A musical masterpieceMaitighar, the movie, which explores the intricate emotions women experience during different stages of their lives, is far ahead of its time.
A woman was sentenced to 15 years in prison. It was decided that she would be released early because of good behaviour. However, she declines the offer. Why? I watched BS Thapa’s 1966 classic ‘Maitighar’ to find out.
‘Maitighar’, the first Nepali film released under a private label, was released about six decades ago, at the end of 1966, by Sumonanjali Films Pvt Ltd. The film stars Bollywood actress Mala Sinha and Nepali actor Chidambar Prasad Lohani in the lead roles. Its beautiful music was composed by veteran music maestro Jaidev. ‘Maitighar’ contains the most enthralling array of songs. Legendary Indian singers such as Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Usha Mangeshkar, and Manna Dey sing in the tracks from the movie, along with classics of Nepali music such as Narayan Gopal, Prem Dhoj Pradhan, CP Lohani, and Aruna Lama.
The film portrays the narrative of Maya (Sinha), a Pokhara native who falls in love with Mohan. They marry and have a family together. Mohan goes to England to study, and when he returns, his father organises a huge feast for him. Mohan goes on a hunting excursion on the day of the feast, despite being asked not to. The plot is built on the foundation of a catastrophic accident that happens on the very first day.
The movie, directed by BS Thapa, centres around the widowed Maya. The challenges and struggles that widows faced during that era are perfectly depicted in the movie. Maya is subjected to constant societal humiliation, particularly from the women in her village, including her mother-in-law, which makes her life unbearable. The film provides a frank and honest portrayal of a misogynistic society that derives pleasure from oppressing vulnerable women, as evident in the terrible treatment Maya receives due to her status as a widow.
In ‘Maitighar,’ the filmmakers depict the superstitious belief that accuses women of witchcraft when their husbands die. Despite finding solace in religious texts and scriptures, Maya’s patience wears thin when she is prevented from attending the kirtan (a religious musical event where a group sings devotional songs). Consequently, she leaves her son, Raatu, in the care of her in-laws and flees Pokhara, making her way to Nepalgunj, where she is pursued by thugs. While it takes bravery for Maya to embark on this journey and leave behind her home, she is ultimately forced to take refuge in a seemingly random house, which is later revealed to be a brothel owned by a woman from the Badi community.
The plot deepens as Maya’s struggle to avoid prostitution unfolds. Despite her best efforts, she ultimately agrees to sing and dance for the sake of her unborn child. The film serves as a tribute to all mothers who go to any length to ensure the welfare of their children. Even while in Nepalgunj, Maya keeps tabs on Raatu’s well-being and progress. When her daughter, Rekha, is born, Maya desires to protect her from the dark world of prostitution and sends her to a boarding school in Kathmandu.
The film’s main antagonist, Sahuji, makes his entrance in the latter half of the movie with sinister intentions towards Maya and her daughter, Rekha. The climax of the scene sets the stage for the entire movie’s premise.
When watching ‘Maitighar’, it’s important to keep in mind that the movie was produced in the 1960s—before modern amenities had made their way into the world of cinema. Once you move past any biases against older black-and-white films, what you’ll find is a musical masterpiece full of unexpected twists and turns. The suspense that builds throughout the story is remarkably strong and culminates in a satisfying conclusion. Watching ‘Maitighar’ is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our film heritage and appreciate how well-crafted stories were made many years ago.
The movie is a rare gem in Nepali cinema as it allows a female character to carry the entire story forward. The music is undoubtedly the film’s highlight. Featuring popular songs like ‘Basanta Nai Basna Khojcha Yaha’, ‘Namana Laaj Yastari’, ‘Jindagi Lai Jeet Hoina’, and ‘Ma Pyar Bechidinchhu’, among others, ‘Maitighar’ has some of the best classic Nepali songs. While the songs may feel a bit random and too numerous at times during the first half of the film, they effectively convey the story’s emotions and drive the plot forward with their beautiful lyrics.
The only things I didn’t enjoy in the film were the lengthy courtroom scene that lacked impact and the seemingly out-of-place cameo appearances of Indian actor Sunil Dutt and comedian Rajesh Nath. Additionally, the regressive mindset of the society depicted in the film is at times apparent, but the strength given to the central character Maya ultimately overcomes these flaws.
I was amazed to find out that ‘Maitighar’, Kathmandu was named after the movie as its filming location was created there. When you consider the time and age, the film is a masterpiece. ‘Maitighar’ won my heart with its simple yet powerful depiction of women during that time. I hold nothing but admiration for the film, which was far ahead of its time, featuring a female lead and exploring the intricate emotions that women experience during different stages of their lives.
Subtitle: Not available
Duration: 2 hours, 14 minutes
Director: BS Thapa
Cast: Mala Sinha, Chidambar Prasad Lohani, Tika Bhushan Dahal, Sunil Dutt