Bawarchi is simply a charming film and one that always makes me smile, even though it’s heavy on moralistic aphorisms and homely words of wisdom. Rajesh Khanna plays the cook who takes on the task of transforming a dysfunctional and argumentative family with his simple outlook on life; although there are numerous hints throughout that he may not be quite what he seems. The strengths of the film are the all-star cast who all fit into their roles perfectly and Gulzar’s well written dialogues that ensure the petty family disagreements are realistic and believable. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s screenplay is based on Tapan Sinha’s 1966 Bengali film Galpa Holeo Satyi and Sinha is credited as the writer for Bawarchi. For anyone trying to track them down, both films are available on Youtube, although sadly the original Bengali film seems to only be available without subtitles.
The story revolves around the household’s transformation from an unhappy and argumentative group of people to a caring and considerate family. Along the way there are songs, a dance competition and even a romance thrown in for good measure. I love the opening graphics which use the cooking theme to good effect, but there are only a few before Amitabh Bachchan takes over, announcing the credits against a rather oddly static red curtain, and carries on with a voice-over introducing the various characters in the drama. Firstly there are the fractious Sharma family members who live in the ironically named Shanti Niwas.
The never-ending conflict in the house means that the family cannot keep their servants, which in turn leads to further discord and argument. As the story opens the family are in the process of losing their last servant – the family cook – who has decided to move on despite his new job paying less. The family is ruled by the ageing patriarch Shivnath Sharma (Harindranath Chattopadhyay) who complains about his sons, his daughters-in-law and the lack of a decent cup of tea in the morning.
Despite his grumpy demeanour he is the only person in the house to think about the welfare of his late second son’s orphaned daughter Krishna (Jaya Bachchan as Jaya Badhuri). Harindranath Chattopadhyay is perfect here and his complaints are used to good effect to illustrate the trivial nature of most of the family disagreements. Krishna is at everyone’s beck and call, and yet she has a pleasant and sunny disposition which leads her to wait on everyone with a smile and not much thought of her own comfort. Just as well perhaps since no-one else thinks about her comfort at all.
Also in the house are Shivnath’s eldest son Ramnath (A.K. Hangal), his wife Seeta (Durga Khote) and their daughter Meera (Mansiha). Ramnath is a harried clerk whose family life is impacting on his work. To combat his woes and possibly also to help him deal with his complaining wife and daughter he also drinks, although this actually makes him more pleasant to deal with, so perhaps it’s not entirely a bad thing. Seeta complains of her gout which makes her unable to help with the various household chores, while Meera is just plain lazy although she does get out of bed for her dance lessons.
The last member of the family is Shivanth’s youngest son Vishwanath (Asrani) aka Babbu, a music director for films who, as Krishna so aptly puts it, copies English songs, adds Hindi lyrics and records them. It’s just one of the examples of tongue-in-cheek poking fun at the Hindi film industry which Hrishikesh uses to add some more gentle comedy, almost as if he’s letting the audience into a big filmi secret, even as he himself still sticks to type of BW conventions he mocks during the film.
The final two characters in the drama are Meera’s dance teacher Guruji (Paintal) and Krishna’s tutor Arun. Arun is Krishna’s love interest but their romance is only a small part of the story, although it does become more important towards the rather clunky end of the film.
The family squabbles are based on their own selfishness, and none of them wants to take on the responsibility of looking for new servants. Into this unhappy household steps Raghu (Rajesh Khanna) who just appears on the doorstep one day volunteering to be their new cook.
Raghu seems to be the answer to everyone’s prayers as he insists in a low salary, cooks amazing food and also has talents as a philosopher, singer, composer, and dance instructor to name but a few. Raghu seems to be a gift from the gods as his unfailing happiness and good cheer start to have an impact on the family, as does his willingness to tackle even the most demeaning of tasks. This is a man who does the ironing – nothing else needs to be said!
Raghu does however seem to have an unhealthy interest in the large box chained under Shivnath’s bed.This happens to contain the family jewels, and added in to reports of a thief in the area makes Raghu’s sudden arrival more than a little suspicious. However his ability to cook and his constant stream of knowledge about anything and everything soon make him indispensable to the family.
Rajesh Khanna plays Raghu as a cheerful and somewhat bossy servant and he uses this relaxed outspokenness to stop the stream of advice from becoming too preachy. Despite his constant chirpiness Rahgu never seems too sickly sweet to be true, something which is helped by the suspicion that he may in fact be a thief and is simply putting on an act. Most of the films I’ve seen with Rajesh Khanna have been romances, but there is something very special about those few films where he doesn’t play the typical hero. Here he has an irrepressible twinkle in his eye and such a beautiful smile as he guides the family to an actual ‘peaceful abode’. It’s a wonderful performance and Rajesh Khanna is definitely a large part of why I love this film.
Just as amazing though is Jaya Bhaduri as she portrays shy innocence and naiveté with ease, and yet makes Krishna a normal down-to-earth person, trying to do her best with the lot she has been given. She’s sweet and natural with her grandfather, properly demure and respectful to her aunts but cheekily mischievous with her youngest uncle. It’s hard to believe that this was one of the early films in her career as she definitely holds her own with the rest of the more experienced cast.
I also love the sets here which make the house look homely and lived in. The locked case is impressive in it’s ‘look at me – I contain something valuable’ obviousness but there are also some wonderful lamps and clocks and Babbu has some very cool looking records on his shelf.
The only let-down in the film for me is the end, which seems a little too contrived as Raghu creates a rather unsophisticated solution to the final family problems. I feel it’s a little too simplistic considering some of the earlier scenes and the way Raghu’s character has evolved. However it’s a small quibble, particularly when the rest of the film is so enjoyable. Bawarchi is definitely recommended for those times when you want to escape into a wholesome family drama that’s guaranteed to make you smile. 4 stars.