Dir. K.S. Sethumadhavan
Stories about minority communities can be engaging, especially when told with delicacy. Older movies like Pestonjee, about the grim, lonely side of life in a Parsi community, or the much lighter Baton Baton Mein's peek into a pair of Christian families, have a memorable charm and sympathy. More recently, Homi Adajania turned a darkly satirical lens on Parsis in Being Cyrus and Goan Christians in Finding Fanny. The 1970s hit Julie focuses on another minority community, the Anglo-Indian, and while it portrays some of their particular concerns, the drama of its titular character and the film's ultimate message are both more patently universal.
The most interesting character in Julie is Julie's mother, Margaret (Nadira), the stern matriarch of the teenage girl's family. Like many a Nadira character, Margaret is snappish, quick to anger, and paralyzingly conscious of her image and the regard of others. But there are nuances to this presentation that make Margaret less cartoonish than she might be. When she boasts to family friend about her English father, or her son in Delhi who sends home the finest imported goods, one might roll one's eyes. But the discomfort with which she changes the subject when the friend asks about her mother is both pathetic and sympathetic, and lends complexity to Margaret's contempt for India and Indianness, and her obsession with things foreign. Margaret feels rejected and abused by a thankless Indian society; her bitterness and the constant westward cast of her gaze are put in that perspective.
Too, Margaret bears responsibility for her several children (including a tween daughter played by Sridevi as a child artiste), while contending with a less than responsible husband, Morris (Om Prakash, as broadly comic and reliably goofy as ever). Morris embodies the filmi stereotype of Christian as good-natured drunk. (Margaret, too, drinks quite a lot, though it seems with less abandon than Morris. In a disturbing family dinner scene, Margaret and Morris both pressure young Julie to take a drink for herself, which she eventually does to please them, despite her own protestations.) As a railroad engineer, Morris is often away from home, and while is it to Margaret's endless frustration that he tends to squander his earnings, he spends on attempts to please his family at least as much as he spends on whiskey. Morris perceives Margaret's desire for a finer life, believes she deserves it, and wants to deliver it to her; he blows the family's savings on the down payment on a car - foreign, of course, as Margaret would have it no other way. And so there is a great deal of affection in this family, not just between Morris and the children on whom he dotes (especially Julie), but even, in a complex way, between Morris and Margaret, despite her nagging disapproval. The film presents this dynamic sensitively, allowing for nuance in personal relationships. The marriage of Margaret and Morris is neither a smooth ride in which love conquers all, nor a withered husk in which no tenderness remains. The natural complexity lends some dimension to the stereotypes that Morris and Margaret instantiate.
"Get the bottle, man!" That is Sridevi, on the right, and she doesn't look very happy about it.
As for Julie herself (Laxmi, the same actor who starred in the Malayalam film of which Julie is a near scene-for-scene remake), like too many young women, Julie is surrounded by males who manhandle and objectify her to varying degrees. A local shopkeeper paws at her while she picks up groceries for Margaret; because this man is played by Rajendranath I have the disturbing feeling these scenes are meant to play for comedy, but there is nothing at all funny about them. The family friend, Mr. Misra, leers repulsively at Julie in the he beginning of the film and, toward the end, attempts to buy sex from her when she asks him for a job at his firm. A boy in Julie's own Anglo-Indian community, Richard (Jalal Agha), gives her rides to school on his motorcycle, and clearly feels that this grants him possession, though Julie equally clearly rejects him as anything other than a friend. Even the young man Julie likes, Shashi (Vikram) leers at her bare legs - those Christian girls dress so much more immodestly than their Hindu peers - and eventually seduces her into his bed (though in fairness to Shashi, despite Julie's initial hesitation, the sex appears joyfully consensual).
Julie remains demurely wrapped in a blanket, but a clear shot of the girlie magazines lying open on Shashi's bed leaves nothing to the imagination.
The troubles that Julie endures - falling in love with a boy from outside her community, the disapproval of both her overbearing mother and his, a pregnancy that must be concealed lest her entire family be irreparably tarnished - are hardly unique to the Anglo-Indian experience. Indeed many an Indian film has shown young women of many religions and social classes suffering in this way. And perhaps this very universality is the message of Julie. Margaret hates and resents mainstream Indians, believing that they have marginalized and stigmatized her community. And Shashi's mother (Achala Sachdev) is comically paranoid of Christians; Shashi and his father, Bhattacharya (Utpal Dutt at his most avuncular), openly mock her contemptuous distrust of Julie and her family. The resolution of this inter-community tension is embodied in the child of Julie and Shashi's mixed and supposedly shameful union. In the end, it is Bhattacharya's voice of reason persuading both bitter, suspicious mothers that love is big enough to bridge differences between religions and communities. It's hard to imagine a more ecumenical conclusion than that.