Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bawarchi -

“Squabbling Sharma family has a dubious reputation of not having any cook last there for more than a few months. Word spreads out about this family to such an extent that no person wants to be employed as a cook in this household, ironically named Shanti Nivas. Then one day a young man named Raghu offers to work as a cook, and he is hired. Raghu quickly gets a grip on his job and on each of the family members, and soon the squabbles and arguments come to an end. And then the Sharmas find the family jewels and Raghu missing. Written by rAjOo (   “

This is how the plot of the 1972 film Bawarchi is described on IMDB.  

The recent death of Rajesh Khanna has people talking about many of his films, Aradhana, Namak Haram, Anand, Do Raste and many others.  Everyone wanted to point out how well he managed his emotional and romantic scenes, how well he performed while ‘singing’ songs on screen, how great his dialogue delivery was.  All course, these are all the superlative qualities of the much loved superstar, and deserve to be highlighted.

I felt a little sad about the unwitting neglect of a lovely movie that Rajesh Khanna starred in, at the height of his stardom.  This is the kind of a movie a superstar would usually hesitate to do.  He is the central character in the movie, to be sure.  In fact he is almost ‘god-like’ here, a perfect man who has a solution to every problem.  The problem is, he is not ‘star-like’; that is to say,  he gets no girl, sings no romantic songs and fights no villains.  Yet the movie is a beautiful gem.

Rajesh Khanna as Raghu the bawarchi, fixes all that needs to be fixed in a joint family that is beset with jealousies, quarrels, selfishness and NEGLECT. The people who live in the house neglect the old and the helpless, the old man Shivnath (Harindranath Chattopadhyay) and the young orphan Krishna (Jaya Bhaduri).  They neglect their own duties, simple tasks like cleaning and cooking.  They neglect to respect each other.  Their neglect is turning ‘Shanti Niwas’ into ‘Ashanti Niwas’.  Raghu knows each member of the family very well, and seems to know exactly how to deal with them.

One scene in the movie stands out in my mind, the only one that I am going to discuss here.  On the first day of Raghu's employment, he finds that the floor outside the kitchen is slippery.  All morning the members of the family have been slipping on it, and cursing loudly every time they do.  Raghu asks for a scrubber and some other thing that he claims will be enough to clean it for good. The people of the family are aghast when he offers to clean the floor.  For them cleaning is to be done by minions, not by ‘Kings’ or ‘Queens’ of the household, not even by the high caste bawarchies.  But Raghu says ‘This is my house, why should I be ashamed of cleaning it’  He gets a scraper, and cleans the slippery floor in no time.  This was the best lesson of all in this movie replete with allegorical allusions and homilies.  If there is something that can be fixed with a quick action by you, just do it.

In playing out the floor scrubbing scene, in a way, Rajesh Khanna also displayed his own attitude to acting.  “If there a role that is worth doing, I don't mind stripping myself of my starry trappings to do it”, this is what he seems to be saying.

Rajesh Khanna played Raghu with the same dedication with which he played Flt Lt. Arun and Suraj that brought him such fame.  In this movie he wears a pair of brown shorts and a shirt, like a simple bawarchi, yet his wonderful acting makes him look just as lovable as Arun in his dapper pilot’s uniform.  It is laudable that Rajesh chose to act in this ‘un-star’ like movie at the peak of his career.
The movie is a subtle indictment of people who are willing to carp about issues, but not lend a hand, or do anything constructive for the state that their own homes, their community, their city, and their nation is in.  They would rather 'slip' repeatedly in muck and loudly blame others than clean it up themselves. The movie deserves to be seen again and again, and understood fully, and its simple lessons followed.

Here is a song full of pathos sung by Manna Dey and lip-synched to by Rajesh to such great effect in this movie.