Sung beautifully by Lata Mangeshkar, penned by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan and directed by Madanmohan is the song Aapki Nazaron ne Samjha Pyaar ke Kaabil Mujhe (In your eyes, I am understood to be worthy of love). While the servitude of the song jars my ears each time, it is difficult not to be drawn by its lyricism, voice and impeccable composition. Unlike many songs that make you cringe while watching them on the screen, this one has a gentle presence. I found myself on the trail of this song and it took me to the film Anpadh (1962).
As the title suggests, the film is about the lack or the absence of literacy. Lajwanti (Mala Sinha) has been brought up as the pampered and petted sister of her rich brother Shambhuprasad Chaudhary (Balraj Sahni). The brother indulges her excessively, to the extent of not sending her to school so that she is not pulled up by a teacher. He does not let her learn anything at home either. The “loving” brother constantly pulls up servants and teachers and reminds them of their station in life to reinforce how his sister is special and his money would ensure that she does not need to partake in any labour in her life. Education, in this scenario, is another form of labour best left to the poor and needy, not the burden of a rich child like Lajwanti.
As fate would have it, Lajwanti is married to a highly educated man, who reads Shakespeare, Sanskrit and Urdu poetry, among other things. His shock and hostility at the discovery that he was saddled with an illiterate woman makes him shun Lajwanti. It is through her quiet suffering and feminine endurance that she wins his heart, leading to the song, Aapki Nazaron ne Samjha.
What is interesting at this moment is how the written word continues to elude her so that despite her husband’s effort to teach her, she does not learn to read and write. Unfortunately, many things exist in the written, landing Lajwanti in dangerous situations. One thing leads to another and disasters come in multiples for Lajwanti, who is rendered at some point homeless and refugee-like. It is her childhood friend Basanti (Sashikala) who provides succour to her. Basanti herself is an educated and autonomous person. There’s more to her than spectators of that period may have noticed. But I digress.
Education then remains the fulcrum around which the narrative of Anpadh is built. In a manner that’s classic Bollywood, the film also shows that Lajwanti was educated in the feminine values of sacrifice. This duality, one structural and the other cultural, compete with each other in the film to make the message about education of women a blurred matter: necessary but not a sufficient condition to be a good woman.
Now, think of this film in comparison with the more recent Dasvi, in which Abhishek Bachchan plays the role of a cynical, corrupt politician, who shuns the written word, only to realise that he cannot escape it altogether. It is a woman who humiliates him and spurs him to study. His lack of education is accompanied by misogyny. The fact that a misogynistic, hardened, criminal-like man decides to study and goes on to become a minister of education, conveys a new juncture of politics and reconfiguration of power.
While Lajwanti needs literacy to become a better human being, it is presumably an inherent quality in her. At the same time, Anpadh is also about the impossibility of the accomplishment of education in the lives of some women. Thus, there is an ambiguous message about the transformative power of education. Not surprisingly, the 1962 film is called Anpadh, a situation that remains permanent and irrevocable. The 2022 film seals the act by the male protagonist clearing the examination and hence, it is Dasvi.