Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dard Ka Rishta (1982)

An artist’s best work is often the one that has risen out the melting pot of his own life experiences.  The best artists in the world are known to create art for themselves, not caring much about the expectations the world burdens their shoulders with.  In fact, there have been innumerable cases where an artist was not even acknowledged during his or her lifetime; the famous painter Van Gogh’s name comes to mind as a prime example of such an occurrence. If we have to looks for an example closer home, the name of Guru Dutt can be mooted in this regard. Although he wasn’t completely unappreciated while he lived and made movies, his true worth was recognized only after an untimely death. Though, it must also be said while citing his example that cinema, as compared to painting or music, is a highly corrupted art form, owing to the fact that films are almost always made for an audience and are hardly ever devoid of commercial considerations.
Another observation that I will make before turning to discuss the movie I wish to discuss in this post, is that it is often painful experiences and grief that act as the most effective catalysts to the most creative of expressions. This particular sentiment has been widely popularized by the movie ‘Rockstar’, but I had to say it to set the context.
Sunil Dutt, was a prolific actor, and more than just an occasional director/producer. In fact it won’t be wrong to say that some of his directorial/production ventures were far more ambitious than most of the movies he starred in as an actor. From ‘Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke’ which dealt with a taboo real life adultery case, to ‘Yaadein’ that was an unique experiment with just a soliloquy piecing together a narrative, to big canvas dacoit films like ‘Mujhe Jeene Do’ and ‘Reshma aur Shera’, the man was never afraid to challenge the stereotype. In 1981, the year in which his son Sanjay was launched by him in ‘Rocky’, he suffered a huge personal setback when his beloved wife Nargis succumbed to cancer. Out of this great grief must have emerged the story and concept of ‘Dard Ka Rishta’ a movie that he made just after, as a tribute to his wife, and apparently to further the cause of cancer awareness and research. And in my view, this particular movie, made as a labor of love and pain, is the best movie out of all that were produced by him. 
The structure of the story is simple but touches upon many issues that remain relevant even today. One, it highlights the conflict in the mind of an expat originally from a poor/developing country like ours, of whether to lead a somewhat selfish existence where there are many personal gains to be had, or whether to go back to one’s own country and contribute using the skills gain abroad. Two, it talks about the conflict in the mind of a doctor, of how to best use one’s education, that is, to use it as a privilege or as an aid to the society’s betterment, also whether to make best use of what’s current, or whether to throw oneself into research and look for better methods to improve on the current.  Three, it looks at the relationship between an estranged couple, and how it plays out when they meet after many years. Four, it looks at the plights (and the delights) of a single parent, on how kids such raised, mature quicker and come to terms with life’s realities and responsibilities a lot sooner than kids indulged by both the mother and father together. Five, through a somewhat clichéd and yet entertaining side-track it looks at the eternal Hindu-Muslim communal issue, which again is an apparent offshoot of Sunil Dutt’s own life, owing to his marrying a Muslim lady. Lastly, and above all, it highlights how difficult it is to face loss, to watch a loved one die, and not being able to do anything about it.

The story, refreshingly for a Hindi movie of that time, has a broad geographic canvas a narrative that has a wide time span. Thus, the characters and lives evolve and grow as the story progresses. Most impressive is the restraint on melodrama, which is left implied and unsaid on most occasions, truly unique for a 1980s Hindi movie. A lot of this can be attributed to the calmness and grace that is brought to the screen by all the female actors- Smita Patil, Reena Roy, and a young Khushboo (the famous actress in South Indian films) who plays Sunil Dutt’s daughter. Sunil Dutt, essaying the lead male part, expectedly acts with great sincerity and sensitivity. The music by RD Burman is pleasant to the ears and complements the mood of the film.

Also unlike most Hindi movies, it is difficult to decide what the best parts/scenes of the movie are. The father-daughter relationship is heartwarming and in essence is the core to the plot, but the subsidiary emotional linkages, for instance the relationship the girl shares with the servants/helpers of their household comes out very well through some nicely written scenes. The NRI portions of the story, which would have done Jhumpa Lahri proud, have a stamp of finesse and class. The medical procedures and functioning of a foreign health-care setup, as shown in the movie, give the impression of being well researched. The only dated bit of the movie is the part where Sunil Dutt has to marry Reena Roy because of certain unfortunate circumstances, but even that can be excused as a well-received big-star movie used the same plot device as much as twenty-five years later (How Shahrukh Khan ends up marrying Anushka Sharma in his blockbuster hit Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi).

Overall, the movie is well worth its slightly long duration, and is quite a classic if you consider the period it was made in, and the personal element of the maker involved. It is unfortunate that this movie is seldom talked about in the media circles (it even fails to receive a mention in the main body text of Sunil Dutt’s Wikipedia page).

Friday, October 11, 2013

Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein (1964)

The impression you get about Kishore Kumar after reading his interviews is, that he was a highly reluctant actor ,and abhorred the task of making a fool out of himself in front of the camera. This, and that he was extremely critical of most movies that were being made in the 1950s and the 1960s, and despised the standard melodramatic fare that was being dished out by the tinsel town copiously. But despite all this he starred in dozens of films, most of them comedies, out of which a few are fondly remembered even today- ‘Half Ticket’ and ‘Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi’ leading the pack. As a singer, he is arguably the most popular male voice to have made listeners swoon and sway, with some of the most popular and iconic songs over the decades, to his credit. But very few are aware that he tried his hands at film-making as well and directed quite a few movies. At least I had little clue about his directorial efforts till recently when, on a whim, I decided to browse his IMDB page. A frantic online search later, I was happy to find two of these movies and downloaded them almost at once.
'Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein', his second production, seems to have had his absolute control over all aspects of its making- He is credited as the writer, director, producer, music composer, singer, and lead actor. In addition to all this, his real life son plays his screen son in movie, a sensitive father-son tale. Kishore plays an honest army-man who returns to his village after a war, only to discover that all his near and dear ones, except a son, have succumbed to a tragic fire and have left for the heavenly abode. If this wansn't agony enough, he finds that although his son had escaped the clutches of death, the shock had been too much for his young impressionable mind and as a result the boy had lost his gift of speech.
With hardly any means to support themselves, and no emotional anchor except one-another and a pet dog, the unfortunate father-son duo leaves the village with the intention of relocating to a new place and making for themselves a new life, far removed from the ghosts of the past. The father makes it a mission to restore his young boy’s ability to speak, committing to make all kinds of personal sacrifices to achieve this goal. Soon, on their journey, they encounter a group of goons and in a conflict, the father is injured, and they land in the home of a kind and young village landlady who gives them a place to stay and tends to the father’s injuries, while forging a motherly bond with the son. Thus the wanderers soon become householders, with both the father and the son playing an active role in the daily life and works on the land holdings of their benevolent host.
 A slightly awkward romance soon develops between the adults, but before things become too intimate, the father decides to leave for the city for his son’s treatment. Predictably the city offers no respite and after consulting a multitude of doctors who all express their inability to bring about a change in fortunes for the boy, they decide to return to the place where they had found love and an emotional refuge. The movie culminates with on a clichéd and dramatic note, with villains and a kidnapping thrown in, a heroic performance from with father included, and a miraculous recovery of the boy, all leading to a happy ending with the union of hero and the heroine and the karmic completion of the boy’s circle of family ties.
The movie has a sincere theme and a stirring emotional stamp throughout, most probably due to the fact that the subject might have been very close to Kishore Kumar’s heart. However, a lot of the screenplay is contrived and lacks finesse, especially the later portions of the film. For a more commercial presentation a lot of the usual elements appear to have been added, which makes the effort a bit hotchpotch and jarring. The music and the acting by the leads are quite good and some of the scenes, especially the ones depicting the awkward romance blossoming between the father and the landlady, display unusual restraint and subtlety.
Overall, to the fans of old Hindi cinema, the movie would be worth watching as it is the work of a highly creative and genius mind who wore multiple hats, some fine some shabby. Just as a glimpse into his personality, the movie is quite a decent watch despite the fact that it appears a bit dated today, but that can be said for many of the acclaimed classics as well from that time.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Anand Ashram (1977)

I pushed back watching this Shakti Samanta movie for quite some time, expecting it to be one of those moralistic tale laced with melodrama and strung together by a few good songs. Another big reason for my lack of enthusiasm was that this movie, unlike most other Shakti Samanta movies of that time, does not star Rajesh Khanna, and instead features Uttam Kumar, an actor I am not particularly fond of. As it turned out, as I finally got around to watching it, I was somewhat right about my pre-conceived notions. But having said that, the movie pleasantly surprised me on many counts, and in fact turned out to be quite a good watch. Also, as the narrative unfolded and moved towards the climax, similarities between its story and that of big ticket Karan Johar magnum opus Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham became quite apparent, which were rather interesting to discern. The coincidence that Rakesh Roshan plays the role that would be parallel to what his son Hrithik Roshan performs in the modern day magnum opus, was what triggered the connection in my mind.

A young doctor marries his childhood companion without his father’s consent. The father, a rich and respected landlord with a legacy he is very proud of, is terribly disappointed by his son’s decision to marry a girl from a different religious background. The confrontation leads to the son abandoning his father’s house and giving up on all his inherited wealth. He, along with his wife, then proceeds to fulfil his life’s objective of providing medical services to the underprivileged villages, which lack healthcare infrastructure. A chance encounter with a wannabe do-gooder enables him to open a village dispensary, which he starts to run with his wife supporting him wholeheartedly. Then in a curious turn of fate, his allegiance to the oath of selfless service is put to test. He passes the test but suffers a great personal loss when he is unable to be at his wife’s side as she is delivering their first child. The story from there briskly changes character and soon takes a time leap. With the drama set, the next part is quite entertaining to watch.

Despite the serious theme, a feel-good factor is maintained throughout, thanks to the well defined characters essayed by Ashok Kumar, Utpal Dutt, and Asit Sen. In the second part of the movie the romance angle between Rakesh Roshan and Moushumi Chatterjee also lightens the proceedings. Towards the end, the culmination too is convincing and ties up the drama satisfactorily.

It would not be completely off the mark to say that the basic skeletal of Anand Ashram and K3G is alike. What is most different is the objective and treatment. While Anand Ashram has the theme of selfless service to humanity as its backbone, K3G has no such pretentions and was quite unequivocal in its fidelity to the candyfloss. As a result the characters in the older film are less caricaturish and have more shades to their personalities. And that is strength of Anand Ashram as a more ‘moving’ motion picture. The lead hero, Uttam Kumar, is not very convincing in the initial portions of the story where he plays the rebel lover lip-syncing to songs and romancing a stunning beauty like Sharmila Tagore. But in the later part of the movie he appears in a bearded look and is generally more assured. But Ashok Kumar as the ‘kabhi garam kabhi naram’ granddad (and dad) gives the most heart-warming performance from the lot.

Almost all the songs are nice and don’t really act as speed-breakers. ‘Sara pyaar tumhara’ and ‘Rahee naye naye’ and the most melodious and must have been quite popular in their time.

Parting Note: Anand Ashram has a good original story to tell in a breezy run-time. Also, the message it propagates is universal and quite relevant even in the current times.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Jallian Wala Bagh (1977)

I was watching some interviews of Gulzar recently on YouTube. One thing that he mentioned in almost all his conversations was the impact of India’s partition on his life and works. Not surprising for someone who was born on the other side of the border that wasn’t present at that point of time, Gulzar talked very fondly about the land that was once a part of his being, and that presently was alienated from him, at least in terms of physical distances. But despite this admission, we find that the man was hardly ever a part of any cinematic venture that explored the stories of that painful time. Most of his work that revolved around that motif was not done for the big screen. His poems, his stories, and anecdotes on the subject are a part of his poetry books, his memoirs, and some plays that have been adapted from the same.

Gulzar in a still from Jallian Wala Bagh
However my quick research reminded me of one movie set in pre-independence India, which Gulzar contributed to immensely. Jallian Wala Bagh, a movie directed by Mr. Balraj Tah (one time director/film-maker), had its screenplay and dialogues written by the maestro of words. Chronicling the events around the horrific incident that gave a new impetus to the Indian Nationalist movement, the movie can also be termed as a sketchy biography of Shaheed Uddham Singh, the revolutionary young man who murdered the man largely responsible for the mass massacre that happened on 13th April, 1919.

Parikshit Sahni essays the role of Uddham Singh, while Vinod Khanna and Deepti Naval play major parts that bring in some star value to the otherwise non-commercial looking venture. Shabana Azmi has an insignificant cameo, but the surprise of the show is a meaty role by none other than Gulzar. As a young man contributing to the freedom struggle while living in London, Gulzar delivers a patchy performance that vindicates his decision of not going in front of the camera ever again. However the portions involving him are some of the most polished part of the otherwise amateurish attempt by the first time director.

The movie is far from being a very fine one. However, at just over 100 minutes in length, it is a reasonably good watch, at least from the point of view of being an important film based on true events. It is tough to describe it as a biopic as it fails to do justice to that genre despite having Uddham Singh as a fulcrum for the narrative. As an effort that documents a critical chapter of our freedom movement, the movie again falls short. Ultimately it ends up as a confused attempt that could have been made into a defining feature, had some more research and effort been done before making it. Some of the factors that redeem the movie are:

Non-violence vs Violence: How to get India to revolt?
  • Its depiction of the underling conflict between the extreme revolutionaries and the moderate (and non-violent) Gandhian reformers. The characters of Om Shivpuri and Vinod Khanna, father and son, are at constant loggerheads regarding the approach that the freedom struggle should adopt. Here Deepti Naval provides the balancing act and articulates the difficulty in making one choice out of the two. This debate later continues between Uddham Singh and Om Shivpuri’s character in London, two decades after the incident of Jallian Wala Bagh.
  • The introduction of a global perspective to the proceedings in the later part of the film. When Uddham Singh reaches London, the world is in a state of conflict, with Hitler on the warpath. It is refreshing to see a movie talk about the broader canvas, while not losing the grip of the core plot. The use of an English lady’s character that supports Uddham Singh and Sunil (Gulzar) against the British is done really well, and executed sans any stereotypes.
  • A major part of the second part (which is set in England) is in English. This again is quite different for a movie that largely talks to a Hindi speaking audience. In fact this leads me to believe that the second part of the movie, which has much finesse as compared to the first, must have been shot first. The first hour of the movie (the events leading to the massacre) might have been shot later with more mainstream appeal in the hope of giving the movie a commercial release.
Parikshit Sahni as 'Uddham Singh', the revolutionary who killed  Micheal O'Dwyer, the man responsible for the massacre of Jallian Wala Bagh

In the hands of an expert (or rather more ambitious) director, the subject of the movie could have been exploited better. Haven’t we seen many Hollywood movies going back to the past to churn our Oscar winning films? Here it must be said that our Hindi film industry has not made use of the vast source of literature that our pre-independence days resulted it. Neither has our period of struggle been given its due importance in many of our films. We have a very few films that talk about that era, and sadly many of them are on similar subjects (with the life of Bhagat Singh seeing more than five cinematic representations over the years). 

A Poster of the movie: Highlighting the commercial elements, while concealing the real ones

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Taxi Taxie (1977)

In 1976, Martin Scorsese came up with Taxi Driver, a movie that went on to be viewed as one of the best films ever. Starring Robert De Niro, the movie garnered tremendous critical acclaim and emerged as a cult classic. Over the years many directors have been inspired by its style and the way it went about constructing a psychological study of a man leading a life shrouded by disturbing elements, or rather deconstructing the psychological state of disturbed man finding it difficult to come to terms with his environs.

Closer home, a man called Irshaad made a movie titled Taxi Taxie, casting Amol Palekar in the lead as a taxi driver operating in the metropolis of Mumbai. This movie that came out in 1977 seems to be clearly inspired by the English classic that released a year before. However it must be said that it is the best sort of inspiration. The director/writer has been influenced by the idea of his famous contemporary from the west, and has created a completely different movie, completely different narrative of his own, which is quite unique and interesting.
Amol Palekar, quite fondly given the moniker ‘Hero’ by his fellow Mumbai Taxiwallahs, is an honest and diligent worker who spends most of his time on the streets of Mumbai, helping various people move around the city. However, he himself finds it difficult to navigate through certain cobwebs in his mind, which keep pushing him back to his past. His choice of being a taxi driver, despite being well qualified academically, comes as an enigma to his old college friend who he runs into one day. He justifies it by voicing the joys of being constantly with various passengers, who he treats like fellow companions in the journey of life. The profession, thus, is his way of parrying off any chances of falling prey to loneliness. There is also a more romantic reason of him wanting to search for an old flame who he hopes would run into him, if luck is on his side. Thus, all the time his eyes keep searching for that familiar face while he drives through the good and bad wonders of the city.

As a part of his routine, Hero chances into a hapless (and kind) prostitute more than once, and forges a friendly relationship with her. He also meets a struggling playback singer who somehow reminds him of his flame who he wants to reconnect with quite badly. There is also a kind Christian landlady with whom he shares a lovely bond. It is through these relationships that Hero’s thoughts and conflicts are brought to the fore wonderfully well.

The movie is quite atmospheric and the city of Mumbai plays a crucial role in binding the narrative. Quite like the recent Aamir Khan starrer Talaash, a movie that also shares some other similarities with this thirty five year old forgotten flick. People who have been to Mumbai will find it quite interesting to see all their favourite places from ‘town area’ being given due prominence in the film (without ever pushing the main context to the background). Some deftly handled small touches can be appreciated after every few minutes, which makes the film appear very technically sound in spite of the apparent low budget.

The best thing about the movie is that despite its very heavy subject and philosophical tone, it never comes across as too much to take in. Some light-hearted moments are nicely done, and some appear contrived today, but by and large it is an extremely fresh screenplay which at least I have not seen replicated in (or replicated from) any other Hindi movie. Apart from Amol Palekar and a stunningly beautiful and assured Reena Roy, none of the actors show much finesse. However the below average acting acumen of two of the three leading ladies is not at all jarring, as Amol is in each and every frame to balance proceedings. 

The music is tuneful and soothing, and surprisingly not overdone. But it is one of those Hindi movies which do not need the crutches of super-hit songs to stand tall. The meat in the concept and the surprisingly well written dialogues take care of almost everything. Another point worth appreciating about the feature is that it never meanders, even when its lead meanders in his realms of thoughts. In the hands of a lesser director, the plot could have turned into a crime/mystery drama, (I have seen some Hindi movies taking that route after showing a lot of promise in the initial reels) but fortunately here the man in-charge sticks to the point.

Parting Note: Taxi Taxie is a very good Hindi film lost in oblivion. Definitely an excellent watch even today.