Hindi, 1996; color; with Sunil Dutt, Sadhana.
Director: Raj Khosla
Thakur Sahib (Sunil Dutt) arrives back in India in great haste from an overseas trip to find his wife (Geeta) dying in his arms. Apparently, in his absence, she suddenly took ill; her condition degenerated rapidly. Thakur Sahib himself sets the fire to her pyre; the entire household of loyal servants is plunged into mourning. Thakur Sahib passes away his days and nights engulfed in grief, listening to her songs, reminiscing of those days when love was in the air.
As the Thakur is immersed in day-dreaming, he is visited by the police inspector who is the bearer of exceedingly strange news. At an encounter between the police and a notorious gang of bandits, a woman is left behind by the fleeing criminals; she not only bears an extraordinary resemblance to Geeta, but claims to be Geeta. Though Geeta’s death is a matter of public knowledge, the police suggest that Thakur Sahib may wish to visit the jail where “Geeta” is lodged to decisively put an end to her claim. In the jail, the Thakur’s servants are visibly stunned at seeing “Geeta”: her insistence, and her very presence, must be weighed against the previous evidence, since “Geeta” died before their very eyes. The Thakur resolutely refuses to admit the possibility that she might be his wife, and who can blame him? Indeed, he is convinced that the woman claiming to be his wife is being hoisted upon him so that she can be the mistress of a rich household.
“Geeta” is prosecuted in court; she summons her own “husband”, as she describes Thakur Sahib, as her only witness. During the course of the lengthy trial, it so transpires that she is aware of details of their life together — and so this increases the probability that her claim to be his wife is not altogether spurious. The theatricality of court cases is underscored when “Geeta” asks that her witness, her own husband, be asked to take off his shirt: as she points out, she can identify the presence of a mole on his back. Indeed, much in the narrative structure of Mera Saaya hovers around signs: his mole is one sign, as is her mangalsutra. Thakur Sahib is certain that he has caught this imposter in a lie: what kind of Hindu wife is she, he avers, considering that her mangalsutra is not around her neck? And where is it? Everyone in the courtroom is visibly moved; the magisterial iconic significance of the mangalsutra is a self-evident truth. But, there, too, the imagined trump card nearly leads to his defeat: “Geeta” offers a compelling narrative of how the mangalsutra left her possession and entered into his hands; the Thakur reluctantly admits to the truth of her narrative. At one point, Thakur Sahib is constrained to admit “Geeta” is in possession of such intimate details of his life, and “their” life together, that she must perforce be his wife. And yet she died in his own arms: that is the palpable, undeniable truth.
Though Mera Saaya is pitched as a mystery, the Hindi film is nearly capable of working in this genre. Is “mystery” part of the language of every cultural formation, and does mystery mean the same to people everywhere? Do mysteries evoke the same interest everywhere? If the star heroine of the film dies in its opening minutes, we can rightly anticipate that she will return in a double role; and in the Hindi film, that has more often than not meant that somewhere in the plot lurks a twin sister. Thus, as the “mystery” moves to its resolution, we are apprised of the fact that Geeta has a twin sister. Predictably, the two drifted in different directions: Geeta becomes the virtuous Hindu wife, her sister takes to evil ways and joins a gang of bandits. One evening, while the Thakur was away on his overseas trip, Geeta’s sister appears at her front door; she is on the run, exhausted, frightened, and Geeta gives her shelter. But there is fear of detection; how can her presence be explained to Geeta’s household? Geeta leaves the house late in the evening to fetch some medicines, and she is at once abducted: a case of mistaken identity. The woman who dies in the Thakur’s arms is Geeta’s sister.
Despite the pedestrian plot, and the wholly predictable and mediocre dialogue, Mera Saaya is not without some interest. Even the most banal Hindi films are able to generate complex questions. What is the attraction of the double to Hindi filmmakers? And why should one twin be good, the other bad? Does the Hindi film project this dualism through the mechanism of the double just as the film in Hollywood is more likely to depict it through the representations of schizophrenia or split personalities? Is the exterior double the allegorical representation of the good and the bad within each person? There are other questions of identity that come to the fore as well: what sort of love is it that the Thakur harbors for his wife if he is unable to recognize her inner core? If “Geeta” all along claims that she is Geeta, and he knows her in some intimate sense, what precludes his recognition of that reality? How does one, moreover, reconcile the conflicting evidence of the senses? The woman standing before the Thakur claims to be his wife, and is a replica of the woman he has known; and yet he himself consigned her to flames. Who is the original, who is the copy? Do we have eyes that we can see? Are is it the case that we need the gift of the third eye, the gift of darsan, to unravel the mysteries of life?