Two men and a woman; or two women loving one man – that is what usually constitutes a love triangle. Two emerge as victors, while the third usually lick their wounds in private. However, life is not always black and white. There’s usually a thousand shades of grey that add color, lustre, even bleakness, to our lives and relationships. It is among these shades of grey that the more talented filmmakers find their stories.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee is known for films that dealt with some greyness in character, though he kept to the lighter palette of greys, not venturing to the “dark”-ness of human character. This “grey” often formed the unfortunate “third” angle in his stories – flaws in human character that disrupted the “love” so apparent in the tales he brought to celluloid. In fact, it wouldn’t be too wrong to say that in his films, the principal characters were emotions, or the quirks of human personality and their interplay with each other.
The 1973-released Abhimaan deals with myriad emotions – ego, jealousy, anger, helplessness, pride, self-esteem, self-respect, friendship, and many shades of love. One of which is given to that “other” in the film, Bindu, or Chitra, who redefines, at least for me, not only the popular image of the vamp Bindu through this one character, but also the possibilities that exist for this third angle of a love triangle.
Three touching scenes in the film take Chitra above and beyond being the “other” woman. A feat that Hrishikesh Mukherjee achieves artlessly. A credit to this filmmakers’ belief in humanity, his skill as director and editor and a tribute to his mentor, Bimal Roy’s portrayal of that other love triangle in Devdas. By saying this I am in no way equating Bimal Roy’s skill with that of Hrishi da’s, for they both created different milieus. But perhaps even more than skill, it is the understanding of human nature, especially their sensitive connection with the female psyche that forms a common bond between the two storytellers.
Having established Chitra (Bindu) as a steady “friend” in Subir’s (Amitabh’s) life, Hrishi da directs a small scene between them just after his wedding to Uma (Jaya) when Chitra comes to their party to welcome his bride into his life. If you were at all in any doubt about Chitra’s feelings for Subir, they get cleared now. She loves him but is “big” enough to concede that Uma makes a better life companion for him than she ever could. She introduces herself to Uma as her husband’s friend. What steals your heart is the acceptance on the part of both these women. Not only has Chitra accepted, without any drama, Uma as Subir’s wife, Hrishi da shows you Uma’s innocence in the one act of her taking Chitra’s hand and leading her to dinner. Does Uma know that Chitra loves her husband? A grey area? Hrishi da clears that up pretty soon.
The night Uma publicly expresses her grief at her husband’s anger, “piya aise rootthe ke hotthon se mere Sangeet roottha….” and comes to Chitra’s house to take him home, Hrishi da once again elevates human emotions and relationships – beyond drama. Chitra asks Uma if she thinks Chitra is misleading her husband; to which Uma responds with a half sentence “No, no…I know, the one who loves…” can-never-lead-anyone-astray seems to be the unspoken half of that sentence. Uma’s acceptance of this woman’s love for her husband, her conviction that Chitra ‘loves’ her husband as she herself does – quite different from the love that arises from passion and ‘desires’ another – and will not lead him astray; Uma’s quiet confidence in her own love for her husband and the lack of ego-play between these two ladies is not just unusual in a love triangle, it is Hrishi da’s own confidence in humanity to rise above emotions like jealousy. And he doesn’t stop there! He makes Chitra put a hand on Uma’s shoulder! Phew! That unspoken gesture, clearly establishing the connection the love of one man can create between two women, takes my breath away.
The third heart-warming scene seals this connection for the viewer. During this song here, Chitra cries with Uma, not Subir. She feels Uma’s pain, she’s the only one who can get a glimpse of the prison that depression and self-blame had created in Uma’s life from the perspective of a wife and potential mother – a prison that breaks in public view with the tears and the song that Uma expresses on stage. And she cries. Not for herself who may have no place in their lives anymore; not for her friend, Subir; but for his wife. A woman understanding another only as she can. Not only does she cry, but she also applauds their coming together, as only a true friend can. Is this then a love triangle where all three win? For all three retain their “love”, dignity intact.
Throughout the movie, Chitra asks Subir for no explanations. Rather, she understands through music, the relationship between husband and wife. Uma asks her for no explanations either.
And Subir? For someone portraying narcissism and Abhimaan at its best and the nadir of human emotions through most of the movie, he’s certainly one lucky man to have the complete loyalty and love of two such strongly dignified women, both of whom grace the screen with their ‘swabhimaan’.
A solid screenplay, inspired direction, a commanding musical score, and powerful performances by all the actors. It’s movies like these that reach and teach beyond comfort zones and stereotypes. That pack in their nuances a philosophy of life that almost needs no words.
Abhimaan (1973) – Lata & Kishore – SD Burman – Majrooh
Originally published on 22 October 2018
Monica Kar received her BA in English Honours from the University of Delhi. She now lives in St. Charles, Missouri, where she wears several hats, including doing voluntary work as an educator and homemaker.