The lost romance of Thoda Sa Roomani Ho Jayen

In 1990, when Sooraj Barjatya came out with his 'Prem' v.1.0 in 'Maine Pyar Kiya', a quiet, forgotten actor named Amol Palekar was turning to direction. 'Thoda Sa Roomani Ho Jayen' was a wonderful film that marked the colourful style and sarcasm of its director, Amol Palekar.

Shriram Iyengar

Since his debut in that wonderful sleeper hit 'Rajnigandha', Amol Palekar was considered the conventional middle class hero. The idea that an individual travelling in buses, struggling to pay his rent, and unable to speak to his crush at the bus stop could be the hero surprised audiences. But this was an actor with sensibilities that had evolved far beyond the middle class. In his later years, Palekar turned into one of the most visually gifted and socially conscious directors of his generation. Films like 'Akriet', 'Anahat' and 'Paheli' explored serious themes against the contrast of stunning visuals.

'Thoda Sa Roomani Ho Jayen' is one of those wonderful little gems produced at a time when the government was one of the most productive partners of the arts. Supported by the financial arm of Doordarshan, Amol Palekar directed this beautiful fable of a town desperate for hope. It is easy to forget that the 90s was a very creative time for National television. Filmmakers like Gulzar, Kundan Shah and Ramesh Talwar had turned to television. Their partnership with NFDC and Doordarshan resulted in some splendid shows like 'Mirza Ghalib', 'Wagle ki Duniya', and 'Premchand ki Kahaniyaan'.

'Thoda Sa Roomani Ho Jayen' revolves around a spirited, but slowly fading hopes of a family. Binni, the heroine of the film, is an Elizabeth Bennet stuck in a gossipy town. Spirited, adventurous, brave, but a little broken hearted and insecure of her own beauty, she is the life of her all-male family. Soon, their world is intruded upon by a smooth hustler, played to the tee by Nana Patekar. Thus, begins a wonderful tale of hope and romanticism.

The film continues to raise that most Austenian question: Why is society more interested in a girl's life than she herself is? Is it more important than a drought threatening the town? There is a strong undercurrent of feminism in Palekar's films. From 'Daayra' to 'Anahat' and 'Paheli', Palekar has succeeded in raising questions about the freedom of choice enjoyed by women in Indian society. In 'Thoda Sa Roomani Ho Jayen', Binni fights with the expectations of her society, sometimes with a smile, sometimes unwillingly. She is not a feminist ideal. She does not hate men, just the ones who wish her to change into the 'ideal woman'. This was Palekar's scathing critique on the idea of the shy, docile heroines who populated Hindi cinema during the 90s. The heroine here, played by Anita Kanwar, is capable of fixing cars, cooking a fantastic butter chicken and managing her home without blinking an eyelid. Fed with perceptions of 'girlish' behaviour, she consigns herself to being ugly, and unfit for marriage. In the end, Binni discovers the joy in hoping, believing in herself and finding the missing romance of life, instead of love. She lacks hope. As the song in the film goes

'Mushkil hai jeena ummeed ke bina/ Thoda sa roomani ho jaayein'

(It is so difficult to live without hope/ let us all be a little romantic).

The light-hearted satire looks back at the darkness of life and the hypocrisy of society with a shrug of nonchalance. In one funny scene, Binni's father recounts the social, economic problems affecting his country against the problem of his daughter being unmarried. It is a tongue in cheek reference considering the fact that the film was sponsored by the government.

Palekar's literary sensibilities add to the nuances of his direction. 'Thoda Sa Roomani Ho Jaayein' feels like a fable with its rhyming dialogues and poetic conversations. Kamlesh Pandey, who would go on to write Rang De Basanti and Delhi 6, does a fabulous job by providing characters with the perfect poems that are almost satirical commentaries themselves. Take this wonderful little poem narrated by Nana Patekar's Dhrustadhyumna Padmanabh Prajapati Neelkant Dhumketu Barishkar

The town in the film feels real and surreal at the same time. The District Magistrate, brilliantly underplayed by Vikram Gokhale, visiting Binni's for a friendly dinner/date, or Nana Patekar's eloquent hustler who manages to bring rain with the most useless methods seem spurious. Yet, they form an important part of the narrative that seeks to reinfuse hope in the most hopeless of situations. The dry, drudgery of the life in this town acquires colour through poetic dialogues and the musical interludes.

Amol Palekar would go on to tackle more eloquent and divergent takes on feminine independence in 'Anahat' and 'Paheli'. Yet, 'Thoda Sa Roomani Ho Jaayen' belongs to a more carefree, indulgent time of filmmaking. With its rhythmic poetry and fantastical plot, it ranks right alongside another cult classic, 'Om-Dar-Ba-Dar', for its Dali-esque qualities. In an age of stereotyped and blockbuster cinema, directors like Palekar and Kamal Swaroop are non-conformists. Their cinema infused life into an otherwise stale format that was lacking in imagination. It was also among the few films that depicted the middle-class conventions and their differences with such honesty. Over the next decade, as blockbuster staples took over the screens, films produced by government organisations like Doordarshan were resigned to memory. The film belongs to a time when directors could sit together with the audiences and laugh about themselves. One of the reasons why film lovers reminisce about the 90s so often.