The movie starts with a Hindu religious ritual of prayer in which a Hindu priest is worshipping Lord Shiva’s “ling”. The first scene of the movie is about the childhood friendship between Manorama and Devdhar.
After that scene, Manorama is introduced as an upper-class Thakur’s daughter who sleeps on a king-size bed with everything pink on it, also wears a pink night suit. Subsequently, when her domestic help comes up and wakes her up by giving her a foot massage, she throws tantrums on her for not keeping her slippers in the right place as she doesn’t like to put her feet on the floor.
In the next scene, all the ladies of the house are worshipping in front of the house temple and a local lower class pot maker arrives who is objectified as a sex symbol in the movie. She is wearing revealing clothes so as to portray her as someone who can easily get sexually involved with anyone and everybody in the upper class has the right to exploit her. This lady is shown to be a concubine of Manorama’s father who goes on to have an extramarital affair with her.
In the next scene, there is a Hindu priest who provides people with religious solutions. He is shown with some clients who are a couple and the man wants to live longer. So the priest tells him to have a longer life he needs to practice a ritual in which he will transfer some of the years of the man’s wife into his and then he says that as his wife is a woman she doesn’t need to live a long life and the priest can transfer 10-20 years from her life.
It’s a comedy scene in the movie but the message behind it is that a woman’s life has no worth and she doesn’t need to live a longer life.
There are several scenes in the movie in which the director showed that women of that time basically from the lower class were sexually exploited by the Upper-class men and they thought of them as their own property.
There is a scene in which Devdhar’s cousin, who is the priest’s daughter is abducted by an upper-class man and she is forced to get sexually involved with him. After this incident, she gets so scared that she accepts to marry an older man, whose wife just died and while accepting the proposal she said that now she knew why parents worry about the marriage of a daughter. From this scene, we can predict that there is internal patriarchy as well.
While all of this is going on, Devdhar returns to the village, a well-educated person but he is oppressed by the debt of the upper class as his educational funds were provided by the upper class. But he can’t resist the fact that he loves Manorama since he was a child.
He builds up his courage to ask Manorama’s hand for marriage but on that day, Manorama’s marriage is fixed with an upper class Rajput. Before her marriage, Manorama is given only this sex education that her husband is going to drink the milk and he’ll kiss her and then eventually she’ll get pregnant as the result of a single kiss.
Finally, the marriage is done but his husband dies on the fourth day of their marriage and this news is shown by Manorama’s bangle breaking her bangle while wearing it. After her husband’s death, Manorama is forced to wear a white saree, cut her hair, eat tasteless food as it will help her not get distracted by the world’s temptation.
She is entitled now as a widow which is portrayed through the fact that she is treated as cursed and nobody wants to see her face in the morning. She cannot wear footwear, she is supposed to walk barefooted on the harsh grounds of a village, and is sentenced to devote her life to pray forever as this is what she is supposed to do her entire life as a widow. She has to leave behind every luxurious thing she ever owned and live in a storeroom with nothing in it.
She is now bad luck for every occasion and everything. While all of this was tied to her for her entire life, she is raped by her husband’s brother, who claims to fill the place of his husband and when she returns home and tell this to her mother, she orders her to keep her mouth shut and never ever speak of this to anyone as her brother-in-law is a powerful man and everybody is going to blame her for this.
After seeing this, Devdhar tries to light up Manorama’s life but she refuses as she has accepted the patriarchal diktat that she is supposed to live like this. She thinks of her at a very low level that she doesn’t have any right to be happy.
She confesses the rape to Devdhar and tells him that she is impure now and compares herself with the rotten flower which is crushed by the foot and thus not meant for God. She compares Devdhar with a God and herself as a rotten flower.
In the end, Devdhar takes a stand for her and rebels against these social evils like the caste system and rituals to be followed by a widow. He is beaten up badly by Manorama’s family and the villagers. However, in the end, society accepts his point and Manorama’s Uncle gives her hand to Devdhar.
From a feminist perspective, this movie is ahead of its time and raises a lot of issues. The director tried to break many societal barriers but in some scenes, objectification of women is there. He also conveys this message that love is not a sickness, it’s not dirty. So, our society should stop considering love as such.
He conveys this message in several scenes and the most prominent highlight of the movie was when Rishi Kapoor makes the society understand by saying this dialogue, “Customs and traditions are made for the convenience of man, mankind is not made for customs.”
But I believe no matter what custom or tradition society is following, women are the first to get discriminated against; they are not considered human. This movie has two major issues: the subjugation of women and the caste system. This movie clearly shows how Indians are living in a caste-ridden and religion ridden society and also how both these factors oppress women.
I totally agree that this movie has a strong social message for the welfare of women but they also promote patriarchy by indirectly making women a symbol of love, warmth and purity. I believe women are as same as men but both of them are stuck in the patriarchal structure of society.