The exemplary film "Purab aur Paschim" (East and West, 1970) brings the historical construction of the Victorian-Brahminic axis of womanhood into sharper focus. The film explicitly manifests the ideology mythifying the "essence" of Indian womanhood. By zeroing in on the colonial encounter, which led to the first modernist enunciation of the women's question, we can see how the film is directly connected with symbolic world of women's images in Hindi films today. Written, directed and produced by the self-proclaimed patriot and actor Manoj Kumar, "Purab aur Paschim" is the saga of several families traced along two generations, presented with an elaborate prologue set during the peak of the independence movement in 1942. Om, a freedom fighter fleeing from the British police, and Om is tracked down and shot.
About twenty years later, where the main narrative begins, Om's grown son, Bharat (Manoj Kumar), leaves for higher education in England, which to him symbolizes the spiritual lack of western civilization. He lives with the Sharmas, an Indian family that has become caught up in the alienated, hedonistic world of 1960s excess. Mr Sharma's daughter, the leather-miniskirt-wearing, cigarette-smoking, bar-frequenting Preeti (Saira Banu), pursues a relationship with Bharat, and soon they are engaged to be married. When Preeti refuses to relocate in India, Bharat promises to live with her in England on the condition that she visit India once. On the tour they visit temples and attend carnivals. Preeti slowly becomes enamored of the country and transformed by the "spirit" and "essence" of the land, kicks her smoking and drinking habits, and chooses to live like a "traditional Indian woman". The family never returns to England.
There are a few moments of the film worth elaborating on before launching a search for its imaginative genealogy. When Bharat, the protagonist--an avowed nationalist--leaves for England, his grandfather points to an ironical reversal : in ancient times people came to India for higher education. Bharat explains that the nation needs to learn science and technology, the very purpose of his sojourn. Science and technology are the ground on which the west's superiority is conceded. But the west-specifically England, once the colonial master-is an emotinal wasteland of derelicts without "family life" ; alienated individuals seeking refuge in sex, alcohol, and promiscuity. The most glaring feature of the west in the film is its free-floating libidinal excess, signified by overexposed women's bodies.
Preeti's gradual transformation leads her to reflect on the East/West divide. She is struck by the devotion of the family servant's wife, who waits forty years in her home village before her husband brings her to the city, and by Bharat's female childhood friend who never confesses her love for him, constrained by an appropriate coyness.
The power of nation, tradition and culture are invoked with unusual vigor in the film--and their reverberations can be felt in the entire corpus of popular Hindi films.