Happy Friday! Raakhee’s daughter Meghna has a big movie coming out tonight, so I thought it might be fun to go back and look at Raakhee’s biggest role. Or at least, her favorite role.
Here’s something cool, Raakhee was an Independence Day baby! Born shortly after midnight on August 15th 1947. And then grew up in West Bengal, had an arranged marriage as a teenager, left her husband, became an actress in Bengali cinema at 20 and in Hindi cinema at 23. And by age 26, when she made this movie, she was one of the leading Hindi actresses. And she was also married a second time, to Gulzar, the most successful lyricist of Hindi film ever. Married, and separated, living alone and raising her daughter.
All of this backstory is actually relevant to this particular film. Raakhee was a daughter of New India and she lived her life that way. She left her first husband, pursued a career, fell in love and got married again, had a daughter, kept working, and left her second husband. All of this without being criticized in the press or public opinion, without her career suffering, without any “punishment” for not following the standard path.
And that is what makes her character in this film so wonderful, and I suspect why she mentions it frequently as one of her favorite roles. This is a silly happy movie, but it is a silly happy movie with a complicated heroine at the center of it, one who makes mistakes and learns from them, is forgiven by those who love her, and reaches her own happy ending. And, most radically, falls in love TWICE!!!! Even though an Indian woman is supposed to love only once!
(Also, she wears hats)
She doesn’t set aside her real true magical love story for the responsible dull love of married life, she finds that same real true magical love two times with two different men. She has a break up and moves on, just like people do in real life. And just like Raakhee did in real life.
What I find really interesting is to compare this movie with another similar one, Bandini, which even shares some of the same cast (Dharmendra). In Bandini, our heroine could choose between her not-so-great magical wonderful first love, or the really handsome and kind and decent guy (Dharmendra) who offered her a wonderful life and didn’t care what she had done before. But an Indian woman must be ever faithful, and so she inevitably went back to a life serving not-so-great guy. It was played as not a happy ending exactly, but more a reassuring and expected ending, because that is what women will always do.
But, NO! Women don’t always do that! Sometimes, as in this film, they happily move on from their first love to a second better love, and are happy forever and ever. The female heart is really not that different from any other heart.
And that flawed assumption, that women have magical emotions, is what drives the plot of this movie. The titular “Blackmail” only works because everyone assumes a woman’s heart works one way. And it eventually fails because the woman isn’t like that at all.
Also, there is a really lovely love song, a plot about solar power, children who suddenly appear for plot purposes after never being mentioned before, super fun set design, and Shatrughan Sinha eating ALL THE SCENERY and having a wonderful time wearing “cool dude” fashions of the 1970s.
(Such big lapels! No wonder she has to look away)
Oh, and did I mention sensitive understanding Dharmendra?
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
This is such a fun plot! See, Dharmendra is the head of a noble good industrial company, and his brilliant scientist uncle has designed a Sun Battery (a box painted red, special effects in this film are ON POINT). But evil rival industries want to steal the Sun Battery.
Meanwhile additionally, Dharmendra is in love with a beautiful young woman, Raakhee, he sometimes sees at his country club. He is watching her and sighing into his drink when Shatrughan Sinha, Cool Dude, comes over and strike ups a conversation and offers to help Dharmendra with his romance. But, what is this! TWIST!!! Shatrughan is also romancing Raakhee!!!!! He cozies up to her father, and to Raakhee, and soon enough they are in love.
But then, just as suddenly, Shatrughan leaves Raakhee. She isn’t sure what to think or feel, and at this moment shy Dharmendra comes by and awkwardly gives her the stack of love letters he has written her. Raakhee reads them, and she is in love again!!!! She marries Dharmendra, all shyly happy and excited.
(One of the all time great love songs)
But, at the wedding, Shatrughan suddenly appears, best friends with Dharmendra. Raakhee is conflicted, because no one would believe that she was in love with Shatrughan, and then fell out of love with him. An Indian woman is supposed to love only once!
(Conflicted! See the visual metaphor?)
And that is how Shatrughan blackmails her. He pretends to still be in love with her, making her feel terribly guilty for having moved on. And he makes Dharmendra think that Raakhee never loved him, she married him in desperation after her heart was broken, making Dharmendra feel terribly guilty and unhappy about taking advantage. He works on this sliver of distrust between the couple, on both of them feeling guilty for not having fallen in love the “right” way (Raakhee being in love before, Dharmendra loving a woman who clearly loves someone else), until they are not able to bridge the gap.
What makes this so special as a story is that it’s not a matter of Raakhee deciding to be a good wife and sacrifice her love, like she does in Kabhi Kabhi or Vyjantimala does in Sangam, she really really really loves Dharmendra. In every possible way, Shatrughan is an awkward part of her past, and she chooses to marry Dharmendra because she is in love with him. And at the same time, it’s not a matter of Dharmendra blusteringly assuming she will love him just because he is her husband. He wants to woo her and win her, he wants a willing and happy wife and thought he had one. And knowing that she might love another breaks his heart.
And all of this without necessarily breaking traditional Indian gender norms!!!! Raakhee really really wants to be a “wife”, to cook her husband dinner and greet him when he gets home from work and just generally do all the “wife” things. And Dharmendra wants to be a good husband, work hard and support the household and all of those things. Just, as a choice, not because they were forced into it.
And meanwhile Shatrughan is both above expectations and still working within them. He knows he can make Raakhee love him, and he knows he can work on her guilt and Dharmendra’s misunderstanding after marriage in order to blackmail them both and get the secret of the sun battery (again, it’s just a box painted red). But what he doesn’t expect is that Raakhee will actually get over him and sincerely love Dharmendra after marriage. Or that Dharmendra won’t care if Raakhee loved someone else first so long as she loves him now. It is the couples mutual unselfish love that foils his plans and drives him to an extreme-Kidnapping the Never Before Mentioned Children!!!!! I guess Dharmendra’s scientist uncle has kids? Even though it never came up prior to their kidnapping?
Anyway, Raakhee gets the ransom note, obeys it for the sake of the children, Dharmendra thinks it is because she is still in love with Shatrughan and passively follows, then learns it was actually because she loves Dharmendra’s cousins (neice and nephew? I’m not sure), and is willing to die for the sake of her husband’s honor. At which point Dharmendra FINALLY gets a fight scene!
It’s super cool that Dharmendra waits until the very end to have a fight. Because it isn’t really his fight up until now, it’s Raakhee’s. Her fight to understand her own heart, to win over her husband, to save the family from her evil ex. Dharmendra is just there to be supportive and sad and loving. It’s only when the knot is fully untied and it is clear that everything Shatrughan did was just an attempt to get to Dharmendra that he fights for himself. Oh, and they have to hide in a woodpile and crawl over each other and it is super sexy. Dharmendra and Raakhee that is, not Dharmendra and Shatrughan. They have shockingly little romantic chemistry.
(Oh yeah, that’s sexy)
I guess what I am saying is, WATCH IT!!!! You will not regret it. And, bonus, it’s on youtube with subtitles so you don’t even have to struggle to find it.