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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pathey Holo Deri (1957) – now thats what I call ROMANCE!

Pothey Holo Deri If you are looking for a well done romance Bollywood-style but sans the theatrics associated with the genre, you need to pick up an old Bengali flick starring Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen. They are Bengali Cinema’s legendary romantic duo (according to imdb they did a whopping 25 movies together over 20 years!) and were (arguably) an even bigger phenomenon in Bengali Cinema than Satyajit Ray! For sheer charisma and chemistry, these two beat any other on-screen couple hollow. Their movies together are a delight to watch and Pothey Holo Deri (got late on the way) is no exception.

The movie opens with a hysterical, bed-ridden, Mallika (Suchitra Sen) refusing to eat and accusing her doctor - Jayanta (Uttam Kumar) - of trying to gain medical fame by curing her. He treats her outburst with inexhaustible patience and coaxes her to try and get better. When asked by Mallika’s nurse how long will he meet her dislike with such unfailing sympathy, he vows, “Forever” (or something to that effect). Wish I could find such a sympathetic doctor!
You’ve probably got the picture - there is a deep, dark secret behind Mallika’s dislike and Jayanta’s unfailing devotion. The two have a history and Jayanta’s long flashback is about to tell us what it is.
As a newly qualified doctor, Jayanta joined Dr. Bose’s practice in Darjeeling and soon came up against the practice's star clients - the Bannerjis. Mr. Bannerji (Chhabi Biswas) is Darjeeling’s richest man and his grandchildren – Mallika/Molly (Suchitra Sen) and Runu (Anup Kumar) - are brought up in the lap of luxury. Jayanta takes one look at the luminous (but very heavily made-up) Mallika and falls head over heels for her.

Sadly for him, Jayanta is the son of a poor school teacher and has no prospects of getting an advanced foreign degree – his only ticket to big bucks. The vast gulf between their fortunes decides Jayanta to save himself heartache and stay away from her. A medical emergency at the Bannerji household however, soon puts this resolution to test. In a bid to salvage his pride, Jayanta ends up being very brisk to Mallika who is unused to such behaviour from young men. There are a few verbal skirmishes where both give a good account of themselves and end up falling blissfully in love.

Grandpa Bannerji however is not about to let his rich granddaughter marry a penniless nobody and conveys this to Jayanta without forbidding the match or contriving to look like a disapproving Bollywood Dad (à la Amrish Puri in DDLJ). He even makes it clear to both that Mallika will marry a suitably rich boy of his own choosing.

Jayanta is unwilling to share his poverty with his darling Molly but she will have none of it. The two land up pledging undying devotion to each other with the Kanchenjunga as witness. (We all know about Mahomet and the mountain but this is a new and as yet un-cataloged use of mountains!) Mallika convinces Jayanta to take her jewellery as an *advance* on her dowry (yes, really!) to finance his studies abroad.
Jayanta goes to England to gain his masters in medicine (alas, not a masters in sartorial elegance!) and the two lovers carry on an open correspondence right under the nose of her grandpa - Bengali society is clearly more permissive than Bollywood!
Having completed his masters, Jayanta decides to spend 6 months at a renowned hospital in Vienna and sends her a telegram with his new address. Grandpa Bannerji intercepts the telegram and realises that the affair he thought was over a couple of years ago, is still on. He takes immediate steps to break up it up. Mallika is told that she has been taken for a ride by a fortune hunter who’s absconded with her money while to Jayanta, Grandpa writes that Mallika has consented to marry a richer groom.
Jayanta cant believe what he hears but his letters to Mallika are returned unopened. He also meets Mallika’s intended husband – the rich barrister-in-training, Pramatesh (dont know the actor’s name) – who confirms their upcoming nuptials. Jayanta decides to return to India and find out what’s happening. His one Indian patient in Vienna – the rich and beautiful Arati (Kamala Mukherjee) – has used the interim period to fall for him. Jayanta is quite oblivious to her heavy flirting and they become good friends.

Back in India, Jayanta hurries to Darjeeling where he finds the Bannerji Villa shut down. The neighbours tell him that the Bannerjis went to Calcutta for Mallika’s wedding and never returned. He goes to the Bannerjis’ Calcutta bungalow only to be confronted by her grandpa who tells him to buzz off and let her live her new life in peace! Poor Jayanta! He is heartbroken and knows not why Mallika fell out of love with him.

But I dont lose hope as the movie began with Mallika and him together, though not in pleasant circumstances. How did he land up treating Mallika, several months after her marriage? What is Mallika’s illness, and where is her new husband? Go visit Mallika and Jayanta in the hospital, they just might tell you!
The far from novel story is so well done that the predictable plot holds your attention right to the end. The romance is meltingly sweet without being cheesy. Except for some scenery chewing by a *demented* Suchitra Sen in the latter half, the acting is pretty understated with no loud dramatics and absolutely no Nahiiins! The supporting characters and their stories are also very well sketched with no loose ends left dangling story-wise. The music, in keeping with the movie, is melodious and pleasant. There are five songs in all and every one of them is lovely. Check out the two available on youtube - Tumi na hoi and E shudhu ganer din.
Suchitra Sen looks beautiful inspite of the layers of paint she labors under. (The make-up in the “happy” part makes an interesting contrast with her almost-no-make-up in the “sad” part.) Uttam Kumar looks charismatic as ever and turns in a fairly subtle performance. The supporting cast is also very good, especially Chhabi Biswas and Anup Kumar.
Apart from the understated acting, the other striking feature of the movie was the complete (and very welcome) absence of a comic subplot which is a regular (and very annoying) component of all Bollywood films of those days! Humor isnt completely missing though and there are several lighter touches seamlessly incorporated into the story - like Mallika’s brother gently mocking her rich suitor, teasing her about Dr. Jayanta’s non-adulation of her and later pulling her leg about her love.
If you are suffering from (Bollywood) masala-induced indigestion, this movie makes a great change! If not, then watch it for the sweet romance, the lovely songs and the beautiful leads.


  1. Is it subtitled? Sometimes older Bengali films aren't. Sounds like a treat, though :-)

  2. I've never seen a Bengali movie, old or otherwise. This looks lovely, but I'll add to memsaab's query: is it subtitled?

  3. Yes, its subtitled and the subtitles are pretty good for the most part. Whats even better, the songs are subtitled too! :-) I bought a Satyajit Ray film a while ago and was very disappointed in the subtitles, so this was a pleasant surprise.

    ajnabi, you should try some Bengali movies - Jaman has a good selection. I havent tried the new ones (except for the Aish-starrer Chokher Bali) but the old ones are lovely - they have the best part of Bollywood movies (the improbable stories and lovely songs!) combined with better acting, screenplay and way better presentation overall. In Hindi movies you usually see these kind of movies made by Bengali film-makers like Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterji.

  4. Ok I totally need to speculate about how it ends, cos I am curious, yet too broke to buy movies for some time-

    Possibility #1: Suchitra didnt get married after all and is sick from "love (lols)

    Possibility #2: Suchitra did get married, but had a terible accident on the honeymoon, where she became a cripple and her husband died- so that Uttam could cure and marry her.

    I think maybe the 2nd one :D

  5. Shweta you are hilarious! Since you are curious let me tell you that your *SPOILER ALERT* possibility #1 is true - she is actually ill because of living in poverty and disappointment (she thinks her grandpa was right and Uttam Kumar is about to marry another rich girl after having exhausted her wealth!). I did say the movie was predictable but enjoyable inspite of that.

  6. yay for my bolly-speculation powers- though I bet most bolly-lovers would have speculated as I did. I have to say Suchitra was gorgeous- it was a wonderful idea for you to cover this one- pls do more regional cinema!

  7. It's a evergreen movie,really worth watching.Their onscreen chemistry was superb and i think remains best so far.Both are the legends in bengali cinema.Uttam is being called MAHANAYAK.There are many more movies which i liked a lot such as Sagarika,Saptopodi,Chaoapaoa.See those movies and i am sure you will bound to fall in love with them.Just see those awesome movies.

  8. Shweta, regional movies especially old ones are very hard to find on DVD and very expensive when found! Will definitely try to get hold of more Uttam-Suchitra ones though - they are awesome.

    Crazy on Bollywood, thanks a ton for all the recommendations. I am already in love with Uttam-Suchitra and on the lookout for more of their films! So far I've seen Alo Amar Alo and Harano Sur which are lovely. I also have Ekti Raat which I havent seen yet. I will definitely be on the lookout for the ones you've recommended.

  9. I have watched lots of English, Hindi and Bengali movies full of Romance. But I must admit that as a Romantic pair in a movie, Uttamkumar and Suchitra Sen are really unparalleled. There are many good Romantic movies in English and Hindi. But no other pair could sustain their on screen romance movies after movies spanning more than two decades.

  10. That is very true, Forexciting. I doubt if there were any other such long lasting and successful onscreen partnerships. One might, of course, argue that after two decades of practise, their "chemistry" should be perfect! :-)

  11. Real from Dhaka Uni:Uttam Kumar-Suchitra is my heart.I always remember them.I love and Like them.

  12. this movie is really delectable and the songs are great the way,how many uttam-suchitra movies have you watched so far.

  13. MADmusic&movielover, I have only seen about a dozen of Uttam-Suchitra films but the list is growing! This is definitely one of my favorites, along with Alo Amar Alo and Harano Sur.