This is my first Guru Dutt movie and I'm delighted to have seen it. Though communicating a clear message of justice and compassion, the movie refrained from being preachy and saccharine - thank goodness, because it less capable hands it could have gone horribly wrong. The visuals are similarly straightforward, yet they're full and beautiful too. The film is meaningful without being heavy, and I think much of this is owed to the sparky performances by the two leads (Mala Sinha as the titular daughter-in-law, Padma, and Guru Dutt as her simpleton husband, Raghu). They're fantastic - lively but subtle. The rest of the cast is also strong. Nasir Hussain nails the "stern but loving patriarch" type with real feeling (take note, Big B), Lalita Pawar* is convincingly icy as the scheming stepmother, and Feroz Khan creates a villain whose comeuppance is a treat to cheer for .
I watched this at Jaman and was interested to read a post on its discussion board about Mala Sinha's insistence on quality roles, because this was a role that seemed to suit her perfectly - and I'd like to see more examples of such writing for women in today's Hindi films. I'm interested to know if other viewers see this movie as feminist - I do, because for me feminism is about women getting to make choices, and Padma makes several bold choices, ones that benefit other people and uphold admirable values as well.
The music is lovely, and I found them really communicative even without subtitles. One of my favorite moments in the movie was the first song. (I'd tell you the title, but I have no idea.) Raghu arranges little animals in a table-top setting, and he seems almost one with the inhabitants of the happy world he has created. Such a joyful, cute song, but also with a tinge of sadness if we think of Raghu as being like his toys, placed in a world but without much to do or abilities of their own. Just one of many lovely scenes in this powerful, gentle film.
* imdb lists Lalita Pawar as having appeared in a staggering 338 movies in a career of almost 70 years, by far the most I've ever seen in a bio. Can anyone tell me anything about her career or best-known roles?