Date Released : 26 October 1973
Genre : Drama, Family
Stars : Amitabh Bachchan, Nutan, Trilok Kapoor, Padma Khanna. Moti sells gurd in the market. He collects the raw material and takes them to an older woman, Mahjubhi, who makes exemplary gurd. Moti loves a village girl but is unable to afford to pay for the maher (dowry/marriage expenses) to her father. So he decides to marry Mahjubhi, proposes to her, which she accepts, they marry, and she moves in with him. Moti extracts a lot of work from Mahjubhi so that..." />
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Moti sells gurd in the market. He collects the raw material and takes them to an older woman, Mahjubhi, who makes exemplary gurd. Moti loves a village girl but is unable to afford to pay for the maher (dowry/marriage expenses) to her father. So he decides to marry Mahjubhi, proposes to her, which she accepts, they marry, and she moves in with him. Moti extracts a lot of work from Mahjubhi so that he can save enough money to pay for his marriage expenses. Shortly after he saves enough money, he decides to give Mahjubhi talaq (divorce), accusing her of infidelity. Shortly after that he marries the village girl, and he goes back to his business of selling gurd. With the skills of Mahjubhi taken away, will Moti survive on his own, and will his new wife be able to offer him the support and skills in order to enable him to survive in his trade.
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A jewel in the rough
Sudhendu Roy's Saudagar is a magnificent rural drama. Set in a small village, the film is about Moti, a young merchant of jaggery, a popular molasses cake distilled from the sap of date palms. During summer, Moti buys some trees, extracts the sap from them, and brings the juice to Mahjubhi, a widowed woman who uses it to prepare exemplary jaggery cakes. He sells them in the market, where their product is the best-sold, and they share the income. Soon, Moti meets and falls for a young village belle named Phoolbanu, but he cannot marry her as the dowry price her father stipulates is too high. After many thoughts, he hits upon a clever scheme of marrying Mahjubhi so that he can save enough money from their business without sharing the take with her.
Surprised at first, within just one day, Mahjubhi finally decides to accept his offer and, with his hard-work and her skills and unconditional support, Moti manages to save enough money just as he planned. Much to the complete shock of an otherwise happy Mahjubhi, one day, out of the blue, Moti divorces her, accusing her of infidelity. Hurt and furious, Mahjhubi understands that she was just exploited, and she immediately leaves the house with her head held high, which lets Moti complete his mission by marrying Phoolbanu. Time flies by for the happy couple but then the jaggery season comes. This is the first time Moti has to deal without Mahjubhi and her unique mastery, and what he doesn't know is that Phoolbanu knows nothing about preparing jaggery, which destroys his business reputation.
Yes, Saudagar is one wonderful and brilliant tale, which is based on 'Ras', a short story by Bengali writer Narendranath Mitra. According to me, Sudhendu Roy's adaptation is simply flawless. He directs this feature with honesty and style and uses symbolism to tell this simple yet highly absorbing story. Set in a village, it is extremely realistic. While there is a popular perception that such films have a tendency to be slow and tedious, Saudagar flows like water and is thoroughly fascinating and riveting. Having seen Roy's previous venture (the forgotten gem Uphaar, which was his directorial debut), I can say that Saudagar is similar in that it is very authentic, and is more of an offbeat film, only that there are songs, and yet, there isn't a single dull moment in it. Even the songs are used to the best effect and enhance the narrative.
The writing is brilliant, with some amazing and poetic dialogues enriching the depth of the story, the characters, and the overall movie experience altogether. Dilip Ranjan's cinematography is fantastic, with the camera always moving close to the characters, focusing on their expressions, their eyes, and perfectly capturing their state of mind. The emotional impact is therefore extremely strong as the viewer experiences the story and is consistently involved in the proceedings. Roy wonderfully captures the spirit of the village and its cultural lifestyle, aided by fantastic sets, props, costumes and extras. Not less important, he gives the viewer an interesting glimpse into jaggery making, which is presented as a complex work of art, which, in turn, only adds credibility to Phoolbanu's failure to do it as well as Mahjhubi.
Amitabh Bachchan proves why he achieved such a high stature already then. In a simple, negative and grayish character of a man who tries to fulfill his desires at the cost of a poor woman's feelings, he is stupendous. At times, there seems to be nothing easier than to hate him. That said, apart from showing us Moti's determination to complete his nefarious plan, through some tiny nuances, we can see his guilt feelings and later sparks of deep regret for having both made someone's life miserable and, more importantly, missed out on a caring companion. This is to date one of his very best performances. Padma Khanna is very pretty and, while acting-wise she is nothing to write home about, she has a certain appeal that works and is overall a good choice for the part. Her role requires sex-appeal, and she oozes it.
But, it is essentially Nutan's film. A one-of-a-kind actress, her talent transcends time and I can see very few actresses of today playing Mahjubhi with so much authenticity. It's amazing how much she can convey through her presence alone, skillfully using her body language and ever so expressive eyes. Here, a breathtakingly beautiful Nutan complements the script and vice versa. She is first a lonely, struggling widow, then a second-time happily-married wife, then a wronged woman who, in spite of pain and anger, moves on. And she is compelling and moving all the way through. Hers is one of the finest performances of Hindi cinema, a portrayal of heartbreaking anguish and inspiring strength. She is strong yet vulnerable, feisty yet gentle, resentful yet totally compassionate. In every turn, she is mind-blowing.
Saudagar's main message is successfully conveyed: one can never acquire happiness by making someone else unhappy. This is the main moral taught in the story but then there are many others. The ending is absolutely brilliant. I loved the minimalism and the fact that Roy did not insult the audience's intelligence by presenting us the following proceedings, leaving a bit more for the imagination instead. The dialogue uttered by Bachchan is symbolic of the situation. Mind you, this is a human story, there are no heroes and villains, and the ending is proof to that. To sum it up, excellently narrated and beautifully shot, Saudagar is without a doubt one of the finest Hindi movies of its times, one of the finest ever made, and certainly one highly underrated piece. A jewel in the rough, indeed.