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What a woman wants...

Friday, September 28, 2018

‘Ek Pal' (1986) – the debut feature film by Kalpana Lajmi, who passed away on September 23, brought her into the limelight as a brave and sensitive director.

Based on a short story by Maitreyi Devi, with a screenplay by Gulzar and Lajmi, the film spoke of turmoil within a marriage, infidelity and the emotional consequences to be borne not just by the wife, but by the husband too.

The film, co-produced by Lajmi's long-term companion Bhupen Hazarika, was set in the North East, which KK Mahajan's camera captured in all its scenic beauty. In a large bungalow on a tea estate lives Priyam (Shabana Azmi), married to Ved Hazarika (Naseeruddin Shah), who offers her a life of luxury and leisure, but has no time for her – busy as he is managing the estate.

Priyam has had a miscarriage and has been unable to conceive, which increases her sense of loneliness. When Ved is away, the ebullient Jeet Barua (Farouque Shaikh) arrives – a man who is a total contrast to the sedate husband.

Lajmi captured the still colonial lifestyle of the plantation owners, their wives and workers. Priyam might have tried to fit right in, if Jeet hasn't turned up eight years after her marriage – literally with a bang; since Diwali firecrackers are being burst all over, and there is a party underway.

Priyam had been in love with Jeet before her marriage, and she embarks on an affair with him, that is exciting and fills the void in her life. When she gets pregnant, Jeet tells her he does not want the blame for breaking up her marriage; he advises her to have an abortion, so they can continue their relationship without Ved finding out. Her parents give her the same advice, but Priyam wants the child.

Unike many women, who would have hidden the affair and pretended the child is the husband's, Priyam tells him the truth; he is shattered, but after they have an intense heart-to-heart talk, he accepts his wife's infidelity as well as the child.

There were several films on marital problems before and after 'Ek Pal', but this was one in which the woman was honest and made no excuses for it. There is a kind of justification for her affair – the husband is too busy for her – but she does not blame him, when he asks what went wrong in their marriage.

In so many films, wives accept their husband's infidelity; but in the rare film in which a wife cheats on her husband, she is punished. Lajmi's 'Ek Pal' treated a marriage as a bond between two people, who are the only ones who can decide when or why a line is crossed and how they cope with it. The film got more critical appreciation than commercial success when it was released, but 'El Pal' makes it to every list of feminist Hindi films.

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