Khoobsurat (1980) review: Rekha's delightful in an old fashioned but fun film

Deepanjana Pal

Sep 19, 2014 10:47:58 IST

Rumour has it that when the remake of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Khoobsurat was being planned, some people involved in the new film felt that Manju, the girl who changes the Gupta family's stuffy and discipline-shackled lives, was a little outdated for today's audiences. The prevailing belief was that a young woman who ties her hair in braids and whose wardrobe looks like it's all been custom tailored for her by the neighbourhood Masterji wouldn't win over today's youth. This is why the new Khoobsurat has as its star the funky Mili, not Manju.

(Incidentally, Mili's mother's name is Manju, which is either a strange coincidence or this Khoobsurat is a sequel to the original Khoobsurat. If the latter is the truth, then Khoobsurat trumps Krrish in the list of sequels with confusing titles. At least the Roshans had attached a number — even if it was technically the wrong one — to their follow-up to Krrish.)

 Khoobsurat (1980) review: Rekhas delightful in an old fashioned but fun film

A movie poster of Khoobsurat.

Coming back to Mukerjee's Khoobsurat, it's true that it has none of the gloss, glitter and extravagance that we've come to associate with Bollywood, particularly since the 2000s. There are no mansions and neither are there fabulous costumes. There is a dream sequence, but it's not between the romantic pair, has one of the most amateur moon landscapes that you'll ever see and Rekha has to pretend that a glittery Christmas ornament is a delicious golden apple. There's a modest simplicity to Khoobsurat. From the sets to the outfits, everything is a little ruffled at the edges and simple, as though taken from real life. That's what makes it charming even today. Thanks to Shemaroo, it's free to watch on YouTube.

Thirty four years later, the simple sweetness of Mukherjee's Khoobsurat is guaranteed to lift your mood, no matter how low you feel. Of course, it's contrived and some of the acting is a touch overdone (the dubbed dialogues don't help). Still, you can't help but feel warm and fuzzy when Rekha, David and Keshto Mukherjee start talking in rhyme at the breakfast table. The film is filled with delicate one-liners like, "Us ghar mein khush rahne ka style kuchh alag hai" and Dina Pathak coolly observing that a badminton champion is not the ideal candidate for a daughter in-law because she expects the bahu to help out in household duties, not play badminton.

In Khoobsurat, Rekha played Manju, who shows up at her elder sister Anju's home in Pune soon after Anju is married. Anju's mother-in-law is Nirmala Gupta (Pathak), a stern and no-nonsense lady who makes sure the house runs with clockwork precision. The Gupta household is made up of Nirmala, her husband Dwarka Prasad (Ashok Kumar) and their four sons, of whom two are married and two are unmarried. One of the bachelors is Inder (Rakesh Roshan) and the other is the rock music-loving Jagan (Ranjit Chowdhry). It's a big family in comparison to Manju and Anju's little world, which was made up of the two girls, their widowed father (David) and their Man Friday, Ashrafi Lal (Keshto Mukherjee). But the greater numbers of the Gupta household don't really amount to much, as far as Manju is concerned. The Gupta home is silent and well-behaved. There's none of the laughter and giggling to which Manju and Anju are accustomed.

Appalled by how boring life is in the Gupta home, Manju decides to shake things up a little. A little game of cards, a few song sequences, a touch of poetry at the breakfast table — these are the dashes of "nirmal anand" that Manju brings with her. Everyone falls in love with Manju, including Inder, naturally. The only one who isn't charmed by her is Nirmala. Mukherjee ultimately relied on the well-worn trick of a sudden heart attack to bring about the epiphany that Manju is not just a mischief-maker, but could well be a worthy successor to Nirmala.

There's a lot that's painfully unmodern in Khoobsurat and depending on your background, it will feel either ridiculously old-fashioned or sadly constant. For instance, when the Guptas come to meet Anju as a prospective bride for Inder's elder brother, the man who is supposed to marry her isn't there because that's considered brazen. It's essentially a match made in blindness. Anju barely says a sentence. The fact that she's pretty, effectively gold-plated thanks to the jewellery and sari she's wearing and can keep her mouth shut is enough to establish her has good bahu material.

Yet Mukerjee sneaks in contrarian points of view and alternative ideas without making a spectacle of them. Anju, for instance, has a MA in Sanskrit, so clearly she isn't a bimbette even though she's quiet. Nirmala might be unpopular with her family, but Mukherjee wasn't entirely unsympathetic to her. You see this particularly in the scenes she has with Ashok Kumar — he's not the stereotypical hen pecked husband; the relationship is far more balanced and endearing than that. Using different members of the family, Mukherjee makes arguments for giving respect to creative arts like music and dance, whether it's the Western music that Jagan favours or the kathak that the other bahu in the Gupta household has kept has her secret for years.

And then there's Manju, who is not a doormat, thinks nothing about breaking stupid rules and is independent enough to go out and fall in love with Inder. Manju and Inder have a solid pre-marital romance, which ranges from playing carrom, singing in gardens and a locked bedroom (courtesy Inder's friend).

That's not all. Mukherjee even managed to sneak in a line criticising the Emergency enforced by Indira Gandhi between 1975 and 1977. To do this and make it past the censor board back in 1980 is quite an achievement. Let's see if the new Khoobsurat can match all this.

Updated Date: Sep 19, 2014 10:47:42 IST