RAJANIGANDHA / TUBEROSE (Dir. Basu Chatterjee, 1974, India) – Love and Truth

Prior to the first of many 1970s collaborations with under stated comic actor Amol Palekar, Basu Chatterjee’s directorial debut in 1969 Sara Akash was positioned along side Bhuvan Shome (Mrinal Sen) and Uski Roti (Mani Kaul) as part of the New Indian Cinema movement. However, the unexpected commercial success of Chatterjee’s 1974 female melodrama Rajanigandha helped to open up a new space which would subsequently be referred to as middle cinema. It is significant that Willemen and Rajadhyaksha label it distinctly as a low budget art house film yet the presence of Amol Palekar and Basu Chatterjee both attract a contradictory categorisation. Similarly like Ankur, released a year before in 1973 and also made on a low budget, continues to be argued over in terms of its status – is it an art film or an example of middle cinema? Born in Rajasthan, Basu Chatterjee like Shyam Benegal and many other film makers of his generation came to film making through the non educational route. Chatterjee’s early career was as a cartoonist for a tabloid newspaper but like his contemporaries he was a reverent cine-phile, helping to establish the Film Forum Society in 1959. Prior to his directorial debut, Chatterjee assisted Basu Bhattacharya on the box office failure that was Teesri Kasam (1966). Directors Chatterjee, Bhattacharya and Mukherjee in the 1970s would come to be regarded as a potent triptych, defining the identity of the Indian middle class. Admittedly, the only reason mainstream Hindi cinema, namely the Bombay film industry, was attracted to the triptych lay in the profit motive of low budget films at the box office.


Based on a short story Yahi Sach Hai by Indian writer Manu Bhandari, the title of the film Rajanigandha takes its name from the tuberose flower/plant used in perfumes. The love triangle is one of the most common narrative situations featured in Hindi melodramas and whilst it is difficult to label Rajanigandha as strictly melodrama the emphasis on feminine anxieties is concretely dealt with in the figure of the ideologically conflicted Deepa Kapoor (Vidya Sinha) torn between her affections for the two men in her life. Whilst Palekar’s sympathetic and laid back Sanjay offers security and a sense of compassion, Deepa’s former lover Navin (Dinesh Thakur) whom she spurned for political reasons resurfaces, reigniting a longing which she thought she had long overcome. It is hard to imagine that so many romantic Hindi films still use this formulaic narrative set up but of course the disparity in terms of formalism between the triptych of middle cinema and the many contemporary imitators is vast. The complexity of emotional states Deepa passes through gets to the heart of an important ideological truth – the politics of dissent are easy to ignore when dealing with the politics of love. The two seem to be incompatible in contemporary melodramas yet it is their co existence in Rajanigandha is what gives Deepa’s struggle to decide whom she loves the most an altogether more truthful periphery.

ANKAHEE / THE UNSPOKEN (Dir. Amol Palekar, 1985, India) – The Gaze of Death











Horror is a genre absent from much of Hindi cinema and whilst not much work has been carried out to study its development as a genre and why it continues to operate in a state of terminal decline and critical derision (not surprising given its low cultural status), the supernatural aspects of the genre in the form of ghost stories and the occult offer what are some of the strongest and clearest links with Hindi cinema of the past and present. Additionally, reincarnation is a religious thematic that has remained popular with mainstream Hindi films. One only has to acknowledge the significance of the Ghatak scripted Madhumati from 1958 and perhaps more importantly Amrohi’s overlooked Mahal (The Mansion, 1949). Both films are representative of a classical era and deal with reincarnation, implementing an expressionist style accentuating striking Gothic imagery in which the woman’s appearance as a ghostly lover haunts the tragic heroes of Dilip Kumar and Ashok Kumar. If it is true to say that the horror film deals with all manner of repression then a film like Ankahee uses the infinite gaze of an aging astrologer to predict life and death of those around him. Directed by Amol Palekar and released in 1985, Ankahee succeeds in creating and sustaining a terrifyingly potent atmosphere of dread often found in the supernatural/ghost film. Palekar was a terrific comic actor and later forged a successful career as a director but I feel much of his work has been dismissed outright. When the astrologer predicts his son Nandu (Amol Palekar) will have two wives and the first one will die within eleven months, the arrival of a young village girl into their home leads to Nandu concocting a game of deceit so that he can protect the girl he really loves whilst trying to outwit the language of destiny. What really works about Palekar’s understated direction is the love triangle as it’s slow development leads to a moving denouement in which the astrologer’s gaze is coldly absolute. Lurking beneath the more familiar conventions of melodrama is a subtle meditation on the inevitability of death. Iconic Bengali actor Anil Chatterjee also shows up and impresses as usual in a minor role.