I dedicate this review to my dear friend and elder – B.S. Sethi Saheb who has been sending me inspiring messages through SMS for quite a period. A couple of days back, I received a message from him which reads as – Don’t judge. Behind every person, there’s always a reason why they are the way they are. Absolutely correct. Coincidentally, thereafter I happened to watch Seema (1955) on internet and found that the movie underscores this message itself. It’s a gem from the black and white era of Bollywood. A true classic indeed. It’s an idealistic movie with a strong psychological base.
Seema (threshold / boundary / limit) is the story of Gauri (Nutan) who is an orphan and lives with her greedy and exploitative uncle and aunt. She only earns for them by working as a maid-servant in a household but they treat her very poorly. A criminal-minded male-babysitter Baanke (C.S. Dubey) also works in the same household and keeps on trying to make advances to Gauri. When discarded, he traps Gauri under the false charge of a theft. She is released by the police on the personal guarantee of her guardians (the greedy uncle and aunt) but now they refuse to keep her with them. Being labelled as a thief, now this innocent and truthful girl does not get any job elsewhere too. Lustful people cast their eyes on her physic only. Homeless, jobless, starved and bearing the stigma of the theft that she had not done, she gets filled with anger towards Baanke, she approaches him but again gets cheated by him through his sweet talks and the police catches her again. Now seeing almost the whole world against her, she loses her temper and starts behaving like an insane person. Since her guardians have refused to take her to their home, the police sends her to a charitable institution (known as Aashram) meant for the care and rehabilitation of homeless females only which is run by a benevolent person Ashok (Balraaj Saahni) with the help of a lady called Didi (Pratima Devi) who is the superintendent of the females living in Aashram and a male assistant – Muralidhar (Sunder).
Gauri is not ready to live there or listen to anybody in this regard. Her insane behaviour continues resulting in the breakage of furniture, window glasses etc. and she refuses to consume any food (though she has not eaten anything for quite a period). The inmates of Aashram as well as the people associated with the management of that are not able to understand her anguish and the cause of her stubborn and rebellious behaviour. However the in-charge of Aashram, i.e., Ashok refuses to be judgmental towards Gauri and asserts something similar to the assertion given in the beginning of this review – ‘Being unaware of the background / experiences of some person, you can’t understand why he / she behaves the way he / she behaves; you may not be knowing the bitterness of life that he / she might have gone through’. And when Gauri accepts food from the hand of a little girl and showers her affection on her, he immediately realizes that she is noble at heart and needs sympathy (as well as empathy) to recover from some trauma that she might have undergone.
Now Gauri gets normal with the passage of time and by the effect of the positive environment in the Aashram but still the fire within her heart against Baanke has not been mitigated and she wants to seek her revenge from him. She gets empathy and help from her inmate Putli (Shubha Khote) who has been a criminal in her past. She moves out of Aashram one night and reaches Baanke. She beats him black and blue and thus vent her anger, stuffiness and frustration out; returning to the Aashram thereafter feeling light and relieved. However, for breaking the rule of the Aashram (going out without permission and without any escort), she gets punishment to live in seclusion for a night. Considering it an injustice (as she feels that by punishing Baanke, she has done nothing wrong), she starts behaving rebelliously again which immediately renders a message to Ashok that perhaps the theft-charge levied on her was not genuine. He traps Baanke with the help of Muralidhar and by arranging his confession, gets the stigma of being a thief washed away from Gauri’s forehead. Now Gauri not only becomes absolutely normal but she also refuses to leave the Aashram and with utmost gratitude towards Ashok, keeps on working tirelessly and sincerely to meet the noble objectives of the Aashram. Ashok works very hard despite the fact that he is a heart patient. He is able to sense the tender feelings in Gauri’s heart towards him but feeling that he may not live for long and getting concerned for Gauri (perhaps because he also has started loving her within his heart), he asks her to marry Muralidhar and settle down in life. Besides, he decides to move out of the city for some time so that Gauri is able to drive her thoughts away from him and marry peacefully in his absence. However it does not happen and the true love of Gauri only triumphs in the end.
The title of the movie – ‘Seema’ is quite apt in more than one way. Firstly, it signifies the threshold of a nice person’s tolerance of injustices, wrongs and misunderstandings towards him / her. Secondly, it signifies that to change a person’s life altogether and forever, a single moment may function as the threshold and his / her life after that moment does not remain the same as it was prior to that. Thirdly, Gauri tells Ashok in the ending scene that now there won’t be any SEEMA (limit / boundary) of their association and love.
This simple, low budget movie boasts of very superior quality. Director Amiya Chakrabarty only has written its script (he is also the producer of this movie) which is highly impressive though the narrative runs in a flat manner, i.e., events occur in an orderly way without any overlapping or something happening out of turn. There is no dearth of heart-stirring (and soul-stirring) scenes in the movie. On one hand, the character of Gauri carries the viewer alongwith it, making him / her to empathize with it; on the other, the character of Ashok is very impressive highlighting the level of maturity and the amount of empathetic ability required in the line of social service.
Seema was much ahead of its time because it was made in an out and out patriarchal era with complete male dominance, expecting the female to suffer everything and to any extent. That was the time when any kind of rebelliousness on the part of the suffering female was not welcome by the audience, leave aside her beating the wrongdoing male. But the writer-director showed the courage to portray a woman who is truly human and not interested in the fake satisfaction of forgiving and forgetting. She does not rest until she is able to beat her guilty to her heart’s satisfaction. And she is confident that she has done the rightest thing and does not deserve any punishment for that.
Through the characters of certain females of Aashram, the filmmaker has underscored the significance of the ideals and the noble values of life. The movie is idealistic but not preachy. It carries the ideals to your heart and doesn’t just throw them on your head. Through the character of Putli and the incident of her saving Aashram from a theft by taking the risk of her own life, it underscores that if the person is noble at heart, then given the necessary sympathy, affection and understanding; he / she will never turn back to his / her erstwhile immoral life. Instead of labelling someone as bad, let’s facilitate the good part of him / her to supersede the bad one.
Seema underscores the frustration of an innocent when labelled as guilty, a trusting person whose trust gets broken, a noble person who finds the system and society against him / her only and on the side of the baddies. Then if temperamental / emotional problems start in his / her personality and he / she loses his / her cool, what’s the big deal? Only sympathy, understanding, affection and love can act as the healer for his / her wounds. And if it happens, not only he / she is able to get rid of his / her personality problems but also able to develop his / her talent and abilities to the hilt which ultimately does good to the society and the mankind.
Seema very effectively highlights the beauty of unexpressed love which is conveyed to the sweetheart through gestures and behaviour. Not everybody is fortunate to get someone’s love but almost everybody loves someone in his / her lifetime. Undoubtedly ‘I LOVE YOU’ are three enchanting words which pour nectar in the ears of the one they are meant for but their magic is manifold greater when they are not spoken and conveyed in some indirect manner and the beloved is able to feel them without hearing them by his / her ears. The final phase of Seema especially the ending scene, corroborates it.
Seema is technically good. Made with a modest budget, its major part is an in-house drama. However every frame of this movie is realistic and therefore, impressive to see. This simple movie contains a thrilling sequence too in the form of a bicycle chase when Putli chases a thief by a bicycle who is also running away on a bicycle only after stealing Aashram’s money. This sequence is damn sensational and a treat to watch. Editing and background score are up to the mark. Length is also appropriate.
Music is another great asset of this movie. Shankar Jaikishan have composed unforgettable gems with the help of the heart-conquering lyrics of Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra. It contains Manna Dey’s classic devotional song – Tu Pyar Ka Saagar Hai, Teri Ek Boond Ke Pyaase Hum on one hand and Lata’s gems viz. Suno Chhoti Si Gudiya Ki Lambi Kahaani, Mann Mohana Bade Jhoothe and Baat Baat Mein Rootho Na on the other. It also contains Mohammad Rafi’s impressive song – Hamen Bhi De Do Sahaara Ki Besahaare Hain. However the song which I am never able to forget even for a moment is Rafi’s classic philosophical song – Kahaan Ja Raha Hai Tu Aye Jaane Waale, Andhera Hai Mann Ka Diya To Jala Le (where are you heading for O traveller; there’s dark before you, hence first light the lamp of your heart before proceeding).
Nineteen years old teenager Nutan has delivered a mesmerizing performance in the lead role of this woman-centric movie. After watching Seema, anybody can understand why she is considered as one of the best actresses of Indian screen. This performance had fetched her the first Filmfare Award for Best Actress of her illustrious career. Balraaj Saahni was considered as a school of acting in his time. This great actor has delivered another mature performance in the maturity-soaked role assigned to him. The complete supporting cast has done well. Comedian Sunder got perhaps the most significant role of his career in Seema and he has not disappointed. His pet dialog – ‘Sab Bakwaas Hai’ (everything is absurd) is amusing as well as thought-provoking. Debutante Shubha Khote (who later became a well-known female comedian of Hindi cinema) has got a very meaty role in her first movie itself and she has done it with aplomb. Her stylish way of asserting her pet dialog – ‘Kya Baat Hai’ (wow) effortlessly conquers the heart of the audience.
Seema is undoubtedly an excellent movie. A masterpiece for sure. In the era when the movies glamorizing crime are being regularly made and appreciated, this idealistic movie may appear to be outdated. But my viewpoint is – despite appearing as outdated, the ideals of life are still beautiful, still fragrant, still desirable. Aren’t they?
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