Saturday, July 23, 2011

Achanak (1973)

‘Experimental Cinema’ is a buzzword today. Film-makers are getting empowered to tell ‘hatke’ stories intimately, using their own individuality. But at some level experimental cinema has also become an excuse to exhibit sleaze, vulgarity, grotesque and psychotic elements on screen, of course in an edgy manner, using cinematic tools and techniques mostly borrowed from western movies. The intelligentsia is happy, for they get the chance to write about the deep psychological undertones that such movies offer in plenty. And the audiences are happy, for they get to indulge some guilty pleasures, albeit vicariously. But what most are unaware about is that ‘Experimental Cinema’ has existed since decades. While Mani Kaul (who sadly died recently) had been one of the crusaders of this parallel film-making movement, even our beloved poet/writer/film-maker Gulzar had dabbled in this art- and the end result was a fine film that is truly one of its kind in Hindi cinema. ACHANAK, starring Vinod Khanna in the principal role, is an exhibition of supreme skill and dexterity by Gulzar in attempting to unravel an unconventional plot in an extremely unconventional fashion. Another legend, apart from Gulzar, attached with this enterprise is Hrishikesh Mukherjee who was one of its co-producers.

Every good movie has an inherent purpose attached to it. And this one basically aims at seeking an answer to the dilemmas faced by doctors when they are asked to treat and cure wounded inmates who would anyways be subject to capital punishment in few months’ time. The story, it has to tell is pretty basic in essence. Major Ranjeet (Vinod Khanna) is severely wounded and the chances of his survival are very bleak. Dr. Chaudhary (Om Shivpuri), a senior surgeon, is uncertain of even operating upon the patient, citing the imminent futility of the whole exercise. But call it fate, or God’s intervention, Major Ranjeet survives.

Through multiple flashbacks and reminisces of the Major Ranjeet, his story gets revealed to the viewers. Major Ranjeet had been one of the bravest officers of his regiment and had even received the Veer Chakra for his courageous and adept handling of the enemy forces in the 1971 war. But due to certain circumstances and after suffering a heartbreaking betrayal, he had made the terrible choice of killing two people who were very dear to him. This had resulted in him getting capital punishment. However in an attempt to escape from the police custody for an emotional reason that was very important to him, he got shot in the chest and was now brought to Dr. Chaudhary for treatment.

Gulzar uses flashbacks as the basic tool for telling the story. At times there are three layers of flashbacks on screen, which may make it a bit difficult for a person with a short attention span to keep hold of the proceedings. However the narrative is kept engaging enough to command the attention of the viewers. The run-time is very unusual for a Hindi movie, at just around 90 minutes. Also it is a song-less feature, again a rarity in our movies. This especially from someone like Gulzar, who to his credit has the most memorable songs and musicals of that era, is a big surprise. The performances by everyone are effortless, and Vinod Khanna really excels in an unconventional role of an anti-hero who puts his heart over his mind in making decisions.

Parting Note: Achanak is a completely different movie experience that was quite ahead of its times. People who like to watch unconventional stories on celluloid will certainly enjoy it.


  1. Achanak was also based on the Captain Nanavati case. It was the last case to be tried by jury in India, because it was felt that the jury were sympathetic to the accused, instead of being unbiased.

    1. Thanks for the info :) It's amazing how Gulzar presented it with a completely fresh perspective in this one!