With the subject of blindness, directors have a thousand directions to go. Bollywood, as clich├ę and melodramatic as it can be, hasn┬┤t used it as often, and when it has the drama is certainly used tastefully more than others. In 2004, Bollywood is revisiting it in Satish Kaushik┬┤s "Vaada".
In 1959, director and producer L.V. Prasad released "Chhoti Bahen", the quintessential Bollywood styled emotional drama that tackled the issue of blindness amongst many others enveloped into one. Later, in 1964 Rajshri released the film
"Dosti" which also took the emotional approach in addressing the issue. While 2004┬┤s ┬┤Vaada┬┤ may or may not turn out as emotional as either of the aforementioned, L.V. Prasad┬┤s "Chhoti Bahen" is one of the industry┬┤s memorable films for tackling the emotion behind blindness, sibling emotion and how different persons in a family can react to it. Not high on melodrama, the emotions are more explained rather than relying on the awe factors of misunderstanding those that are deceptive. Yes, there are the hated bahus and the evil sister in laws, but their characters are much more developed than we usually see in Bollywood these days.
Chhoti Bahen is also well known for the song that recurs to this day on Raksha Bandhan, "Bhaiyya Mere". Revisiting Bollywood┬┤s classics may be difficult for fans of the industry accustomed to the minuscule character development we see usually, but Chhoti Bahen is certainly one of those films that takes the natural approach in fleshing out its story and the non-lengthy at that. Some of it is even realistic. The lead character of the story Meena (Nanda) has grown to become the stronger female mother type character with her older brother Rajendra (Balraj Sahani), a well educated strong thinking personality and Shekar (Rehman), a college student whose mine often wanders and who later becomes quickly addicted to gambling. Having grown up amidst unfortunate circumstances the three are ready and willing for life┬┤s better opportunities and what may come their way. When the time for marriage comes along, the eldest sibling Rajendra, decides his younger siblings must get married before he can feel secure enough to do so. Shekhar┬┤s marriage is arranged, but as is usually the case, the daughter┬┤s marriage plans take the most trouble. Meena is afraid of marriage but it too is eventually arranged with a physician Ramesh (Sudesh Kumar). What Meena doesn┬┤t know is that Rajendra has promised a lot to see her marriage finalized, date and all.
After the usual anticipation, Meena looks forward to her day of ever lasting bliss but ends up falling off a swing and scarring her eye tissue which leaves her eventually blind. Naturally, her wedding plans are canceled and further trouble ensues between her now married brother, his wife, and Rajendra. A sister treasured as such, is monumented at their home because of the struggle she has to face but not everyone can tolerate what is to be done. After a while, her new sister in law is influenced and equally as disturbed by what her life has turned to. The family eventually faces much turmoil, separation and must understand life before they can meet another day of happiness.┬á
Shankar-Jaikeshen┬┤s music is memorable, more than your usual age old Bollywood film (everyone gets nostalgic when listening to old tunes, but Chhoti Bahen has two songs that are more than your trip down memory lane). "Jaon Kahan Batein Dil", which plays at an important point in the film where the protagonists realize their mistake, as the song verbalizes in its emotional lyrics, is Mukesh┬┤s strong forte and hits the heart strings greatly. "Bhaiyya Mere, Raakhi ke Bandhan to Nibhana", is the title track and what the film is famous for. The song practically explains what the holiday is about and how siblings idolize each other, not just the sister to the brother. Mehmood, who is also a pivotal character in the film, Mahesh, also features in the memorable ditty, "Main Rikshawala".
The film is filled with excellent performances. In emotional family dramas like this, it┬┤s important for actors to keep their emotions subtle without going over the top. The film┬┤s main leads, Balraj Sahani and Nanda do just that. Nanda is astounding as the film┬┤s main lead, which is worth a million words. As a female she has the main protagonist┬┤s role. Not once is her role sidelined to being the one that is hurt, and just that. Meena takes control of her life without becoming overly heroic and Nanda is apt just at that. Mehmood is also superlative in his supporting role as the "adoptive" brother of the family, Mahesh. Director L.V. Prasad has been known to have given Mehmood more than your typical "comedy" role that he was well known for. In Chhoti Bahen he is a delight to watch. Rehman as the second brother is less prominent than the above mentioned actors but is also effective in expressing the variety of emotions his character entails, greed, emotion and remorse later on.
Directorially L.V. Prasad is able to garner the right emotion by not going over the top with the scenes that require emotion and pacing the film appropriately. The film is approximately three hours but barring a few sequences, the storyline enfolds properly and ends off at the right note. Viewers aren┬┤t burdened with the emotional struggle that the family members meet, but get the feel enough. The situation is the same for the sequences of what happens towards the end. Prasad has handled the issue of blindness tastefully and has directed an emotional tale very well.
Chhoti Bahen is more than a story about the relationship between brothers and sisters and the blindness is more than just a plot device. The drama here, rather, is explained and the way each deal with their trials and tribulations, along with the superlative musical score is more than enough to get any viewer going down memory lane for this family drama.