There’s a scene in Shyam Benegal’s 1977 film Bhumika, where the protagonist Usha/ Urvashi (played by the stellar Smita Patil) leaves her troubled life as a film star in Bombay and goes off with a wealthy landowner (Amrish Puri) to a village. As they are driving up to his palatial house, he tells her for the first time that he has a young son. Usha is taken aback; he says that his paralysed wife is there too, and gives her the option of going back to Bombay if she doesn’t want to be part of the set-up.
In their brief earlier interaction, he’s come across as an unyielding person. For example, he did not play a record again when she wanted to listen to it, choosing to play his friend’s choice. But given a choice of stepping back, she answers his query with a look that eloquently shows her attachment to him, and moves into his house.
She probably needed the reassurance that he provided with his wealth and the physicality of his male presence.
The baggage of a messy upbringing, emotional problems with her husband (Amol Palekar), an affair with a director (Naseeruddin Shah), an unrealized relationship with her co-star (Anant Nag) and sundry complications of being a female actor could all be cast away in the simple and domestic solace of the rural household.
She learns though that this sanctuary has rules for women that she can’t defy and takes the help of the despised husband to go back to Bombay. She returns to live alone in her hotel room.
A question that formed in my mind after watching Bhumika last night was: Should Usha not have gone on, when her lover gave her the choice of turning back? I was silently willing her to say “yes” and to turn back. I could predict that she was in for disappointment, if not heartbreak. She had ignored signs of his chauvinism; and I wanted to tap her on the shoulder and tell her to heed the early warning signals.
But perhaps she did what was the right thing for her at that time.
She tried a different kind of life, and when it did not work out, she walked away. Sadder, but knowing what she does not want. “Mujhe apne akelepan se khud hi nipatna hoga”. She realizes that she has to deal with her loneliness on her own, and not try to seek solace in others.
This awareness is hard won, and leads to self-realisation.