Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sparsh (1980)

The subject of disability on celluloid has its share of fans but I am certainly not one amongst them. I, for one, could not comprehend Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Black’ and found it quite tedious to sit through. His ‘Guzaarish’ was no masterpiece for me either. So when I decided to watch Sai Paranjpai’s ‘Sparsh’, I was a little apprehensive despite being a great fan of her other noted works- ‘Katha’ and ‘Chashme Buddoor’. It stars Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi- two of the most celebrated actors in Hindi cinema- and after you finish viewing this little gem- you would have no doubts remaining as to why these two are so highly rated. Naseeruddin Shah plays Anirudh, a blind man, who runs an institute for blind children. Shabhana Azmi plays Kavita, a widow, who has not recovered from the death of her husband even three years hence.

Anirudh is shown to be self-reliant man who scorns at any efforts made to help him lead his life. He hates it when blind people are referred to as ‘Bechaaras’. His is a really strong persona that commands respect from his students and staff alike. One, however, wonders whether this show of strength and courage an effort made by him to conceal the pain and incompleteness he feels within himself. Kavita on the other hand makes no attempt to hide her dolefulness and lack of purpose in life. She spends all her time in singing and gardening.

The story starts off really slowly with hardly any movement in the first twenty minutes. However things pick up considerably when Kavita joins Anirudh’s institute as a mentor, guide, and friend to the children. They warm up to her immediately and start reveling in her presence. Even she is thrilled to receive so much love and respect from them. She starts coming to the institute on a regular basis and starts devoting her entire time and energies completely to the happiness and benefit of the children. She tells them stories, helps them prepare for dramas, but more than all this, she gives them the motherly love they were devoid of earlier. Meanwhile, the bond between Kavita and Anirudh starts getting stronger with each passing day. Regular meeting and interactions slowly gets translated into mutual liking. So much so that after some time they realize that they both need each other in their lives and decide to get married. However complications arise in the form of Anirudh’s self doubts that get elevated by a few stray remarks made by his acquaintances. He starts to feel that Kavita is making a sacrifice by marrying him and is forcing herself into lifelong misery and compromise.

The running of the blind school is shown remarkably well. It looks like considerable research went into the whole thing and the results are just amazing. All the kids perform naturally, so much so that one is forced to wonder whether they were actually blind or just acting. There is one kid ‘Paploo’ who stands out, and incidentally he is the only kid in the school with the gift of sight. There is a small track about him feeling jealous of the blind kids as they managed get more attention from their aunty Kavita. There are a lot of moments between the kids and Kavita that are so endearing that you can’t help smiling. The drama between Anirudh and Kavita too is very engaging. Same is the case with the interactions between Anirudh and his sighted assistant to whom acts as a ‘love guru’ (borrowing a modern lingo).

The strength of this movie lies in its dialogues. Unlike many other movies from the 1970s and 80s that looked like they were made without prior written material, this one looks like it was made after meticulous planning. The story is set in the suburbs of South Delhi- and even the locations are devoid of any misery or darkness just like the content. The music is soothing and works well for the film, however it boasts of no songs that are popular even today.

Parting note- Sparsh is a happy movie about life and learning to cope with its losses. Never once is a kid shown crying over his lack of sight, or feeling depressed about it. And that, for me, is film’s greatest victory. Sai Paranjpye more than deserves all the plaudits she got for making this, so did Naseeruddin Shah (who got the National Award) and Shabana Azmi. Sanjay Leela Bhansali needs to take a cue from this movie and reflect on how he could have treated his earlier movies better. 


  1. Hello,
    Very nice little review of another great, unassuming movie by Sai Paranjpe. Thanks!

    1. Hi, thanks for the appreciation :) Unassuming- that's really the most apt description of Sai Paranjpe's cinema. And no wonder the lady is perturbed about David Dhawan's re-imagination of Chashme Buddoor (though it can be fun o a different sort- it is best to leave these old classics alone unless they are terribly obscure and need a retelling).

  2. Yes, and then again if an old classic has reached that status, isn't it because it has managed to shed light on a story (or whatever) in such a way that people have liked it for that? Can an old classic be obscure? I don't think so. They wouldn't be called classics, then, would they?
    My impression is that remakes are much more often ways for current producers to bank on the success of a well known movie, than genuine attempts at re-expressing a old story for modern audiences.

    1. Unfortunately, what you say about producers wanting to bank on the success of a well known movie, is spot on. Actually the use of the word 'classic' is very ambiguous. Ideally it should represent a work that is most accomplished and worth remembering. But in general usage old movies, are automatically termed as classics (while they might not classics in the literal sense). And that is the connotation I wanted to make when I used the phrase 'obscure classics'. An example can be a film like Dastak- an amazing piece of work but hardly remembered by anyone. Even a Gulzar film like Kitaab- how many of the normal movie going audience have even heard of it. Such films have timeless concepts are very much suited for a modern day re-telling or interpretation. Such remakes in my view, should be welcome. But remaking films like Don and Sholay is just intellectual bankruptcy.