By Bapu Deedwania
In this age of “everything goes” it is upheld, even in the time of Tinder, that cheating is the original sin. Which is why the ongoing theme of most movies made on the subject, is either raging morality or then wild hedonism. Adultery is invariably a cautionary tale and whichever way you tell it, depending on the point of view of the character, the narrative will always offer up a sinner. Or two.
But what if love is a three-sided story and there are no sinners? The 1970s were a decade in which such stories were told. What first comes to mind is the iconic Ijazat from the ’80s, but there is also another movie that often goes unnoticed in its formidable shadow – Griha Pravesh.
Griha Pravesh is the story of Amar (Sanjeev Kapoor) and Mansi (Sharmila Tagore) who have attained a beautiful, “ordinary” rhythm in their marriage. They look ordinary too, but they’re not. Unlike other marital depictions in that era, theirs is not a marriage of conflict. They share an easy chemistry evidenced in the opening sequence where Amar and Mansi are engaged in a proximate moment: They bond easily over a shared post-coitus coffee, as they chat about the idea of love. It strikes you then that for the ’70s, their marriage was anything but ordinary. Griha Pravesh gives us a contemporary picture of a marriage ahead of its time.
It is in this finely drawn scene that Amar ends up telling Mansi, that even as fresh as their love is now, they will one day go on a honeymoon to rekindle it. When Mansi expresses surprise at the thought of boredom, Amar explains, “Hota hai Mansi, sabke saath hota hai. Saath saath rehte rehte sirf pass reh jaata hai. Saath dheere dheere kam ho jaata hai! …Tum dekhna Mansi, yeh jo aaj ki aanch hai na, yeh dheere dheere kam ho jaayegi!”
Even in a life that you thought was perfect, you can so easily be drawn to another person, you can so easily aspire for a refreshed idea of love.
Amar’s words prove to be prescient when Sapna (Sarika) walks into his office. Sapna, whose beauty is distracting, shares a cabin with Amar, an arrangement to which he reluctantly agrees. And here begin Sapna’s relentless efforts to get his attention.
Sarika as Sapna is effortless in drawing a fine balance between being flirtatious without being vulgar. She easily plays the role of woman who is not used to being ignored. Amar is the only one in her office who has not taken any notice of her presence and this doesn’t go down well with Sapna who has been the talk of the office for over a month. She tries to get Amar’s attention by spraying her perfume on his towel – a signature presence on every accountant’s chair in those days – imagining conversations with him, and ordering two cups of tea. This, despite knowing very well that Amar is only fond of coffee. A dialogue between the two after he finally gives in to her insistence is memorable:
Sapna: Kaisi lagi?
Amar: Aisi cheezon ka swad batate waqt lagta hai.
Sapna: Yahi achcha hota ki aap nahi peete chai, aapse baat karne ki wajah to bani rehti.
Amar: Adaat ho jaaye toh shayad kahin zyada badi wajah ban jaaye.
The film has many such effortless, understated, you-may-almost-miss-the-excellence-of-it moments, which very subtly address issues that were not hot-button topics in the ’70s. Simple things like a scene with a woman picking up the restaurant tab with a casual, “Isme harz hi kya hai?” She lives a single life, goes for movies alone, and does all this while being utterly casual. It makes for a brilliant observation on how women were depicted back in the day when their fight as feminists hadn’t even begun.
Obviously, Amar falls for Sapna. His character until this point is unblemished. He is playing his part of a good husband who is an earnest worker, loves his wife, is reluctant to any change – even substituting his coffee for tea. We know why Sanjeev Kumar is rated one of the finest actors in Bollyverse when we see him play the role of Amar, who is visibly surprised to see himself drawn to Sapna and even more so to realise that he is not in love with his wife.
Even in a life that you thought was perfect, you can so easily be drawn to another person, you can so easily aspire for a refreshed idea of love. What comes with cohabitation is a habit, a warmth, and comfort. What goes out is chemistry. The heart yearns for the extraordinary and it is with this understanding that you forgive Amar and turn to Mansi wondering if she deserved a betrayal.
Mansi played by Sharmila Tagore is graceful in her ordinariness. She is a homemaker and nothing misses her eye, even the fact the Amar has taken to tea. She gently says, “Acchi lagti hai to pee lo,” leaving Amar feeling deeply guilty. When he confesses to the affair and tells her he doesn’t love her, Mansi surprises both Amar and us by agreeing that they are not in love anymore and may have indeed become stale. She is essaying what Gulzar (who has also written the dialogue, script, and lyrics for this film) defines as the essence of the film: “Har pati premi ho sakta hai, par hai nahi; har patni premika ho sakti hai, par hai nahi; aur har makaan ghar ho sakta hai, par hai nahi!” Mansi is wise and womanly, and it is impossible to see her as a victim. For a housewife of the ’80s, she has incredible agency.
As a viewer then, you hunt for another person to dislike. The obvious target becomes Sapna, the homebreaker. But Sarika brings such finesse and dignity to the role of the adultress that calling her “the other woman” does not come easy. She is her own person. She is not wrong in desiring Amar. Haven’t we all desired things we shouldn’t? Sapna pursues her attraction without making it a combat between Mansi and her, and instead articulates her feelings of both love and disappointment by declining to give into theatrics.
The movie culminates in a meeting of the three in a symbolically charged scene at Amar and Mansi’s home. The proud homemaker, Mansi, gets the house painted within a day to prepare for the meeting with Sapna. The song “Pehchaan to thi, pehchaana nahi, maine apne aap ko jaana nahi” plays in the background while she dresses up. She hasn’t dolled up in a while. The scene is a fitting tribute to all the homemakers, who seem to forget about their gorgeousness, burying their beauty under all the duties and responsibilities of the household. What transpires in the climax decides the fate of this dignified love triangle.
Griha Pravesh offers a deeply graceful take on the fact that love does not transpire only between two people. It can keep intact the dignity of the human beings involved in the triangle.
It teaches us to view attraction outside of a wedlock as a human experience, not the original sin. And in that lies its victory.