When P's parents were visiting, we got ourselves the Hindi channel package from Dish Network. So it happened that one lazy afternoon, I turned on the TV and found Amar Prem. An old classic featuring the gorgeous Sharmila Tagore and handsome Rajesh Khanna, the movie showcases R D Burman's timeless melodies, excellent performances, great dialogues and a well-written script.
Pushpa is thrown out of her home when her husband takes a fancy to a younger woman. She has nowhere to go, lands up in the big bad city, and is forced to resort to prostitution to keep herself alive. But she has a heart of gold that remains untouched by the squalor and dirt she lives amidst. She enjoys the patronage of Anand, a rich businessman whose wife has stopped caring for him. Anand is a cynic but he is charmed by Pushpa's beauty, her soul-stirring voice and goodness of heart. Pushpa runs into an old acquaintance who's newly moved to the city. From him, she comes to know that her mother is dead. The old woman passed away months ago but Pushpa's contact in the village (a seedy character himself) didn't relay the news to her and pocketed the money she used to regularly send to her mother. As the acquaintance learns about Pushpa's profession, he is scandalized. He begins to avoid her. Pushpa is pained but she realizes that it is a simple consequence of her life choice. She meets the gentleman's young son, develops a motherly love for the child. She invites him to her home, feeds him sweets and snacks, sings to him and plays with him. He, in turn, cares for her as if she were his own mother. How else could he react? His mean stepmother spared no opportunity to show her dislike towards him. Ah, well. One day, the child falls seriously ill. Finally, it is Pushpa who secretly arranges for a senior physician to come visit the child and prescribe medicines. She pays for the treatment but doesn't mention a word to the parents. Ultimately, the father comes to know about it, he realizes that he judged too soon. His son's true mother was not the lady at home but the prostitute who lived down the street, for who else but a mother could tend to a child with such devotion and loving care?
The family is moving to another town. Pushpa is heartbroken at the thought of her "son" leaving her but what is she to do? Years pass, everyone goes his/her own way. The child is now grown up, a successful architect(?), happily married and a young father. He comes back to the same city, sets up house. His baby son falls ill and he lands up at the clinic of the same doctor who treated him years ago. Old memories resurface and now he yearns to meet his "mother," Pushpa. But no one knows where she is. The brothel is long gone. He begins asking around, runs into Anand who directs him to a lodge where Pushpa now works as a cleaning woman, scrubbing floors and washing clothes and doing the dishes.
The years haven't been kind to Pushpa. She is old and alone, left to fend for herself. One day, going about her chores, she comes to know about a penniless lodger, sick and dying. There is a doctor visiting the patient and his fees need to be paid. Alas, no one cares. Finally Pushpa takes the money out of her meagre savings and pays the doctor. As he leaves the room, Pushpa turns to the patient and realizes that it's her husband who's the patient. He's blind, poor, alone, virtually unrecognizable. He asks for a drink of water. As Pushpa pours the water into his parched mouth, he breathes his last. What an irony.
Pushpa's "son" and Anand find her at the lodge, everyone is reunited.
I am positive that I have watched this movie earlier but this time's viewing was special. There is nothing unusual about the story, agreed. However, I couldn't help observing that it has to be a very special "Pushpa" or flower (more precisely, the lotus) that lives in muck yet retains its fragrance and beauty. Pushpa never allowed her surroundings to sully her; she remained pure and innocent, her heart eternally generous and compassionate. She was mistreated by almost everyone in her life, yet she found it within herself to love and care for others.
Maybe we come to expect such behavior from our leading men and ladies but let's be realistic, it is no easy task. To keep one's innate goodness alive in the face of adversity and cruelty is a truly magnificent quality. That's why I feel that Pushpa was no victim of her circumstances. In fact, she was a victor.
One gem of a song after another… Amar Prem has so many of them. Here is a personal favorite.