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Pati, patni aur woh
Those who are faithless know the pleasures of love;it is the faithful who know love's tragedies - OSCAR WILDE
This is what embodies the essence of the characters of Sardar Khan and his wife Nagma Khatoon in the recent film Gangs of Wasseypur. When Nagma is asked for her consent, in ceremonial tradition, at her marriage (to Khan), her lowered gaze appears to initially suggest mute acceptance of destiny. She accepts the voracious sexual demands of her husband but by adopting a rather nuanced approach. Her quiet admiration for his insatiable lust also becomes a focal point of her ego, especially when she allows him to visit a brothel. "Don't put up a disappointing performance, " she warns him. This is clearly the most mature aspect of her personality, one that regards a husband's infidelity as an insignificant chapter in her life.
Such clinical treatment of infidelity - devoid of any moralistic humbug - is a giant leap in Hindi cinema. For viewers, however, this provides a point for introspection. For most viewers who have grown up on staple diet of Hindi films, a wife allowing her husband to commit adultery would come as a shocker.
THE HAPLESS ONES
In the post-independence Nehruvian era, when films were largely based on themes such as corruption, human insensitivity, unrequited love and others, the theme of adultery emanated from either literature or a real-life incident. In addition to this, the element of adultery was resolved with copious doses of idealism, insincere dramatisation and more specifically, abstraction. Take, for instance, Raj Kapoor's Barsaat. The woman who is in love with a womaniser, essayed by Premnath, waits for him. And when he realises the true worth of love, he finds her dead.
One of the earliest films to choose adultery as a subject was Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaare Ke. Probably based on the 1959 Nanavati murder case, the film was a successful stab at themes of adultery. Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam soon followed, where Meena Kumari famously echoes her concerns at being treated as an 'insignificant other' in her relationship, and in unambiguous words, but in vain. Even the Rajendra Kumar starrer Dil Ek Mandir is a very idealistic treatment of adultery. In Gumrah, the portrayal of a lover pining for love - between Mala Sinha and Sunil Dutt - was quite understated.
However, the character Rosy, essayed by Waheeda Rehman in the classic Guide was an exception, and one of the strongest female characters in Hindi films that deal with adultery. Resigned to her losses she is shown calling it quits and leaving her unfaithful husband to pursue her new love. Still, the film could not portray the confrontation between Rosy and her cheating husband in a realistic and developed manner.
It was only in the seventies and eighties that the portrayal of women dealing with adultery saw a shift towards more realism.
SWINGING SEVENTIES AND BEYOND
Even though films like Avishkaar, Ankur and Silsila treat elements of infidelity well, there are two films that stand out in their mature, poetic and realistic ways of interpretation of adultery: Arth and Ijaazat.
In Arth, when Khulbushan Kharbanda begs Shabana Azmi to return to him, after his affair with Smita Patil has ended in disaster, she catches him off guard by asking, "Would you have accepted me had I been in your place?" In plain recognition of his blunder, he says no. Both part ways. This pointed conversation between an unfaithful husband and a devoted wife provided viewers a realistic depiction of a woman's resolve.
On the other hand, Ijaazat, though inspired by a Bengali film Jatugriha, treats the theme of adultery in a more mature and poetic way. It could possibly be one of the few films in which the 'other woman', essayed by Anuradha Patel, attempts to bond with the woman involved, played by Rekha, by addressing her as "didi" (sister). Patel's character views the situation rather objectively and her influence on the husband is so enormous that he believes that she will be able to resolve his dilemma.
From the late '90s onward, however, there is a dramatic shift in the way women characters tackle infidelity. Whether it is an outspoken and pragmatic Tabu, who sleeps with her music teacher in Astitva, or the emotionallydevastated characters in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna - who believe in following their heart, rather than societal norms - all point to the acceptance of infidelity as a part of our lives. It also has much to do with financial independence freeing women, both on screen and off. It is a dynamic that will push Hindi to evolve further, as it has with Indian society.
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