Silsila – 25 years on

 

On August 14, 1981  Yash Chopra’s  romantic drama  Silsila was released, and ran a disappointing 16 weeks in Bombay.  

In spite of a star line-up to die for – Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Badhuri (who came out of retirement for the film) and Rekha – as well as stylish wardrobes, picturesque locales  and on top of it all the frisson of the rumoured love triangle between the principal actors, the movie was not well received.   The general agreement is that audiences at large objected to the storyline centered around an  adulterous couple.  

Air Force man Shekhar  (Shashi Kapoor) is engaged to Shobha (Jaya Badhuri).   He urges his brother Amit (Amitabh Bachchan) to come to Kashmir and meet his would-be babhi.    The younger brother, who is a poet and playwright,  attends a friend’s wedding and is captivated by the dazzling Chandni (Rekha), and woos her with recordings of his poetry and bouquets of roses while he’s away in Kashmir.   Soon those two are declaring their love and planning to marry.   Before they can make their plans public,  Shekhar is killed in an airfight and Shobha reveals that she is pregnant with Shekhar’s baby.

Seeing how distraught she is at being single and a mother, Amit marries her, sacrificing his chance to be happy with  Chandni, who he writes, telling her to forget him and go on with her life.   Before long the newly married couple are in a car accident and Shobha loses the baby.   The doctor who treats the pair turns out to be the husband of Chandni, Dr. Anand.   When his wife learns of her husband’s patient, she appears at the hospital, bearing a bouquet of roses for Amit, and setting off the affair that would soon consume them.

Unable to keep away from each other, Amit pursues Chandni and they spend every moment together that they can manage away from their spouses.   Initially, though mildly concerned, Shobha seems to convince herself for a while that nothing is happening and then, when confronted by a cousin, she refuses to hear what he has to say about Amit.   Eventually, at a Holi celebration when Amit has drunk too much bhang and dances provocatively with Chandni, it becomes blatantly obvious to both Shobha and Dr. Anand that there is something palpable between her husband and his wife.

Just when the adulterous pair decide to leave their marriages and be together, their time  is short-lived.   Their friend Gurdip strongly disapproves of their choice, and in order to attend his parents jubilee wedding anniversary at the gurudwara, they agree to appear separately as friends of Gurdip and his wife, rather than as a couple.   While at the gurudwara, Amit remembers his own wedding and looks miserable.   A call comes in saying that Chandni’s husband’s flight from Bombay has crashed, and the two rush back.

Amit  learns from Shobha that she’s carrying his child.   He saves Dr. Anand from the burning fusilage and says to Shobha “I’m back and I’ve broken all ties with the past.”   The movie closes with the same song from its opening, except now, the couple it shows are not Shekhar  and Shobha, but rather Amit and Shobha.

It was interesting to watch Silsila  within days of having seen Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, their two very different onscreen outcomes separated by 25 years and all the changes in social relationships during that time.    The main person who makes the big decision at the end  of Silsila is only Amitabh Bachchan’s character, whereas the splits come in Kabhi Alvida as both SRK and Rani’s characters take actions that  propel their friendship to deeper levels.   I found it frustrating that after the character of Amit declares he’s back with Shobha, we never got to see Chandni again, now how she was faring.

For the classic that it has become, Silsila is not without imperfections.   I love the musical picturizations of Hindi movies but even for me, this film just had too many.   In one case, two songs back-to-back!   Like Kabhi Alvida, I think Silsila could have been pared down and shed at least 15 minutes easily, if not more.  

With the emphasis on youth today in Hindi movies, it was almost jarring to see the 40-ish Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor as swinging bachelor brothers, especially in the scene where the two shower together, and we see the normally tall and lean  AB a bit thick around the middle.   The scene of the two brothers out with the clearly uncomfortable Shobha at the local club, drinking and dancing, is rather funny, to see how stiff everyone looked, especially all the men in their jackets and ties, highball glasses firmly in hand as they shuffle on the dancefloor.

Filmed just after the close of the 1970s, Silsila‘s costumes  contain of a few howlers:   Amitabh Bachchan in black too tight, too short jogging shorts, an orange leather trench coat, and also in a fur coat that foreshadows a  Sexy Sam to come.

 

There also appears to be  a  competition for who can carry the largest  coaster-sized sunglasses on his or her face, with  Jaya and Rekha running neck-and-neck for the prize.   But the women’s wardrobes save the day.  

Jaya and Rekha both appear almost entirely in saris, all of them beautiful.   Jaya’s Shobha favors patterned saris with short-sleeved, more modest cholis, while Rekha’s cooly elegant Chandni appears only in solid color saris and minimal, often sleeveless cholis.   Add to this her long, thick flowing hair, dramatic eye make-up and deep berry-colored lip gloss and Rekha’s look calls to mind a mixture of the Robert Palmer Addicted to Love video models and Diana Ross during her Studio 54 days.

Yash Chopra’s romantic streak is all over Silsila, in the poetry that Amit speaks, in the many shots of AB and Rekha lolling around on the grass staring into each other’s eyes, and in the rampant use of flowers (tulips, roses, and jasmine) as symbols of the beauty and doomed nature of Amit and Chandni’s love.   Even the names of the various flowers in a competition that Chandni judges hint at a narrative that will elude the ill-fated pair:   My love – We two – An evening of wait – Love story – Daredevil – Eternal bliss.

Desi Music Club is marking the 25th anniversary of Silsila here, with a radio blog of the film’s songs.

See it or skip it?

See it.   It’s a classic in the filmography of all the actors and the director, and  historic among  mainstream Hindi movies, decades after its initial rejection.   It  contains several famous scenes, including the “Mein aur meri tanhai” speech and the Holi song Rang Barse.

Comments

  1. 10

    priya says

    Its just fabulous the film and the stars. The scenery of kashmir is mindblowing. Reading about this film feels nostalgic. Rekha was very good in this film and Amitabh also.

  2. 11

    aditya says

    it is ultimate movie. Role of amitabh bachan is very good .at it movie he make very diffirent image on cinema. after long time SILSILA has come across to me,i have seen this film long back ultimate————-

  3. 12

    says

    Namaskar Jhaji!

    Aapka swagat hai. Do come back again.

    I was glad to learn about your site from hamare Michael in Germany.

    Yes, I’m having a terrific time getting to see Hindi movies that were made before the 1990s.

  4. 15

    jkmerengue says

    I have meant to check this one out, but kept putting it off. I also recommend for “young Jaya/AB” films, Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Abhiman, which has just wonderful chemistry between the two. AB’s offscreen love scene, inviting Jaya to “come back to bed” is very, very hot in an unflashy way.

  5. 16

    says

    Oh, and t-hype, I know you had something on your blog recently about the issue of fairness and shades of brown, there’s a comment from Amit, who shows up at Gurdip and Simran’s house, trying to find out who the girl in pink at their wedding was (Rekha), and he says to Simran “Who was she, that girl in pink? She was fair, though not as fair as you.”

  6. 18

    says

    Hi t-hype, thanks for visiting! Kabhi Kabhi is on my to-see list. You can see a young Jaya in Zanjeer, also starring Amitabh Bachchan. (I reviewed it earlier this summer.)

  7. 19

    says

    Sounds interesting! I kind of liked Kabhi Kabhie which I think is from around the same time period and I’ve never seen a film when Jaya was young.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>