There have been very few auteurs in cinema who have tried to tell the story from a woman’s perspective. No, I am not talking about a woman-centric story, rather a story told from the perspective of a woman. While the world burns around her, a woman picks up her strength and fights against all odds. The world sees her fighting for survival, but in reality she fights for herself, her dignity and above all for equality. They say that it’s a man’s world. But she proves them wrong every single time by raising herself beyond the bar. Released in 1963, Bimal Roy’s ‘Bandini’ (Imprisoned) is the story of one such woman, who fights against the society for her right, when the society itself judges her and puts her in shackles.
‘Bandini’ tells the story of Kalyani (played by Nutan), who is imprisoned in the Bhagalpur jail at the heights of the struggle for independence. The story begins with her offering to nurse for a fellow prisoner suffering from tuberculosis, when others are afraid, the disease being contagious. Her affection towards the needy and dedication towards the sick impresses the jailor as well as the jail doctor Deven (played by a young Dharmendra), who are then stunned when her crime is revealed – murder. Upon realizing that the young doctor has fallen for her, she quietly rejects him as she prefers to carry her guilt on her own and doesn’t want her past haunting his future. As viewers, we are introduced to a female block of the jail, where Kalyani is ridiculed and heckled by fellow prisoners for trying to be in the good books of the jailor. The lecherous deputy sahib even tries to influence her. Despite being aware of everyone’s intention, Kalyani carries herself in a demure fashion, quietly harping on her past. Mr. Roy brilliantly captures the trauma that Kalyani silently goes through which nobody is aware of, while the prison guard keeps shouting – ‘Sab Thik Hai !!!’ (All is well). For Kalyani, it’s a cruel joke on her fate.
Her past unveils itself through her diary, as the daughter of the postmaster of a village who gets romantically involved with a freedom fighter Bikash Ghosh (played by Ashok Kumar). One day Bikash falls ill and Kalyani ends up spending the night nursing him. At dawn, everyone comes to know that an unmarried girl has spent the night with a man. To save the lady from shame, he promises to marry her. For an investigation, he is taken away by the police but he promises to return to her and get married. Kalyani keeps waiting for him amidst the taunts of the villagers. But when she receives the news of Bikash being married to somebody else, she quietly leaves the village heart broken. Music plays a very important part here to bring out the raw emotions of heartbreak as well as to move the story further. As Kalyani starts walking towards the boat, the tunes of “Oh Jaanewale, Ho Sake To Laut Ke Aana..” makes us the viewers realize that she’s never coming back. The camera captures her footsteps in the sand, as she walks towards the river and turns one last time to see her village. The moment is so poignant, that it brings a lump to the throat.
She goes to one of her friends, who then, through her husband, gets her a job as a caretaker in a hospital. Through the course of her work, she starts tending to a patient who’s suffering from hysteria. The woman, Shivani, is rude and treats her mercilessly. But Kalyani keeps tending to her, without any malice in her heart. One day, she receives the news of her father dying in an accident, while looking for her. Devastated, she comes back to the hospital to discover that the woman she’s tending to, is married to Bikash. Suddenly an enormous rage engulfs her. The viewers see an infuriated Kalyani for the first time, as the camera portrays a seething woman by looking at two workmen using the furnace, the fire being a motif of her rage. Believing that the cause of all of her troubles is Shivani, in an instant moment of anger, she poisons her. Bikash suspects that her wife is murdered and demands an investigation. During the course of the investigation, Bikash and Kalyani come face to face and he realizes the truth. But when he informs the police that his wife must have killed herself, Kalyani breaks down to confess her guilt.
The story comes back to the present, when Kalyani is discharged from the prison on account of her good behavior. To start a new life afresh, she accepts the marriage proposal of the young doctor. She waits up on a station to catch the train to her destination, when in a cruel twist of fate, she again meets an ageing and sick Bikash, suffering from tuberculosis. This time, she gets to hear his part of the truth. Ordered by his superiors, Bikash had to marry a policeman’s daughter, in order to spy on the ongoing police activities regarding the freedom struggle. Ashamed of the fact that he is the true reason of her lifelong misery, he asks for her forgiveness and reveals that he’s going away from everything, to die alone. As the haunting voice of S D Burman sings the lines, “mere saajan hai iss paar..main man maar, hoon iss paar..”, Kalyani realizes that it’s the cruelty of fate that has kept them apart for so many years. She jumps from her train and runs frantically to be with her true love – Bikash.
As viewers, we get to see various shades of a woman, through Kalyani. A woman can be caring, affectionate, dedicated for the ones she love. For them, she even can silently suffer through ignominy. Her rage, however short-lived it may be, is capable of destroying lives. And she can selflessly bear her punishments, while going on caring for others. It’s said that Bimal Roy had threatened to scrap the movie upon knowing that Nutan might not do the film, as she was in the family way. He wanted only her to do the part of Kalyani. And rightfully so, as Nutan portrayed every emotion of a woman, through her beauty, grace, charm and sobriety. Bimal Roy shows Kalyani as a learned, free thinking woman, who even goes on to debate the statement made by her father that women are left better only to serve the kitchen for men. But when the time comes, she takes up a menial job in a hospital, as if she’s atoning for her sins for not being able to attend to her father. As discussed before, music plays a very important role in Bimal Roy’s films. The haunted tunes, crafted by the maestro S D Burman, assisted by his soon-to-be-famous son R D Burman along with the beautiful lyrics of Shailendra and a very young Gulzar brought alive the joy and the pain of Kalyani, who is literally and metaphorically imprisoned in her own shackles of love, burden and guilt.