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.