In this weekly column, we revisit the nuggets of the golden years of Hindi cinema. This week we revisit the 1955 release of Mr and Mrs 55.
When Amy March in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women talks about marriage as an economic proposition, you realize why women in those days had to marry wealthy men. Their society did not allow them to have the agency of their life and therefore being married was their only option. While Amy knew that embracing a married life was her only choice, Anita de Madhubala in Mr and Mrs 55 simply wishes to get married and be a ‘grahini’ because that’s what a ‘adarsh ââbhartiya naari’ is supposed to do, even when shown a better way.
Starring Madhubala, Guru Dutt and Lalita Pawar in key roles, Dutt’s 1955 film portrays feminism as the curse of the Western world that corrupts the minds of women and distracts them from their “duty” to serve their husbands and to make babies. The film opens with Anita de Madhubala who has acquired a huge fortune but will only have access to that money if she gets married next month. Her aunt Seeta Devi (Lalita Pawar), who fights for women’s rights, calls the arrangement crazy. She believes that with Anita becoming heiress, there is no longer any need to depend on a man to live, as she can truly live as she wishes. But Anita is a traditionalist who falls in love in the blink of an eye and doesn’t care about her great fortune.
Seeta Devi unanimously decides to marry Anita to Preetam (Guru Dutt), an unemployed cartoonist, but on the condition that he divorce her when she asks. Preetam also receives a monthly stipend to stay married to Anita, but in the midst of all the chaos they fall in love and of course Preetam refuses a divorce.
Mr and Mrs 55 is presented as a romantic comedy where Seeta Devi is the vamp of their love story when all she wants is for women not to be submissive to men. Written by Abrar Alvi, the film forces audiences to believe that a woman’s virtue lies in taking care of the household and obeying her husband, and nothing else would give her the ‘sukh’ of her husband. to be married.
For most of the film, Anita and Preetam’s love story runs through a ‘will-they-won’t-they’ arc as she is torn between the world of her aunt, who promises to be. fight for women’s freedom against the world of Preetam, where women are associated with domesticity. When Anita visits Preetam’s house, we meet her bhabhi who has had 3 children in four years. Anita wonders if this has impacted her health, but the bhabhi proudly says it is nature and equates it with blessings from God. Shock arises when Anita asks her if her husband beats her, to which the bhabhi says “This is his whole way of showing love” and likens it to mixing a small pebble in food grain. She ends it all with “Ghar grihasti hi toh aurat ka kartavya hai”. And Anita, shockingly, is courted by this masquerade.
Mr. and Mrs. 55 leaves you shocked in their understanding of gender roles and while it might not have bothered audiences in 1955, it leaves you cringe in 2021. The film is very straightforward placing a female under a man in a marital relationship and takes pride in degrading feminist views. In an argument towards the end of the film, Pawar’s Seeta Devi explicitly says that women have confused addiction with happiness and calls the âghulamiâ of an âadarsh âânaariâ nothing less than prison, to which Madhubala responds with a rant on “bhartiya sanskriti”. ‘ Mr and Mrs 55 openly state that women with feminist ideas do not have a value system. The film is another example of how generations of women have been made to believe that their lives are not good if there are no husbands or children.
Watching Mr. and Mrs. 55 in 2021 is just a reminder of how generations of women have been conditioned to believe that standing up for their rights, or anything that makes them equal to a man, makes them a vampire. .
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Mr and Mrs 55 is streaming on YouTube, MXPlayer.