Shyam Benegal's Bhumika: The Role is an example of superb, masterful cinema. The film relates the life story of a troubled actress named Usha Dalvi from her very childhood to her adulthood, and slowly follows her trials and tribulations, her coming of age, her relationships with different men, her despair, and finally her self-acceptance.
An autobiographical inspiration of the 1940’s famous actor Hansa Wadkar who joined the pompous film industry in order to support her on the breadline family, the film goes to show an adapted form of the same as Usha, stunningly played by Smita Patil who takes on solely, the survival of her financially trodden family, after Keshav (Amol Palekar) the family supporting intruder ( who is later her husband) delivers her into an existence surrounding the overwhelming lights, camera and action of Bombay.
The palpable tension in the eyes dialogs to a minimum but sufficient, expressions fantastic. The buildup of tension in the eyes, and the movements in the house immediately tells you everything, that there is nothing right in this house. Watch Smita’s sudden and frequent change of expressions while dealing alternately between the husband and the daughter. Effort, minimal, effect, maximum.
Then the movie alternates between a flashback in black and white, and the present in color. Story is traced to a family in a village where Usha is still very young and learning singing from grandma. How she has to move from the village in search of work, to Bombay film industry, her adolescent and innocent love with Palekar, taste of early success and marriage forms the next few sequences in the movie. Back to present, fed up with the good for nothing and quarrelling husband, she leaves home to stay in a hotel. She is thinking about her past and we are in for some more flashbacks. Her quest for love takes her to different people, each different from the other. We meet Rajan played by Anant Nag and Sunil played by Naseeruddin Shah. And then another twist is in store for us. Usha makes another experiment with her life. But does she get what she is searching for? You must watch the movie for this.
Amol Palekar did not yet have the Golmaal success, and to watch him play this mean character from young to old so efficiently was a revelation. Anant Nag and Kulbhusan Kharbanda are just sufficient. A very small role for Naseer, and yet he sparkles. Amrish Puri, how I wish he was used more efficiently by the filmmakers. Smita Patil’s prowess as Usha confirms her to be one of the most dynamically impactful actresses of her time. She immaculately alters from a teasing young adolescent to a conflicted mature woman, to a lonesome middle-aged woman all in one film.
Bhumika: The Role, a winner of two national awards is one more revealing testimony to Shyam Bengal's works, stalwartly displaying the director’s profundity of thought and vision.