Friday Classics: Aradhana, for Easter! Rebirth, Illegitimate Children, Very Jesus-y

Happy Friday! And also, Happy Good Friday!!! Easter this Sunday, which I will celebrate in my traditional style, by cleaning and eating a chocolate bunny. And by putting up this theme post. One of the best old classics, and also a very Easter-y plot.

The most important thing about this movie, getting this out of the way right away, is that it was the birth of Rajesh Khanna-SUPERSTAR. Rajesh had been plugging along in films for over a year. He won a FilmFare magazine contest which guaranteed him a 3 film contract. His family had the money to support this strange interest of him, so he zoomed around Bombay in his sportscar and made his 3 movies. And then, suddenly, this movie came out and he was a HIT. Not a “hit” like like other movies and other movie stars had been before, not like people enjoyed him in the role and started remembering his name, but like nothing India had ever seen before. The people went literally mad for him, fainting and hysterics and letters written in blood.

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Rajesh Khanna is very handsome in this movie, and very good at his role. But it is truly Sharmila’s movie. She is the protagonist, she is the one the audience follows start to finish, she is the one who suffers and survives and eventually succeeds. Maybe that’s part of the reason Rajesh seemed so wonderful to the audience? He just showed up as the shining perfect hero in a few scenes, he didn’t have to do the heavy lifting of the drama like Sharmila did.

Oh, and also Farida Jalal! Yes, THAT Farida Jalal! Before she was everyone’s mother onscreen, she had a brief career as a supporting heroine. Not the central role, not like Sharmila has here, but a sort of back-up heroine. And even as just a back-up, she’s still got almost as large a part as Rajesh Khanna. It’s truly a woman’s picture, not a man’s picture.

Especially considering the focus is so much on relationships, parenthood, motherhood, and so on. Rajesh is technically in the army, but that only seems to have an effect in terms of giving him an excuse to look pretty in a uniform. Otherwise the plot takes place entirely within homes, within family units. There is only one action scene, and it is between a grown man, a little boy, and a woman, not two men.

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(so good in uniform!)

I would truly love to see a remake of this movie today, because I would love to see a film that addresses all the various difficulties of a single woman with no judgement, the way this one does.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Sharmila is the daughter of a doctor, educated and intelligent. She is introduced reading a book on a train, and Rajesh Khanna sees her through the train windowed and is immediately enchanted and sings to her. Only to show up at her house a few hours later, disheveled (he is very handsome when disheveled). Naturally, they fall in love.

This is the progressive 60s, so there is no big issue over it. Rajesh’s family might object, but he doesn’t care. Sharmila’s father is delighted that his daughter is in love and fully approves. The young couple goes around together completely alone and no one makes a fuss. Happy Happy.

On one of their dates, they visit a remote temple and, impulsively, go through a temple marriage ceremony. That night, they are caught in the rain and have to stay together in the same room at an inn. In the room next door, another couple is on their honeymoon and the husband is singing a love song. The result is one of the most powerful sequences in Indian film history. It’s not lustful, it’s loving, and it’s about the over-whelming desire to express that love physically. They have just confirmed their commitment in front of God, there is a couple next door as in love, they are alone with their bodies close together, it is inevitable that they will sleep together.

The key to this sequence is that the sleeping together is not presented as a mistake, it is presented as a beautifully holy act. Especially because Rajesh dies shortly after, in plane crash (did I forget to mention he’s a pilot in the Indian army?). It’s wonderful that they had this time together.

And Rajesh dies cleanly, leaving their love cleanly behind him. His horrible relatives have arrived, wanting to ignore his relationship with Sharmila, but with his dying breath he points to her, trying to indicate that she is his “wife”. Sharmila was right to trust him, to sleep with him, he wasn’t “tricking” her, they were mutually in love and overcome.

Of course, she’s also pregnant. Because this is a movie after all and that’s how it always happens. Another twist, her father stands by her! Stands by her and believes her and joins her as she travels in disgrace. He dies, not because of “the shame”, but because of the punishment society has given them, they are no longer living in their lovely comfortable home, but struggling and traveling and surviving and his heart gives out.

Leaving Sharmila completely alone to give birth in a hospital. Where a kind nurse makes a suggestion. By the way, do you know about Loretta Young and Clark Gable’s baby? I promise, I will relate this back to the movie in a moment. Clark Gable date raped Loretta Young and she ended up pregnant. She stopped working for a few months, and then announced she had “adopted” a baby girl. Loretta was deeply deeply religious, and also a loving mother, and a movie star, and this was the best way to satisfy all of those needs. The story was widely rumored, but only came out after Loretta’s death, because the adoption story was such a clean solution.

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(spookily similar to her Dad, right? She died a couple years ago, which is when the date rape story came out, Loretta had told her sister-in-law (I think) but made her promise not to say anything while her daughter was alive)

And that is the solution that a kindly nurse offers Sharmila! With, again, no judgement. She knows Sharmila doesn’t have a father around for her baby, and her only concern is to help her live with this situation in the best way possible. So she suggests leaving the baby at an orphanage, and coming back in a few hours to “adopt” it. Clean and nice and easy.

Do you see the one tiny flaw in this plan? No, it’s not that the baby will look just like Sharmila or anything complicated like that. It’s, “what if the baby is adopted before Sharmila can come back?” Which is exactly what happens! A wealthy family who just lost a child at birth came to the orphanage and took the baby.

If this were a male action film type thing, there would be a big confrontation here. But it’s nice, it’s Aradhana, so instead it is a nice conversation. Turns out the adoptive mother was suicidaly depressed after the loss of her child. This new baby has changed her life and she is already bonded with it. The father is nice about it too, feels terrible over Sharmila’s situation, doesn’t know what to do. So he and Sharmila make a deal. The baby can stay with his wife, will have a wonderful upbringing in a wealthy family without even knowing he is adopted. And Sharmila will be their nanny, able to watch her son grow up in this happy household.

And, baby song! And also, brief interlude of happiness! Sharmila gets to be with her son and recover from all the dreadful things that have happened to her (watching the man she loved die, losing her home, wandering the country, watching her father die, giving birth alone, giving up her baby, suffering under the weight of a huge bouffant). For a brief 12 year period, until terrible things start happening again.

(Baby! Also, Karan tweeted recently that this is the song he sings to his kids every night at bed time)

See, Sharmila, as a woman, is just going to constantly be beat up the world so long as she is without a male protector. That’s not a statement on female weakness, just how Indian society is. Rajesh died, leaving her widowed and pregnant, her father tried to help but died as well, and her son is too little to help her, and doesn’t know she is his mother anyway. Or maybe not? Sharmila is attacked by the evil brother-in-law visiting the household (fascinating how movies often show the brother-in-law or other relative as an attacker, and yet in real life it is so taboo to acknowledge it), and lil’ Rajesh, 12 years old, comes home and kills his uncle in order to protect his beloved “nanny”.

Sharmila, as a woman, could not defend herself. But she can protect her child. So she takes the blame and goes to jail for 10 years, in order to hide what Rajesh has done. Hilariously, when she gets out, Rajesh meets her again and doesn’t even recognize her! But that’s because it’s not his movie. This isn’t about Rajesh working through his issues as a murderous child, this is about Sharmila sacrificing again and again for the good of her son. She let him be adopted, she loved him without telling him why, she even went to jail for him.

Oh right, and now she is out and working as a housekeeper for the warden. Kind of odd here, the warden says he likes her so much, he wants her to leave jail and come home to help him take care of his daughter. Not sure if I would expect a jail warden to do that. But then, Sharmila is wonderful. And the lesson of the movie is that she is wonderful and women are important and cherished, just as her single father loved her, so does the warden love his daughter, and wants to hire a housekeeper/companion just to help raise her. And thus Farida Jalal enters the picture, young and loving to Sharmila, and in love with Rajesh Khanna 2, Sharmila’s son all grown up with a mustache.

And thus the final conflict. Through out this film, Sharmila has sacrificed over and over again. And now every character is pleading with her to take one thing for herself, to acknowledge to Rajesh Khanna 2 that he is her son. Even his adoptive mother has come around! But Sharmila can’t do it, seeing herself as shameful, as a burden not a blessing to him, the unmarried mother, the murderer (okay, it does kind of bother me that the truth of that murder never comes out), the ex-convict, the lowly housekeeper.

That is the happy ending, not Rajesh Khanna 2 finding his mother, I don’t care about him, he has a stupid mustache. No, it is about wonderful Sharmila finally finding some happiness again, finding a place in the world instead of sacrificing in silence and solitude.

Oh, and in case you didn’t see why this is a Good Friday movie, we have an unmarried mother, and a hero who dies only to rise again. Except, I don’t think Jesus 2 (post-death Jesus) had a mustache. Although, wait, maybe he did!!!! Cleopas didn’t recognize him on the road, right? MUSTACHE!!!!

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(Or maybe sideburns and sunglasses, Hrithik in Kaho-Na-Pyar-Hai-second-half style? Jesus was probably very stylish)

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8 thoughts on “Friday Classics: Aradhana, for Easter! Rebirth, Illegitimate Children, Very Jesus-y

  1. Am I the only person who was interested in finding out which book Sharmila was reading on the train:) The author was Alistair MacLean who was popular in the late 70s.Farida Jalal is plump and cute and such a contradiction to elegant Sharmila. Rajesh Khanna’s stardom was unprecedented.There’s nobody before or after who came close to it.This is what Salman Khan had to say about it in Koffee with Karan.
    “Star wise if you think we guys have the popularity then (it is not true)… I think there is no one bigger than Rajesh Khanna and other was Kumar Gaurav. I have seen the stardom of both and it was unbelievable. So, when there is comparison about stardom I feel we don’t even have 10% of it.”

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    • I love that the two heroines were so different. It made the father and son feel different in an organic way. After all, Rajesh 2 was a spoiled son of wealthy doting parents, while Rajesh 1 was an orphan with a terrible aunt and uncle who didn’t really love him. It made sense that they would have different romances.

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  2. Hey Margaret,
    Aradhna is such a lovely movie. How refreshingly non-judgemental it is. I am amazed that you have watched so many old Indian movies. Because, at present, no-one likes to watch them because of their pacing and long drawn-out scenes. Heck, I have not watched more than half the movies you mention.

    Its all about watching Suits & Game of Thrones & Marvel Movies for us. I watched all these old movies with my Grandma who was a huge movie buff. She used to get so immersed with these stories, feeling the characters emotions. This was a favorite of hers, thank you for the nostalgia.

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    • Thank you for commenting! My Hindi classics posts are consistently the least read. It’s funny, because the Malayalam posts on 80s-90s movies consistently get more views than the newer reviews. I think it’s something about how often the films are broadcast on TV and how many other alternatives in the language are available to watch.

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    • Rajesh 2’s adoptive mother’s younger brother. Sharmila was the pretty young maid/nanny, he was visiting his sister’s household and often alone with her, classic situation for a rape.

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      • Thanks. So Rajesh 1 had a terrible family, and Rajesh 2 either (apart good adoptive parents). First I thought that bad guy from Rajesh 1 family came and attacked her but it has no sense since she had moved.

        Oh and I’ve never been Clark Gable fan but now I think I’ll not be able to watch him anymore.

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        • It’s interesting with Clark Gable, because he is another one where I think “well, what did people think they were watching?” His most famous role, Gone With the Wind, is all about being the one man who can “stand up to” a strong woman and dominate her. And similar to the “Me Too” stories, it sounds like his personal attitude towards women was well known by those who knew him. You know the TV show Murder She wrote? Delightful murder mystery series from the 80s, where all kinds of aging movie stars from the 40s came in to do guest spots, and headlined by Angela Lansbury, a broadway and movie star. Anyway, there is one episode where they cast someone who looks and acts EXACTLY like Clark Gable. And he is an abusive husband and violent man with toxic masculinity. It’s clear that someone involved in the show knew what Gable was like in real life and based a character on him.

          None of which is related to this movie.

          On Sat, Mar 31, 2018 at 12:35 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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