Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mausam (1975)

Hill stations, as settings for a movie, almost always result in a laidback charm that draws the viewers into a world where everything is pristine, most locales are virgin, people are earthly and simple, and the weather is spectacular. Gulzar’s ‘Mausam’ is one such tale where the setting plays a huge role in drawing the attention of the viewers, especially in the initial bits. Starring Sanjeev Kumar and Sharmila Tagore, Mausam has unrequited love as the core of the story it has to tell - always a subject that manages to engage if attempted properly.

The movie opens with the haunting melody- ‘Dil Dhoondta Hai, fir wahi, fursat ke raat din’. I don’t recall any other song in any other movie having so much influence over the entire span of the story as this one has. The song epitomizes the theme of the movie- it is all about a man who is once again looking for ‘Fursat’- inner peace. Dr. Amarnath Gill (Sanjeev Kumar is a look and feel similar to his previous movie with Gulzar-Aandhi), owner of a pharmaceutical company, moves to Darjeeling for a small break from his hectic daily routine. The valley is familiar to him, for some twenty years ago; he had been to the same place as a medical student and had fallen in love with the daughter of a local ‘vaid’-Chanda (Sharmila Tagore in an author backed role). He had made a promise to her that he would return soon and take her along with him. But owing to some unforeseen circumstances he had not been able to keep his promise.

Now, all these years later, he starts to hunt for her and her whereabouts. Through his flashbacks and reminiscences we get to know of his story and how he fell in love with Chanda. Hunting her lost love after all these years proves to be far tougher than what he imagined at first. However after following one lead after the other, he manages to learn all about what happened to Chanda after he had last met her. What he discovers brings great grief to him along with a feeling of extreme guilt, for Chanda had spoilt her life pining for him and his return. He decides to trace ‘Kajli’ (Sharmila Tagore again), Chanda’s daughter, who was the only living memory of Chanda left in the world. Chanda had been forced to marry someone owing to her tough circumstances and Kajli was the only kid she bore from the marriage. However when he finally manages to find Kajli, he gets the shock of his life. He finds that she was now an uncouth and irreverent prostitute who refused to acknowledge him and his fatherly feeling for her. Unable to leave her in such a pitiable condition, he decides to take her with him and make an attempt to transform her into someone respectable and dignified. How their relationship pans out is what the movie is about in the last hour or so.

Mausam is a path breaking film that could have served as a reference point for many later films like Lamhe and others, including the ones that dealt with prostitution. The treatment is bold and realistic, and sometimes too in your face (especially in the scenes between Kajli and Dr. Gill). What makes this movie truly memorable are its music and the performances by its two main leads. The music by Madan Mohan is truly spectacular. The ‘Dil Dhoondta Hai’ song comes more than once in the narrative and this song alone makes the soundtrack evergreen. The other songs too are good and go well with the theme of the movie. Like is always the case with a Gulzar movie, the song take narrative forward rather than stalling it (like in most other Hindi movies).

The performance by Sanjeev Kumar is truly amazing. He is one of the best actors in Hindi cinema ever (if not the best) and he makes acting look so simple. He is superbly restrained in emotional scenes and simply effortless. The scene when he finally breaks down after learning everything about Chanda is truly heart-wrenching. Sharmila Tagore looks miscast initially as Chanda, but it is as Kajli when she truly comes alive and pitches in with an uninhibited performance that was certainly bold for its times. There are not many supporting characters that have a major role to play.

Parting Note- I am losing count of how many Gulzar movies I have written about and am starting to wonder whether the man ever got it wrong. Mausam is one more gem from his stable- that deserves a patient viewing most probably on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Signing off with…

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Do Bhiga Zamin (1953)

It was with great expectations that I sat down to watch this Bimal Roy classic from the early 1950s. It is was an award winning movie at that time and had received a lot of acclaim, not only in India, but around the world. Also, having recently watched the 1964 war movie Haqeeqat that boasted of a stellar performance from Balraj Sahni, I was completely looking forward to watching another superb performance from him.  But contrary to expectations, ‘Do Bhiga Zamin’ ended as a truly underwhelming experience for me.

The movie is about the struggles of a helpless farmer Shambhu (Balraj Sahni in an author backed role) and his family, who have to return a sum of Rs. 250 to the village Zamindar, and have just three months to arrange for it (The actual debt is around Rs.65 but the Zamindar gets the account fudged as revenge for Shambhu refusing to sell his ‘Do Bhiga Zameen’ to him.) Unable to generate funds in the village, poor Shambhu decided to move to the city in hope of getting some work there. Unknown to him his son Kanhaiya too gets on the train by which he is making the journey; and they both reach Calcutta. Once in the city they struggle to find even shelter, and just when you think things can’t go any worse for them, their belongings get stolen (including the bit of money they had).

They end up getting shelter in a basti thanks to a good hearted land lady. Their neighbor, a hand-rickshaw puller, helps Shambhu to get a rickshaw license and soon Shambhu starts toiling hard to earn 2-3 rupees a day. His son too joins him in his struggle by taking up boot polish with the help of a street smart friend Laloo ustad.  Just when it looks like things are going all right for them, disaster happens and Shambhu gets severely injured after meeting with a freak accident. And just when you think that all the misery in the world was not enough for the poor family, Shambhu’s father turns ill, his wife is forced to leave the village and visit the injured Shambhu in the city-where she is fooled into a trap by a thug. In the effort to escape from him she meets with an accident.  For helping her recover, Shambhu is forced to part with all the money he and his son had earned by the efforts of their sweat and blood- resulting in the auction of their land according to the court order and his father going insane.

The film was a disappointment for me because of a number of reasons. First- it was highly melodramatic. The director was attempting a realistic subject but overdid it by including too many clichés (which might not have been clichés at that time- but even then it is hard to believe that all the problems in the world managed to find the address of the poor farmer Shambhu). Second- the entire tone of the film was theatrical- and the acting looked too in your face and sometimes even amateurish. Balraj Sahni really gave another spectacular performance but the effect gets diluted due to the less than adept supporting cast (Nirupa Roy being an exception). Third- the director took the extreme view as far as industrialization is concerned. The subject offered him the opportunity to propagate a new wave of thinking and break the shackles of illogical traditions and facets of our society, but he failed to capitalize on it. For instance even in an abject state the hero refuses his wife to work and earn some money (while the other women in the village are shown to fine with working for their bread). Similarly he rejoiced when his young kid starts to earn a living by doing boot polish (his spirit is celebratory while it should have been otherwise). The influential people are all depicted as monsters, apathetic to the woes of the poor- and this again is a very generalist view that the director takes.

And lastly, the film did not work for me because the way it culminated. After all the hard work, all the efforts that Shambhu and his kid put in, they are not able to save their land. This goes against the very thing that makes our movies so endearing- the spirit of hope and optimism. It looks ghastly the way they have ended the movie- just to make a point that the rich will keep treading on the hopes and aspirations of the poor to make their palaces of wealth.

However irrespective of the above there are a few sequences which are worth mentioning as individual pieces of brilliant art-
  • When Shambhu loses the daily earning from a middle class household for which he used to drop two girls to their school, he still drops them without taking any wages- forgoing other customers from whom he could have made some earning.
  • The Shambhu accident scene- A man and lady, who have had a fight, are indulging in a race of their hand-rickshaws (one of them being pulled by Shambhu). When the man offers a big amount to Shambhu to go faster, he puts in his all and unfortunately his rickety rickshaw is not able to handle the thrust- in the process causing a freak accident and an injury to Shambhu.
  • The scene when Kanhaiya resorts to stealing in an effort to get some good food for his injured father. And later when Shambhu breaks down after discovering this misdoing on the part of his ‘bachhua’.
Shambhu is shown as such a good and self-less person that it seems like sacrilege when he does not achieve his goal in the end. And as I said that’s where I lost whatever little connect I had with this movie.

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.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Haqeeqat (1964)

We had been always told as kids that India defeated Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 wars, but lost to China in 1962 conflict. But I, for one, had little clue about the scale of the clash and the enormity of the loss that India suffered at the hands of China. Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat is an EPIC on the Indo-Sino war, and a telling account of how poor we were as a nation strategically while dealing with the war. Starring Balraj Sahni, Dharmendra, Vijay Anand and a number of other faces that were willing to trade the last drop of blood in their body for the life of an enemy soldier, Haqeeqat was shot in the virgin locales of Ladakh, in black and white.

The film opens with the deployment of officers at various potentially dangerous locations across Ladakh. Brigadier Singh (Essayed by Jayant- a veteran actor who starred in many epic movies through the 1950s and 60s) travels to Srinagar to visit his son, Captain Bahadur Singh (Dharmendra in one of the early roles of his career). The situation they are faced with is tense, with India and China engaged in a dialogue regarding the territorial uncertainties in Ladakh, and China’s claims for a large piece of India’s territory in the area. Lack of a concrete border line only complicates the issue further. The initial few minutes of the film are spent establishing this fact while the soldiers reminisce about their romantic endeavors and families. The narrative is deliberately kept fractured, and no one actor is given an absolute prominence above others, though it does take some time to develop the relationship between Captain Bahadur and a Ladhaki girl. The relationship between her kid brother and Captain Bahadur too is very labouredly developed, but it is completely justified as this bond ultimately gains supreme importance in the larger scheme of things during the culmination of the film.

The key statement that this movie makes is that wars are won and lost on the table. And India suffered not just at the hands of an unexpectedly determined and savage Chinese aggression, but also because of its own tactical inadequacy and lack of preparedness. We refused to open fire till the Chinese forces were literally staring us in our faces, from twenty meters across, on the pretext of being a peace loving nation that picks that resorts to aggression only when some other nation starts violating our territories. We refused to understand the vested Chinese tactics that were directed towards catching us napping when we were the least prepared.

There are many memorable scenes that the movie leaves you with, and Major Ranjit Singh (Balraj Sahni in a stellar role) features in most of them. The instance when he lashes out on a junior officer who was undermining the importance of the imminent clash, and further bursting into a monologue on the Chinese intentions, is clap worthy.  Another, when he displays his inability to prevent a retreat of his men from the front, is a poignant sequence that asks a lot of questions on the stance that the Indian Government took during the whole combat. His cry of “I need men, I need guns, and I need bullets”- while almost breaking down, is truly heartwarming and makes you boil in rage at the futility of the whole exercise.

The climax sequence involves Captain Bahadur Singh and a colleague of his, who together are given an almost impossible task of stopping a whole platoon of Chinese soldiers (read Bastards). They, together with the Ladhaki girl and her brother almost achieve the impossible, laying down their lives in the process. What follows is one of the most memorable songs ever to have graced the Indian silver screen- ‘Kar Chale Hum Fida, Jaanon Tan Saathiyon- Ab Tumhare hawale Watan Saathiyon’- The song is sure to leave you with a lump in the throat- Chetan Anand uses some actual footage from the post war era to accentuate the effect.

What makes this saga truly unmatchable is the realism with which it is shot, and the grand scale of the war scenes. The performances from each member of the cast are top-notch, with Balraj Sahni leading the way. Jayant also gives an award winning performance as the helpless leader of the whole operation who himself has a son fighting the more than formidable enemy. Vijay Anand, the director’s brother, gets preferential treatment in a way that he gets a solo song, and the girl who was the love of Major Ranjit Singh’s life. Dharmendra plays the role of the charmer initially and then intense soldier with much aplomb. His love interest and her brother too pitch in with natural performances.

Haqeeqat truly is a landmark film in Indian cinema’s journey over the years. And it certainly acted as a reference point for later films like Border and LOC. It is one of the absolutely must watch movies- a film that every Indian should watch, feel, and absorb. Stunning. JAI HIND.  

Friday, July 8, 2011

Ijaazat (1987)

It is very rare that a writer/director creates a character that is so fascinating that it lingers on in one’s mind even hours after watching the movie. Gulzar does just that and more in the most romantic movie of his career- the Naseeruddin Shah, Rekha, and Anuradha Patel starrer ‘Ijaazat’. The memorable character he constructs, with much love and affection, is called Maya (Essayed by Anuradha Patel). It is most likely that Gulzar based this character on someone he knew personally, because he handles it with such delicacy and intimacy that it looks like Maya is a piece of his heart. The music, the poetry, the mood- all appear to pay homage Maya. But despite all this, Ijaazat is not Maya’s film.

The story starts off in a waiting room of a railway station, where Mahinder (Naseeruddin Shah) comes with the intention of spending the night before he catches the morning train that would take him onward to his destination. There he chances into Sudha (Rekha) who too has to wait the whole night to catch the morning train. Soon it is revealed that Sudha and Mahinder were once married to one another and they had run into one another for the first time since their separation. Through their conversations and reminisces, the story of their lives is unraveled before the viewers.

Mahinder had been madly in love with a girl named Maya, before he had gotten married to Sudha. He had been keen to solemnize his relationship with Maya, but the free spirited Maya had refused to do so. She did not believe in the institution of marriage, having been witness to a dysfunctional alliance between her parents. Mahinder had been engaged to Sudha, who was a close family friend, prior to his meeting Maya. Later, certain circumstances force Mahinder to marry Sudha, but before taking this step, he tells Sudha everything about Maya their relationship pretty explicitly.

What follows next is Sudha moving into Mahinder’s life and replacing Maya’s presence in his home and his heart. But despite all the efforts made by her and by Mahinder, Maya’s presence is something that remains strongly alive between them. In fact she is like a third person in their home and surfaces constantly in their conversations and musings. In a beautifully haunting sequence when Sudha sends all Maya’s stuff remaining at their home back to her place, Maya sends back a letter in return, requesting her to return the other things that she had left behind with Mahinder. Her letter is in form of poetry, which is typical to how Maya is shown to be in the film.

“Mera kuch Saaman… tumhare paas pada hai”

Later, just when things start getting better between Sudha and Mahinder, Maya tries to commit suicide but fails in the attempt. Mahinder hides this fact from Sudha and keeps visiting Maya in the hospital where she gets admitted. This leads to certain misunderstandings, causing Sudha to leave their home and separate herself from Mahinder’s life. What happens next comes as a revelation- to Sudha most certainly- and also to the viewers.

The movie has an underlying sad tone throughout, which is also quite evident in the lyrics of its songs- all of which are female solos. The theme is of unrequited love- which was quite a departure from the kind of films that were made at that time. Gulzar has mounted the story in a very simple manner, laying utmost stress on the interplay between the characters and the dialogues. And for a story that has so few characters, the screenplay is pretty engaging and manages to involve the viewers. A lot of credit goes to the lead actors who pitch in with natural performances. Naseeruddin Shah, as always, is brilliant in an author backed role. Rekha gets the part of a sort of an outsider, and manages to express the right amount of vulnerability and insecurity that her character demands. But the star of the show, as perhaps it was always meant to be, is Anuradha Patel- or rather Maya- because she was the character- she was exactly what Gulzar wanted her to be.

Parting note- I am glad that I watched this film, because it tells a story told straight from the heart of the maker. It tells a story of true love, the kind that is hard to find in today’s films and today’s world around us. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Namak Haraam (1973)

What’s more important- profits or people? Now this is a lot closer to my current project in life- the Masters in Business Administration that I am pursuing. And this is also what Hrishikesh Mukherjee essentially tries to debate in his movie Namak Haraam starring Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna in principal roles.

A story of two thick friends who can’t even imagine leading their lives without each other, this is a sensitive representation of the clashes between the capitalists and the labor class- a subject that had relevance not only in India, but also the world over.

Vicky (Amitabh in a boisterous and aggressive role that is light days apart from what he played in the earlier Rajesh Khanna-Hrishikesh Mukherjee collaboration ‘Anand’) and Somu (Rajesh Khanna) are alter-egos. While Vicky is the son of a rich industrialist, Somu comes from a family with limited means. Their bonding is so strong that Somu doesn’t mind Vicky funding the day to day activities of his household. They go to work together, they get fired together. They go to ‘mujras’ together and do pretty much everything together (it may be difficult to comprehend such a bonding in today’s times and some people might view it with suspicion).

Their lives take an unexpected turn when Vicky goes to Bombay and look after his business after his father suffers a mild heart attack and is advised rest by the doctor. While handling his business he refuses to accept some demands of the union leader Bipinlal (played by AK Hangal) rather bluntly- leading to the workers going on a strike. Later, on his father’s advice, Vicky has to publicly apologize to the Bipinlal- in an effort to pacify the agitating workers. He considers this act of apologizing utterly humiliating and vows to take revenge. For that very purpose he calls Somu to Bombay and places him at the factory with the workers, as one amongst them. They both hatch a plan which involves Somu gaining the support and trust of the workers, and in the process alienating Bipinlal from rest of the work-force.

Initially the things go according to plan but soon Somu starts getting affected by the plights and pains of the workers while being in close contact with them. The trigger proves to be an alcoholic poet Alam (Raza Murad in a heartwarming performance). Gradually Somu realizes that the workers’ demands for better wages and better working conditions are completely justified and the stance taken by Vicky and his father is a selfish one. There ensues the conflict and it is with Somu’s retaliation to Vicky’s claims that the title of ‘Namak Haraam’ gets justified.

The movie is really different from what was usually attempted in Hindi cinema in the 1970s. Some might even say that it was made with a socialist propaganda and tried to show the capitalist in a negative light. But I feel that such was the demand of that time when there was rampant exploitation of the worker class by the money minting factory owners. Of course today with human rights, labor rights, and Corporate Social responsibility things are much better. But the central idea of Profits Vs People is still relevant.

The performances, as expected, are top notch. Rajesh Khanna’s Somu steals the thunder from Amitabh Bachchan’s Vicky. The former is brilliant as a man caught between his best friend’s interests and the calls of his conscience. Simi Garewal and Rekha pitch in small-almost insignificant supporting acts. But for me the character of Alam was the highlight of the movie in the sense that it performed the role of the catalyst in taking the drama forward. His lines in the movie reflected haunting sadness-

“Nadiya se Dariya, Dariya se Sagar, Sagar se Gehra Jaam- Jaam mein doob gayi hai meri Jeevan ki har shaam”

Parting note- Namak Haram deserves to be seen by the lovers of Hindi cinema for it attempted something different from what was the norm and also boasts of powerhouse performances from two of its most popular superstars.