Dir: Shyam Benegal
Cast: Smita Patil, Amol Palekar
Bhumika is a throwback to the era of parallel Hindi cinema of 70s and 80s, which produced many a classic film. Director Shyam Benegal- one of the stalwarts in parallel cinema, has always loved to portray strong and complex central woman characters in his films and Bhumika is one fine example of his observant understanding of a woman’s psyche.
The word ‘Bhumika’ means a role in a play or a film and it perfectly fits Usha (Smita Patil)-the woman at the centre of this story, who is caught up in a never-ending circle of playing different roles all her life. Born in a poor family of performing singers, Usha naturally inherits singing. Seeing her talent, Keshav Dalvi (Amol Palekar) - her distant relative and her mother’s clandestine lover, introduces her into the just prospering world of cinema in the 1940s. Starting off as a child-artiste Usha makes a smooth transition to heroine’s roles. Maturity and wisdom are not her virtues. She is a woman given to the wild desires of her heart, who is not exactly sure of what she wants in life and this leads to a life full of turbulent, transient relationships.
First she marries a much older Keshav against her mother’s obvious disapproval but soon gets tired of his money-minded suspicious attitude. Then she tries to find solace in the arms of her co-actor (Anant Naag) and finds that he is reluctant to accept her for fear of public rebuke. Another brief and stormy affair with a philandering director (Naseeruddin Shah) leaves her longing for some stability in life. This leads to a marriage with a rich businessman (Amrish Puri) but coming to his sprawling mansion, she realizes that the man already has a bed-ridden wife and a small son. The restrictions of that conservative domesticity soon make her feel like a caged bird and thus she returns back to her showbiz career and her first husband.
Based on the sensational autobiography-Sangtye Aika (Listen to what I am saying!) of the controversial Marathi actress Hansa Wadkar, Bhumika was the best role in Smita Patil’s brief but acclaimed career, which was cut short by her untimely death. She convincingly portrayed the many complex shades of Usha’s character. Actors of the caliber of Amol Palekar, Naseeruddin Shah, Amrish Puri and Sulbha Deshpande were just perfect in their supporting roles. Benegal’s use of flashbacks and his accurate projection of period-feel of the changing decades from 40s to 70s was another admiring feature of this classic.