17 August 2010 | Peter_Young
About sexual frustration and infidelity
Aruna Raje directs Rihaee, a bold and realistic movie which takes place in a small village. The men are far away in the big city, working to support their families, and the wives remain all alone, trying to survive the routine life by working in the fields and taking care of the kids, quietly awaiting their husbands' letters. From one post to another, the man find a way to satisfy themselves by visiting various brothels and sharing nights with different prostitutes, expecting their wives to remain loyal. But when a young city man named Mansukh visits the village, he manages to lay down several women. His personal project, however, is one woman named Taku, who is known to be the most decent of the women in the village, and who would not allow him to get even mildly close to her. But one day she too gets lost in her loneliness and her desire wins her principles. On top of that, she finds out she is pregnant and instantly lets her husband know about her betrayal once he comes back. While the husband thinks of forgiving her this one mistake, he is surprised by her firm assertion that she will never abort this child. That's where starts a great dilemma.
Interesting and engaging, Rihaee may surprise many with its honest and in-your-face portrayal of themes which had rarely been dealt with in Hindi cinema earlier. The film's proceedings are at times really shocking and unbelievable and are handled quite well, although at times I felt a kind of banality in the way the infidelity was depicted, given the fact that such incidents rarely happen, particularly in such culturally and socially conservative and rural areas in India. The film's main idea and purpose is to address women empowerment and to raise a voice against discrimination in this regard. Raje's portrayal of the story is feminist but fair, and although the film does manage to provoke different personal thoughts, somewhere she fails to achieve the necessary sensitivity it requires and it is not uniformly convincing. The main conflict, however, would definitely bring to different opinions among viewers who see the film and interpret the main situation from their personal points of view, and that's an achievement on its own. I too have my own opinion about it, but I would keep it to myself as it does not belong here.
Now to the main reason Rihaee is ever mentioned and discussed, and it's obviously the great Hema Malini; this is one of Malini's lesser known roles, and according to me one of her most underrated works. As Taku, she shows how deep she can go in her exploration of a woman's mind. This is a role one would usually expect to see Shabana Azmi or Smita Patil playing, but Malini does a great job of it. She convincingly displays the many shades of her character, including Taku's toughness, vulnerability, inner conflict and regret and at the same time her steady determination and willingness to fight the entire world for her rights. Vinod Khanna is excellent as her loving and tormented husband. Naseeruddin Shah plays the young Casanova who woos all the lonely and frustrated wives of the village, and he unsurprisingly nails the part. Rihaee is a good film. It may have its flaws, but its message is clear and successfully conveyed. Above all, it will be remembered mostly for Hema Malini's performance.