Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saaheb (1985)

Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee enthralled many in the 1970s with their uncomplicated approach to film-making. Their simple tales set in the middle class India acted like a breath of fresh air during the times when Masala potboilers were ruling the roost. In the 1980s however, both these maestros started losing their steam. During that time there were many directors who tried to follow their template and come up with their own takes on the urban middle class people and their day to day living. But most films ended up being a pale shadow of the kind of cinema that was seen in the 1970s. A few notable exceptions were few and far between- for instance Sai Paranjpe most certainly offered something to cheer about with her troika of Katha, Sparsh, and Chashme Buddoor. But still the standard of film-making in the 1980s wasn’t as high as the preceding decades.

Anil Ganguly’s 1985 family drama Saheb starring Anil Kapoor as the central protagonist is one of those rare good movies in the 80s that managed to enliven the spirit of the kind of films made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the 1970s. It is an ensemble cast film, but the focus is mostly on Anil Kapoor’s character Saaheb who is the fourth and the youngest son of a retired patriarch Badri Prasad Sharma (Utpal Dutt in a remarkably restrained role). His family is a typical middle class joint family headed by a sexagenarian and ably run by the eldest mother-like ‘Bhabhi’ (Rakhee Gulzar in a quintessential middle aged woman role). Saaheb’s elder brothers and their wives (except Bhabhi) are too much into their own little world and hardly care about the issues and worries of the household. Saaheb’s younger sister ‘Bulti’ has reached the marriageable age post completing her graduation, which, incidentally Saaheb has not been able to complete despite three attempts. The reason for Saaheb’s lack of interest in studies is his love and passion for football. He is the star of his university football team in which he plays as the goalkeeper.

The movie has got not story till about the last half an hour. It is just a pleasant depiction of the world in which Saaheb breathes and aspires. His interactions with his family folk are really interesting. His three brothers and two younger Bhabhis consider him to be a good for nothing fellow, and are always ready with scathing remarks at his idleness despite him doing all their menial jobs with a smile on his face. Saaheb’s father appreciates his zeal for the sport but at the same time is skeptical at his future prospects, especially because he is unable to land even a decent job owing to his lack of qualification. He shares a lovely relationship with his younger sister who respects him despite not knowing anything about the sport he loves. As for his eldest Bhabhi, she is more of a mother to him than a sister-in-law. There is romance too in his life, with Natasha (Amrita Singh in a boisterous role she would repeat in Chameli ki Shaadi), a girl next door having a huge crush on him and making it loud and clear at more instance than once. This romance leads to a few unnecessary songs, including ‘Yaar Bina Chen Kahan Re’ (a really popular and rhythmic song- vintage Bappi Lahri). These songs obstruct the narrative but one can’t really mind them in a film of this nature.

The last half an hour is what elevates this movie from being ‘just average’ to ‘good’. When his father and their home faces a huge financial challenge, Saaheb makes a great personal sacrifice to bail everyone out of the trouble.

Utpal Dutt having a heart to heart with his family
This is a movie that needed strong performances, and the stalwart Utpal Dutt leads the way with a completely natural portrayal of a helpless man just wanting to see his children happy. Recognized for his comic roles and highly energetic characters, here he does a complete U-turn and takes up a laidback character that lacks much drama. Watch him in the scene when he explains his financial position to all his children and asks his sons to take the responsibility of getting their young sister married off. Rakhee Gulzar comes up with an amazing performance by bringing to her character the right amount of affection and selflessness. But the star of the show is a young Anil Kapoor. He is in the title role and the entire drama centers around him, and for such a young actor lacking experience, he does a remarkable job. Post watching Saaheb, I have a completely different impression of Anil Kapoor the actor.

Parting Note: Saaheb is pleasant watch that excels because of its performances and its lack of pretensions. Although it is not the perfect film (with a shoddy comic side-track involving Deven Verma, and 2-3 unnecessary songs), it still has a likeability attached to it that is a result of its honest intentions.


  1. I remember Yaar bina chain kahaan re - it was so hugely popular at the time, one couldn't ignore that! But I didn't recall the name of the film it was from, and I hadn't seen it anyway. Thank you for the review - will certainly look out for Saaheb now.