Remember Hum Aapke Hain Kaun? Of course, you do! But do you hate it and all the
other marriage videos that passed for movies in its wake? It was just too much
to read that such movies celebrated the institution of family blah, blah, blah.
What baloney! All those guys should come and watch Hari Bhari. This is an NFDC
film that carries the mandatory messages on family planning, women's rights and
so on, but in the process it offers a very interesting look into the workings
of a joint family. Despite the strong proclamations on the posters that this a
'heroic tale of five women', it is no Mrityudand, and thankfully so.
So now out with palatial mansions with a bhabi, bhayya, jijajee, and back to the village where Ghazala (Shabana Azmi) is having trouble with her husband as he keeps turning her out. He does it once too many times and Ghazala is back with her family for good. Here there are few more women with a few more sob stories. Her sister-in-laws are diametrically opposite, with Najma (Alka Trivedi) looking after the chores and Afsana (Nandita Das) having a penchant for sharp talk. Najma has had seven children of whom two survive and when she considers an operation, she finds stiff opposition in Afsana who gets a shock when she discovers that her husband Khursheed (Rajat Kapur) has gone in for vasectomy.
As for the men, Ghazala's husband is a promiscuous man, while Najma's is the one who looks after the whole family. Khursheed looks to go away to Meerut and is looking to get some money out of his brother to buy a house there.
Finally, there is Ghazala's daughter, Salma (Rajeshwari Sachdev), who goes to school and dreams of becoming a teacher. She is on her way to meeting the same fate as the other women as her mother looks to marry her off to a 40-year-old rich man. But the movie ends with her mother giving in after the granny is diagnosed with cancer, said to be long-term fallout of early marriage.
The climax is proof enough that this is no two-hanky affair and Shyam Benegal's touch ensures that it is no Mala-D campaign. It suggests that the rot of dogma has to stop somewhere and that it might. Here, it stops with Salma. The screenplay is amusing and touching in turns, as the characters do have problems with each other, but everyone more or less accepts the quotidian. It is a strangely gregarious film, shorn of the superficial bonhomie of the earlier mentioned film.
Performances are expectedly exceptional, but it's the music score that is the
surprise. From the title track in our very own Dakhni to the folk touch of other
parts, it is a bonus. Believe me, it's an entertaining movie, unless of course
you have been numbed by what passes for entertainment on the mainstream circuit.