copyright 2022, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 61, fall 2022

Daaera: forbidden love and the sensorium of desire in Bombay cinema

by Sangeeta Gupta

My ideas presented in this paper evolved when I revisited a lesser-known film of the famous Indian actress, Meena Kumari, feted as the tragedy queen of Bombay Cinema, especially during the 50s to the early 70s. The film, titled Daaera,[1] [open endnotes in new window] released in 1953, belongs to the black and white Social films of Bombay cinema. These films were broadly speaking, family melodramas with social themes. I remember my mother watching the replays of these films on television with great interest and emotional engagement. Watching Daaera so long after its release, during my research, was for me a rediscovery and a connection with the past. This intellectual reflection thus emerges from my personal as well as academic engagement with a film that remerged for me as a powerful expression of complex issues around conjugality, desire and sexuality.[2]

A cinematic framing of forbidden love

Daaera, directed by Kamal Amrohi, tells the story of a beautiful young woman, Sheetal (played by Meena Kumari),[3] who is married to a consumptive old man—old enough to be her father. The film is about a dark romance between her and the rich young man, Sharan, (Nasir Khan) who is their widowed landlady’s son living in the aristocratic household across from her terrace. Since Sheetal is a married woman, this romance cannot have social sanction. However the visual and aural language of the film destabilizes neat patriarchal orthodoxies and articulates an erotic charge that draws the spectators into this sensorium of unfulfilled desires.

In the 19th century, the Indian public sphere was engaged in crucial debates around social reform and women, pertaining to issues like women’s education, age of sexual consent, prohibition of child marriage, and prohibition of the practice of sati,[4] advocating widow remarriage among other solutions.[5] Daaera engages with some of these crucial debates in a direct as well as symbolic way and foregrounds the subjectivity of a young couple—of the woman who is trapped in a mismatched marriage and a young man who falls in love with her. The film brings to life the current social debates mentioned above, so that spectatorial engagement is not just at an intellectual level but at an affective, emotional level.

Sharan, the male protagonist, initially has the misunderstanding that Sheetal is the daughter of the sick old man whom his mother has recently accepted as a tenant. He is captivated by her beauty as she lies under a flowering tree on the terrace across from his own room, not realizing that she is actually the wife of the old man. We understand his attraction for her chiefly through his transfixed gaze and the poems he composes and sings for her. 

Interestingly Sheetal and Sharan do not ever meet each other nor exchange any dialogue. No shot-reverse-shot sequences signify their relationship with each other. Despite this, right from the start a connection between the two is established by the filmmaker, not through verbal exchange but through the affective charge of the audio-visual landscape.  For example, very early in the film, the two of them are captured in the same frame, lying down on their respective beds on two separate terraces. With deep focus framing, Sharan is positioned closer to the camera and Sheetal is far into the background. She would have been missed by the spectators had it not been for the particular movement of the camera which initially focuses on her (but not in a close up) and gradually zooms out till both the protagonists are in the same frame.

Another scene which brings this unspoken love into focus starts with the young man lighting a cigarette, blowing the smoke, casually looking in the direction of the terrace across, and becoming intrigued by the presence of a stranger lying there. He gets up, looks closely in her direction and is attracted by her presence. His transfixed expression, in close up, and a soft musical score in the background indicate the impact this woman has on him at first sight.

In the next scene Sharan is shown sitting inside a college examination center, with a blank paper in front of him, unable to write anything as his thoughts are fixed on the image of the woman on the terrace. This is shown by a superimposed image projected on the paper in front of him, again accompanied by the soft music. It is music which indicates the first stirrings of desire within Sharan—Sheetal remaining as much a mystery to us as she is to him at this moment. Sharan is unable to write anything on the answer sheet and finally the blank paper is taken away by the proctor.

Melodrama and evocation of the ineffable

The music transforms into a song in the next sequence, as Sharan is shown on the terrace listening to a song in a female voice. It is disjointed and asynchronous—we cannot trace it to any particular woman. Following the generic expectations accompanying Bombay cinema melodrama, we likely presume that the song is being sung by Sheetal; however, such expectations are belied as we realize that it is a devotional song being sung at a temple nearby. Although Sheetal does not do the singing, the camera draws us visually closer to her and her image becomes more discernable. As she lies under the tree, in a simple black sari with a faint light falling on her pillow, her image seems to elicit a strange mingling of pathos and lyricism.

Instead of a further close up of Sheetal, we are taken inside the temple where the devotees are singing the devotional song dedicated to Lord Krishna while gazing at the idol of Krishna and his consort Radha. The song is sung from Radha’s point of view, as she is imploring her beloved to protect her and hold her hand.[6] While the song plays in the background, for Sharan, who is incessantly gazing in the direction of Sheetal, the lyrics seem to hold an additional emotional charge. Sung in the hauntingly melodious voice of Mubarak Begum, accompanied by Mohammed Rafi and a chorus, the song creates a sensory impression which does not just connect Sheetal and Sharan but also pulls in the spectators into its emotional charge. This song then plays throughout the film as a refrain and becomes a narrative trope of desire.

“Thaam lo apni Radha ko Bhagwan
Ruk na jaaye kahin dil ki dadhkan
Ye na kehne lage koi birhan
Moonh chhupaake saanwaria ne maara
Devta tum ho mera sahara
Maine thaama hai daaman tumhara”

“Take Radha in your shelter Lord
Lest her heart stops beating
And you be blamed for turning away
As a lover forsakes his beloved
Lord you are my anchor
And I beseech you for your support.”

Strangely intruding into the sequence, this melodious song and the beauty of the young enigmatic woman are emotionally undercut by a dissonant and incongruous image of a massive wooden plank being sawn by two carpenters in the space between the terraces. The juxtaposition of the song against the harsh disturbing sound of the sawing carries a disruptive foreboding.[7]

The film works at the level of such symbolism which also occurs in the verbal exchanges between the characters. The plank being sawed-off is one of the many symbols deployed in the film to articulate the underlying impact of occurrences in the lives of the main characters. This is because ‘Love’ is not a word spoken by any of the characters. As a result, most of the dialogue uses metaphorical language to convey emotional meanings, as will be shown in the analyses that follows.

In once incident, Sharan’s mother comes to visit him at his room on the terrace, and tells him that he is looking sick. She inquires why has he shut himself up in his room the whole day and why is he looking so listless. At that moment the devotional song plays again and Sharan looks in the direction of Sheetal, with the mother too following his gaze. As she slowly looks back at her son still gazing in the same direction, she understands what has happened to him and she walks away without saying a word, while her son is oblivious to her departure. There is no verbal exchange between the two but the song has also conveyed to the mother its erotic charge. She later sends her trusted servant to tell Sharan that she is deeply disturbed as well as ashamed. It is significant that the mother speaks these words while working on the spinning wheel or charkha.[8]

The messenger returns to tell the mother that Sharan replied, “Do not worry…even if all is consumed, the smoke from this fire will not be visible beyond the walls”—implying that his actions will not be the cause of any disrepute to the family. However, Sharan falls down from his terrace, later in the film, as he loses his balance while deeply lost in Sheetal’s thoughts. At that point, we are shown a huge cloud of smoke going beyond the high walls of his aristocratic mansion, belying the metaphorical promise he had made to his mother. [Fig. 23]

Throughout the film, we encounter this kind of symbolic verbal as well as visual vocabulary—whether it is the lyrics and melody of the songs, the instrumental background score, the lonely woman beneath the flowering tree, the plank been sawed-off into half, or the exchanges between various characters. This kind of multifaceted cinematic expression indicates a relationship that is dark and doomed and cannot even be articulated except in a cryptic form, if at all.

Coming back to Sharan, as he persistently looks in Sheetal’s direction, he composes and sings songs of pain and anguish crying out to the beloved. Sheetal, however, seems to be unresponsive and indifferent; but we realize how deeply moved she had been when she tries to dissuade Sharan from pursuing her. At that point, she has her wedding photograph delivered to him. While Sharan pens down poems for her—the only words Sheetal is able to write for him are, “I am married.”

The photograph is an evidential reminder of Sheetal’s marital status; however, Sharan’s fascination for her remains undeterred. He keeps her photograph under his pillow looking at it while covering the face of the groom in an attempt to obliterate the husband’s existence. I wish to emphasize the difference in the way the two protagonists look at the same photograph—Sheetal look at it as if she’s reliving the memory of a painful event in her life, one refuting any individual desire.

Sharan, on the other hand, in a mode of denial treats the photograph as almost the corporeal presence of the woman he has fallen in love with. Instead seeing it with a sense of shock and disappointment, as he obliterates the male with his palm, he gazes affectionately at the visible half of the photograph—happy in the thought of her proximity.

The chasm between the two terraces also has a deep symbolic significance for the two protagonists and the camera repeatedly emphasizes this distance by circular pans. At the same time, the camera also visually bridges the spatial distance. For example, consider the movement of a fly-away paper on which Sharan is writing a poem. Seemingly animated by into corporeal life, this paper flies out in the direction of the opposite terrace, forging an aural and visual connection with the beloved. The paper follows Sheetal around till she reads it and recognizes the song that she has heard Sharan sing.

“Aa bhi ja meri dunia me koi nahi
Bin tere kab talak yu hi ghabraye dil
Aa mile teri najro se aisi najar
Kuch na apni khabar ho na teri khabar
Laakh dhundhu magar phir na paoon kahin
Yoon mohhobat ke toofan me bah jaye dil”

“Come to me as my world is barren
And  my heart knows no solace without you
Since my eyes have met yours
I am lost to the world
My heart cannot be saved 
From drowning in the storm of love."

While the paper is following Sheetal around, Sharan is simultaneously singing the song —a desperate appeal to the beloved and an imploring to come to him and fill the void in his life. As Sheetal reads the poem she stoically disregards it; she realizes that the emotion it expresses has no role to play in her life. The paper, however, refuses to leave her proximity even when she tramples upon it; it defiantly flies upwards and gets stuck in the flowering tree under which Sheetal lies. The symbolic significance and affective charge of this song once again connects Sharan and Sheetal in probably the only way the two can be connected: “with a hyperbolization of desire via mise-en-scene.”[9] The framing also makes the connection between the lead pair as the camera zooms in to a close up of Sheetal at the start and end of the song.

As Peter Brooks has argued in The Melodramatic Imagination that in “the speaking film,” music “determines mode and meaning.”[10]

“The emotional drama needs the desemanticised language of music, its evocation of the 'ineffable,' its tones and registers. Style, thematic structuring, modulations of tone and rhythm and voice—musical patterning in a metaphorical sense—are called upon to invest plot with some of the inexorability and necessity that in pre-modern literature derived from the substratum of myth.”[11]

In Daaera, this expressivity is simultaneously offset: by the grating sound of the plank been sawed,[12] or the sound of Sheetal’s coughing, or the harsh ring of the alarm clock kept near Sheetal’s bed. These create a soundscape that works as a counterforce, disrupting the melodious songs and their soulful lyrics.

Sexuality and desire within the rhetoric of “sati”

I would now like to shift the focus to Sheetal’s relationship with her husband and her role as a dutiful wife. Apart from replying to her husband with monosyllabic dutiful addresses like “Ji Swami”[13] (“Yes my Lord”), Sheetal remains withdrawn and forlorn. The time she has to herself when not attending to her sick husband is spent mostly in reading a book whose self-reflexive title is Daaera. The only person she befriends and talks to is her neighbor, Gomti, who is also introduced to us through a song she sings (Deep ke sang jalunmain, aag mein jaise jale baati).[14]

Gomti’s song seems at first a background song also metaphorically vocalizing Sheetal’s her pain and suffering—till the camera focuses towards the very end on Gomti singing. The song impels Sheetal to go toward Gomti, who tells Sheetal that this is her grandmother’s house where she has been sent as a punishment for falling in love. The friendship between the neighbors develops into deep bonding as Gomti becomes a witness to Sheetal’s deep suffering. [Fig. 37] The film uses this second story to presents a strong critique of patriarchal social norms that disregard women’s desires—Gomti punished because she had experienced love but could not marry according to her choice; and Sheetal experiencing a marriage within which love would always elude her.

The other person Sheetal talks to is a kind doctor who comes to treat her husband. The husband dramatically implores the doctor to save his life. He says he doesn’t want to die without having his health restored for at least one full day so that he can match up to his wife’s youth. At this point, the doctor learns for the first time that the young girl is not the old man’s daughter but actually his wife. The old man also talks of his helpless condition and informs the doctor of his ritual of consuming a potency medicine, sankhiya,[15] “devoured by a passion to live.”

The effort of speaking these words results in his coughing, making the wick of the close by earthen lamp flicker. Sheetal immediately prevents this by shielding the light with her saree pallu[16] in a gesture of wifely devotion and service. Head slightly bowed, eyes downcast, a stoic resignation surrounds this image which symbolizes her suffering and her silent resolve to fulfill her dharma (dutiful conduct according to the scriptures and social conventions). This gesture sets up a melodramatic tableau as Peter Brooks defines it:

“a resolution of meanings… where the characters’ attitudes and gestures, compositionally arranged and frozen for a moment, give, like an illustrative painting, a visual summary of the emotional situation.”[17]

Sheetal is trying to prevent the light of the lamp, (in this context, connoting her husband’s life) from going out by her acts of service and passive obedience.

When the doctor leaves, Sheetal is asked by her husband to undo her plait and let her loosened hair fall on his face. He then erotically caresses her hair as they cover his face, addressing her as “meri sati.” Through this symbolic lovemaking, the important issue of physical intimacy and sexuality is addressed. The husband tells his wife that when he is under the loving shadow of her soft, silky hair he is able to defy death even if for a short while. This sequence also brings into focus patriarchal control over the woman’s body, sexuality and desire, as we see the enactment of a symbolic sati by the wife. In spirit, the wife is shown to be ending her life along with her husband. Jyoti Atwal, a historian refers to this situation as the practice of a “living sati.”[18] The doctor, in fact, is quick to understand this. He sees that Sheetal is deliberately sleeping in the open and keeping close to her husband as he coughs, not maintaining any  precautionary distance. He asks her why she is bent on ending her life in this manner and attempts to help her by sending her restorative medicines which she secretly throws away, consumed by a death wish.

It is this life of a woman’s patient suffering and her renunciation via a “living sati” that Daaera focuses on. Conforming to a conservative paradigm about gender roles, Sheetal performs her wifely duties according to the religious path of “dharma.” It is not for nothing that the towering spire of the Temple is framing her terrace abode.

In an important conversation with the doctor she likens her husband to the sun and herself to the earth, saying that the earth cannot be saved without the sun.[19] In this way, she forsees the state of future widowhood as her husband is at the brink of dying with consumption. She is so scared of a life as a widow that she prefers death instead.[20] However the kind doctor reassures her that her husband’s will to live is so strong, she needn’t worry and should try to heal herself.

When Sheetal’s husband addresses her as “sati,” he is also reinforcing the meaning of sati as a wife who is chaste and devoted to her marital duty. He spells out Sheetal’s victimhood to the doctor who is treating him, that the young woman is kamsin (young and innocent), abala (weak and dependent) and is his mazloom dharampatni (wronged and dutiful).[21]

Although much has been written on sati as the burning of the widow upon the husband’s death, less has been understood about how this practice impacted all of marriage and how both society and individuals understood their place in it. Thus, Jyoti Atwal, notes in the introduction to her book titled Real and Imagined Widows: Gender Relations in Colonial North India that in India, “academically there remains a historical blank, since the discourse on widows’ sexuality and cultural representations remains a neglected theme.”[22] Furthermore, Anand A. Yang in his essay, “Whose Sati? Widow Burning in Early-Nineteenth Century India,” makes a point about the invisibility of satis…no one knew them as human beings and as persons. Information on widow immolation or sati is largely in the form of Colonial government records and statistics. Yang refers to Gayatri C. Spivak’s argument in her essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak? Speculations on Widow-Sacrifice” that as one goes through the records of the East India Company, in the early 19th Century, “one never encounters the testimony of the women’s voice consciousness.”[23] And Yang has described the failings of this scholarship:

“In part, the particular emphases in the literature on sati reflect the predominant orientation of South Asian studies towards conventional political history rather than the ‘new’ social history… Another perspective, largely absent in the literature, is the focus of the human face of sati: neither the identities of those who committed sati, nor their reasons for seeking ‘virtue in death’ has received much attention.”[24]

It is in the fictional world of short stories and novels that one encounters the subjectivities of the suffering widow. One of the reasons why Daaera, is such an important film is that it contributes in providing a human face to the suffering wife/widow thereby attempting to remove the blur and anonymity associated with lack of personal accounts of the lives of “dutiful” women. The film focuses on the injustice of a mis-matched marriage and is the story of several women who are forced into marrying older men, probably widowers, old enough to be their fathers. The young girls are socialized into believing strongly in their “dharma” or sense of duty towards their “swami”[25] and have to passively obey their husbands who act like their masters instead of companions. The film makes a strong appeal for companionate marriages and couple formation based on individual choice, desires and romantic love.

Jyoti Atwal looks at an important film in India’s cinematic history, Mehboob Khan’s iconic film Mother India (1957), which has the struggling widow (actually the wife of an absent husband who has abandoned his family) as the protagonist. Atwal argues that the mother/widow’s “image captures the independent India struggling to achieve economic reforms and transform feudal social relations.”[26] Atwal ties together the political and melodramatic theme as she analyzes the woman’s role as a sacrificing mother who struggles to bring up her sons amidst dire poverty and later can sacrifice one of them to safeguard the moral universe that has been threatened by him. In contrast, Daaera does not focus on the woman as a mother or even as a householder involved in domestic chores. The woman is a suffering wife who has no hope or will to live and her only duty is to obey her husband’s wishes.

Melodrama and the foregrounding of desire

Sheetal leads a life of stoic devotion silently enduring her destiny, but it is the power of melodrama that foregrounds the pain and suffering hidden behind that persona. As Ira Bhaskar rightly points out, “The ideology of feminine devotion is undermined, however, by Meena Kumari’s tragic performance.”[27] Her performance “works metaphorically to destabilize her assumed role, and indicates an internal turmoil that she cannot express or even fully acknowledge.”[28] All her desires are symbolically transferred onto the beautiful flowering tree under which she always rests, and which she addresses as “ meri sakhi” (“my friend”). Bhaskar writes,

“Thus the mise-en-scene, soaked with desire, figures forth a ‘hysterical text’ while its unrepresentable and unspeakable material has been siphoned off into the mise-en scene.”[29]

Bhaskar further elaborates how in the Indian context, melodrama does not usher in a process of “resacralization” that melodrama theorist Peter Brooks writes about in The Melodramatic Imagination. In fact “deployment of the Vaishnav Bhakti idiom evokes the continuum of the sacred in the everyday.”[30] The devotional song with which the film starts and which also recurs as a kind of refrain throughout the film points to Radha’s love for Krishna and conveys the erotic charge between Sheetal and Sharan. However both of them are trapped within “disciplinary regimes”[31] that deny fulfillment of these desires.

At one point in the film, it is reported that Sheetal’s husband, who had gone to a meeting regarding his monthly pension, has died in a train accident. In terms of audience expectation, this news raises expectations that Sheetal might remarry if Sharan’s mother, herself a widow, could be convinced to agree. Professor Kedarnath, a family member, (played by Nana Palsikar), undertakes this difficult task. The framing of his dialogue with the mother is carefully constructed—the mother is shown to be working on the charkha, averting a frontal gaze,[32] while Prof. Kedarnath is facing her, lecturing to her on the sanctity of widow remarriage, convincing her of accepting Sheetal as her daughter-in-law. Professor Kedarnath quotes from the Shastric text, Parasharsmriti,[33] enumerating the conditions under which widow remarriage can be allowed. Ultimately the mother is convinced, and she visits Sheetal. What could have resulted in a happy ending, however, is thwarted by the miraculous return of Sheetal’s husband, again belying spectatorial expectation.

In the concluding sequence of the film, Sheetal lights a stove on her terrace to heat some water for her husband.[34] Steam arises from the water boiling, her metaphoric response to the neighbor Sharan getting married. Next, she retires for the night, lying down on her (death) bed while the terrace across is brimming with celebrations, lighting, song and dance. As viewers, we share Sheetal’s perspective in this tragedy via the camera’s gaze, since we, like her, can only listen to and view the song and dance performed as part of the wedding celebrations from a distance. Viewers usually expect to gain privileged access into a song and dance sequence even if it is denied to a particular character; but in this instance, the camera does not grant us this access. A dancing girl is performing on the other terrace but is barely visible; we can only watch from afar as we are visually and aurally positioned with Sheetal.

Once again, in deep focus diegetic space, we notice Meena Kumari’s foregrounded face tilted towards Sharan’s lit house with a palpable, insurmountable distance between the two. When Sharan comes back home with his bride, it is to the strains of the song  “Dola utaaren kahar…”. The lyrics speak about the bride coming to her new home in a palanquin and the bearers are asked to lower it so that the young bride can dismount. Sheetal, for the first time in the film, responds with a smile on her lips and a sneer in her eyes— the closest she has ever come to speak of her own unfulfilled desires and the self-knowledge that they shall never be fulfilled. Daaera has been about this journey from a barely discernable Sheetal to the extreme close up of her—she most comes to life as life is ebbing out of her.

Through the mis-e-scene, the songs, expressions and camera angles, the film Daaera highlights the indirect yet charged exposition of love in the symbolic realm. Along with this, it also lends voice and subjectivity to the “sati”, something that remains absent and impossible to capture in official administrative records.


1. Translated as a ‘sphere’ and implying a sense of ‘boundary.’

2. My academic engagement with the talkie films of Bombay cinema from 1930s to the early 60s is in the form of my research work as a PhD scholar at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal University, Delhi. I have been greatly inspired with the writings of my supervisor, Prof. Ira Bhaskar, who has written extensively on Social films. Her essay “Emotion, Subjectivity, and the Limits of Desire: Melodrama and Modernity in Bombay Cinema, 1940s-50s,” has been the starting point of my thinking deeply about Daaera.

3. Kamal Amrohi, the director of this film, and Meena Kumari, playing the role of Sheetal, fell in love and got married in 1952—one year before the release of Daaera. This was their first film as husband and wife.

4. The practice of the wife being burnt alive with her deceased husband on his funeral pyre. According to orthodox Hindu religion, a widow was considered inauspicious. “Closely related to this idea was the belief that an unattached woman… constituted a grave danger to her community because of the supposedly irrepressible sexual powers she possessed, a capacity which always had the potential to disrupt her ritually prescribed life of austerity.” Sarkar, Sumit, and Tanika Sarkar, eds. Women and Social Reform in Modern India: A Reader, Vol. 1. Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2011, p.29.

5. See Geraldine Forbes (2000, 2005), Sumit and Tanika Sarkar (2011), Sangari and Vaid (2013), Shekhar Bandopadhyay (2015), Radha Kumar (1993) for details.

6. The love between Radha and Krishna is symbolic of a deep companionship and a celestial union of the devotee and the Lord. The love between the two remains a sacred metaphor for heterosexual love in Vaishnav Bhakti tradition.

7. It symbolizes the separation and pain of the characters in love. Daaera was released a few years after the country had gained independence (in 1947)…but an independence which also partitioned the subcontinent into India and Pakistan and saw riots and bloodshed in the name of religion. I believe that the huge plank is a reminder not just of the forbidden desires but also of divisions which bind people in the name of class, caste, community, religion, or gender.

8. The charkha is the spinning wheel which was used by Gandhi as a potent symbol of colonial resistance and self- reliance during the Sawdeshi movement. Sharan’s mother is shown mostly spending her time spinning at the charkha. In the context of the film it symbolizes the Gandhian ideals of prioritizing duty and service and sacrifice.

9. Bhaskar: 2012, 169.

10. Brooks: 1985, 14.

11. Ibid.

12. As has been mentioned in case of the first song also.

13. “Ji” is an honorific with which elders are respectfully addressed.

14. Translated as —“I burn with the lamp, as the wick burns in the flame” (2012: 170).

15. An ancient medicine presumed to cure impotency and restore sexual health.

16. The pallu is the free end of the Indian attire called saree which is actually a running material of approximately six yards in length—often decorated at the borders and pallu. Here Sheetal is wearing the plainest of sarees which denotes not just her renunciatory attitude but also the economic status of the couple.

17. Brooks: 1984, 48.

18. Atwal, Jyoti. Real and Imagined Widows: Gender Relations in Colonial North India. Delhi: Primus Books, 2016, p.232.

19. A similar philosophical explanation is given by Sheetal when Gomti begs her to at least articulate her pain, so that she might be able to lessen it.

20. Although Sharan’s mother is also shown as a widow, the fact of being a rich widow, in charge of an aristocratic mansion and its accompanying standard of living, gives her a relative position of power. Sheetal’s projected widowhood, in contrast, is a position of helplessness, vulnerability and uncertainty. In metaphorical terms, Sheetal compares it to the state of the earth in absence of the sun.

21. Mazloom— meaning ‘wronged’ or victimized’, dharampatni meaning dutiful and lawfully wedded wife.

22. Atwal, Jyoti. Real and Imagined Widows: Gender Relations in Colonial North India. Delhi: Primus Books, 2016, p.1.

23. Sarkar, Sumit, and Tanika Sarkar, “Introduction,” eds. Women and Social Reform in Modern India: A Reader, Vol. 1. Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2011, p.23.

24. Ibid., p. 24. Tanika and Sumit Sarkar’s two Volumes on Women and Social Reform in India have also attempted to give us personal testimonies on this issue. These volumes highlight the importance of oral history as an important historical archive, filling in the lacunae of official records.

25. Translated as “lord and master.”

26. Atwal: 2016, p. 212.

27. Bhaskar: 2012, 170.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid., 172.

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid.

32. One possible explanation for this averted gaze could be that though Gandhi was not in favor of child marriage and supported the child widows’ remarriage, there was ambivalence regarding widows who were older. Gandhi spoke of them as epitomizing the values of sacrifice and service and thus were to be venerated. In his words: “Self control has been carried by Hinduism to the greatest height and, in a widow’s life, it reaches perfection…. I regard a widow’s life as an ornament to Hinduism.” Thus, he advised the widows to follow a life of “renunciation, sacrifice, self- abnegation and dedication to the service of her husband, his family and the country.” (quoted by Atwal: 2016, 230-232). The charkha-spinning older widow with the averted gaze makes visible the continuum of conflict between tradition and modernity in this postcolonial moment.

33. Shastras are prescriptive religious texts that were referred to in conjugal issues, as marriage was considered a sacrament for the Hindus.

34. The first time she is shown doing it in full view, otherwise her kitchen activities remain invisible to the spectators.


Atwal, Jyoti. Real and Imagined Widows: Gender Relations in Colonial North India. Delhi: Primus Books, 2016.

Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. From Plassey To Partition And After: A History of Modern India.Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2015.

Bhaskar, Ira, and Richard Allen. Islamic Cultures of Bombay Cinema. New Delhi: Tulika Books, 2009.

Bhaskar, Ira. “Emotion, Subjectivity, and the Limits of Desire: Melodrama and Modernity in Bombay Cinema, 1940s-‘50s,” Gender Meets Genre in Postwar Cinema. Christine Gledhill, ed. Urbana, Chicago and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2012, 161-176.

Brooks, Peter. The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama and the Mode of Excess. New York:  Columbia University Press, 1985.

Chatterjee, Partha. The Nation and Its Fragments. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Forbes, Geraldine. The New Cambridge History of India: Women in Modern India. New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Forbes, Geraldine. Women in Colonial India: Essays on Politics, Medicine, and Historiography. New Delhi: Chronicle Books, 2005.

Kumar, Radha. The History of Doing: An Illustrated account of Movements for Women’s Rights and Feminism in India 1800-1990. New Delhi: Zubaan, 1993.

Orsini, Francesca,ed. Love in South Asia. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Sangari, Vaid, ed. Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2013.

Sarkar, Sumit, and Tanika Sarkar, eds. Women and Social Reform in Modern India: A Reader, Vol. 1, and 2.Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2011.

Sarkar, Tanika. Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation: Community, Religion & Cultural Nationalism. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001.

All pictures have been accessed from: Bombay Talkies Studio. (1953). Daaera. YouTube. India. Retrieved September 19, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yINaRSWcLMs.