Made in 1979, I found Basu Chatterjee’s Baton Baton Mein more interesting as a portrait of generational change than as a somewhat dated romantic comedy.
Apologies – the DVD and my laptop are refusing to communicate so there are no screencaps forthcoming. I will over compensate with video clips. Anyway, seeing the polyester in motion really lets you know it’s the 70s!
Nancy (Tina Munim) lives with her widowed mother Rosie (Pearl Padamsee) and little brother Sabhi (Ranjit Choudhary). She catches the train to her office job each morning, commuting from Bandra with Uncle Tom (David Abraham). Nancy is a modern girl, wearing immaculate 70s fashions and makeup. One morning, Uncle Tom notices an equally stylish young man noticing Nancy. Tony Braganza (Amol Palekar) is a caricaturist at a city advertising agency. Tony and Uncle Tom pass notes back and forth to Nancy’s embarrassment and the delight of fellow commuters. Tom decides they should all be introduced and they hop off the train at Churchgate and chat over cool drinks.
Nancy lives mostly in her own head. She spends her time listening to western music and reading in her room. She has been disappointed in love before, having been jilted by a co-worker. I am not sure I really bought that prior relationship as it seemed fairly one sided and may have been exaggerated in her imagination. But Nancy is determined she will hold out for the right kind of man, which she says is no man at all. She is caught between being her mother’s little girl and being a more independent young woman. Tina Munim is very pretty and often that seems to be all that she needed. She does try to show the tension between the judgemental and childish side of Nancy and the warmer and more spontaneous young woman she could be, so I warmed to her character over time. Her rapport with Amol Palekar is nice and in the scenes where Nancy is less reserved, Tina lights up with her beautiful smile.
Tony is a bit weak, self-centred and unwilling to commit or work too hard at anything it seems. He is plausible and charming, much like a used car salesman, and breezes by on a smile and a compliment. His mother is domineering and thinks her son is both too good for anyone and not good enough by half and that undermines Tony’s ability to get motivated. Amol Palekar hits a perfect mix of average guy and dude who has tickets on himself. He can’t believe Nancy would fail to fall for him but at the same time he won’t take their relationship beyond seeing each other at her family home. Tony’s brash confidence sparks some fun moments, especially when Philomena Aunty (Leela Mishra) has him in her sights. But he is all mouth and trousers, and when it comes to making a commitment he is found wanting. If Tony wants Nancy he has to grow up a bit and say so, but he shies away from marriage. Will he ever grow up? Not if his Ma can help it. Tony’s dad (Arvind Deshpande) is the quiet henpecked type, but offers his son some advice when he most needs it. Please enjoy Tony moping around in his PJs to Kishore Kumar’s lovely vocal.
The romance didn’t really interest me that much, but the family tensions and arguments rang true. The younger generation were trying to be more independent while still respecting their elders’ wishes and traditions, and struggled to articulate what they wanted. Rosie wanted Nancy to get married, Tom thought Nancy at 19 or so was already leaving her run a bit late, Tony’s parents had an eye to social status in their future daughter-in-law and Nancy’s aunt Philomena was just scandalised by everything. Rosie was a blabbermouth, vulgar but kind, and Mrs Braganza (Piloo J Wadia) wasn’t impressed with her son’s duplicity or her potential in-laws. Snobbery and social rules caused all manner of drama, some very funny and some quite moving. It was deftly done, and the good natured feel of the film carried through even in the confrontational scenes. The ladies in particular carry off their characters with great humour and excellent comic timing.
Both Nancy and Sabhi belittle Rosie in many ways. They find their Ma embarrassing and vulgar and often tell her not to make a fool of herself. It isn’t motivated by spite, but it shows the change from Rosie’s homemaker generation to the younger educated ones who have different aspirations and challenges. And Nancy and Sabhi are teenagers after all. But when the chips are down, family rallies for family and they have that rock to rest upon. Basu Chatterjee shows the negative aspects of his characters but doesn’t judge them harshly. It adds a welcome tang of realism in what is otherwise a very sweet film.
Sabhi is one of my favourite characters. He is such a boy; grumpy, self absorbed and so very dramatic. He observes the goings on and can’t see why people make such a big deal of things. He adds sarcastic commentary, sometimes via his violin, and the odd theatrical tantrum. His gig at a local hotel provides an excuse for this parade of 70s style and terrible dancing (to the tune of ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again’).
Often when a girl is introduced as a Christian in modern Hindi films it is code for ‘slut’, which I find quite peculiar. Or alternatively a Christian girl might be portrayed as so sheltered that she is virtually a nun. Again – bizarre to me. I enjoyed this depiction of Bombay Christians as middle class people with lives in which religion was one of many factors.
The sets created a strong sense of how people lived. Rosie was a widow but kept her own neat, comfortable home. No one seemed to pity her or think she was just waiting to join her husband in the hereafter. The Braganzas were a bit more affluent, but not really posh. The issue of money came up when it was revealed that Nancy was currently earning more than Tony, but he had greater earning potential down the track so that was dealt with. People were pragmatic without being greedy or grasping. It was all very relatable.
The supporting actors are well cast although I couldn’t see the point of a couple of characters. Asrani makes a very small appearance. Uday Chandra plays poor Henry, a boy who pines after Nancy for the whole film. Tun Tun appears in an imagined sequence and is her usual over the top self. They don’t add much but neither do they detract from the story.
The soundtrack is perfectly in keeping with the styles of music the characters listen to, which means lots of western influenced easy listening sounds and nothing terribly exciting. I don’t know how Rajesh Roshan got the idea of using ‘Polly Wolly Doodle’ as the basis for Uthe Sabke Kadam, but it left me giggling and singing along, almost as tunelessly as Rosie.
Baton Baton Mein is a sweet slice of life romantic comedy that gives a nice sense of Bombay back in the day. See it for the charming performances, the glimpse of 70s public transport, and as a pleasant and engaging comedy. 3 ½ stars!