Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sara Akash (1969)

A 1969 film, ‘Saara Akash’ is the debut directorial feature of Basu Chatterjee, who later went on to make some of the most acclaimed films of the 70s and the 80s. It is very much a non-mainstream effort with mostly first time actors forming the cast, and has been given a very unique treatment by Chatterjee, especially in terms of its experimental shot-taking, quirky camera angles, and use of nano-flashbacks to depict the internal conflicts of the chief protagonist. Like many of the director’s later efforts, the movie has its basis in literature and its story is adapted from the first part of a novel of the same name, written by noted Hindi writer Rajendra Yadav.

The movie has a very novel premise about how a newly-wed husband and wife don’t exchange even a single word between themselves for almost six months. Set in a traditional middle class Hindu family in the historical city of Agra, the story is soaked in the atmospherics of the Indian grassroots, especially the ones associated with the custom of arranged marriages in a joint family system.

A young man, yet to complete his formal education, is married off to a beautiful and demure girl, much against his wishes. The girl too has had some schooling, and is seen as someone who is well educated by the general societal standards set for her kind. Thus, completely unprepared for matrimony, both youngsters enter into a relationship that is marked by uncertainty, apprehension, and bashfulness. After making an inauspicious beginning by completely ignoring each other on their first night together, their problems only get compounded, as the reservations they have towards one another keep on getting fueled by their family dynamics.

The boy is fiery and ambitious, heavily influenced by the ideals of Subhash Chandra Bose and other noted public figures that had a stirring impact on the youth of those days. He channels a firm outward belief that marriage is nothing but an impediment in the makings of a great man, resulting in him assuming a tough face in front of his wife, despite covertly longing for her companionship. Some of the most delectable moments of the film are the ones that highlight this contradiction, and mostly involve him completely ignoring her presence, despite wanting to do the exact opposite. Till about halfway into its duration, the film has a light-hearted approach and derives humor from such situations. However, the tone of the film soon changes as the focus shifts on the other half of the conundrum, i.e. the inner world of the bride, who is harangued not just by her husband’s insurmountable apathy, but also by his family members’ demanding behavior and condescending attitude towards her education, especially from the jealous women-folk of the household. In a poignant scene that illustrates this change of treatment, the girl makes a mistake while doing a household chore and is severely reprimanded by her mother-in-law, and when the boy enters the scene and is told about the misdeed done by his wife on whom he has no apparent control, he goes forward and slaps her, which marks the first physical contact between the couple. Later he cries like a baby, hating himself for that act of physical abuse, and mocking his own fake ideals that couldn’t stop him from hitting his wife. The result of this unfortunate occurrence is that he starts spending more and more time outside the home, taking refuge in solitude or in passing time with his friends. On the other hand the girl’s solitude becomes even more absolute, especially when her confinement’s only solace, the boy’s sister with whom she shares some sort of understanding, is sent back to her husband despite her many protests.

Throughout its short duration of 90 minutes, the film unequivocally portrays the plights of a newly wedded bride in a patriarchal, male-dominated set-up. In the alien environment of her husband’s home, the young girl is shown to get little respite, and her world gets completely distraught as she gets abandoned by what could have been her only source of comfort in the unforgiving situation, her husband.  The husband, on the other hand, comes across mostly as a pitiable and spineless figure, with little points of redemption. Hardly out of his childhood, his mind replete with regressive societal notions on how a wife should behave and not behave, and at the same time heavily influenced by the elders in his family, the boy-man’s helplessness too comes out on occasions when he breaks into a child-like smile on being teased by a friend, or when he shyly dreams about little moments of intimacy with his wife.

The acting by the two leads, Rakesh Pandey and Madhu Chakravarty is impressive and both manage to do complete justice to their extremely complex characters. The three most familiar faces in the cast are those of AK Hangal, Dina Pathak, and Jalal Agha, but none of them have really much to do. There are no songs in the film; however, the music by Salil Choudhary, which plays mostly in the background, fits the mood of the film very well.

Parting Note: An exceptionally well shot experimental film with a very realistic treatment that remains topical, despite the forty-five years that have passed since its making. A must watch for all those who wish to study and savor the parallel Hindi art-film movement, which according to many, started with this film.

Interesting fact: The film was shot entirely in the ancestral home of its writer, Rajendra Yadav (source Wikipedia)