Kabhi Kabhie (1976) Is A Feminist Shashi Kapoor Versus A Patriarchal Amitabh

Kabhi Kabhie (1976) is a ‘revolution’ on screen. I have seen no other film that pushed the boundaries on so many topics from premarital sex to adoption to love to patriarchy to parenting to social norms to so much more…

Yash Chopra’s film Kabhi-Kabhie (1976) is a direct assault on patriarchy.

A happily married architect with a beautiful wife and young achiever son living the good life meets a poet. The two get friendly, get invited to each other’s homes, and even do some work together. Somewhere along the way, the architect-businessman realizes that his wife was once a college mate of the poet, and the two were in love.

Enter the green-eyed monster!

It is evening and Vijay Khanna (Shashi Kapoor) is sitting with his drink and begins talking to himself: A woman enters a man’s life, becomes his wife, the mother of his children, and gives 20 years of her life to create a home for him, with him just like rain falls on a barren land and creates life. And then something happens and in an instant, the man thinks: “Did this woman have a murky past? Did she meet someone in her youth? Was she in love with someone else?”

And then he shakes himself and says, “Bade chote aadmi nikle, Vijay Khanna. Laanat hai” To translate: You have turned out to be a very petty person, Vijay Khanna. Shame on you.

This single scene (and there are very few scenes like this one in all of Hindi cinema) defines the essence of Kabhi-Kabhie.

There is no other film in Hindi cinema that makes such a complete and direct attack on patriarchy as Kabhi-Kabhie does.

The plot for those who haven’t seen the film

Poet Amitabh (Amit Malhotra) and Muse Rakhi (Pooja) fall in love with each other in college. The girl’s marriage is fixed by her parents and she asks the poet what she should do to which he tells her that she should abide by her parents’ wishes because “children have no right to build the castles of their dreams on the foundations of their parents’ tears and shame” (Aside: what a prized ch*tiya, Amitabh plays in this film. How is he a poet, even. Okay end of rant).

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So the girl gets married and the poet gives up writing.

Decades pass. The girl is now a happily married woman. Yes, she is happy. She has a loving husband, a lovely son, and a comfortable life. She has struck a jackpot in the lottery called arranged marriages.

When her young son falls in love with a college mate, the delighted parents approach the girl’s parents only to find out that the girl is an adopted child, whose birth mother had to give her up because she was born out of wedlock.

The four adults decide to tell the girl the truth – because it is her right to know it, “and the sooner parents learn to trust their children with the truth, the better it is all around”. (Very very progressive for the mid-70s).

Once she knows the truth, the young girl decides to find her biological mother and get to know the truth of her birth and abandonment. The girl traces her biological mother to a remote hilly area of the country, where she (the biological mother) has made a new life for herself with a once-upon-a-time poet husband (yes, the same poet), and a daughter.

The young girl arrives causing a complete upheaval in their already troubled life. Our poet has still not been able to forget his muse and does not love his wife –who he insists was not his choice, but one that he agreed to because “children should not build the castles of their dreams on the tears of their parents.” (Aside again: Damn you, Loser!)

Patriarchal Amit v/s Feminist Vijay

The film is a tug-of-war between two types of world views with Amitabh the poet playing the patriarchal, misogynist man whose own ‘’murky’’ past is of no consequence but the moment he realizes that his wife (who he never loved) has had a child before marriage brings the roof down and is willing to destroy the life the three of them have built for themselves. (Remember, he has a daughter from this marriage).

On the other side is the feminist Vijay Khanna, played by Shashi Kapoor, who after a single moment of jealousy is completely ashamed of himself.

There is a scene right after the Vijay Khanna soliloquy when Rakhi (his wife) asks him: “Yeh batao Vijay tum insaan ke roop mein devata ho, ya devata ke roop mein insaan” (Tell me Vijay, are you god in the form of a human being or a human being in the form of god?) to which Shashi Kapoor replies: “Is duniya mein, aadmi agar insaan ban jaaye toh bahut badi baat hai.” (If a man can become a human being in this world, it can be the best thing to happen.) – This, oft quoted dialogue, is again the defining dialogue of the film.

Question to self: Why is this dialogue not as popular as ‘mere paas maa hai?”

Answer to self: Because we live in a patriarchal misogynist society where it is easy to accept mother as the goddess, but difficult to accept a wife/woman as a living breathing human being who could have dreams, wishes, aspirations and desires.

A film that pushes the boundaries of the conventions of the time

Thanks to a very young and happening Rishi-Neetu jodi, the beautiful locales of Kashmir, the mind-blowing music of Khayyam and Sahir’s songs, Kabhi Kabhie is often mistaken for just a mushy, Yash Chopra love story. That statement does more injustice to the film than anything else.

Kabhi Kabhie is a ‘revolution’ on screen. I have seen no other film that pushed the boundaries on so many, many topics from premarital sex to adoption to love to patriarchy to parenting to social norms to so much more… All of it done with such ease and beauty.

Yash Chopra’s best work in my opinion

For me personally, Kabhi Kabhie is Yash Chopra’s best work (among those I have seen and I have seen a lot of his work). Chopra, Sagar Sarhadi- the writer, Sahir -the lyricist, Khyaam -the music director and the six superstars all outdid themselves!! (I really feel sorry for that new girl, Naseem. She was lost among these six greats) This film is one of those things where just about everything comes together. Perfectly. Yash Chopra, himself, could never match either the beauty or the politics of Kabhi Kabhie. EVER.

To state the obvious, Sahir once again has outdone himself in this film. Consider this really minor song Pyaar kar liya toh kya, pyaar hai khata nahin, where a very young Rishi and Neetu say
Tere honth mere honth sil gaye to kya hua
Dil ki tarah jism bhi mil gaye to kya hua
Is-se pehle kya kabhi yeh sitam hua nahi….

This was a song in 1976. And two 20-year-olds discussing consensual pre-marital sex. Like I said earlier, this film pushed the boundaries in every which way possible!

When I watch Kabhi Kabhie, I see in it the kind of country we were supposed to become – fun, forward-thinking, light, and easy-going…. Instead of what we have become – a drag carrying on our shoulders the corpse of festering traditions trying to prove to each other whose corpse weighs more and smells worse.

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Asma is a sometimes writer, a constant fighter, and a disobedient dreamer. read more...

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