A Relook at the Film: 'Sahib, Biwi aur Ghulam'

The Specter that Remains


Sahib, Biwi aur Ghulam, a 1962 film by Abrar Alvi and Guru Dutt, captures the decline of feudal system and the rise of a new modern life in India in early 20th century.

The film is based on a novel by the same name, written by Bimal Mitra.

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While charting this intricate inter-personal story of the declining feudal system, the film manages to emphasize on other issues like:

a) rural and urban divide,





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b) the conflict between the British imperials and the Indian revolutionaries,







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c) indifferent self-indulgent aristocracy that became a victim of the very corruption and selfishness that it had been breeding,








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d) and the prognosis of the changing times.

Eclectic characters, such as servants, madmen, or the clock man, like in this scene, they could be seen frequently in the Hindi films making an overarching commentary about the inhabited locale.








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The concerned theme of collapse of aristocracy is traced through personal encounters and experience of a young villager, Bhootnath, who has come to Kolkata city for employment.








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Bhootnath is spell bound by the beauty of Choti-bahu, who lives in the neighboring prestigious haveli (a traditional name for palace in India). 











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Bhootnath overhearing Choti-bahu singing in desolation.











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But Choti-bahu's aristocrat husband pays no heed to her and desserts her every evening to indulge in delights and pleasures of alcohol and kotha dancers. 
('Kotha' used be the dwelling where courtesan dancers performed and resided).











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Bhootnath finds a job at company of Mohini-Sindoor, where Jaba, the daughter of the company-owner bullies the meek Bhootnath, but secretly bears a liking and sympathy for him.












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Jaba teasing a shy Bhootnath.










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Bhootnath empathizes with the agony of Choti-bahu, and secretly gives her mohini-sindoor with the hope that she'll win the attention and interest of her husband.













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But the indifferent husband demands Choti-bahu to sink in alcoholism, if she wishes to come close him emotionally and physically. 













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The pious-religious Choti-bahu agrees to alcohol in desperation to earn the acknowledgement of her husband.

Bhootnath, is shocked to see how much Choti-bahu has lost herself in the bid to have her husband's validation.








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Furthermore, the brimming love between Bhootnath and Jaba, gets a jolt as her father has decided to marry Jaba to someone else.













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The most important idea that the film explores is woman's self-determination.

Choti-bahu, despite being a privileged lady of the prestigious haveli, is under dire desperation to have her apathetic husband's validation;










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On the other hand, Jaba, who would be seen outcaste in her own society, is bold enough to decide for herself and make necessary sacrifices in order to remain committed to her ideals.














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In the end, Choti-bahu, despite her unconditional surrendering to the son of the haveli, gets killed by her own family because they misunderstood her friendship with Bhootnath.











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Whereas even fate seems to favour the determined Jaba, as it is discovered that her grandfather had got her secretly married at the age of one.

This secret marriage was realized with Atulya, which is Bhootnath's other, lesser known name.












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Years later, Bhootnath, is a successful mason-contractor. 

He is deconstructing this very haveli and to his shock, his workers find the skeleton of Choti-bahu buried in the haveli.









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Bhootnath, is one of the names of Indian god, Shiva, who is considered as the god of death.

And Bhootnath is also a colloquial term for ghost in India. 








In Bhootnath (a villager servant and later a mason), the film finds an invisible ghost, who could observe the grieving, ironic internal life of an impressive palace on one hand and sincerity, courage of an ordinary outcaste woman on the other.

Sahib Biwi Aur GulamUltra Media & Entertainment

In Bhootnath (a villager servant and later a mason), the film finds an invisible ghost, who could observe the grieving, ironic internal life of an impressive palace on one hand and sincerity, courage of an ordinary outcaste woman on the other.

Perhaps the film is referring to the agony of Choti-bahu and resoluteness of Jaba as the final residue from the bygone feudal times.

By depicting that memories of agonized Choti-bahu and determined Jaba continue persist in the character Bhootnath, there is a reference being made to the Indian god of death: Shiva. Here the divine specter is clearly an allusion to that which remains when everything else is gone.

Sahib Biwi Aur GulamUltra Media & Entertainment

By depicting that memories of agonized Choti-bahu and determined Jaba continue persist in the character Bhootnath, there is a reference being made to the Indian god of death: Shiva. 
Here the divine specter is clearly an allusion to that which remains when everything else is go

Credits: Story

Story and curation: Abhishek Kukreja

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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