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BLAST FROM THE PAST

Sadhna 1958

Vyjayanthimala, Sunil Dutt, Leela Chitnis



Captivating The movie is all about Vyjayanthimala’s skills as a dancer and an actor

To have gifted such a gem five decades ago speaks of the man’s vision. Respect for a courtesan in a society that thrives on hypocrisy was a subject that B. R. Chopra dealt with amazing finesse. Sadhna, with Vyjayanthimala in the lead role, was, in Chopra’s opinion, a project closest to his heart and at the end of this landmark movie you realise the essence of good film-making.

The transformation of Champa Rani, the courtesan, to Rajni, a housewife, has been depicted flawlessly in a stirring tribute to a woman’s resilience by Chopra. The choice of actors to play the characters has always been a high point of his film-making and here Vyjayanthimala brings dignity and class to a role that stands out so glowingly in her illustrious career. The treatment of the character enhances the film’s significance during times when India was growing. Sadhna had everything that marks great cinema. If the movie was a huge hit it only emphasised the willingness of a nation that was not averse to welcome innovations in cinema and in the process also carry a message for the society – a courtesan was also a woman who deserved to dream of a dignified presence in a world that generally looked down upon dancing girls and sex workers.

In one of the lasting moments of the movie, Champa Rani lashes out at the callousness of a society dominated by pretentious men, seeking refuge in kothas without a compassionate thought for the courtesans. Sadhna is a love story of a different kind. A literature professor (Sunil Dutt) is inadvertently attracted towards a prostitute, who enters his house on his intent essentially to fulfil a promise made to an ailing mother (Leela Chitnis).

Mohan (Sunil Dutt) is a young man with high morals. His doting mother is obsessed with finding him a bride. During one his classes, Mohan, when discussing the epic story of Vasantasena, describes his personal feelings of a nautch girl. In his opinion, they happen to be sinful and only craving for money and not love. Fate conspires to place a sex worker in his house to look after his bedridden mother.

Jeevan (Radhakrishan), a friend of Mohan, hires Champa to act as Mohan’s prospective bride. The mother recovers and takes a fascination for Champa, who soon discovers that her life as a nautch girl means nothing to anyone. Her journey from Champa to Rajni is marked by an immortal bhajan “Tora manva kyun ghabraye re”, a tribute to the trio of lyricist Sahir, singer Geeta Dutt and composer N. Dutta. At a later stage, Champa is found out by Mohan and his mother, is chastised for being what she is, only to be welcomed into their fold as Rajni in an emotional finale to a movie.

The melancholy of a nautch girl and female oppression is so poignantly captured by Sahir in his unforgettable “Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko, mardon ne use bazaar diya”. The tragedy of a sex worker’s life is also so movingly portrayed by Vyjayanthimala, who at no point goes hysterical; neither does she over-react to the demands of the role, thanks to some purposeful direction by Chopra. Of course, the strong point of the movie will always be the story, by Mukhram Sharma, not to forget some stellar scenes by the inimitable Radhakrishan, a scheming and unrelenting opportunist.

Vyjayanthimala is gorgeous when she entertains the clients at her kotha and is stunningly restrained when she assumes the character of a prospective wife. She slips in and out of the two challenging and contrasting roles with élan, a remarkable feat for an artiste who was only 22 and hardly 10-films old when she signed to play this difficult but decisive role in her dazzling career.

The movie is all about Vyjayanthimala’s skills as a dancer and an actor. She is captivating in her dancing numbers, especially “Kahoji tum kya kya kharidoge” and later in a duet “Sambhal-e-dil”. The Filmfare Award for the Best Actress that year could not have gone to anyone else even though she was also nominated in the same category for Madhumati.

Among the great movies made on the subject of helpless women versus society, Sadhna holds its own for its realistic portrayal and treatment of a subject, so aesthetically documented by Chopra and Vyjayanthimala. Her controlled performance is the soul of Sadhna.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

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