N.F.D.C.'s HARI-BHARI, directed by Shyam Benegal, tells the story of five women of a Shaikh Muslim family who live in a semi-rural area of Badayun district in Uttar Pradesh. The story brings to light the plight of women in rural India who, even in this day and age, have little control over their bodies. They cannot use contraceptives and most important, the men in their lives are callous to their suffering.
The story deals with three generations of women: a grandmother, her two daughters-in-law and a grand-daughter. The film depicts individual episodes dealing with the various crises faced by each of them.
Hasina (Surekha Sikri-Rege) is an ailing matriarch in a joint family, which is run by her elder son Khaleel Ahmed (Lalit Tiwari) and his perpetually pregnant wife Najma (Alka Trivedi). Najma has two young sons with a history of miscarriages and children having died in infancy.
Hasina's second son Khurshid (Rajit Kapur) works in Meerut, but his conservative wife Afsana (Nandita Das) and their three children live in the same house. Hasina's daughter Ghazala (Shabana Azmi) comes to stay with her after being driven out by her husband Munir (Srivallabh Vyas), who blames her for not giving him a son.
Ghazala's teenage daughter Salma (Rajeshwari Sachdev) shuttles between her father's and her grandmother Hasina's house, depending on Munir's erratic moods.
The bittersweet events taking place in the house during the course of several months, constitutes the story of the film.
Shyam Benegal has successfully tackled women-oriented issues in the past, but his latest venture HARI-BHARI pales in comparison. The fault lies in the fact that the story of all five principal characters gives the feeling of being deficient.
There's no denying the fact that all the five characters have been developed skilfully, but the conclusion to each character is missing. The film ends on an imperfect note and spoils things further.
The three prominent questions in the end that remain unanswered are:-
* Hasina is suspected to be having cancer and the doctor advises the family to take her to the city for a thorough check up. But what happens next?
* The members in the family are taken by surprise when Khurshid gifts a buffalo to Najma and a colour television to Afsana, his wife. But how does he manage to raise funds to buy these gifts, when, in the first place, he had taken a loan from his elder brother, Khaleel Ahmed, to buy a house in the city?
* The last scene in the film -- Rajeshwari breaking into a song after being told that she won't be forced to marry a 40-year-old -- catches the viewer unaware. To end the film on an abrupt note was wrong!
As a director, Benegal has extracted commendable performances from a team of talented names, but the screenplay (Shama Zaidi and Priya Chandrasekar) is half-baked. Also, the film tends to become a documentary on Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, with watered down doses of creativity.
Moreover, the story of the film is such it would find flavour amongst a very small section of the audience, while the masses would not relate to the film despite a rural theme.
The film stars a host of accomplished performers and it is indeed difficult to single out any one performance that towers above the rest. The five women ? Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das, Surekha Sikri-Rege, Alka Trivedi and Rajeshwari Sachdev ? enact their portions with utmost ease. Rajit Kapur, Lalit Tiwari and Srivallabh Vyas ? the three male characters ? are adequate too.
On the whole, HARI-BHARI is not among the best efforts of Shyam Benegal and has precious little to offer to those looking for meaningful cinema or masala entertainment. Its prospects, therefore, are bleak.