As Dr. Dujovny said in his review, this movie is clearly a melodrama. Just when things are going well, something happens which reinforces the pity sentiment in the viewer. Most clearly we see the development of pity in the Radha character. She is Mother India. She ultimately becomes the “executor of universal law, which paves the way for the nation to be purified” (Schulze). We see this relationship as she opens the irrigation canal and the water runs red. It shows not only Radha’s personal sacrifices, but also India’s sacrifices to become the industrial state.
I think it is very important to point out that Radha is an archetype of a “good” Indian woman and wife. Shortly after her marriage, Radha begins helping in the house and the fields. She works, literally, up until the birth of her children. After the children are born she brings them with her to work in the field, and comes home to prepare meals and clean the house. After her husband has both his arms amputated, she diligently cares for him. Then, when he leaves, she shoulders all responsibility. This fact is reinforced by the iconic image of their flooding house, with Radha shouldering the roof to keep her children dry and safe. Personal sacrifice is a common theme for Radha. The only thing she refuses the sacrifice is her honor and the hands of the moneylender. In the end, she must ultimately make the biggest sacrifice and kill her son to preserve the honor of the community. All of these traits would be desirable in an Indian woman.
An interesting relationship developed in the movie, is the relationship between Radha and Birju. It is no secret that Birju is a child avatar of Krsna. I do not think it is a coincidence that Mother India is named Radha. Many times their relationship crosses normal mother and son interaction and we see consistently their roles reversed. A common device Khan uses to indicate their role reversal is when Birju feeds Radha. In most cases, the mother or parent provides for and feeds the children, but in these cases the child feeds the mother. Another interesting foil is Birju’s steadfast claim to return Radha’s marriage bangles. These bangles were given to Radha by her husband, in most cases should only be put on by the husband. But Birju, her child, fights to return them to her. This relationship between Birju and Radha more conventionally fits the story of Radha and Krsna if you consider the back-story of the actors. An actress named Nargis plays Radha. Nagris’ life parallels Radha in two noticeable ways. The first, she has a very intimate affair with a married man. The second, she has a relationship with Krsna, or at least the actor who plays his avatar. The actor who plays Birju is Sunil Dutt. In the scene where both Nargis and Sunil are running through the blazing fields, an accident occurs on set which brings them together during filming. This incident begins their relationship and the gossip mills start scandals. Nargis and Sunil's intimacy off-screen seeps into their performance onscreen; which emphasizes the confusion of the mother-son relationship boundaries and enforces the Radha-Krsna parallel.
On a personal note, I was really upset that the songs were not translated. While I could understand the meaning behind them based on the imagery, I felt as though something was missing. One of the readings mentioned that songs are way for the director to show his true meanings and without the translation, I felt like I was missing that. Another problem I had with the movie was the idea of ownership of the land. After the flood, everyone in the town left, with the exception of Radha and her children. But, when everyone returned an incident occurred that caused the moneylender to evict Radha. It might be my Western interpretation, but in my mind, she owned the land. She restored it after the flood, thus entitling her to ownership and a right to stay on the land. In India, or at least this movie, it appears that the land belongs to the community and no one specific person, with maybe the exception of the moneylender. Overall, this movie was filled with interesting imagery and a profound message.