Article Hindi

15 years of Parineeta (2005): Time for a contemporary take on the silent, suffering protagonist

Pradeep Sarkar's film marked the impressive debut in Hindi cinema of Vidya Balan who delivered a fine portrayal of betrayal and silent suffering.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s story Parineeta, written in 1914, was adapted for the Hindi screen by Bimal Roy in 1953. Pradeep Sarkar’s 2005 version situated the story in 1962 Calcutta, with its vintage charm and cosmopolitan milieu.

Childhood companions Lalita (Vidya Balan) and Shekhar (Saif Ali Khan) are inseparable. The friendship blossoms into love despite the vast difference in their social status and the fact that Lalita’s uncle has mortgaged his ancestral home to Shekhar’s father, Naveenchandra Roy (Sabyasachi Chakraborty). Under the garb of being a benevolent neighbour, the money-grubbing Naveen plans to take over the property for a pittance and convert it into a hotel.

Lalita is cast in the titular role, which translates as ‘the wedded woman’, and it is the union between the lovers that remains fraught with difficulties. Sarkar's portrayal of Lalita is of a vivacious and affectionate woman who is the life of her neighbourhood, extending herself to various people and taking their idiosyncrasies in her stride. When things get rough, she swallows the insults with dignity, preferring to handle things herself instead of burdening others with them, but it is her silences with Shekhar, especially after their union, that are baffling.

Shekhar, who is a self-absorbed, immature, controlling young man, seems to need a parent more than a lover and has grown accustomed to Lalita handling everything for him. He is incapable of even finding his own clothes. Overbearingly possessive of her, he throws tantrums and treats her horridly, even slapping her. But she takes it all — the slights, the indignity and the rift that builds up as a wall between the two families — without a word.

Sarkar chooses to put aside the issue of caste that was a part of Bimal Roy’s film, choosing to concentrate instead on the disparity in social status and opting for an over-the-top resolution at the end that is a bit jarring with the tonality of the rest of the film.

The film marked Vidya Balan’s impressive debut in Hindi cinema and she brought Lalita’s character and predicament alive. Saif Ali Khan was at home playing the spoiled, whimsical Shekhar while Sanjay Dutt, too, was well cast as the mature, responsible Girsh with a mischievous charm.

The film was a big success with the music by Shantanu Moitra being a high point along with the adaptation of a classic love story. Parineeta swept up awards, picking up the National award for Best First Film for Sarkar and several Filmfare awards, including for Best Art Direction, Best Choreography, and Best Debut (Vidya Balan).

Watching Parineeta now, 15 years after its release, one has to constantly remind oneself that the film is set in 1962 and the story was written even earlier, especially when trying to comprehend Lalita’s responses. Perhaps it is time to reinterpret the story again and contemporize it, with the beautiful and spunky Lalita not choosing the path of silent suffering this time.