When one thinks of a Diwali release, one thinks of opulence, festivity, colour and grandeur. However, this is an unprecedented Diwali and keeping in mind the times we live in I think it is befitting that we find happiness in the simpler things in life.
So, my pick for Diwali this year is an unusual choice. It's Hrisihikesh Mukherjee's 1980 classic Khoobsurat – a lighthearted tale of a conventional Indian family with an unconventional lifestyle.
On the surface, Khoobsurat is a simple story of a fun-loving, gregarious girl named Manju (played by Rekha) who, during her brief stay at her married sister's house, creates havoc in the extended family, who live an otherwise disciplined and almost autocratic life (thanks to the matriarch of the family, played by the legendary Dina Pathak). During her stay, Manju not only discovers the hidden ambitions and fears of the family members but also helps unravel their suppressed emotions and wishes, and in turn goes through her own journey of self-discovery.
But Khoobsurat is more than that. The beauty of Khoobsurat lies in its telling. It's so simply told, just like all of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's movies: there are no over-the- top characters, no melodrama, no "villains", not even your conventional Hindi movie "hero". Khoobsurat is no different: it effortlessly manages to engage us with real characters in a relatable world, and incredible humour and wit.
The stellar performances of its leads, Rekha and Dina Pathak, enhance the script further. Whilst Rekha is effervescent as the outspoken, confident and naughty Manju, Dina Pathak is the straight-faced, no-nonsense, emotionless matriarch who is restrained yet impactful. The chemistry between the yin and yang of the two is what makes Khoobsurat such a delight to watch.
The ensemble cast lends incredible support to boost the performances of the main leads, whether it be Ashok Kumar as the mischievous, submissive father figure, or Ranjit Chaudhary as the Elvis-loving youngest sibling who knows everyone's secrets, or Shashikala as the closeted classical dancer Bhabhi. Even Keshto Mukherjee, who has barely any screen time, delivers a memorable performance as chef Ashrafi Laal: "Kaafiya bana ke kar gaya kaamal". Each character, big or small, is very well fleshed-out and brilliantly brought to life by unpretentious performances. Take special notice of the unique "kaafiya bandi" scenes (talking in rhyme). The humour is so subtle and writing, so exceptional that that I guarantee you will be smiling all through.
What also works for Khoobsurat is the family dynamic: despite all the suppression and restrictions, the family unit is intact. Rules and lifestyle restrictions aside, they are a relatable lot who seem to have made peace with the status quo.
On a subliminal level, Khoobsurat explores empathy and compassion. We may be quick to judge others and their life choices but scratch the surface and we are perhaps more similar than we are different. It's been 40 years and the humour still holds, the jokes still make you laugh and the story is still relevant. The best part is it makes for great family viewing! Diwali is about love, laughter, bonding and making memories. Khoobsurat is bound give you all that and much more.