Pati, Patni aur Woh revisited: Ahead of the release of the remake, here's why BR Chopra's classic hasn't aged well
While it may be considered apt, or even progressive, for the 1970s, the original Pati, Patni Aur Woh has certainly not aged well in the contemporary gaze.
What happens in the '70s, should stay in the '70s. Those that wrote and made the original Pati, Patni Aur Woh could be excused for thinking on these lines with hopes that the original superhit, made in 1978, will not be revisited in this post-#MeToo millennial era.
In that film, Vidya Sinha and Ranjeeta Kaur play gullible women, who are otherwise honest and upright, verging on being blind as per the necessity of the script, as opposed to a habitual offender of sorts (the late Sanjeev Kumar). A comedy classic can seem oversimplified.
Made in 1978 by master filmmaker, the late BR Chopra, Sanjeev delivers one of his finest performances in Pati, Patni Aur Woh. He plays a man who starts small in life but goes on to grow to a senior post (of sales manager) while building a home with a beautiful wife (Vidya) and a child. His tendency to flirt emerges on and off during the film but flourishes when a young, pretty and friendly secretary (Ranjeeta) begins to work for him . This householder begins lying to win her sympathy, and cheats on his wife for a long period of time till he is caught because of his carelessness. His wife takes on his cheating by clicking incriminating photos, showing them to his mistress. Things do not end well for this man when both women confront him together. Once the dust settles on this relationship, and he makes up with his wife, Sanjeev’s character is tempted to cheat yet again when another attractive secretary (Parveen Babi) enters his office.
Pati, Patni Aur Woh had become quite the sensation upon its release, for its irreverent plot and colloquial humor. In a country where an affluent private sector had just begun to emerge in metropolises, Sanjeev’s character, that is in equal parts bossy and pliant to his wife’s demands at home, had caught people’s attention. The master performer that he was, he had bought playfulness and a touch of sophistication to his planned efforts at infidelity in the film, in the fine company of Asrani, a friend and poet. In fact, his character, of a man who would cheat on his wife yet again, given a chance, feels the most believable, one that is part of every day reality around us.
But when it comes to women in this film both characters challenge limits of uni-dimensionality. Vidya plays a loving and supportive wife, who will believe pretty much anything her husband says, till she finds lipstick stains on his handkerchief, and is still reluctant to doubt him. While their marriage begins with a simple, innocent romance, it is about growing prosperous together. They have a son, and are happy together. Yet, when her husband drifts away, and has an affair, she seeks photographic evidence to confront him. While watching the film, one wonders why she does not question him or simply protest his behavior when she finds out about his cheating first. But in the '70s, working with stereotypes had proven effective for successful films.
Similarly, the character Ranjeeta plays is thoroughly nice and devoid of imagination. She falls for her boss’s lies that his wife is bed-ridden and dying of cancer. She falls for multiple tiny lies that pile up from her lover so that he can balance a double life between his dutiful, caring wife and his pretty, considerate girlfriend. While Ranjeeta plays a woman keen on working and being independent, her gullibility towards her boss’s manipulations and lies seems convenient, just to keep the humour going in a funny film. Even in the '70s, women who worked tended to have a stronger voice in relationships. Her pliant nature does not add up to her choice of being a professional.
BR Chopra’s film has its redeeming moments when both the wife and the mistress meet and realise they have been taken for a ride. The women find a sisterhood of sorts in helping each other out. Ranjeeta’s character backs out, and does not take money to keep her silence. Instead, she returns it to the wife, who has more or less made up her mind to walk out on her cheating husband. Only, after confronting him with photographic evidence and throwing a fit, she does not really walk out on him because that would break up their family. Both carry on with their lives. In giving these women moments of kinship, the film gives their characters empathy and depth, that is otherwise lacking throughout its plot.
Pati, Patni Aur Woh smacks of typical patriarchal storytelling and perceptions of women. Given the time when it was made though, the film can be considered an attempt at being progressive. Sanjeev’s character, funny and akin to being poetic, is also inherently dishonest. The women eventually emerge as adaptable and pragmatic. It layers different sides of human behaviour when faced with infidelity.
That it captures women’s ability to turn a blind eye on a cheating husband resonates with real life even today. Eventually, the fatigue of fighting for a moral stand takes over, and couples tend to 'adjust' rather than separate. The essence of Pati, Patni Aur Woh makes it a cinema classic.
In the upcoming Pati, Patni Aur Woh remake, starring Kartik Aryan, Ananya Panday, and Bhumi Pednekar, the women come across as sassy and liberated, going by the trailer, promos, and songs. Will the film also change track and bring a more feminist interpretation to adultery?
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