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.