Lajja (Shame)

Director: Raj Kumar Santoshi
Music: Anu Malik, Lyrics: Sameer
Year: 2001
Running Time: 3 hours 7 minutes

This effort from Santoshi is an extremely interesting attempt at painfully exploring the position of women in India’s society today through the experiences and eyes of one woman. In the end it unfortunately seems to almost nervously back away from where it logically was heading, but until then it was a powerful and emotional indictment of the system that exists. This angry feminist perspective didn’t play well at the box office and it is perhaps a film that might appeal more to audiences in the West. My impression is (based on admittedly very few films and even less knowledge) that a social agenda such as this is fairly rare in Bollywood films.

Manisha Koirala and Jackie Shroff
What begins as a panicked flight for Manisha Koirala slowly turns into a journey of self-discovery, self-esteem and feminist awareness on her part. As Manisha travels across India in her attempt to stay out of harm’s way, she begins to realize that more than her fate is involved – that what has occurred to her is symptomatic of what is happening to Indian women at every level of society. As this awareness grows she slowly transforms from a traditional Indian wife to a feminist activist. Manisha plays the character well and gives her enough depth to make this transformation seem fairly natural and believable – from initially being only a reflection of her husband’s feeling towards her to finally giving a fiery declaration of independence – and only the script lets her down in the end. I should mention that the DVD has English subtitles that come and go like the tide, but much of it was reasonably easy to follow – but definitely there were bits that I missed.
Anil Kapoor and Manisha
Vaidehi (Manisha) lives an upper class existence in New York City with her husband (Jackie Shroff). She is unable to adjust to or condone his playboy swinging lifestyle and he finally loses patience with her attitude and orders her back to India to live with her family. Her father is furious and humiliated to find her on his doorstep and demands that she return to her rightful place – by her husband’s side. When she receives a call from Shroff murmuring words of love and loneliness, she happily prepares to return. Just as she is about to board the plane though she learns from her doctor that she is pregnant and that Jackie knows and plans on divorcing her after she gives birth and keeping the child. She goes on the run with two of Jackie’s minions (Razzak Khan and Johnny Lever) and seemingly much of the Indian police force in close pursuit.
Sort of like a black cloud, Manisha meets and bonds with three other women over the course of her journey and has to witness their degradation or destruction at the hands of men. She first meets up with a kindly thief (Anil Kapoor) and both end up sneaking into a wedding ceremony where Mahima Chaudhary is about to be married. The groom’s family though is basically extorting Mahima’s father for a larger dowry and he is unable to come up with the money. When Mahima lifts the veil of silence and curses the family and their greed and their weakling son, it will send chills down your spine.
Mahima Chaudhary
Next Manisha travels to another town where she meets Madhuri Dixit, a member of a theater troupe, who plays the heroines in the productions. She is a completely free spirit, full of life – figuratively and literally – as she is two months pregnant and unwed. The two of them become good friends and she teaches Manisha to lighten up a bit – and even how to dance and how to go the bathroom behind a rock. But her male lover deserts her and the crowds turn against her in a fury when they learn she is “unchaste”.
Manisha and Madhuri Dixit
In her final encounter Manisha meets Rekha who is sort of a mother figure to a small village. Needless to say Manisha’s arrival foretells bad tidings for Rekha. The final section simply goes terribly off track and largely negates much of what went on before it. It is as if the director began to realize that the film he was making lacked in commercial appeal and so he brings in an Indiana Jones like hero (Ajay Devgan) that feels as if he fell in from another film. The mood of the film had been fairly intimate and personal and it quickly becomes a pointless action film that is nonsensical. Even worse then this though is the very final act of contrition and forgiveness that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It is a shame that the director didn’t stay the course with the themes that he was delivering.
Rekha and Manisha
There are very few musical numbers in the film and this plays well with the serious and intense social tone of the story – but the three main numbers are all terrifically well done. In the first, Urmila makes a special appearance and puts on sort of a Las Vegas snazzy floorshow. At the wedding Sonali Bendre also makes a guest appearance to perform one song that is vivacious and very catchy and she looks great. The best-choreographed number though is the one that takes place with first Madhuri breaking into song and then Manisha tentatively joining her in a joyous number.
Sonali Bendre
Even with the ending, the film is still worthy and much of it is powerful in a quiet disturbing way. Performances from the four main female actresses are all absolutely terrific and natural and each of them is given a “get on your acting chops” scene to emote to.

My rating for this film: 7.5

Song 1

Song 2

Song 3