Bhumika Movie Review: Truly Woe… manly
(Ratings: Poor * Average ** Good *** Very Good**** Excellent *****)
Emotionally fractured. Soul-scorching. The journey of an actress from anonymity to stardom, her life hurtling through a series of experiences, greeting pain and disappointments time and again, forms the matrix of Bhumika (The Role)
Showcasing the late Smita Patil in the eponymous role, Bhumika, the 1977 movie helmed by Shyam Benegal (Blaze Enterprises) reportedly, was based on the real-life experiences of Hansa Wadkar, a prominent Marathi actress of the 1940s.
Bhumika details the story of Usha (Smita Patil), the grand-daughter of a famous singer belonging to the old tradition of Devdasis in Goa. Usha's mother Shantha (Sulabha Deshpande), is wedded to an alcoholic Brahmin and following his death, the family hanger- on Keshav Dalvi (Amol Palekar) takes Usha to Bombay to successfully audition as a singer. The first step accomplished, Usha gains a foothold in the industry... and soon soars into Urvashi, an actress of merit, whose singing skills come in for acclaim too. Soon, an ill-fated alliance too takes shape... Urvashi's marriage with Keshav; a move that meets with express disapproval from Shanta.
Although Usha intends to quit acting, husband Keshav has no plans to entertain such an agenda from her. Turning "business manager" for actress Urvashi, he urges her to sign film after film, even as leeches and squanders his spouse's star income.
Maturing from a vivacious teenager into a wiser, but emotionally wounded woman, Urvashi, steeped in dissatisfaction, slips into the ambit of extra-marital bonds, flitting from one male to another in the hope of finding happiness on the love front.
Rajan (Anant Nag), the hunky heart-throb who's in the throes of love with Urvashi, finds his love at the unrequited end as she doesn't respond to his overtures. Magazine gossip hints at an amorous bond between Rajan and Urvashi, a factor that makes Keshav turn more jealous. Verbally and physically abused by her husband, Urvashi leaves her home taking refuge in a hotel. A discordant note that remains unexplained is why Urvashi never reciprocates Rajan's love, despite their sharing a great personal equation.
Separated from her mother and daughter Sushma (Kiran Vairale), Urvashi leads a life of despair and eventually gets sucked into the vortex of two unsatisfying relationships that merely serve to fuel her unhappiness.
Sunil Verma (Naseeruddin Shah) a self- centred 'offbeat' director with whom she plans a double -suicide( a bid that Sunil foils) and Vinayak Kale ( Amrish Puri), a wealthy businessman enter her life, though both liaisons end abruptly.
With Kale, Usha does find a measure of happiness as the de facto wife. But she soon discovers that in addition to retaining her as his pampered mistress, Kale has no intentions of granting her any personal freedom. And that includes leaving the palatial estate with Kale's son to attend the nearby village fair.
Rankled by his hypocritical stance, Usha plans her escape, requesting the local fisherwoman to post a letter across to Keshav.
Although their marital bond has ruptured, more so after Keshav makes Urvashi go through the torture of a forced abortion (insinuating that the child is not his), the husband shows up to rescue his trapped wife. Urvashi returns to her hotel room to find her married daughter Sushma waiting to take her back home.
Urvashi, though, isn't willing to take the chance of living with her daughter and wryly tells her that she'd be happy, if she visited her every now and then. A thrilled Rajan telephones Urvashi on her return and tries to forge a bond with her again... only to find a silent, unresponsive actress at the other end. The climax of Bhumika has been left as an open ended one, leaving the viewer to draw his /her own conclusions.
On the cinematic front director Shyam Benegal bags ace Brownie points, extracting top-notch performances from his cast, all round. His use of black-and-white vignettes as flashbacks, taking the Bhumika tale backward and forward, is praiseworthy.
On the histrionic front, the late Smita Patil deserves unstinting praise for her portrayal of Usha. Deservedly, she bagged the National Award ('Best Actress') confirming her credentials as a performer of rare merit. Embellishing her performance with nuances and anguish, the actress, merely in her twenties then, proved that she had the talent and maturity to shoulder the onus of a complex role; a feat that a lesser actress could never have pulled off.
Patil is buoyed by commendable acting support from Amol Palekar, Anant Nag, Naseeruddin Shah, Amrish Puri, Sulabha Deshpande , Kiran Vairale and Kulbhushan Kharbanda (essaying a richie-rich producer).
Among the scoring factors of Bhumika are also the music (Vanraj Bhatia) and cinematography (Govind Nihalani) that elevate the stock of the movie majorly. The screenplay by Pandit Satyadev Dubey, Shyam Benegal and Girish Karnad also deserves kudos and not surprisingly, the National Film Award jury lavished it with a 'Best Screenplay' Award, recoginising its superior texture and layers.
A personal journey fraught with despair, studded with dying hope and personal joys that soon plummet into new lows, Bhumika is an experience that will find favour with discerning movie-buffs.
Bhumika (The Role) will be one cinematic roll for them...