Happy 3 days after Jaya’s birthday! This is another review of a movie I have seen often enough that I can write the review without prep. But also a movie I think is legitimately worth talking about. It is just so delightful! And at the same time, breaks so many taboos! Oh, and Jaya is so amazing, it’s a great film to watch if you are wondering if/why she was a really big star. Or at least, skip to the end of this post and watch the video.
(this is a mini-review, so I am going to assume you have already seen the movie and not worry about SPOILERS or providing a summary)
First, indulge me and let me write out verbatim the summary from the back of my DVD case which is clearly just the text of the original newspaper ads for the film (all typos in original):
Anamika is a series of posers and pointers to the conscience of our society. Despite notable changes for the better, all round economic developments and upward trends in the status of our women, Specially in sophisticated,Urban circles, since independence, there are still millions of nameless girls who continue to ask-
“Why must thousands of women in India continue to prefer death to life and commit suicide even after 25 Years of freedom?
“Why must our women be continuously exploited and persecuted by men in general and by their own kiths and kins in particular in this age of progress and freedom?
“Why must our society even in these progressive seventies continue to abide by the reactionary gospel, enshrined in the famous couplet of Tulsidasa’s Ramcharit Manas, which says ‘Dhol, Ganwar, Sood, Pashu, Nari,Ye Sab Taran Ke Adhikari (The drum, the rustics, the untouchables, the animals and the women rightly deserve to be beaten’?)
Anamika thus is not the story of a particular girl with a particular name.It is the story of the millions of nameless girls, who inspired perhaps by the glorious courage and determination of our beloved Prime Minister, are continuously fighting for their rightful place in the sun, In our hide-bound archaic, man made society.
If this film can inspire even a few hundred women to fight for justice and stop them from committing suicide, and stir the conscience of our men to love and honour our women as heir equals, our object will be more than fulfilled.
Now, the main problem with that is that I don’t think they understand the meaning of the word “synopsis”. The rest of it is actually kind of true! This is a very light silly happy movie, but part of that light silly happiness is about female courage that really is “continuously fighting for their rightful place in the sun”.
This is a film filled with incident! It’s told from the perspective of a man, Sanjeev Kumar at his most Sanjeev Kumarist, as he slowly comes to “love and honour our women as heir equals”. And it is yet another film that uses Jaya’s small lovable face and frame to surprise the audience with her strength.
Sanjeev starts out discounting Jaya. Irritated by her neediness and youthfulness, he assumes she can’t understand the depth of his pain (having been disappointed in love). And then just when he starts to give in to that youthfulness and open himself up, he is hurt again and blames her. Only to discover, as he goes farther and farther into her life, that she has survived much more than he ever credited, that she has been on a journey longer and stranger than his own.
The film ends with a traditional sequence of Sanjeev “rescuing” Jaya, but really she has been rescuing herself all along. And all without breaking out of the standard female realm. And at the same time breaking it entirely.
All Jaya wants is to marry the man she loves and be happy. But she does not see a forced marriage to an abusive husband as an end to those dreams. Nor does she see an arrest for prostitution as a shame that should destroy her life. She doesn’t even see the man’s rejection of her as something that should change her plans. She can define her own life, she can make it happen, she can make it be the thing she wants.
Jaya is first introduced as a classic female “clean slate” character. She seems to be there just to be the thing the HERO needs, not for herself. Sanjeev, hating women, sees an injured woman on the way home and puts her in his car (because he is ultimately a decent person). The doctor looks at her and she is discovered to have amnesia but believe that Sanjeev is her husband. The doctor warns not to challenge her delusion, and so Sanjeev gains a perfect loving wife to heal all his psychic wounds.
But Sanjeev, and audience, has that idea challenged as he begins to research where Jaya might have come from. He finds a story of prostitution and running from a failed marriage. Can he forgive her and trust her and believe in her new beginning?
But the final twist is where the true challenge to our ideas occurs. Jaya was not having a “new beginning”, she was making her own beginning. She never had amnesia, she ran from her marriage, escaped prostitution, and tracked down the author she had always wanted to marry and came up with a plan to win him over, and succeeded. This was her story, a story she wrote and crafted so that the other characters would do what she wished. It’s a uniquely female power, to force others to see things as you wish them to see them, not through force but through manipulation.
(See her mystifying Sanjeev with her ability to sincerely act as though she had never met Helen before? Also, WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THIS SONG?????)
Of course, this is the 70s, so the true story cannot be told. Jaya runs from an abusive brother-in-law, her sickly husband dies before the marriage is consummated. So she is still, technically, single and available for Sanjeev. Maybe not even a widow, depending on your view of things. She is tricked into prostitution when applying for a modeling job, but escapes before anything happens. But the message from the back of the DVD box does hold, at every turn Jaya has the option of suicide. As a widow, as an abused woman, as a “shamed” woman. But instead, she turns towards life, to find her own happy ending.
It’s ultimately a delightfully happy film. Because that is the happiness that Jaya and her character bring to it. She faces everything that life gives her and still manages to laugh. And she makes Sanjeev laugh, and she makes us laugh.
That’s why I myself watched this film in the first place. On a songs DVD I bought, there was this amazing song, the perfect combination of a beautiful young Lata voice, a charming Jaya smile (Jaya in a man’s Salwar is the cutest thing on earth), and Sanjeev being befuddled by all the feminine cheer and mystery being woven around him.