THE CULT OF AN INDIVIDUAL: BHUMIKA BY SHYAM BENEGAL.

I start this journey by reproducing my unfailing approval of content driven cinema – cinema that is an unblemished mirror of life and has the gumption to be uncomfortably non escapist. As I had written earlier, cinema has been my salvation and circa 2015 a newly ushered eye for the intricacies of the form and exposure to some of the greatest exemplars of their kind thrust me into practicing what I thoroughly believed in. That is, ensuring realism never escaped the room. The difference then remained that all those painstaking masterpieces I had vociferously read about in depth and coherence visually came to life with a mindset altering intensity and urgency.

My favourite film in that regard is none other than BHUMIKA by director Shyam Benegal released in the prolific year 1977. It will never be a popular choice to be contended as a favourite for most of my peers, many of whom may have never even heard about it but I am made of sturdier stuff, I guess. Anything with unflinching realism is hardly sought after and human beings veer towards the notion that real life is intense and discolored with flames of hellfire as it is so why this appropriation in the larger than life canvas of our beloved cinematic portals? Well, we are such fluctuating creatures, we laud this facsimile of our lives in cinema at one point or at another denounce it as a waste. I write about my choices as a sole figure without looking down on others and their opinions. All I want to say is it’s time our resources, mental and emotional, were spent in defending practitioners of the sublime and subtle. BHUMIKA has these practitioners in spades technically and on the front of performances, touching on the marrow of a retro actress and her personal account.

**one of my favourite posters

Her personal agency is divided into various roles. She is a doting mother to her daughter lamenting the time spent outdoors and in musty studios, attempting to adapt and jump right into the humility of adult domesticity that has eluded her but is goaded on by a scheming husband, monetarily independent but hardly self reliant and a wife who tries desperately to build bridges and sustain an unsavory marriage to a much older man. She’s an actor of versatile proportions too, sword fencing and swashbuckling in a male dominated scenario of actioners, performing an intricate though jovial Lavani number and recreating various avatars out of the 1001 scriptwriters’ bag of tricks. Such a hold over her own identity and finances and such repute so what is this void engulfing her? To me, she ticks all brackets of an individual of great agency with free reins of her own life and livelihood. Yet…. That ‘but’ injucts itself and we find out how. Even if her natural instinct is to preserve a family unit, naturally expected of her by a patriarchal and character less society, she is bundled with fame and the detachment from it. Why so? That’s the multi layered foundation applied to BHUMIKA ( THE ROLE).

SMITA PATIL, its lead and one of my idols, gives a life imitating performance of such profound silences, action and agency, no wonder the arc of performing arts has been elevated further for me and since this figure coined a sincere ideal of India’s breath of fresh air in terms of parallel cinema. It’s performances as these that awaken us to the magical gift of embodying other lives and give acting the highest credibility though Weinsteins of this world do everything in their power to bring its perverse flipside to the forefront, making us shudder at the big, bad world that produces cinema, on the other side of which are gems like these.

This film too has a producer but he is far removed from that typical sleazy mold. BHUMIKA has the most compassionate, supportive, confidante of a producer for the lead as here the crossroads of body politic is allocated to the woman to choose and the struggles and points of exploitation are of a deep seated, emotional kind. In the review of the film in the next post, all these points will be uncovered. For me, the late great Smitaji’s astute handling of herself here is the hallmark and watershed of global cinematic traction. It will be a failure on our parts if this generation has largely forgotten her body of work since her passing away three decades ago. This is the moment to rectify that oversight. The protagonist has success and failure weigh unequally and with the inescapable, unforgivable complexity of real life. The cult of individuality, as I discovered here, can make us a sinner or a saint according to other’s whims and fancies. But self preservation is the hardest gamble. This is the journey of an individual and not just a woman as that would narrow down our perspectives.

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