Sunday, 17 April 2011

Mr. & Mrs. '55

Directed by Guru Dutt 
Starring: Madhubala, Guru Dutt, Johnny Walker, Lalita Pawar
Released: 1955
My Rating: 7/10

I love old Bollywood. I love it. And Madhubala is among my absolute favourites, hence her movies are always on my to-watch list. She is one of the finest actresses ever, and she used to give great performances even when much was not given to her and even when the movies were not that worthy of her talent. Madhubala... the name of Love, Talent, Beauty and Passion... Ahemm... I should stop showing my obsessed love with her... Anyway - I knew I also had to watch it because it is a Guru Dutt movie in the first place, and he is considered as one of the finest directors of all times, so I needed to start somewhere. The story of Mr. and Mrs. '55 is very social, and that is what makes it interesting the most.

Anita (Madhubala) is a young and carefree heiress under the care and control of her aunt Sita Devi (Lalita Pawar), a fierce feminist whose latest success is the passing of the Divorce Act Law in India. She is very suspicious of men and would prefer her niece to be unmarried and free, instead of being submissive to a man. Nevertheless, as Anita turns twenty-one, they learn that to get her whole inheritance from her father, she has to marry within a month. Furious, Sita Devi however comes up with an idea: she tries to set Anita up with a sham marriage, a "marriage of convenience" which will lead to a divorce, to an unemployed cartoonist Preetam (Guru Dutt). However, Sita Devi does not know the pair has already met, at a tennis-match and that it was love at first-sight for the former. When they are married, Anita's aunt forbids Preetam to try to see her ever again, nevertheless fate has other plans in store...

Guru Dutt is quite a milestone in the history of Indian cinema, and also quite original. Mr. and Mrs. '55 is a very sober movie, and as an actor, his work is as much subtle and delicate. He has great dialogue-delivery as Preetam, he never over-acts, and seems to be self-conscious of his performance. In the end, he gives Preetam a very elegant picture, despite being an almost-homeless unemployed artist. The supporting cast is also excellent, Johnny Walker proves he was, in a single movie, one of the best "side-kicks" ever in Hindi cinema, if not the best. (you said Johnny Lever? Come on!) But the one to deserve an absolute mention is Madhubala. She had perfect comic-timing, and some of her scenes are unforgettable. And she is a sunshine in a movie somehow filled with "lovely" melancholy. I have to say the movie possesses incredibly timeless pinch of humour, humour which is never over the top but discreet, clever and always there; that is, I believe, thanks to the dialogues, the script is amazingly well-written and some will remain in your mind.

Technically, the movie reminds one of old Hollywood-movies, the cinematography is very professional and flawless (unlike many Indian movies of the times), from the editing to the cinematography, everything is well-thought and well-made. The soundtrack is also, if I had to choose one word only, beautiful. Every song is beautiful and their picturisation is too, for example, "Jaane Kahaan Mera Jigar Gaya Ji" is lovely and heart-warming when Johnny Walker and his love-interest dance during the lunch-break at work, on the sly and like little children. There is some sincerity and soul into this that you have to love it. 

However, what puts the movie down is its uncomfortable message. Uncomfortable in the sense that one wonders if they should like this movie or not. Mr. and Mrs. '55 denounces, obviously, the westernisation of Indian society, using the example of the Divorce Act but also of the feminist movements. And that is there it does not work. The character of Sita Devi, played by Lalita Pawar, is an anti-male and fierce feminist, the character is a very "vulgar" caricature, extremist in her views, the movie only shows the excesses of such movements, which also had good sides. Traditionnal Indian marriage is promoted, as being the good, when there are also bad sides to it. I think that one scene which is unforgettable is the one when Anita asks her sister-in-law if her husband beats her sometimes, and the answer is pretty much "well... but he loves me". I am sorry, but it does not excuse it; Guru Dutt's message is rather biased and too manichean to agree with it. (if we forget we do not live in the same times). The movie would have gained more having a more fair and unbiased view on the matter. 

The meanie aunt and her faithful servant... Booh! And she's a feminist. That's even worse!

Aaaw but they were sweet together. So... forgiven!
In the end, Mr. and Mrs. '55 is a very nice piece of comedy, very well-made and told, technically flawless for this time. It however looses some points on the rather debatable message. It still remains a must-watch, for any comedy/Bollywood/Madhubala/Guru Dutt fan, and it would be pity to miss it. Because any Bollywood fans need to discover Guru Dutt.


  1. Also one of the movies that I really want to see - I need to watch more Guru Dutt and Madhubala movies. Nice review :D

  2. I was so happy when I downloaded Boy Friend with Madhubala in the lead... only to discover the sound was completely somewhere else then it should have been, hence it became unwatchable... I so need to see more of Madhubala....

  3. Lime - Thank you! Yes, definitely watch it. Despite the debatable message in it, it is a really well-made movie. :)

    Ally - Boy Friend, huh? I hope I'll be able to find it in good quality. Which Madhubala movies have you seen for the time being (except Mughal-E-Azam)? As for me, I'm rather lucky, because three other Madhubala movies are waiting for me to watch them. :D Try to find Howrah Bridge as another movie of her, it's great entertainment from the time. :)

  4. I had the same problem as you with Mr and Mrs 55, but unlike you I could not get over it. That scene where the sister in law praises the virtues of being a housewife and then proceeds to talk about her husband abusing her every once in a while as if it's some triviality was bad, but what was even worse than that was Madhubala dreamy look afterwards as if she had just been described paradise. Bleah! Wish they had not done that, it was a beautiful movie up until that point, and Johnny Walker was stupendous... :-/

  5. Dolce and Namak - believe me, if this movie would have been today, I'd have bashed it to no end only for the message. But it was done decades ago, so let's say I can "find" excuses for the movie when it comes to the debatable message, because as you said it's a beautiful movie up until that point.

    I only wished that Guru Dutt was not so much praised today, Mr. and Mrs 55 is quite outdated for me because of the message, and to me, those who deserve praise are those who created timeless pieces of art.