For anyone who was born in the last three decades, Jaya Bachchan is the filmy mother who is ready with a puja ki thali when her son is in the vicinity. While that’s a quintessential Hindi film moment, Jaya Bachchan wasn’t always the quintessential filmy heroine.
On her 73rd birthday, we revisit the Hrishikesh Mukherjee directorial Guddi (1971) where Jaya starred alongside Dharmendra, Utpal Dutt and Samit Bhanja.
Guddi is the story of a 17-18 year old girl named Kusum (Jaya Bachchan), fondly called Guddi, who is simply obsessed with film actor Dharmendra (played by Dharmendra). In her naïve mind, she believes herself to be the Meera to his Krishna. When Guddi is presented with the wedding proposal of a man (Samit Bhanja), she refuses because she has accepted Dharmendra as her beloved. Her uncle (Utpal Dutt) devises a plan for her to meet Dharmendra in person and learn that whatever one sees on screen, isn’t real life.
As we meet a young Jaya Bhaduri at the beginning of the film, her child-like innocence is evident from the way she candidly lies to her teacher. The dream sequence where she imagines that a movie star is serenading her is adorably naïve and a bit laughable too but nevertheless, it presents her as an impressionable girl who is fascinated with what she sees on the silver screen.
Guddi is left dumbfounded when she gets a chance to hang out with Dharmendra at a movie set but as her maturity kicks in, and as she learns that much of what she sees on screen is made-up, she starts valuing real-life heroic actions vs the ones that require duplicates.
Guddi is the story of distinguishing make-believe from reality. The film gets the audience, and Guddi, to examine what we perceive as glamour vs what goes on behind the scenes. The sub-plot involving Asrani who has left his family behind to become a movie star, the severely ill lightman who can’t afford to let go of his daily wages, the journalist who has to hype up the salacious content of his magazine to increase sales, the cameo by Pran that completely opposes his on-screen villainous image further enhance the narrative that the glamourous world of movies has a hidden side. The scene where Dharmendra shows her the abandoned set where they once shot Bandini forces you to think about the transient nature of movies.
Guddi has been co-written and directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and much like his other films, Guddi also depends on simplicity to effectively deliver the message – not everything that glitters is gold. The film’s music by Vasant Desai, with lyrics by Gulzar, is timeless and with a track like “Bole Re Papihara,” it seems like it will stay with us for decades to come.
Guddi’s plot can be seen as a ruse as she is presented a lie through her uncle and even though his actions are for the greater good, the titular character is never told the truth about her so-called chance meeting with a movie star. This particular aspect feels problematic in the scene where Guddi is teased by some fake goons. Navin rushes to save her and ends up beating them quite harshly, which convinces Guddi that Navin is a real-life hero.
For the audience watching today, Guddi appears to be girl who is too young to be married but it is quite believable that a woman in her late teens would be married to a man in his early 20s during the 1970s.
As far as the film’s relevance is concerned, the film’s core plot – of distinguishing between glamour and reality, and its take on the farce of the film industry is just as true today as it was 50 years ago.
Guddi is available to stream on YouTube and Amazon Prime Video.
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