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Barjatya film and feminist? Meena Kumari’s 1962 film ‘Aarti’ made it possible

Rajshri Productions’ hit film Aarti showed an audacious woman who wouldn’t back down from life's challenges.

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Bollywood and feminism don’t go together by any measure. And many of us today would definitely frown if Rajshri Productions and feminism are uttered in the same sentence. But the 1962 film Aarti starring Meena Kumari gave us a female lead who is a capable and educated woman. She makes her own life choices.

This was the first film produced by Tarachand Barjatya, founder of Rajshri Pictures Ltd. On the week of Tarachand Barjatya’s 105th birth anniversary, ThePrint takes a look at the hit film Aarti. The film directed by Phani Majumdar also stars Ashok Kumar and Pradeep Kumar.

It may have started out as a small distribution house, but Tarachand Barjatya turned Rajshri Productions into one of the most successful and iconic production houses ever. It has produced films like Dosti and Hum Apke Hain Koun.

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In the film, Meena Kumari plays Aarti, a young doctor, with a heart of gold and a mind set on serving people. She is engaged to be married to a senior doctor (and her boss) Dr Prakash, played by a dapper Ashok Kumar. Aarti meets Deepak, played by Pradeep Kumar, who is an unemployed poet and lives in a tiny, dingy house with his father, sister, brother, sister-in-law, and their three children. Aarti and Deepak fall in love, and she decides to end her engagement with Prakash, who doesn’t receive the news well. The couple gets married, despite everyone opposing the union, and Aarti moves into Deepak’s problem-filled home. Fighting all odds with hard work, Aarti improves the household. However, Prakash still holds a grudge against her for breaking his heart and plots to ruin her life.

The film is complicated, but depicts the complexity of human emotions in a convincing way. The characters are fleshed-out well and make you sympathise with them on some level. The story also has a humorous sub-plot that helps lighten and balance the mood in an otherwise dramatic film. The music by Roshan and lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri are scintillating, and not only help in setting the mood, but also further the story.

The film also subtly addresses important issues like female agency and mental health. Aarti is soft-spoken and well-mannered, like an “ideal” woman of that time, but she is also someone who is determined, hard-working, intelligent and fearless. She takes her own decisions and stands by her principles, even when the rest of the world is out to get her for being so audacious.

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The film didn’t tackle mental health with much finesse or sensitivity, but it deserves credit for trying. It showed a young woman (Deepak’s sister) being held almost captive after suffering a mental breakdown. Once Aarti is married into the home, she helps rehabilitate his sister by treating her with love, sensitivity and respect that anyone suffering from mental illness deserves.

Rajshri Productions seemed to have a knack for making films that were blockbuster hits, which also had female characters one couldn’t help but fall in love with. And as it continues to make films, maybe with not as much fervour as before, we hope to see more Aartis on screen.

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  1. By the time I was old enough to appreciate Meena Kumariji, it was Pakeezah, her swan song. Some very good songs. She also brought out an album, I write, I recite.

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