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30 years of Biwi Ho To Aisi: Revisiting the 'in-laws' drama

The film, which was released on 22 August 1988, was akin to a finishing school for the ideal Indian woman.

Anita Paikat

JK Bihari's Biwi Ho To Aisi (1988) gave nothing more and nothing less than what the title suggested. Those were the days when the lack of finishing schools for women in India was compensated for by films like these.

Biwi Ho To Aisi is a 2 hour 29 minute tutorial on the qualities required to be the ideal 'Bharatiya bahu'.

On the film's 30th anniversary (it was released on 22 August 1988), we revisit Biwi Ho To Aisi and take a closer look at its tropes.

The saas-bahu battle

The film is all about the monstrosity of the mother-in-law (Bindu) and the holiness of the daughter-in-law. Having a female antagonist in a family drama was almost de rigueur in Hindi cinema, just as a film based on business rivalry would have men locking horns in boardrooms.

Bindu's Mrs Kamla Bhandari was all that an Indian woman is not supposed to be — selfish, an uncaring mother, dowry-hungry, power-hungry, loud-mouthed and, of course, preferring Western music over bhajans!

The daughter-in-law, on the other hand, was everything the ideal Indian woman was expected to be. Rekha's Shalu was a caring daughter, loving wife, hard-working woman (she even fires all the help at home), and someone who wakes the family up every morning with a melodious rendition of devotional songs.

Naturally, both women were extreme black and white characters. And the film did not leave its viewers in any doubt as to which of these characters it rooted for.

Rekha as 'Lady Amitabh'

Rekha, who began her career in 1966 with the Telugu film Rangula Ratnam as a child actress, had established herself as the top actress in Hindi cinema by the early 1980s with films like Ghar (1978), Khubsoorat (1980), Umrao Jaan (1981) and Silsila (1981).

However, the latter part of the decade was not very fruitful for her. Films like Zameen Aasmaan (1984), Faasle (1985), Jaal (1986), Pyar Ki Jeet (1987), Ijaazat (1987) and Sansar (1987) bombed at the box office despite being critically appreciated.

Just when her fame and career seemed to be heading inexorably downhill, Rekha made a comeback with a few films in 1988. Biwi Ho To Aisi introduced a new Rekha, one who wore Kanjeevaram saris and could comfortably play wife and daughter-in-law.

The actress had by now understood that she needed to play characters that suited her age for audiences to accept her. However, besides being ideal at homemaking, Rekha's village-girl Shalu in Biwi Ho To Aisi was also a crusader for justice.

"Although a comedy, it [Biwi Ho To Aisi] had a few scenes of a genre that was dubbed by the media as ‘Lady Amitabh’, action sequences that had Rekha at their centre," writes Yasser Usman in his book, Rekha: The Untold Story.

Salman Khan's debut

Biwi Ho To Aisi introduced actor Salman Khan to the Hindi film audience. He was to achieve fame the next year with Maine Pyar Kiya (1989). Biwi Ho To Aisi saw him play Shalu's seemingly spoilt brother-in-law. His ills are that he loves Western music and doesn't reciprocate Arti's love.

However, a closer look will make you question the filmmaker's definition of 'spoilt'. Khan's Vicky dedicates an hour every morning to rock music and largely wants to be left alone when at home. Arti, however, is almost forcing her love on him by getting him tea in the morning. Shalu, too, believes Vicky must settle down with Arti because her love for him is 'pure'.

Invasion of privacy and the idea of one's own choices seemed to carry little weight when compared with all the things categorized as 'Indian culture'. Actually, the only thing Khan's character can justifiably be blamed for in the film is his atrocious dancing.