Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Purab aur Paschim

Purab Aur Pachhin, as well as it's director Manoj Kumar, is an easy film to mock for the many details that are just not cool to our 21st century eyes. Our hero, Bharat, whose mother is named - wait for it - Ganga - is an idealistic, nationalistic, dutiful, and forgiving man. And the challenges he faces don't make him waver from his convictions one bit. The whole film pivots around Bharat and how everyone (in the West) changes for coming into contact with him.

Rather than East vs. West, the real match up here is between materialism and spirituality. Characters in London constantly question why they would want to go live in India where there are no houses, food, or clothes there.

The film starts out in black and white, pre-independence, just as young Bharat is about to be born. Bharat's father is wanted by the English and Pran, his brother - at his dastardly best - sells him out for a nice price. Bharat's mother is left a widow, Pran leaves with his blood money and his son, Pran's wife is left a virtual widow, and Guru-ji, head of the family, played by Ashok Kumar, swears that he will not make a pilgramage until Pran returns with the grandson.

(Mother India, indeed.)

We're then dropped off in present day, where Bharat is about to leave for college. He's attending university in Oxford, UK, but he makes it very clear to us that he is only going to get a scientific education and will then bring that knowledge back to the country - no brain drain here, thank you very much. We also meet Bharat's meek cousin Gopi - who is supposed to be a paragon of female, Indian virtue, but is really just passive-agressive.

Safely away from Gopi in the UK, Bharat stays with an old friend of his fathers, who went to the UK to study and never returned. He has two children, a son - who changes his name, his clothes, and would even change his parents if he could - and a daughter - hip, very modern Preeti! Both children drift through life from party to party drinking and smoking what they can along the way.

Preeti, in particular, is both baffled and intrigued by Bharat. He is constantly throwing off phrases and words he assumes she knows only to be questioned. Whether he is praising Amristar - "What sar?" or reading the Bhagavad Gita - "Who is Geeta? Is that the heroine of the novel?"

(Note the imfamous Manoj Kumar hand gesture!)

Amongst Preeti's aquaintence is a dopey guy who is dating a blond chick. Well, Bharat gets right to the truth and learns that the dopey guy is also a complete ass who has left a wife and child back in India. Her father - the always wonderful Om Prakash - has come to beg him to return. When that doesn't work, Bharat and Om Prakash try to talk sense into his blond girlfriend.

Blondie, in one of the best scenes in the film, shows up with the wife and child in tow to ambush the jerk. (As to why his wife would want him back, well, Om Prakash helpfully points out that an Indian woman's husband is like God to her.)

We also find Pran and his son living in the UK, making their living from dog racing.

Omkar is, of course, a total ass and tries to rape Preeti one night! She fends him off long enough for Bharat to rescue her.

Omkar and Bharat's ways of winning Preeti's affections are shorthand for the tensions in the film. Omkar is materialistic. He wants Preeti, so he is just going to take her. His actions towards her are a reflection of the commodification of female flesh that is paraded around in a voyeristic fashion throughout the London scenes. Bharat stays above all of that. He doesn't consume women.

After her rescue, Preeti is head over heels in love with Bharat. And, Mr. Changable himself joins along.

In a strange turn of events, Mr. Changable joins up with a group of Western Hare Krishnas/Hippies. A Western-born Indian reconnect with his heritage through Westerners consuming a Westernized form of Eastern religion. It's strange, yes, but Manoj treats the Western Hare Krishnas/hippies with a great deal of respect. I was surprised, actually, and I think this was where I began to buy into the message of Purab aur Pachhim.

One of the hippies even dies while rescuing Bharat from a bar fight started by Omkar (that bastard!). Clutching his cross, the hippie gets a dignified and respectful death.

Mr. Changable is sold, but Preeti hasn't bought into Bharat's world yet. She does love him, though, and he has fallen in love with her, too, somewhere along the line. I think he is charmed by her straightforwardness and willingness to see and question and to be seen and questioned - something that passive-aggressive Gopi is lacking. (Maybe our paragon could use a lesson or two in how to be a modern woman.)

(I loved this image of the modern woman caged inside her house.)

Preeti agrees to travel to India with Bharat to meet his family if they can return. Bharat promises to go whereever Preeti does.

Predictably, she has an awakening of sorts and agrees to stay, although she never renounces the mini-skirts.

We round out the film tieing up the loose ends of the Pran storyline. He repents his materialistic ways; money hasn't made his life happier and it turned his son into a real ass. He tries to rape Preeti AGAIN! Guru-ji saves her only to be severely beaten by Omkar.

Pran denounces his son and his former ways and Preeti and Bharat marry and remain in India.

Like Mr. Changable, I thought it was a pretty glorious film.

Here she is playing some tunes on the radio.

Teasing up that hair takes a lot of work!

Listening politely to Bharat singing...

Who wouldn't love Preeti? Just look at that eye make-up! John Waters, eat your heart out!

"That Bharat is such a jerk! But why does he make me feel all funny inside...?"

Just look at that face! You know she's about to get into mischief!

Now she's getting into the spirit of things!

One last cig before she dons her sari....


bollywooddeewana said...

Awesome Post Filmi Girl i myself love this film, i think this was Saira at her best i loved her in Junglee and a whole lot of candy floss romances too but her portrayal of Preeti is spot on and definitely deserves a mention whenever iconic bollywood performances are being spoken of

Dusk said...

In my TOP 10 Favourite Movies ever... and oh wow I love your insights and opinions!

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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