Agnipariksha (1954)

Charm is a powerful thing. It can make all sorts of things palatable if not outright aww-worthy: a serious lack of logic, regressive social customs, eyeroll-inducing character flaws, and some major ACT!ing moments. Happily for Agnipariksha, it stars a one man charm factory called Uttam Kumar.

Director: Agradoot

What Happens: Tapasi (I could swear they called her Taposhree but I might be thrown off by the accent) is a pretty teen who lives with her shrewish mom, easygoing dad and two brothers in Calcutta. Her mom is furious because Tapasi’s rich old grandpa died and left all his money to his widow instead of Tapasi’s dad. Tapasi’s mom, therefore, is forced to be nice to her mother-in-law whom she despises for reasons that were not clear.

Thus, Tapasi and her brothers are sent to visit their rich old grandma in her poky old village, which they seem happy enough to do. Tapasi even sneaks some of her mom’s sarees so she can fit in better with the village crowd. Unfortunately for Tapasi, she fits in so well that one of her grandpa’s buddies decides she must marry his grandson, Bulu. Grandma is a little hesitant to fix Tapasi’s wedding without talking to her son and daughter-in-law about it but Old Friend will have none of it. Grandma finally agrees, but it sounds sort of conditional and more of a “Let’s See” than “Hooray! Let’s!”

But wily Old Friend has other ideas – the very next day he gets on his deathbed and begs Grandma not to let him die without seeing his grandson safely wed. Grandma is a nice old lady and completely flustered so she loses her head and gives the go ahead.

Cut to the wedding sequence of your nightmares – two terrified little children in bridal attire sit next to each other in an old man’s death chamber, watching him die in slow yet increasingly shouty increments, while a group of distressed adults make them go through elaborate wedding rituals that they can’t even focus upon. Finally, the old man dies yelling dramatically for his grandson and the poor kid goes running to hug the corpse. Tapasi is near collapse.

Grandma sends for her son and tries to explain how a fun little holiday to the ancestral village turned into a vile incident that left her granddaughter with PTSD. Her son is obviously miffed and takes his kids back to face the wrath of his wife. Ten minutes into this movie, poor little Tapasi has been wedded, watched some random dude die an agonizing death, wrenched from the arms of the grandmother she loves, and subjected to her mother’s screaming fits and her father’s sorrow. She can’t get her marriage out of her head (neither can Bulu in his hostel room) and even tries to meet her young husband under the guise of driving lessons until her nosy brothers scare her off the idea. Then her dad has a heart attack. Her grandmother leaves her all her money and goes away to Benares or something to assuage her guilt. And Tapasi is left all alone with her dreadful yelly mom.

Years later, Tapasi is Suchitra Sen and she’s lost in the fog over Darjeeling. Separated from her brothers and her cousin, Tapasi stumbles upon a handsome young man who recognizes her as a famous singer. He is charming enough and she is flattered enough to sing a song for him and he escorts her home afterward. Tapasi’s cousin excitedly informs her that she just met one of the most eligible bachelors in all Bengal – Kirit.

Tapasi and Kirit are instantly attracted to each other and there is a lot of singing, photograph posing, tea-drinking and accidental hand holding going on. The flirtation continues to Calcutta under her mom’s approving eye and Kirit is the certified hit of Tapasi’s party circuit. He is a manly man (he fights off creeps) who inspires sighs in the ladies and envy in the hearts of men. Occasionally he wears his father’s clothes but that’s ok.

It's never too late to raid your parents' closet

It’s never too late to raid your parents’ closet

And then Tapasi’s conscience makes a dramatic entry – Kirit points out a wedding procession with a tween bride and groom and instead of finding it cute as he does, Tapasi freaks out. With good reason as we know. She runs home and refuses to answer his calls. When he goes to meet her at home, she sneaks out the door. Kirit is sad and baffled. And a sad and baffled Kirit is sad and baffled indeed. So sad and baffled is he that Tapasi’s mom tells her off and commands that she go meet that nice (rich and eligible) boy.

Tapasi still can’t stand up to her mom so she goes to meet Kirit and he is his usual charming self, of course, and this makes her once again put her scruples aside and agree to marry him. Sadly though, this happiness is shortlived because she arrives home to find one of her brothers has grown Morals and Opinions about her life. I couldn’t follow the whole thing but the gist seemed to be that Brother Righteous was angry at Tapasi catting around town with Another Man when poor old Grandma left all her money to Tapasi only because of her tragic marriage. It is apparently too much for Tapasi to have love and money.

Tapasi might be unable to say boo to her mom but she is more than capable of telling off her pesky brother and she announces that she has just accepted Kirit’s proposal of marriage. Her mom and Brother Jolly are both delighted for her while Brother Righteous stomps off somewhere. But Tapasi’s conscience won’t leave her so easily. Even as guests gather downstairs for her engagement, Tapasi is having a heated argument with her better self about the morality of her actions.

This particular stretch of about five minutes, by the way, is both highly taxing and highly amusing. Highly taxing because it is a woman browbeating herself for five minutes straight about how her forced and illegal child marriage was a holy union that no man must put asunder but the nice, decent man patiently waiting for her downstairs in front of all their friends and family is eminently worthy of being disrespected and insulted in public by having her abruptly run away without a word of explanation. Highly amusing because all this gives young Suchitra Sen an opportunity to pull a variety of truly remarkable faces. Ah, our idols when young, with their feet of clay…

Anyhoo! Tapasi runs away to Benares where she once again dresses up in ethnic gear and has heartfelt, sobby conversations with her old Grandma who sadly doesn’t appear to be giving her the whatfor she so richly deserves. Eventually, Kirit traces her down and comes to be nice and lovely to her some more. Which leads her to treat him like crap some more and yell at him to go away. Maybe she tells him why but all I could make out was her spitting “Na na na na na!” at him at the rate of a machine gun. Poor sad Kirit goes away.

Guided by her Grandma, the woman who got her married to some kid because some guy was having a heart attack, Tapasi goes to her village to find Bulu. As soon as she steps into his house, however, all the bad memories come flooding back and her nightmares come to life. Half-fainting, she is about to fall when a half-naked (???!) Kirit arrives to catch her. Tapasi yells a few more “Na na na na na!”s at him but he is in no mood to take it any more. You see, he loves her, he is Bulu and he is her husband!

Instead of slapping his face and asking him WTF, Tapasi falls into his arms. Coz that’s the kinda gal she is, folks – she’ll treat the nice guy who loves her as if he’s a criminal, but she’ll forgive her child groom dicking her around.

Youthful Uttam does his best to give her a hug and almost pokes her nose out. Grandma, brothers and mom all arrive to observe Uttam pulling the best shy faces ever, and all’s well that ends well.

What Happens Next: Nobody played this when they should have:


2 thoughts on “Agnipariksha (1954)

  1. This movie and this post are both full of expressions we can re-puprose for our own less earnest amusement: being lost in Darjeeling fog, finding the eligible bachelors of Bengal, flirtations in Calcutta, “I am your father groom”!!!! etc.

    This movie sounds TERRIBLE but I can absolutely understand why one would have to see it, especially to believe it. Is making gifs in some way therapeutic, I wonder? Lemonade from lemons, exorcism, etc?

    Also, machine-gun-fire “Na na na na na na na!” is the best.

    • It’s one of those movies where you can see why people are apt to remember it more fondly than it deserves because the actors in it are so sweet. In the week or so since I watched it, the horrors have already receded to the extent where I mostly just remember Uttam being shy and noble. Aww.

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