Director: Bimal Roy
Cast: Nutan, Ashok Kumar, Dharmendra
Music: SD Burman
Symbolism runs deep in Bimal Roy’s 1963 classic Bandini, which charts the psychological journey of Kalyani (Nutan), who is serving a prison sentence for having murdered a woman. Roy treats imprisonment as an existential reality in the film. Kalyani is not just a prisoner of society but also of her own conscience and her life choices. Every crucial moment in Kalyani’s life takes place when she is standing behind bars of some sort. The first time Kalyani meets the love of her life Bikash (Ashok Kumar), it is through bars. When she plots the murder of his wife, she can see welders at work through the window. The blows of the hammer they wield, are like whiplashes on Kalyani’s mind, and a perfect giveaway of her mental condition. The young doctor Devendra (Dharmendra) falls in love with her after seeing her selfless service for her jail inmates. Throughout the film, Kalyani is trying to find redemption in her bondage.
Cinema folklore has it that Bimalda was keen to cast his Madhumati actress Vyjayanthimala as Kalyani but she declined due to scheduling conflicts (a fact she rues till date. “Missing out on Bandini is one of my biggest regrets,” Vyjayanthimala confessed in an interview). Bimalda then approached his Sujata actress Nutan, who almost lost out because she was in the family way. Bimalda threatened to abort the film if she declined it.
As Kalyani, Nutan gave a minimalist yet strong performance. Her close-ups captured beautifully by Kamal Bose’s exquisite light and shadow framing are all about understated choreography. In the Doordarshan programme Portrait of a Director, Nutan spoke about being directed by Roy. “Bimalda believed more in our expressions, in silence, and in the little gestures of the face like biting the lip or a flick of an eye, which gave the right mood and feeling of the scene. He would quietly come to me and tell me almost under his breath that Nutan, this is the scene and the mood I want and you know the rest. I would then give him a rough rehearsal because I don’t like giving 100 per cent in rehearsals because I feel I’ll give away my spontaneity. I’d show him once and then he would okay it.”
The deceptive quiet of Roy’s cinema as seen in Do Bigha Zameen, Devdas and Madhumati is also on display here. This is not an explosion of a movie — save one scene where Kalyani confesses to killing Bikash’s wife, Bandini rolls along at a meditative pace.
The music, composed by SD Burman, is a major character. Bimalda maintains his reputation of introducing a song with the least bit of intrusion. The way O jaanewaale ho sake toh laut ke aana plays when Kalyani leaves home is a model for filming situational songs. Shailendra wrote all the songs (Jogi jab se tu aaya, O panchi pyaare, O jaanewaale, Ab ke baras bhej, Mat ro laal, O mere maajhi) except Mora gora ang lei le which marked the debut of Gulzar as a songwriter. It so happened that Shailendra and SD Burman had a tiff and the former asked Gulzar to pitch in as a lyricist which he initially refused. Gulzar wrote the song on tune in five days and ended up assisting Bimalda on the film. Mora gora ang was also the first song that Lata Mangeshkar sang for Burman after a gap of three years. The essence of Bandini is however the song O maajhi. Cinema folklore has it that Burman, who eventually sang the song himself, wasn’t confident about the tune and only after Ashok Kumar told him that he liked it, did he present it to Roy. The lines Main Bandini piya ki, main sangini hoon saajan ki beautifully expresses Kalyani’s dilemma of having to choose between two men.
Roy was asked to change the ending of the film and have Kalyani opt for the young doctor but as Nutan said, “Bimalda was absolutely certain that Kalyani should be with Bikash. That was the essence of the story. She was in love with the older man, she even killed the woman because she thought he was unhappy with her. It had to be that.” It’s to Roy’s credit that even now when you watch the film, you want Kalyani to get to the steamer and be with Bikash. As she simply says, “mera raasta udhar hi hai.”
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