Woh 7 Din (1983)

Atrangi Re has been the controversial film of the day for precisely thirty days now.1 The first time that someone—Kirre, to be specific—described it to me sans twist, my unshakeable impression was that it sounded confoundingly like Woh 7 Din. Having now actually seen Atrangi Re, that impression was less literally correct than I had expected, but I still think the parallelism stands on a thematic level. Woh 7 Din also trades hasty marriages of which both parties would rather be rid; the idealized understandings people conjure out of other people; and the struggle to accept happiness in the wake of disappointment. Even if it’s all in my head, this comparison gave me the excuse to rewatch and write about a film that I find both frustrating and very, very beautiful. Woh 7 Din was directed by Bapu from a screenplay by K. Bhagya Raja and produced by Boney and Surinder Kapoor for their S. K. Films Enterprises.

The film opens on the markedly uncelebratory wedding of Maya (Padmini Kohlapure) and Dr. Anand (Naseeruddin Shah), rumored around her neighborhood as being hurried, unceremonious, and odd. Shortly after having been resettled at Anand’s paternal home, Maya startles, retches, and falls unconscious. The doctor, whose dispensary conveniently appends the foyer, patches Maya up; when she comes back to consciousness, Anand explains that no one else in the family knows about the poison. Reassured, Maya begins to narrate the expansive flashbacks that make up much of the film. She, her mother, and siblings had lived in the household of her maternal grandfather (Nilu Phule). Having come to Bombay in hopes of finding work as a music director, Prem (Anil Kapoor) and his teenaged, dholak-playing sidekick Chhotu (Master Raju) began renting out the family’s dilapidated rooftop lean-to. Immediately interested in Prem, Maya had pursued him to no great success until circumstance forced a decision on both their parts. The two planned to get married at night and tell her family in the morning, a proposition that ended with Prem badly beaten and Maya married to Anand instead. Said Anand now bargains for a little time. Seven days should be enough time for his perceptibly agonal mother Savitri (Dina Pathak), at whose insistence he so slapdashedly remarried, to finish dying; it should also give him the chance to track down Prem and return Maya to him with every honor.

I expect that a given viewer will or will not find Woh 7 Din palatable depending on whether they consider it an easy-answer movie. Its resolution leaves two out of three main characters visibly distraught; the explanations they personally offer for winding up where they do stick in my craw. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has seen the Kollywood original Andha 7 Naatkal, purportedly based in turn on the marriage of Tamil comedian J. P. Chandrababu. Not having watched that film myself, I necessarily have to understand Woh 7 Din in isolation; taken on its own terms, I do not know how to conceive of it except as a gentle tragedy. Although the film notionally pits modern secularism against more traditional values—“dharam, parampara, sanskriti,” as Prem rattles off in a row in one dialogue—neither worldview seems idealized here. Maya’s family stands in for the traditional, but that family itself is an unconventional one. Maya’s father at some point boarded a bus and never came back, which is why her mother and siblings have wound up clustered around her maternal grandfather instead. Anand can personally decry superstition, but even from her deathbed his mother cows the rest of the family; Savitri will get what she wants regardless of Anand’s conscience. When this doyenne entrusts her “three children” to Maya—i.e.,Anand, his cypher of a father, and the little daughter from Anand’s first marriage—the label does not seem particularly inapt given her own predominance in the household. These two families collide in a kind of mutual compromise, with Anand scrambling to find a second wife before his mother dies and Maya’s grandfather looking for anyone who will take her without a dowry. The marriage broker simply scoffs and predicts that he won’t be so forward-thinking by the time his grandson is looking for a match.

Nor is it a film that champions any one character. Prem is so difficult to please and his delicate pride so continually affronted that it is difficult to understand what Maya might see in him (aside from a babyfaced Anil Kapoor, that is). Yet she badgers him with all the relentlessness of a ’90s-style stalker hero, oblivious to how her actions jeopardize his and Chhotu’s already precarious acceptance by their neighbors. Milquetoast Anand is so reluctant to offend Savitri’s sensibilities that he draws everybody else—down to his little daughter—into ruses meant to placate her. The constant, seemingly inescapable collateral damage these characters enact on one another stems partially from their understandable absorption within their own most pressing problems. More bittersweet is when they try to be kind to one another without realizing that kindness, contextually, looks different. They have more cultural gulfs to navigate between than just the “traditional”–“modern” dichotomy: rural and urban, professional and blue-collar, Marathi and Punjabi. Doing right by somebody else may require them to want to be helped, but even more foundationally to recognize the action being taken as something that is liable to help them in the first place. This conundrum eventually plays out poignantly in the main narrative; it is prefigured in the miniature conflict that arises when Maya, observing how slimly Chhotu and Prem are living, tries to sneak them a couple of samosas. The misunderstandings extend even to internal ones. As Anand points out, poisoning yourself is easy, but recovering from poison is difficult.  

The one major character whom I have failed to discuss above is Chhotu, whose weary pragmatism offers a foil to the earnestness the others universally display. A familiar child actor of the ’70s, “Master” Raju Shrestha had one of his last pre-adult roles in Woh 7 Din prior to returning to the industry as a character actor. My viewing habits being what they are, I am most accustomed to seeing him in small, saccharine parts—most recently as mini-Amitabh in Khud-Daar. Raju’s easy rapport with Padmini and Anil in a comparatively extensive and serious-minded role impressed me here. Not an actress of whom I have otherwise taken much notice, Padmini has the broadest emotional landscape to traverse. Her demeanor is brittle and self-enclosed as the film opens; once the flashbacks begin, the old Maya seems like a creature from some different planet than the suicidal one to whom we were first introduced, as though gravity is no longer pulling at her so hard. The narrative gradually fills in that trajectory, Maya seeming smaller, more desperate, more hemmed in at each step. Finally, Dina Pathak is invariably a delight and I loved how fully she conveyed Savitri’s position within her family in a few short scenes. One immediately understood the kind of household this woman would once have ruled.  

Prem and Chhotu’s aspirations for a career in film music generate many a referential delight, both during and apart from the songs. When Maya is yet again trying to get it through Prem’s thick head that she’s attracted to him, she tries presenting him with a poem to set to music. She narrates the “situation”: it’s midnight, I’m the only one in the house who can’t sleep, so I creep up the ladder to meet you. Prem remarks that Amitabh and Rekha could probably play such a scene well and then comes up with an incongruous, noisy setting that seems suspiciously reminiscent of “Teri Rab Ne Bana Di” from Suhaag (also a Laxmikant-Pyarelal production, of course).2 Prem later writes “Pyar Kiya Nahi Jata Ho Jata Hai” for another movie scene that has been described to him. With his and Maya’s situation weighing on his mind, he naturally imagines them in the roles of hero and heroine, but the pair dancing in this picturization aren’t “our” Maya and Prem. They are more fashionably dressed than we’ve ever seen the real couple, perhaps looking a little younger, embracing openly in a variety of stereotypical song settings—most delightfully, a pedal boat. My favorite song, “Mere Dil Se Dillagi Na Kar,” also toys with how people project their own circumstances onto film music. Maya overhears Prem and Chhotu rehearsing the song and imagines dancing to it. She envisions herself dressed in a variety of regional and historical costumes until the fantasy comes full-circle and she finally simply herself.

In other music-related news, the background score quotes the Chariots of Fire title music twice. I think this was supposed to make me cry. In both instances, I temporarily suspended my resolve to consider the film in isolation and began merrily singing “Main Teri Hoon Jaanam.”

Although the main timeline can be bleak, regular returns to the lighter world of the flashbacks allow for plenty of beauty and humor. Some of the delightful running jokes include and Prem and Maya’s grandfather complaining about one another in Punjabi and Marathi respectively, or Prem and Chhotu missing curfew (see illustration below). Maya spends the whole song “Anari Khelna Khel Ka Satiyanas” chasing Prem around the courtyard, complaining that he’s too stupid to pick up on her flirting. Although I interpret the ending as tragic, much of what happens along the way is too sweet to despair of these people eventually finding some happier conclusion. When street performers pass outside the courtyard, Chhotu, Prem, and Maya all separately pause to dance to the music in different parts of the house. Maya has been hunting for and finding joy all throughout a difficult life; I see no reason why she would stop simply because the movie did.

1 Did I write this last week and then forget to post it? Am I willing to count twice? Yes; no.

2 Surely this choice must be deliberate, but I can’t decide if is meant to occur to Prem because Amitabh and Rekha are in that song, or because he’s thinking of poor Shashi being hounded by a woman in whom he has repeatedly stated he has no interest!

2 thoughts on “Woh 7 Din (1983)

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