Saturday, October 27, 2012

Annadata (1972)

Many of our old Hindi movies have messages that have not lost their relevance over the years. In fact some of them seem to have been written with a crystal ball in tow, for the incipience of the issues they reflected on at that time has turned into a chronic persistence in the modern world of today. Annadata, one such film made by Asit Sen almost forty years ago, is a film that moots the breeding selfishness in the modern materialistic world and questions whether there is any good left in the world deafened by the rumble of avarice and ambition.

A rich industrialist Amba Prasad (essayed by an immensely likable Om Prakash) is referred to as annadata because of his largesse and charitable disposition. In the urban jungle that incubates the battle between the haves and the have-nots, he stands tall as someone who uses his wealth for the good of everyone, and not just for himself. However, false news of his death opens a can of worms when a large number of his blood relatives start fighting amongst themselves while staking a claim to his empire. But what truly breaks his heart is when his adopted daughter claims to have been an illicit relationship with him (forced by her gold-digging parents), just to proclaim herself to be a true heir to his vast empire. This cruel accusation completely shatters the old man’s faith in the world and he leaves everything he owns in care of his manager, while embarking on a journey, with only his pet dog accompanying him, to discover his lost belief in mankind.

On his journey when he is just about to give up all hope, a chance encounter brings him in touch with Aarti (Jaya Bhaduri), who nurses him to good health. In the days that follow Amba Prasad discovers how one woman epitomized all that he was looking for in the world- honesty, selflessness, benevolence, and righteousness. When he had started getting the feeling of been marooned on an island of spite and no respite, Aarti’s care and love ensnares him in her small yet salubrious world that blossoms with empathy of its occupants. Amba Prasad also strikes a quaint companionship with Aarti’s lover Arun (Anil Dhawan), an idealist painter whose lack of means makes him hesitant to solemnize his love for Aarti.

The movie is far from perfect despite the well intentioned premise. There are unnecessary scenes and also some shoddy acting, led by a very stiff and unintentionally hilarious Anil Dhawan. A polished actor would have definitely added tremendous weight to some complex scenes that fail to achieve their purpose with the present actor. The songs by Salil Chowdhary, though melodious, aren’t as neatly woven with the story as say Gulzar film songs would be. But Jaya Bhaduri and Om Prakash’s assured presence, and the brevity of most scenes that could have fallen in the trap of sermonizing, ensures that the film remains a light yet meaningful watch that ends on a positive note. In fact the film traverses the gargantuan distance between pessimism and optimism in just about two hours.

Parting Note: Annadata is akin to a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film that has its screenplay woven around a good idea, and is given a light-hearted treatment with melodrama kept to the bare minimum.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dastak (1970)

That knocking on the door…

In the process of discovering and experiencing some lesser talked about or simply forgotten chapters of Hindi cinema, I have being surprised more than once by the sensitivity of our storytellers. There have been so many instances of ordinary real life emotions being brought out extraordinarily on celluloid, that one has to admire the thoughtfulness and the dexterity of the people who ‘wrote’ our Hindi movie heritage. Almost all the movies that we see today are a reflection on some or the other film from our past. Yes, there have been quantum changes in technique, setting, and circumstances, but the core emotions remain quite the same.

And thus when I saw Dastak, conceptualized and brought to life by Rajinder Singh Bedi, one of the stalwarts of Hindi and Urdu literature (and films), I was quite taken aback. Here is one story that is so unique, and so very glowing with brilliance, that it has almost no parallel. The idea, the context, and the sheer execution of this very human and humane drama, is a delight to watch.

A young recently married couple move into a small house in one of those crowded and cramped spaces of Mumbai. In a neighbourhood bustling with activity, the two decide to embark on a lifelong journey together. But all their dreams and all their expectations go for a toss once they discover the murky identity of their new abode, i.e. once they discover that just before them their home was being occupied by a notorious nauch girl and prostitute. Every second day in the middle of the night when the world sleeps, Hamid and Salma are harrowed by incessant knocking on their main door, by some or the other lost soul seeking refuge in the arms of Shamshad Begum, a lady who even in her absence manages to cast a icy cold wall between the much in love couple. How all this affects the psyche of the two, and how they attempt to fight the war their neighbourhood wages against them, is what the film is all about. At the same time a discerning viewer will appreciate the social commentary made in the background, leveraging upon what all happens in the foreground.

Rehana Sultan as Salma
There are so many metaphors used in the film, but none as striking as the caged mynah that becomes the third occupant of the cursed flat in question. Every day Hamid goes to work, leaving his comely wife Salma trapped at home. Her very existence till the evening, when Hamid returns, becomes a monumental challenge. The claustrophobic neighbourhood, with its closely packed blocks of urban settlement, ensures that there are always some prying eyes trying to close in on her whenever she seeks a bout of fresh air through the windows. The notoriety that their flat gives them moreover ensures that whenever she tries take forward her father’s legacy in classical singing, there are always suspicious voices to be heard questioning her integrity and the very fabric of their matrimony. Thus Salma without Hamid is not very different from their pet mynah that at least has the consolation of being free inside the cage, unlike its owner.

The other aspect of the story is Hamid’s struggle to find a new flat for himself and his wife. The city is unforgiving in its demeanour, with its intimidating tall structures and unscrupulous people. His work-life too is not exactly a cruise as every now and then he lands in a situation of moral dilemma where his ideals ensure that he makes no financial headway to erase ghosts of his wretched personal life.
Sanjeev Kumar as Hamid

In one very significant phase of the screenplay the couple decides to just run away from everything, back to their village. But there too, they witness enough misery to be compelled to return to their cursed urban abode. This excursion from reality to another reality teaches the two an important lesson that they acknowledge towards the end of the film, just after a spectacular climax. The last sequence of the story, that also includes a song, is a stamp of genius. One of the best Hindi movie climaxes ever for one of the most unique Hindi film ever!

The performances from the two protagonists, Sanjeev Kumar and Rehana Sultan are mesmerizing to the core. Has there ever been a more natural actor than the former? Rehana Sultan, in one of her first few films, is so good that it looks like she was born to play this role. The songs by Madan Mohan are melodious and heart-wrenching with lyrics that will make you bow your heads (and backs) in respect. What poetry by Majrooh Sultanpuri!

Parting Note: Do watch this film. Do watch this film. Do watch this film. Do watch this film. Do watch this film. (substitute for 5 stars)

P.S.: The chief editor for the film was Hrishikesh Mukherjee!