Rajanigandha: Movie Review

Rajanigandha is a 1974 film directed by Basu Chatterjee, starring Vidya Sinha and Amol Palekar. The movie is based on a Novel called “Yahi Sach Hai” by Manu Bhandari.

Why have I decided to review this movie? Well, firstly because I love the movie. At a time when Bollywood was consumed by song and dance routines and thrillers, this movie was about regular people, and their very regular love and heartbreak. It is really to Basu Chatterjee’s credit that he has made such a beautiful movie out of something so ordinary.

The other reason is that this film, while not being open-ended (the end is very conclusive), is certainly open to many different interpretations. For my dad this movie is a classic example of the fickleness of human nature, and how we can change our mind suddenly and completely, while still being genuine and sincere.

But before I go further, I must tell you the plot-line. And yes! There might be spoilers.

Sanjay (Amol Palekar) is a good and affectionate man. The problem? He is very forgetful and absent-minded. Deepa (Vidya Sinha) is his girlfriend, who has been in a relationship with him over a few years. They love each other very much, and want to get married as soon as Sanjay gets a promotion, and Deepa is done writing her thesis. The two of them live in Delhi.

Sanjay, however, tests Deepa’s patience a lot because of his habits. He will be so engrossed in talking, that he will forget to pay her a compliment. He will invariably come late to their rendezvous, probably because he stayed in office too long talking to friends. However, he is genuinely in love with Deepa, and always comes to her in good humor, bearing a bouquet of Rajaniganda flowers. (yes, that is where the name comes from).

Deepa in the meanwhile, gets a job interview in Bombay, and decides to go for it, since a job as a teacher could mean financial security for them, and they can both move to Bombay. When in Bombay, she meets her old flame Navin. They broke up before she joined college, under less than pleasant circumstances. He broke up with her since she would not listen to him (obey him, specifically), and the breakup letter was a terse one. He was the first man she loved, and hence the incident still haunted her.

When in Bombay, Navin goes out of his way to be helpful to Deepa. He helps her get the job she was interviewing for, and also shows her around the city. It is clear that he is trying to woo her, though he is not confident about expressing his feelings to her.

Deepa realizes, in the course of her stay in Bombay that Sanjay and Navin are opposites of each other. While Sanjay is warm, open, affectionate, but not dependable and suave, Navin is a man who is always punctual, reticent, remembers to open doors, and generally makes her feel taken care of. He also works in advertising, and attends parties, while hobnobbing with the elite in Bombay.

Sanjay on the other hand is the kind of man who goes out into the rain with a torn umbrella, and uses the good half to cover her in the rain, while getting wet himself. He then uses blotting paper to dry himself up!

Perhaps due to the fact that Navin was her first love, and also due to the qualities she sees in Navin which she finds absent in Sanjay, Deepa begins developing feelings for Navin. She is thus facing a dilemma, who does she choose? While Navin also reciprocates these feelings, he is not a man who is capable of exposing himself, and hence he remains tight-lipped about his feelings for Deepa, till her last day in Bombay. When he comes to see her off at the station, he makes a last dash towards her, while the train is leaving the station, which reveals what he feels.

Now Deepa, reaches Delhi, and is waiting for a letter about her job from Navin. Sanjay has gone out of town for a few days. Deepa seems to be certain she now cares for Navin, and should move to Bombay if she gets the job.

Sure enough a letter comes for her from Navin, telling her about the job, and also saying that he is happy she has got it. However, the letter is a short, in-expressive one, and somehow she is reminded of the break-up letter that he had sent her in the past.

At that moment Sanjay lands up with a bouquet of Rajanigandha flowers. On seeing him, she forgets all about Bombay, the job, Navin, and embraces Sanjay, understanding that her life with Sanjay is the only truth. (Yahi sach hai)

Now I can understand it when people interpret this movie, to be about human fickleness, or frailty. On the face of it, Deepa can not make up her mind on who to choose, and seems to gravitate towards the one who is in front of her. It is not that she is being insincere. She just seems to be in love with both men, at different times in the movie.

But I think this interpretation misses the deeper sub-text in the movie. Deepa is exasperated by Sanjay’s behavior, and it is compounded by the fact that there is not a malicious bone in his body. He is not trying her patience on purpose, but is a generally forgetful man.

In this context she finds Navin, who gives her relief from these irksome qualities of Sanjay. Navin is relevant only because of his differentness from Sanjay, he has no relevance otherwise. But the truth is, as Deepa realizes at the climax of the movie, that what binds us to the people we love are not so much their perfections, its the things that annoy us. Sanjay would not be the man she loved if it were not for his annoying habits of being late, as much as his love and magnanimity.

Another interesting thing that I observed in the movie was that ultimately Deepa chose the person who could not do without her (before I be accused of gender stereotyping, let me clarify that what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander, and I am not trying to say that this is something women do). I think that a lot of people are more inclined to be with those who need us, rather than those who can just get by. To Sanjay Deepa’s forsaking her would have made a terrible difference, and he would not have let his ego stand in the way of showing it. So somewhere I think what clinched it for him was the fact that love necessarily finds its root in tenderness.

Which is what baffles me about television’s (and some young people’s) obsession these days with ideas like ‘playing it cool’ and being a ‘bro’ (I think that is what it is called?). Of course I doubt these are the concerns of any responsible adult (mostly jobless teenagers, who hopefully grow out of it in time), but it makes me sad that there is a ton of TV shows out there telling people that suits matter more than genuineness, and indifference is a sign of emotional growth.

It was true in 1970 (and as far as I am concerned it is true now), between a suave chivalrous man who tries to be an island and a genuine guy with a bouquet of Rajanigandha’s in his hand, the latter will win hands down.

Watch the movie if this has piqued your interest, and leave a comment if you agree or disagree.




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