Monday, April 23, 2012

Gharonda (1977)


The star-cast and Imdb summary of this Bhimsain Khurana film gave an impression of it being a film in the mould of ‘Chhoti si Baat’ or ‘Rajnigandha’. After all, one can hardly expect an Amol Palekar or a Zarina Wahab to star in a movie that is not a feel-good entertainer. But ‘Gharonda’ is hardly that Basu Chatterjee or a Rajshri movie from the 1970s that would leave you smiling and cause you to drift away in a simple and endearing world where everyone is good at heart and there are hardly any vices. It surely tells a story of two working-class people living in an urban city (much like Chhoti si Baat and Rajnigandha), but here the tone and tenor is drastically different. The world out here is the big and bad one where people aren’t always sweet and don’t always have the best of intentions. They are insecure yet ambitious, apprehensive yet ruthless. They hardly think beyond their own interests and seldom give a damn about the lives of others. The film tells the story of two people in love who dream to have their own house in the concrete jungle of Mumbai, daring to take on all the challenges that the city throws on them. How their lives take a drastic turn post this, is what the film is all about.

Gharonda is more like a Shyam Benegal or a Govind Nihalani film in its treatment. Emphasizing on the dark human desires and talking about people going through their most troubled times, the movie is a dark and pessimistic take on human emotions and their worth (or worthlessness) in a big modern city like Bombay. Amol Palekar and Zarina Wahab play office colleagues who fall in love and decide to marry. But before taking the marital plunge, they decide to own a flat of their own for which Amol is forced to take a loan. But in a rather cruel twist of fate, the builder with whom they book a flat turns out to be a swindler. Not able to accept this big monetary loss, Amol’s room-mate, who had also booked a flat with the same builder, commits suicide. Amol completely breaks down but not before making an indecent proposal to Zarina that literally breaks her heart. Accepting defeat at the hands of the heartless society, Amol asks Zarina to marry their elderly boss (Shreeram Lagoo) who had shown interest in her on more than once occasion. He tells her that their boss couldn’t be expected to live for more than a few months at best, and after his death they could get together again and live comfortably off the old man’s wealth. Outraged at this suggestion, Zarina breaks all ties with him. But owing to her unstable financial condition and her wish to fulfill her younger brother’s ambitions of studying abroad, she decides to honor her boss’s proposal to her and marries him. However, she accepts her husband wholeheartedly and makes all the efforts to have him hale and hearty again. Meanwhile, devastated by this betrayal, Amol loses all interest in life and becomes a recluse…

There are a lot of elements in this film that are unconventional. Amol is shown to be living in a shady men’s hostel where one of room-mates has regular tete-e-tete with prostitutes. Even Amol brings Zarina to his room for the first time with not so noble intentions. The old man’s pursuit of a young Zarina (almost his daughter’s age) is again not something which is regular. Amol’s dissonance with the world and his complete disregard for his own self post Zarina’s marriage, again is something which is not worthy of a Hindi movie hero. He becomes an urban version of Devdas, and there is also a mention of his involvement with prostitutes. Zarina’s comfort level with her much senior husband is again dramatic, and quite uncomfortable. She becomes his trophy wife without any complaints and accepts him with all his deficiencies. More than a wife, she becomes his nurse, his householder, and his closest friend. Thus all the characters in the story have shades of grey, which is truly unique for a movie of its time and age.

The songs of the film are quite unlike the rest of the narrative. They are given an easy treatment and are sans any dramatic or visceral connotations. In fact if seen in isolation, they would give a completely different impression about the movie. ‘Do Deewane Sheher Mein’ is the memorable song from the album, one for which Gulzar won many accolades. As far as the performances go, Amol Palekar attempts a completely different role and although he does well, it is difficult to accept him this pessimistic and discontent avatar. Zarina Wahab too is not very convincing in the complex role and it easy to see why she didn’t become a very popular actress of that time. A Shabana Azmi instead of her could have added a completely different texture to the performance with her penchant for such complicated characters. Similarly a Shreeram Lagoo hasn’t got that imposing aura that his character needed. One feels that a Sanjeev Kumar or an Amjad Khan could have taken the film to an altogether different level.

Parting Note: Gharonda is a semi-Shyam Benegal film with a Rajshri cast- It has a powerful narrative that could have been well served by likes of Naseeruddin Shah, Sanjeev Kumar, and Shabana Azmi. The film tells a novel story and is given a realistic treatment. However because of its weak casting it fails to create a great impact and ends up being good film, but hardly a must watch one.





5 comments:

  1. I saw this way back when I was a kid, and (naturally enough, considering I was used to pure masala entertainment!) didn't like it - except for Do deewane shahar mein. From your review, I can see it may not be worth the effort of finding and rewatching, either.

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    1. Yeah don't bother with this one for now, I am sure you would be having much better films lined up in your watch-list.

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  2. It is not that bad a film because of mediocre acting. Sreeram Lagoo is fine, I agree Amol is inadequate but he's always been an inadequate actor in non-comic roles. Zarina, however, I differ on. I don't think Shabana Azmi is a wonderful actor, she had her moments of gold in a film like Pestonji, but she's given to some mourning and quiet/sulky roles, which isn't exactly what the director may have wanted an 18/19 year old confused woman to do. Zarina is adequate for the role (why she never made it as a big actor notwithstanding), she isn't supposed to display maturity or very complex emotions; she is a teenager who has a confused notion of duty, towards her new husband and towards her family (brothers/sister-in-law), and is looking for a rooted existence somehow. She had hoped to find an anchor in Amol Palekar, but she found his love wavering between the vulgar and the kind, and at odds with her wish to do well for her family. In portraying all this, I think Zarina's done a decent job. There could have been a better actor perhaps, but definitely not Shabana.
    The movie, in my opinion, falls short of being great too, I think that is mostly because of poor editing and some confused direction. The characters are never clearly delineated, Zarina is somewhat, but the rest are just shown extremely haphazard. What drives Zarina's younger brother and sister-in-law to change their mind once, and then change it again, and play along with her decision is unclear. They aren't shown to be particularly needy or wanting Lagoo's favours either. The appearance of a pimp in the men's hostel is also somewhat contrived, and lacking any point. I think it may be some bad editing work that killed the film. And I agree that the music of the film is something else, it moves you far more than the film itself. Still, the film has some boldness as you point out and was way ahead of its times.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. A succinct analysis, and I take your point that the lack of a coherent tone/treatment may be a result of inappropriate editing and confused direction, instead of just bad casting. And like you said, the film is definitely bold and ahead of its times... I wish it could have a more fulfilling watch.

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