In this weekly column, we revisit gems from the golden years of Hindi cinema. This week, we revisit LV Prasad’s 1957 film Sharada.
Sharada is the story of a woman whose love does not require any labels and has the power to sustain itself even in impossible circumstances. As the film opens, we are introduced to the lead couple – Sharada, played by Meena Kumari, and Shekhar, essayed by Raj Kapoor. Their meet-cute and their banter is everything that a traditional romance entails but their love story is anything but. In fact, Sharada is one of those films that would be called way ahead of its time, even if it was made in 2021.
Due to circumstances beyond her control, Sharada ends up getting married to Shekhar’s father and this completely shatters him. The two never disclose their relationship to anyone but for the viewer, it constantly makes you wonder of the what could have been. In a significant scene in the film, Raj Kapoor’s Shekhar is asked by his father to touch the feet of his mother Sharada and call her ‘maa’. The agony on his face makes you catch your breath as he realises that his beloved has now taken the place equated with divinity in the Indian society. Watching the film today, one might question that since she married his father, she is only a step-mother and nowhere close to being his real mother, the filmmaker would argue otherwise. The film was made in the 1950s when our society, which still treats its neighbours as relatives, did not really distinguish between mothers and step-mothers.
Sharada’s relationship with Shekhar starts off as romantic, turns vengeful and tragic but eventually, it takes the form of acceptance. The portion of the film when Shekhar moves on, gets married, and is happily living under the same roof as his father and Sharada makes you wonder about the intricacies of their day-to-day lives. Director LV Prasad does not answer the viewer’s questions in great detail but watching them cohabitate and accept each other in whichever capacity, compels you to think about the vast range of relationships that one can develop, without defining them. The more you think about the love shared by Shekhar and Sharada, you can’t help but think about the almost spiritual nature of their relationship.
Director Prasad, like many others of his generation, gives Sharada the place reserved for ‘devi’ from the beginning. She is dutiful and almost perfect in every sense of the word, which is why it feels a little unnatural that we never see her process her feelings in trying to accept Shekhar as her step-son. It feels a bit jarring to have her accept him almost instantly, as if it is her duty. It is evident, that from the gaze of a man (the director in this case), a woman who takes the mantle of a mother should be nothing but perfect, and Prasad hammers that throughout the film. But, his treatment of Raj’s Shekhar is starkly different. He stumbles into alcoholism, takes his time to accept how life has cheated him, falters and fails, and finally comes into his own. This sharp distinction between the treatment of these two characters speaks volumes about how male and female characters are perceived and the expectations from them. Women are expected to accept whatever is thrown their way but the men can rebel, whine, and take their time to accept the card they have been dealt.
While the central thread of Sharada’s story is strong enough to capture your mind for days, the film has its lows. The subplots of the film haven’t necessarily aged well and this includes the story of Chanchal’s (Shekhar’s wife, played by Shyama) family. Showing a decisive woman (Chanchal’s mother) in a derogatory way, or an alcoholic man (Om Prakash) repenting his actions on his death bed, or even a character as significant as Shekhar’s father walking around completely oblivious to the situation around him makes them all seem like one-note characters.
Sharada is the kind of love story that makes you question your understanding of love, and how meaningful relationships can exist, even with the strangest labels.
Sharada is streaming on YouTube.