Monday, July 19, 2010

Hazel is a Ho: Baton Baton Mein (1979)

There is an appeal about movies that aren't really about anything sometimes. Seinfeld has that appeal in television. Sometimes we like an easy, simple story that doesn't have or need melodrama, and especially when the story is from a different time - a time when things weren't so complicated by technology and the need for immediacy and instant gratification. When we were just happy to meet people and didn't automatically mistrust them or think they were psycho stalkers/serial killers/rapists. A time when one could actually consider falling for this guy:

Baton Baton Mein (1979) was made by Basu Chatterjee and starred Amol Palekar (with a fabulous french beard) and Tina Munim, with a shining supporting cast of talents like Ranjit Chowdhry and Pearl Padamsee (a real-life son and mother team!).

The movie isn't outstanding in any way - it is certainly low-budget and awkwardly shot at times, has a very sedate and often plastic performance by Tina Munim and no glamour whatsoever, but it is still one of the most charming and sweet movies I've ever seen, and definitely holds a spot on my list of favorite Hindi movies. It takes place in the Parsi community of Mumbai, which I was surprised by as a child. By the time I saw Baton Baton Mein I had seen quite a number of Hindi films, but never one in which everyone wore Western dresses and used English manners.

At its core, Baton Baton Mein is about relationships and dating - and in this movie instead of showing dating as being about running around trees and singing songs - it shows what it REALLY is like ... talking, getting to know one another, getting to know each other's families, misunderstandings, jealousies, and making up.

Nancy Pereira is our heroine, played by the gorgeous Tina Munim. She is obviously depressed as the movie opens, listening to emo music and replaying her recent breakup in her mind.

We find out later in the film that she had been dating a co-worker named Peter, and found out that he was a cheating jerk by running into him and his fiancee (WOOT, Prema Narayan) on a bus ride. Since then she has decided:

I think this is an inspired attitude by Nancy, but her film family doesn't agree. Despite the fact that she's a (mostly) independent working woman, they are hell-bent on getting her married as soon as possible. And they don't think they'll have all that hard of a time because she's a hottie. They just need her to get over this Peter business and get the wedding show on the road.

Her aunt who lives upstairs tries to console Nancy's mother that she definitely HOT.

Nancy lives with her mother (Pearl Padamsee) and younger brother Sabi (Ranjit Chowdhry in one of my favorites roles of his ever), while her mother's brother Uncle Tom (David) and his wife (who never seems to change out of her nightie) live in the upstairs flat of their two-family home (which I try not to call Uncle Tom's Cabin). Uncle Tom and Nancy commute to work together every day, taking the 9:10 public train. Nancy's mother, Rosy, is the star of this movie for me ... she is equally sweet, loving, innocent, enthusiastic, and child-like as well as pushy, overbearing, fretful, mollycoddling, and naive. She worries constantly over Nancy, wanting her to marry quickly and settle down, asking everyone she knows if there are any eligible boys they could introduce Nancy to. Simultaneously she ignores her son, waving off his hilarious comments and tuning out his constant violin playing or seeming lack of a "real" job (he plays violin at a nearby "hotel" - meaning disco/club) or girlfriends.

We then meet Tony Braganza, our hero. Tony is an only child and his mother is an even MORE overbearing, pushy, evil overlord who I renamed "Sarge". She treats Tony like a child and makes all of his decisions for him.

Is that a euphemism Tony?

Tony usually takes the early train to work, but has to take a later one that day because Sarge insists that he eat his breakfast and go with her to the tailor to have a safari suit made. I love that he wears safari suits!!! On the train, he notices the beautiful Nancy, sitting with Uncle Tom. A budding cartoonist, Tony starts making sketches of Nancy. She notices this and is (rightfully) creeped out. She tells Uncle Tom, who is all pleased about the situation and tells her, "Looks like a nice guy! Must be around your age!" - Uncle Tom deeply approves of random men on the train drawing pictures of his niece. Nancy tries to tell Uncle Tom that she's totally not interested in creepy drawing guy or any man, and finally tells him the story of her heartbreak with Peter. Uncle Tom TOTALLY blows off her pain and minimizes her experience, saying it's no big deal and that for young girls:

Nice Uncle Tom, real nice.

Tony, being super creepy, makes arrangements at work to take the 9:10 train and come to work a little later so that he can continue to stare at and draw pictures of Nancy. Finally after getting a few approving smiles and nods from Uncle Tom, he exchanges notes with him to find out more about Nancy. Uncle Tom suggests that they stop and grab a quick drink together (on the way to work?), and pulls Nancy along with him. At this first quasi-date, he shows them his labor of love - an artistic representation of Nancy that showcases her beautiful soul and the pain she has suffered:

Somehow Nancy is not totally turned off by this, and asks him if this is really what she looks like? Tony starts to explain about ART, because he's so deep, but they're getting late for work. Uncle Tom decides to invite Tony to Nancy's house that evening to tell them more about "ART" and Tony happily agrees. Nancy is bafflingly okay with all of this. After work she goes home and Uncle Tom tells Rosy that a boy is coming in the evening. Nancy is snippy and short with her mother, as she has been since the beginning of the movie, but this time she upsets her mother by telling her not to "blabber on and on" to their guest. Rosy goes into a classic Jewish mother guilt trip routine, which she does beautifully and I can't help but say AWWW as I watch her do it.

Eventually she tells her mother that she didn't mean to upset her, and that Tony Braganza is practically a stranger, and she doesn't know anything about him really, but Uncle Tom has invited him so they just need to treat him as a guest and send him on his way.  This satisfies her mother for the moment.

Meanwhile Tony is on his way and having fabulous daydreams about Nancy greeting him in a white wedding dress. He pauses to admire himself along the way:

As if she could resist that beard!

Finally Tony arrives and they have an EXTREMELY awkward date with her mother asking pointed questions about his job and even asking his salary. Then Uncle Tom stops by and Tony starts to tell them about "art" and how he decided to go into cartoon artistry. Somehow in this scene he is charming enough to entice Nancy, who suddenly wants to spend some time alone with him. It's either his "knowledge of art" or the fact that her mother is totally disturbed by his interest in cartoons.

Apparently it works for Nancy, Rosy. She digs it.

So Uncle Tom assists Nancy by suggesting that they go for a walk alone, which leads to this lovely song and montage of them spending time together - this is what I love about this movie ... it actually shows the couple talking, spending time together, and getting to know one another!

So Nancy and Tony begin seeing each other regularly, and everyone is pleased except for Nancy's neighbor Henry, who harbors a not-so-secret crush on Nancy. But he's no threat to them, because he is too nervous to even speak to Nancy besides saying hello. Family and friends begin telling Rosy that they need to marry them immediately, but Rosy tells them that they are just spending time together for the moment.

The couple is cautious you see. Nancy is still hesitant to fall in love because of what happened with Peter, and Tony is afraid to tell Sarge about his relationship with Nancy. She never allows him to make any decisions, and he's sure that she'll never allow it:

Miraculously, Nancy is ok with this. They continue having fabulous dates, like this one:

I have so much to say about this video, I don't know where to begin. So I'll just say this ... where is Tony's neck?? It appears to be missing.

And this casual hang-out time at home with her family (my favorite song from this movie!):

As time goes on the couple has more ups and downs. The amazing character of Hazel Pinto (Shobini Singh) arrives to bring a little fire into their relationship -- she shows up at one of their dates wearing a SHOCKING skirt that reveals her knees, which throws everyone into a tizzy!

Word, Tony. But the skirt isn't all. Hazel, who is supposed to be one of Nancy's childhood friends, proceeds to drape herself all over Tony and feed him grapes! After Nancy's mother speaks up and tells her that her behavior is inappropriate, she continues to eat the grapes seductively from across the room and give Tony the "sexy eye" ... Hazel is a little minx. And a crappy friend.

I still get FURIOUS for Nancy when I see this scene. It's bad enough that her so-called friend is totally throwing herself all over her boyfriend, but the dude just sits there and laps it up, and then has the nerve to invite Hazel along on their date that evening!!! Thankfully (and surprisingly) Nancy tells Tony to GTFO and not bother calling her anymore. GO NANCY!

Afterwards Tony tries to get back into her good graces by enlisting Uncle Tom:

Perhaps Tony's beard or massive collars has mystical powers, because he manages to get her to forgive him for his open appreciation of Hazel's knees and grapes. But more troubles are in store for Nancy and Tony ...

For Tony made that crucial mistake -- not telling his parents, or more importantly, Sarge, that he is seriously and exclusively dating a girl. Eventually it was going to bite him in the a$$, and it all comes to heads when their mothers end up seated next to each other at the movies.

Sarge is awesome at the evil one eyebrow lift. She is PO'd that Tony was even friends with, much less seeing a girl whose mother is so "pushy and obnoxious" (has she met herself?). She rants and raves about them to Tony and his father, and insists that Tony never speaks to Nancy again, because she thinks they are planning to ensnare her son for marriage.

I am still amazed by how our lead couple puts up with so much ... Tony with Sarge treating him like a child and openly calling him an idiot, and Nancy with her family constantly meddling in her personal life and pushing her into dating before she's ready.

Nancy (again, showing that she's an awesome independent and smart chica) decides that she's not speaking to Tony because he allowed his mother to treat her mother rudely. She refuses to chase after him at ANY point of the movie, and keeps her head high throughout, never breaking down or compromising her dignity. She's one of the best heroines in Hindi movies!

Rosy is devastated by Nancy and Tony's breakup, and immediately allows her aunt to try and fix up Nancy with another boy.

Tony angsts about his dilemma ... should he pursue his relationship with Nancy and ignore Sarge? Or should he be angry that Rosy puts so much pressure on him to marry Nancy?

Click on the pic above to view the song "Kahan Tak Yeh Man Ko" in which Tony angsts about in his pajamas

Tony can't bring himself to be ready for marriage, it's too much pressure for him, no matter how he feels about Nancy:

And Nancy is being pressured into marriage to some dude named Francis (cameo by Asrani!) by an elder aunt. She knows that Tony feels pressured by her mother, but insists that it's her MOTHER, and whatever she does, she has Nancy's best interests at heart. She doesn't want him to feel pressured to marry her, and therefore thinks that the best idea is for them to not speak ever again.
So what does the couple decide? Will Tony ever escape Sarge's tyranny? Will Nancy be able to handle another guy screwing her over, or will she turn into a total shrew? And will Hazel the Ho find true love?

Nancy and Tony's decision forms the climax of the film, and it's definitely worth seeing how it turns out for them. The movie has a lovely, natural vibe to it and the funky 70s clothing is just the cherry on top. However there's a lot of latent sexism in it that you might find disturbing, but I suppose it's part and parcel of the era this film was made in:

But still, this film remains one of my favorites, with fresh, fun characters that are memorable. Most notably, and despite all the surrounding craziness of parental/familial pressure, it shows what seems to be one of the most normal, healthy romances I've ever seen in a Hindi film, which in itself makes it a film worth remembering and re-watching.

Amol Palekar has done some amazing work as an actor, and I'm not sure where this falls in terms of his career arc, but Tony Braganza is one of my favorite characters of his. I never really remembered Tina Munim to be a particularly bad actress, I always thought she was decent, but in this she is truly stiff and awkward! I think this was only her second movie though, so I'll attribute it to that. Again the supporting cast is particularly great in this movie, especially Pearl Padamsee. The banter between her, Tina and Ranjit Chowdhry is really fun to watch.

As always, constructive criticism, comments, questions, etc. are welcome! Would love to hear your thoughts on Amol Palekar, Tina Munim, this film, etc.


  1. mast movie, so romantic, real , sweat and every time watchable. Nancy's brother was the cutest person in whole muvi

  2. Hazel's knees and grapes!
    You might have but if you haven't, you really need to watch Choti Si Baat and Golmaal.
    Somehow these two are the only Amol Palekar movies i've wanted to watch. Never could sit down to watch Baton Baton Mein.

    I loved reading the synopsis.

    much love,

    1. Thank you Ravi! I do need to rewatch Golmaal, and I think I have seen Choti Si Baat but I can't remember it. Will try to get around to that ... :-)

  3. BTW the community portrayed in this film is that of Indian (most likely Goan) Catholics, not Indian Parsis. Portuguese surnames such as Pinto and Braganza are found only among Goan and Mangalorean Catholics.

  4. Nice synopsis, the movie has a lovely Mumbai charm to it.

  5. thnk you... for the superb analysis. i makes me more to read and think between the lines of the film text

  6. Watched this movie yesterday. That era saw some masterpieces like Golmal, Baton baton Mein & Khatta Meetha. People these days hardly care about the lives of middle class people. This movie is a nice take on the life of Indian Christians, their simple lives and that they are no different from their fellow Hindu Indians.

  7. Shobini Singh is my Aunt as her sister married obviously my father who is Scottish I went to the premier showing of the Film Baton Baton Mein Wow so many Memories thank you Shobini your nephew Phillip

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  9. i want to get in touch with Shobini Singh. kindly send her current contact details.

  10. Ha. Shobhini Singh is a very underrated actress.
    Loved her as the bride who poisoned her husband to be and ran off with her lover in Jaane Dushman.