Are you in the mood for some classic world cinema?
Nuwan explains the significance of “55” in the title:
In India, before 1955, divorce was not recognized by the Hindus, as according to the Hindu religion marriage is sacrament and not a contract. But with the codification of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, both men and women (of Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain, faith) are equally eligible to seek divorce.¹
He also describes the urbane, prosperous nature of the city where the film is set. “Less than a year into Independence,” he writes, “the modern Indian progressive minded city’s educated and elite are beautifully showcased.”²
Before we dive into the movie itself, it’s fair to tell you Mr. & Mrs. ’55 has content you may find objectionable. Example: The last 40 minutes (which are a bit of a grind) are, essentially, a lecture to women to stick with their spouse No Matter What. One character admits her husband beats her occasionally, but says, “[I]f you find a stone while eating, you don’t give up eating.”
Also, the leading feminist in the film (played by the fab Lalita Pawar) is an Out-And-Out Villain who despises men.
So, why watch this film?
For one thing, it’s a social document of sorts, from another country in another time. We think that aspect alone is interesting.
The second reason is the first hour of the film. It’s funny and charming, and it has lively music and beguiling performances, especially by the star, Madhubala.
The film opens with the passing of divorce legislation in India. The man-hating Pawar is a chief proponent of this campaign, and she’s thrilled with her accomplishment.
Pawar is also the guardian of her niece (Madhubala), and has been ever since the death of the young woman’s father. This aunt is as fierce an advocate for her niece as she is for divorce.
In an unlikely plot development, Pawar and Madhubala learn the contents of the father’s Will: Madhubala is to inherit a sizeable fortune after she marries, but guess what! The marriage must take place before her next birthday, in 30 days!
Pawar Springs into Action. She immediately starts shopping for a Divorce-Friendly Husband for her niece, a man who will quietly disappear after the wedding.
However, Madhubala has Other Ideas. She likes romance and the idea of being in love. She has a mad crush on a famous tennis player who, alas, does not return her affections.
Meanwhile, Guru Dutt* plays an out-of work cartoonist smitten with Madhubala. It is he who answers the “job ad” that turns out to be Pawar’s Recruitment Drive for a divorce-ready husband.
Dutt is thrilled to be engaged to Madhubala, even if it means a quick divorce after the wedding (a.k.a. the signing of papers) at the registrar’s office.
As for Madhubala, she likes Dutt as as a Friend, but doesn’t regard him as Husband Material.
Mr. & Mrs. ’55 has an extraordinary cast, so Madhubala’s ability to steal scenes is remarkable. She has charisma and talent, and it makes us wonder why we’d never seen her films before.
She was, perhaps, the most celebrated Bollywood actress in the 1950s and 60s; she made over 70 films before she died at age 36 from congenital heart disease. Because of her beauty and untimely death, she’s often been referred to as the “Marilyn Monroe of Bollywood”³.
They say Frank Capra wanted to bring Madhubala to Hollywood, but her father refused. She was one of eleven children in her family, and it appears she helped support her parents and siblings with the earnings from her films.4
We hope you’ll have the opportunity to see one of Madhubala’s films. Even if the film itself doesn’t appeal to you, you’ll love her performance.
Mr. & Mrs. ’55: starring Madhubala, Guru Dutt, Lalita Pawar. Directed by Guru Dutt. Written by Abrar Alvi. Guru Dutt Films, 1955, B&W, 157 mins.