for thought” for someone looking to ruminate at the larger issues of Life. The other thing is the story is enacted in a very dispassionate manner, almost as if a case was being discussed before a learned court that’s actually learned ! Now any movie-lover worth his salt knows that cultivated expressionless-ism isn’t the same as being expressionless by default. The characters do very little talking. Add to that the white confines of limestone buildings that are so typical of Rajasthan, and you have a very unique method of storytelling.
Clearly, this was a movie ahead of its times. Under the garb of the ghost parable, MK wanted to highlight other issues including (but not limited to) ‘Marriage of Convenience’ and by extension ‘Workplace Romance’. If partners are physically separated, is it okay to latch onto someone else especially if s/he is to one’s liking ? Afterall carnal desires had better be taken care of in their own good time, failure of which might have other ramifications harder to deal with. And if duration of time spent were the yardstick, wouldn’t all workplace romances be legit ? Again if mutual liking is justification enough, isn’t it kinda hard on the fist guy ? Afterall he’s the one who’s got married and he’s the one who’s sacrificing his desires at the altar of his father’s whims and directives. Is that why societal justice (in this case ‘Gadariya’ justice) sides with him ? And what about the Compensation (in this case 5 gold coins paid daily to the groom’s father) paid to the guardian/overseer to keep attention diverted ? Can one buy his way into an otherwise forbidden liaison and thereby reduce his guilt ?
Funny thing is – on the crossroads of Life, one can find oneself in shoes of any of the 3 lead characters; possibly even two during Lifetime. The obedient son, the deprived ghost or the bride who must have what she must have, this way or the other. I haven’t read the book by Vijayadan Detha (on which both the movies are based) but MK has very cleverly chosen to have an open ended climax (apologies if this sounds like double entendre. It’s not meant to !)
I fancy answers to these questions would have been different back then compared to what they may be now. They invariably are !