Goddess of small things
Vidya Sinha, who passed away on Thursday, will be remembered for her roles in films that had none of the trappings of Bollywood blockbusters. She made her mark in an interesting period in the history of Hindi films. In 1973, Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer announced the arrival of the angry young man, Amitabh Bachchan’s Vijay. A year later, Basu Chatterjee’s Rajnigandha made its mark at the box office and swept the Filmfare Awards. In several ways, Rajnigandha was a counterpoint to Zanjeer: Centred on a woman starting out in her career, caught between the affections of two lovers, Chatterjee’s film was an ode to a world very different from the predominantly masculine troposphere of the Mehra-Bachchan potboiler. Rajnigandha was Sinha’s debut. She did not eschew playing Bollywood’s formulaic characters. But Sinha was at her best in films where lovers could be painfully shy and loved blossomed during bus rides.
There was nothing larger than life about the characters of such films. Sinha’s second film, Chhoti Si Baat, depicted the everyday life of an office-going woman. The world in such films was far gentler than the violent landscapes of Bollywood potboilers. But this was no escapist cinema. Bombay, the locale of most films in which Sinha distinguished herself, placed its demands. As a character in Chhoti Si Baat remarks, “You can escape the queue system in Delhi or Calcutta but not in Bombay”. Getting a job often meant negotiating layers of nepotism, a delay in getting to work would result in a stern reprimand from the boss and finding a house was tough for a newly-married couple with limited means.
This was also cinema that subtly depicted the intricacies of human relationships. They brought out the best in Sinha, even when she spoke very little. Like in Rajnigandha, when in a taxi with an ex lover, the character she plays sits glued to the door and yet can’t desist from looking furtively at him.