I sincerely thank my friend Nimisha who inspired me to write this review. Ek Chadar Maili Si which was released in 1986, is a celluloid adaptation of a novel of the same title penned by eminent Urdu writer Rajinder Singh Bedi. Making a movie by adapting some novel or story or play is a delicate job with enormous responsibility attached to it because no filmmaker has a right to play with the spirit of the written work. That’s why very few films have come in which the soul of the piece of literature which is its foundation, has been kept intact. Fortunately, Ek Chaadar Maili Si is one such movie.Ek Chaadar Maili Si (a seemingly grimy sheathing) is the story of a poor Punjabi family in rural Punjab. The breadwinner of the family is Trilok (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) who earns on day-to-day basis by carrying passengers in his horse-cart. His parents are very old. While the ailing father (A.K. Hangal) is sober, the mother (Dina Pathak) is foul-mouthed and ill-mannered especially towards her daughter-in-law Raano (Hema Malini). Trilok himself is a drunkard and ill-fated but internally very strong Raano has to suffer from domestic violence regularly in addition to the curses of her mother-in-law. She has two children. The son is a small child whereas the daughter Guddi (Neena Cheema) is growing up fast.
Amidst her non-stop sufferings and tears, Raano is able to steal moments of joy by interacting with neighbouring women and attending functions in the families of acquaintances. Her brother-in-law, i.e., Trilok’s younger brother – Mangal (Rishi Kapoor) is another source of solace and smile in her sorry state of affairs. Mangal has a good nature and share a very jovial relationship with his Bhaabhi (sister-in-law), i.e., Raano. He is in love with a nomadic girl Raaji (Poonam Dhillon) but has not got matured enough to shoulder any responsibility. Now comes the adversity which falls on this already poor household like a lightning.
Trilok gets murdered in the hands of a youth whose sister was raped by two licentious persons whom Trilok used to keep an association with. The youth who is from a well-off family is sentenced to imprisonment but Trilok’s family is totally destroyed. Raano’s mother-in-law’s taunts and ill-treatment to her increase whereas Mangal now realizes his responsibility and starts running the horse-cart. However when he also has to face the lock-up due to a spat, life becomes just unbearable for Raano in the home with no money to make both ends meet.
When Mangal returns home, things start getting normal again but now the members of the village council (known as Panchayat) pressurize the family that Raano is married to Mangal so that the family remains united and intact and Raano may not have to endure widowhood for a lifetime. However these outside people are not able to understand that it’s not possible for Raano and Mangal to look upon each other as man and wife. Anyway the decision is forced on them and Mangal loses the love of Raaji in turn.
It takes long for Mangal and Raano to accept each other as husband and wife. Similarly it takes long for Guddi, the grown-up daughter of Raano and Trilok to accept this relationship of her mother and her uncle. After a lot of suffering for these characters, especially Raano, the movie finally ends on a happy note when the matrimonial alliance of Guddi is fixed.The title of the movie is as such because as per the tradition, Chaadar Daalna means to get married to someone. The title of the story is sarcastic because that Chaadar (sheathing) is Maili (sullied) as the marriage does not bring joys but sorrows and frustration only for those getting married.
Script-writers Phani Majoomdaar and Maakhan Singh have written the screenplay with utmost sincerity and director Sukhwant Dhaddha has done his job with even higher proficiency. Since I saw the movie first and read the novel later, I can safely say that the movie did complete justice to the literary work of Rajinder Singh Bedi. The soul of the novel speaks from every shot of the movie.Through the character of the ill-mannered and narrow-minded mother-in-law of Raano, the movie underscores the irony of the patriarchal set-up which is even more in the minds of the old-fashioned females than the males.
Hema Malini despite her advancing years looks much more beautiful than the other female actresses many years junior to her. However this is a showcase of the dream-girl’s acting talent. Every inch she appears the author’s Raano and nothing else. The movie starts with her and ends with her only. She is the backbone of the whole story and her stellar performance is something to be cherished forever. All others including the charming Rishi Kapoor have also done very well.
Anu Malik’s music has no chartbusters but the music contains Punjabi flavour and ear soothing for sure. An admirable effort by the composer in association with the lyricist, the choreographer and the singers.
The movie is an ocean of emotion and feelings. A highly sensitive movie it is in which every scene, every character and every dialog appears to be real. All the characters except those of Raaji and the killer of Trilok are real flesh and blood human-beings which we can see (or could see in that period of the sixties) in the real life.
The movie shakes the viewer deep within. The trauma of Raano is heart-piercing and her inner strength to sustain everything and still do her duty is exemplary. The complete milieu is realistic. Nothing appears to be unreal throughout the duration of the movie. The rural Punjab has come alive on the screen courtesy the locations chosen and the brilliant job done by the cinematographer. This is not Yash Chopra’s fictional Punjab. This is the real Punjab inhabitated by the landless poor.
However the climax is unconvincing and appears to be forced to make a happy ending to the sorrow-filled profound movie. Besides, the character of Mangal’s sweetheart Raaji appears to have been given too much footage to insert song, dance and romance in the narrative because it’s in undertone in the novel. It has nothing to do with the main track running with the family members also.
But then who is perfect ? The director deserves a big applause for making this movie which is nothing short of a masterpiece. It did not get its due though the novel had won the Saahitya Academy Award in 1965. It flopped on the box office and the critics also ignored it.
This movie is not meant for everybody also. Regular entertainment-seekers may find it too heavy for their hearts. This classic movie is mainly for those who like sensitive and meaningful cinema.
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