Noted filmmaker Basu Bhattacharya (not to be confused with Basu Chatterjee, another widely acclaimed filmmaker) reflected upon urban marital discord from 1971 to 1979 through Anubhav (1971), Aavishkar (1973) and Griha Pravesh (1979), and while the first two were made and released one after the other, the third one came much later in 1979. Between 1973 (Aavishkar) and 1979 (Griha Pravesh), Bhattacharya explored different themes and subjects making films such as Daku (1975), Tumhara Kalloo (1975), Sangat (1976) and Madhu Malti (1978) before returning to the theme of distressed marriages once again in 1979 with Griha Pravesh.
Anubhav is a rather simple story of a couple, Amar Sen (Sanjeev Kumar) and Meeta Sen (Tanuja), who have been married for several years – six, to be precise – without being quite as intimate as married couples generally are, simply because Mr. Sen, a dedicated newspaper editor, is nearly married to his work and has little time for anything and anybody else, including his wife. The couple even sleeps separately because Amar often works late into the night and does not want to disturb his wife. This is something of a clunky knot in the plot, for the wife stays with such a strange arrangement for as long as six years before deciding to make changes. So, we have to assume that this young wife is unusually patient with her husband and extremely understanding of his needs and ambitions, the lofty curves of which she may not always understand completely. Okay, we swallow it somehow, but it doesn’t go down very smoothly.
So, we have Meeta, an understanding wife, who is – quite understandably – not happy with the situation in her married life, and takes upon herself to change it. She starts by firing all the servants except the oldest one, Hari (A.K. Hangal), who insists on staying back. She starts opening the door for her husband when he returns from office, starts making tea, lunch and dinner for him, and they start sleeping together in the same bed eventually. In short, she makes her house home, herself a wife and the man she married her husband in no time at all. One wonders what took her so long – six years, no less – to realize how easy and doable it was all this while. But this doesn’t help the story or the film, but further adds to the awkwardness of the plot instead.
Just when all things are falling in place and Meeta’s home is finally home-like, the telephone rings and the filmmaker brings into the story the age-old literary device – which, by the way, never really falls out of fashion – of the past working its way into the present to mess things up. In this case, it’s Shashi Bhushan (Dinesh Thakur), someone with whom Meeta had had a little something in the past as a young girl. He says that he wants to meet her in private, but Meeta is not really interested, for she sees him as a threat to her married life, which she had only recently been able to put into working order in the real sense. He insists upon meeting and drops in when her husband is not home. He is not there for any reasons of the heart but only to further his own selfish interest.
He requests Meeta to put in a good word with her husband for him in connection with a job he is seeking in her husband’s organization. She refuses, and tells him that she does not interfere in her husband’s work, which is true. Shashi is disappointed. He feels and expresses aloud with no bitterness at all that he ended up compromising his self-respect for nothing. As fate would have it – and without which the story would certainly not move forward – Shashi finds favour with Amar, who likes him for his abilities, and is very much inclined to give him the job without any recommendation. However, despite having turned Shashi down, apparently, Meeta does talk to her husband about Shashi, which Amar acknowledges at the time of appointing Shashi, but makes it clear to him that it was his ability alone that landed him the job regardless of the recommendation. The movie does not disclose how exactly Meeta recommended Shashi’s candidature and what did she say about how the two of them knew each other.
Shashi, a gifted journalist, continues to impress Amar by consistently delivering in excess of the expected, which brings the two closer, and during an informal exchange in the car Shashi mentions that Meeta sings well, a fact that Amar had never known in all six years of his marriage with her. The curious thing about this sequence is that Amar is surprised that his own wife sings well and he did not know, but he displays no curiosity regarding how Shashi knows it, and how well had Shashi known his wife in the past and in what way. Did she sing on a college function that Shashi attended? Did she sing at some other function and Shashi happened to be there? Did she sing in the college canteen where Shashi heard her sing? Or did she actually sing for or with Shashi in a park, strolling around with him romantically, hand in hand? None of those husbandly questions cross Amar’s mind. He goes home and demands a song of Meeta. No questions asked, no answers demanded. That rings odd and unrealistic, but that makes Amar a very – perhaps, overly – trusting husband.
Then Amar falls ill and has to stay back home, which gives him time to know and understand Meeta better, which strengthens his bond with his wife. Shashi visits him every now and then in connection with work, but Meeta is almost always a little too unfriendly with him, and this too rings no bells with Amar, which, again, is pretty unusual. However, things come out in open when Meeta, frustrated with having to put up with Shashi’s everyday presence at her house, reminds Shashi that he had once said that he wanted to see Meeta happy and indicates that he was fast becoming a threat to her happy married life. Amar overhears this brief, one-way interaction between his wife and Shashi, which leaves him in doubt regarding his wife’s history with Shashi, and that unsettles him quite a lot, but he doesn’t confront his wife.
Although Amar never quite confronts Meeta directly about her past relationship with Shashi, he does nothing to suppress his irritation either, which makes Meeta to respond to the questions crawling just below the surface. And she responds with heartbreaking candidness. And that’s the highlight of the film. She tells Amar that she had always been told what was appropriate and inappropriate for her by others. All her life she had been following the instructions from the elders or had been abiding by the societal norms, and during those young years she ran into Shashi, and the two of them spent some time together every now and then, which totalled to not more than six hours in all, but in those six hours Shashi gave Meeta – without ever touching her, Meeta insists – what six years of her married life could not. Ouch!
In that little exchange Meeta indicates without quite stating it that it was the feeling of being in control of herself and things around her that pushed her to Shashi, who did not disappoint her with his interesting company. She says it all without making any attempt to cushion the blow, which does land hard on Amar. Hurt and livid, he dashes to his office, calls Shashi in and goes off on him like Shashi was the cause of all his problems. He even demands a resignation of Shashi, which Shashi has ready for him anyway. The sight of a ready resignation calms Amar down, and he has a levelheaded talk with Shashi only to realize that Shashi was not the problem that needed to be solved. The problem, as a matter of fact, was between him and his wife, and Shashi was an outside factor that had very little to do with anything that was troubling him.
Amar returns home to find Meeta happy and normal like nothing was wrong with anything around her. Amar is still angry and disturbed and wants to talk whereas Meeta serves him dinner and takes him to bed rather happily, dismissing his protests lightly and casually at every stage as though the issue that had just hit her marriage like a torpedo was nothing but a slight disagreement of the most insignificant kind. This puzzles Amar and angers him further, but that doesn’t make Meeta lose her calm. She remains completely at ease throughout and ends it by telling Amar that she has understood that he has understood (“Main samajh gayi hoon ke tum samajh gaye ho”). And the movie ends there.
The much expected showdown befitting a Bollywood climax doesn’t quite happen. That’s because life is not quite that
theatrical, which is perhaps what makes movies, particularly mainstream Hindi films, as enjoyable as they are, for they
allow audience to live in an unrealistically charged alternative reality for those few hours in a dark theatre. But Anubhav sticks to the real.
There is no lengthy exposition as to why Meeta did not disclose her past with Shashi any sooner than she absolutely had to, which is basically because no explanation is actually required, for this marital discord, like many, if not most, is not about a real problem that needs solving. The issue needs a sympathetic understanding of the past. In this case, there is very little for Amar to deal with except the fact that there was another man in Meeta’s life before him, who made Meeta feel more alive briefly, but who is in no way important to her in the present day.
Meeta makes an honest admission of both her past and present realities. Even if the past was better in some ways, she is happy in the present and does not want the past to interfere with her present. She has no doubts about her present day preferences. It’s not hard for Amar to understand that, and she knows that as well.
The only thing left for Amar to do was to accept both the past and the present, and that the bygone was never coming forward to interfere with the present. Meeta is happy because with the truth out, she no longer has to lug around the burden of a hidden past. The disclosure frees her, makes her feel light, which also makes her more confident and more capable of being able to help her husband come to terms with the rather insignificant past. Yes, it does change how he looks at his wife a little bit, but it doesn’t really hit or undermine their relationship. The situation demands just a little re-orientation and psychological re-adjustment, and the ability to manage that is what makes marriages work. That’s the worldly-wise lesson Anubhav – Hindi for ‘experience’ – offers. It does take some experience to understand that, after all.