Movie review- “Bhumika-The Role”

Bhumika-The Role(color)

Date of release: November 11, 1977

Starring: Smita Patil

Amol Palekar

Anant Nag

Naseeruddin Shah

Amrish Puri

Kiran Virale

Sulabha Deshpande

Music: Vanraj Bhatia

Written by: Shyam Benegal, Girish Karnad, Satyadev Dubey

Story: Hansa Wadkar

Cinematography: Govind Nihalani

Running time: 142 minutes

Language: Hindi

Produced by: Lalit M. Bijlani, Freni Variava

Directed by: Shyam Benegal

Bhumika is one of my all time favorite movies or let me rephrase myself, my all time favorite Benegal movie. Bhumika was based on the autobiography of Marathi actress Hansa Wadkar who was active on Marathi screen and stage in the 1940’s and 1950’s.The movie is about searching one’s own identity which Bhumika made alive on big screen. Its about frustration of an actor and search for an inner peace by the female protagonist who in the world ruled by men tries to live with them(by making compromises sometimes)but tragically, fails all the time. It efficaciously makes us realize that the society which we live in has made rules which should not be used to judge a person on moral grounds as these rules are made just to live with ease and convenience without much mental or social disturbance in life by shunning them.

Usha(Smita Patil) is an actress who is successful on screen but a failure in her personal life and relationships.(In flashback) Usha is from a family where her grandmother was a singer from famous Devdasi  tradition from konkani background and her family(Hansa Wadkar’s family) has preserved priceless classical music throughout the years.

Since her childhood, Keshav Dalvi(Amol Palekar),who is much older than her and has done many favors to her family,behaves clumsily with her and as soon as she steps into her teenage, he convinces her to marry him. Soon after her marriage with Keshav, she realises that her husband still behave as her manager and wants her to act in movies. This is the turning point and here starts the frustration of Usha. (Coming to the present)Being a chauvinistic man, Keshav abuses Usha  verbally as well as physically even in front of their daughter Sushma(Kiran Virale), as he is under the impression that Usha and the actor Rajan(Anant Nag) are having an affair. Meanwhile, she comes across narcissistic film director, Suneel Verma(Naseeruddin Shah) with whom she plans a double suicide, but it never happens. Usha leaves the house and stays in a hotel where she meets Vinayak Kale(Amrish Puri) who takes her to his palatial mansion only to keep her as a mollycoddled mistress which the distressed Usha happily accepts to behave as. With affable relation with Kale’s wife who is confined to bed by paralysis,she enjoys her new life until she realizes that she has been confined unknowingly to this mansion and not even allowed to step outside the house. She somehow manages to call Keshav for rescue and leaves Kale’s estate only to leave even Keshav after reaching Bombay all over again. This is the end where Usha is standing in her house alone and still unsuccessful in relationships.

The story of Bhumika is inspired by the autobiography of Hansa Wadkar called “Sangtye Aika” which would publish in a Marathi magazine as a series.

This piece of writing was certainly a very candid and intrepid one by any actor.

The movie came when the feminism movements were very much active in the western countries but was looked down upon by the Indian society. The struggle of a woman for self-recognition and respect has been depicted in the movie in the era in which feminists in India were not active(movies like “Heroine”(2012) and “Fashion”(2008) came decades after this marvellous piece of work). Bhumika, interestingly raises the topic very well that a man in the society(patriarchal one) is recognized and known by his work, but on the contrary, women are always judged on the success and failures of the relationships they have been involved in. This parameter for judging both men and women has been carved out in the movie so subtly and at the same time so clearly that it makes Bhumika the one movie of its own kind and probably the first of its kind. The movie also shows how a women should be ready to be left alone if she is willing to gain her independence which is not the case in the independence of a man.

Smita Patil, with the intensity and pitch that she has used in this movie has made it one of the best and most brilliantly played role by her in her lifetime. Her transformation from a vivacious teenager to a middle aged nonchalant woman left viewers speechless when it came on silver screen but what really is magnificent is the conviction with which she has played the role of a women screaming loudly deep inside her weeping heart for the recognition and love that she has always wished for but has never got.

And it is this conviction that makes Bhumika a benchmark or anthem for feminism in Indian cinema. Bhumika no doubt is one of her best works or as many believes, her best work till date and Bhumika could never be the way it is without this beautiful and flair actress named Smita Patil.

Amol Palekar as Keshav Dalvi will make you hate him in this movie. Now you can understand how convincingly he must have played the role of a man who cannot live without the monetary support of her wife and brazenly abuse and torture her mentally as well as physically. He gets into the skin of Keshav’s character as a man who lusted after Usha since her childhood and the husband who asks his wife to abort their unborn child. It is impossible to believe that he is the same actor who has played the role of a meek gentleman in so many other movies. It is the one movie which is totally different from the filmography of Palekar. Keshav’s shameless attitude has been portrayed very well by him and this prolific actor will always be remembered for this benchmark.

Anant Nag, who previously did a remarkable collaboration with Benegal in movies like Ankur(1974) and Nishant(1975), did a masterly portrayal of a heartthrob Rajan who is in love with Usha but never gets success in getting the same response from her for some unknown reasons not shown in the movie.

Naseeruddin Shah, as usual did a remarkable job as a filmmaker who is excessively interested in the admiration of his own abilities and leaves us impressed.

Amrish Puri, has done a great job as an understated Vinayak Kale. His cold and stern dialogues which leaves Usha dumbstruck are worth mentioning here. He has a small role to play but he can surely impress everyone with his role in the movie.

Summing up my views on this masterpiece by Benegal, I can say that there is a parallel cinema and then there is a cinema which redefines the parallel cinema with a movie like Bhumika-The Role. Feminism which was an indolent thing in the 1970’s has been discussed in it, decades before the makers started discussing it in their movies. Every aspect of Bhumika-The Role is great whether it is the music of maestro Vanraj Bhatia or cinematography by Govind Nihalani and writing by Girish Karnad and Satyadev Dubey.


Baaju re mondar baaju re-Saraswati Rane, Meena Fatharpekar

Ghat ghat mein ram ramaiya-Firoz Dastur

Mera ziskila balam na aya-Preeti Sagar

Meri zindagi ki kashti tere-Chandru Aatma

Saawan ke din aaye sajanwa aan milo-Bhupinder Singh, Preeti Sagar

Tumhare bina jee na lage ghar mein-Preeti Sagar

Review by: Shekhar Srivastava