Shyamchi Aai @ 60

(Published in The Hitavada Insight (Sunday supplement) on March 17, 2013)

SHYAMCHI AAI — Celebrating mother-child bond and sanskar since 60 years! 

By Kartik Lokhande 

A kid plucks buds from a flowering plant and hands over to his mother to offer those to the God.

Mother asks gently, “Kid, why have you plucked buds?”

The kid replies casually, “So what? Just keep those in water for a while and they will bloom.”

“Dear son, does a bud really bloom properly with external watering? It requires watering through mother-plant only to bloom properly. Hence, do not separate buds from plant henceforth unless they have bloomed,” mother tells her lovely school-going child. The wonderful answer, which bridges the gap between philosophy of life and child psychology, makes the kid realize his mistake and promises mother never to pluck buds again.

This is just one scene from a movie based on story of a strong mother-child bond, which has been influencing many children for 60 years. Though many from younger generation may not connect to the name ‘Shyamchi Aai’, countless many from older generation may get nostalgic with mere mention of the book and movie of the same name.

For older generation, the book as well as movie released 60 years ago, is a treasure of good ‘sanskar’ on a child in impressionable age. For younger generation, significance of the movie could be underlined from the fact that ‘Shyamchi Aai’ is the first movie to have won the President of India’s gold medal in the year 1953. The President’s gold medal is the precursor to the National Film Award for the best Indian film. ‘ShyamchiAai’ is a Marathi movie made by noted litterateur-activist-thinker-editor-writer-director Acharya Prahlad Keshav Atrey. There were many highlights of the movie – some top actors did not charge a single penny for the movie based on humanitarian values, Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s father Prabodhankar Thackeray has acted in it, lyricist Vasant Bapat has played a role, Pt Hridaynath Mangeshkar has sung his first song ‘Chhadi lage chham chham’ in this movie, and the list goes on. The movie is based on a book of the same name penned by activist-thinker-humanitarian and iconic social worker P S Sane, popularly known as Sane Guruji.

The movie starts with Sane Guruji telling fellow prisoners about his mother and the way she groomed his personality. There are several scenes in the movie that bring lump to one’s throat. Some scenes and dialogues leave one stunned with simple yet powerful purity of thought. In a scene, little Shyam is taking bath. He asks mother, Yashoda, to dry his feet. “Else, they will get dirty with soil when I walk into home,” he says. Yashoda tells her son to pour water over feet and wash off soil. Shyam asks a worldly wise question, which may baffle parents today, “We can wash off soil on body with water. How to wash dirt of soul?” A learned and pious personality, Yasoda replies gently, “With tears, they purify our soul.” What a wonderful and simple explanation!

The modest family portrayed in the legendary movie is a role-model of comradeship. In one scene, all are having meals. Shyam, his younger brother Purushottam, his father Sadashiv (Bhau) enjoy meals. When Yashoda asks how is the vegetable, all say, “Hmmm… Superb.” Soon after, Yashoda also starts having meals. In the first morsel itself, she realizes that vegetable is without salt. She asks her husband, “Why did not you tell me that there was no salt in vegetable?” Sadashiv’s reply is a classic example of how family bonds are made stronger, “You toil hard since morning to give us a better life. You cut vegetables, cook them, prepare chapatis, cook rice and then serve us with love. Shall we complain about mere lack of salt in vegetable and undermine all your efforts?” How many families can boast of having such a wonderful bonding and understanding, today?

In today’s world, youngsters are taught to live life on their own terms, making them indifferent to others. But,Shyam’s mother teaches him to care for his brother and others also through simple song. When Shyam’s elder brother comes home after walking for miles, he asks little one to massage his feet. Shyam flatly refuses to do it citing a reason that his finger has an injury. Yashoda comes into picture and says that she will massage elder child’s feet. Shyam, unwillingly, massages feet of his elder brother. Yashoda then sings a melodious song, “Bharjari ga pitambar, dila fadun… Draupadiche bandhu shobhe Narayan…” The song depicts an incident from epic ‘Mahabharat’ in which brother-sister bond between Lord Krishna and Draupadi is explained. It makes Shyam realize his mistake and he apologises to his brother for indifference.

Though she ingrains good values in her child, Shyam’s mother does not hesitate from acting tough when required. When Shyam steals one rupee from his uncle’s coat and denies it when asked, Yashoda scolds him hard and acts tough till he promises never to repeat such an evil act again. Another time, when Shyam’s friends come to his home to take him for swimming, he hides as he is afraid of water. Yashoda becomes tough on him and gives him a gentle beating and sends him out for swimming. Yashoda, later, explains to him that no parent would want child to become a coward. He learns swimming. Later on, when he crosses fearlessly a river swelling in heavy rainfall, he realizes why his mother wanted him to learn swimming. Today, to make children ‘brave’, parents tend to expose them to violent content on television and end up making them insensitive to others and aggressive. Such parents need to take a message from the film.

The superb movie shows many twists and turns in the life of Shyam’s family. There are moments of turmoil and joy too. While depicting social scenario back then, the movie comments beautifully and crisply on human tendencies. Right from the issue of untouchability to finding God in mother, one can say there are many shades to the brilliant film. When the movie ends with Yashoda breathing her last and Shyam, unable to see her in her last moment, sings a song with tearful eyes, “Aai mhanoni koni Aais haak maari, Aai kona mhanu mee, Aai ghari na dari…”, one connects to the plight and tears roll down the cheeks of sensitive persons.

The message of the film is clear — Home is the place where a kid’s education starts and his personality is shaped in real sense. Kids imitate their parents and hence parents need to be careful in grooming their off-spring. If parents are benevolent, kids also become so. If parents are violent, kids grasp that violent trait of personality automatically. Home is the place where negative influence of external factors can be controlled or countered with positive things that help in shaping good and strong personality of a child.

The movie, in a true sense, is a treasure for parents and children alike. The backdrop may be 60-years-old, but the values, human behavior, mother-child bond, parenting tips, inculcation of sanskar are not. In fact, in today’s world when children are exposed to so many senseless and negative forms of entertainment, ‘Shyamchi Aai’ is needed more than ever before. Schools also must show such good movies to kids in impressionable age, and parents also must find time to watch such good movies with children. Instead of exposing kids to ‘Sheela Ki Jawani’ type of songs, it is really worthwhile to show them ‘Shyamchi Aai’.

Because, sanskar and good values never get old or outdated…

Shyamchi Aai – Credits

Producer-Director: Acharya P K Atrey

Story: Sane Guruji

Scenario (as screenplay was called back then): Acharya Atrey

Music: Vasant Desai

Camera: R M Rele


Vanmala: The ethereal beauty

She was so gorgeous that a 10-year-old kid fell in love with her on the movie sets and would stand for hours, intently watching her.

The child was Raj Kapoor and the actress was Vanmala who was acting along side his father Prithvi Raj Kapoor in the movie Sikandar.

Vanmala, who worked in many Hindi and Marathi movies including ‘Sharbati Ankhen’, ‘Vasantsena’ & Marathi movie ‘Shyamchi Aai’ passed away in Gwalior recently.

She was 92. Few were aware that she was still alive and small obituaries hardly did justice to the actress who stole a million hearts in the 30s and 40s.

Sushiladevi Pawar alias Vanmala was born in 1915 and started her career with Minerva Movietone’s blockbuster Sikander with Sohrab Modi and Prithvi Raj Kapoor as lead actors in the film.

Oldies still remember the dreamy eyed Rukhsana whose character she played in the movie. A staunch nationalist who was actively involved in freedom movement along with Aruna Asaf Ali and Achyut Patwardhan, Vanmala is best remembered for her role in Marathi movie Shyamchi Aai. She actively participated in the Quit India movement.

In her old age, she was involved in social causes and even when she was in her early 90s, the former actress ran school to train children in culture and traditional Indian arts. Close friends said that she loved her solitude and enjoyed this sort of life. She was a religious person.

Vanmala was daughter of Sardar Bapurao Pawar, who was related to the ruling family of Gwalior (Scindias). After graduation she had started teaching in a school in Pune and later had an unsuccessful marriage with PK Sawant (who later became a state minister).

She acted in 33 movies including Vasantsena, Gharjavai and Shyamchi Aai. In the last she played the role of a doting mother. She had won the President’s award for best actress. Susheeladevi Pawar, like many other actresses of yesteryears was living a quiet life and was remembered only in her death.

The ‘sharbati aankhein’ are closed for ever.

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