Starring Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore, Satyendra Kappu
One of the issues with the young generation is that it thinks what’s happening to it is something novel. But a glance at films and literature of times gone by would convince us how cyclical is the nature of human experience. I faced a similar problem with my happening nephew a few days back. He believes his wife doesn’t understand him and the view from the other side is almost similar. And yes, that usual refrain, “Oh! You won’t understand. Such things didn’t happen back in the ’70s.” I advised him to go to the video library nearby and fetch a copy of Basu Bhattacharya’s “Avishkaar” and discover how a sensitive filmmaker dealt with the problems a modern-day couple faces — back in 1974.
Part of Bhattacharya’s trilogy about man-woman relationships (the other two being “Anubhav” and “Grihaprivesh”), it has withstood the test of time. You can relate to Amar and Mansi’s quandary as they grapple with a trust deficit soon after their ‘love marriage’. The opening song “Hansne Ki Chah Ne Kitna Mujhe Rulaya Hai, Koi Humdard Nahin Dard Mera Saya Hai” (composed by Bhattacharya’s favourite Kanu Roy) accurately captures the situation. Sung by Manna Dey, the master at conveying human pain, it keeps pricking long after the film is over.
If family friend Sunil is the representative of optimism in relationships, Amar’s ‘broad minded’ colleague Rita talks about the practical aspect of marriage. Both are red herrings! Early in the film Rita tells Amar how marriage smothers dreams and leaves the man only with desires. Cinematographer Nando Bhattacharya (he also shot “Anubhav”) captures the miasma that Rita talks about through the wavy opening montage.
On the surface it seems like the subject doesn’t require technical skill, but like in performances Bhattacharya ensures the craft remains unassuming. Artistically edited (S. Chakravarty), the narrative goes back and forth to bring out the layers in the relationship. The pattern allows the film to become one-dimensional. In between Bhattacharya slips in the story of a taxi driver (Satyendra Kappu) without losing pace. The guy from the lower middle class is happy despite sharing space with nine people. Talking about his wife, he shares with the couple, “People say my wife’s hair is thick and long, but I swear I have not seen it in the light of day.”
Cut to Mansi, who doesn’t even dress up on her anniversary day. “Is there still a need to look good,” she counters her friend when he is surprised by her lack of interest in celebrating the day. Later, as Amar broods, the mood that the amber of the cigarette creates in the darkness — nothing else could generate. The feeling of claustrophobia percolates through the screen.
After the demise of Rajesh Khanna, many observers claimed that the star fall prey to his stock mannerisms. Here you can see Khanna inhabiting a disillusioned husband with all the details. There is nothing trademark ‘Kaka’ here as you only see Amar with all his frailties come alive on the screen. It must have being challenging for the raging star to pick a role where he was not the hero in the conventional sense. Wish he had picked such characters with more regularity.
He teamed up with one of his favourite heroines, Sharmila Tagore, who also turned up without her trademark bouffant and false eyelashes, and gave a performance that rings true even today. You could still find many a Mansi suffocating in the apartments that dot the metros. It is a far cry from “Mere Sapno ki Rani” as the husband and wife savage each other, holding nothing back. Soon you forget that you are part of a cinematic experience and start taking sides! Bhattacharya, along with dialogue writer Gyandev Agnihotri (interestingly, Agnihotri went on to write commercial projects like “Yaarana” and “Beta”), doesn’t give you any tangible reasons as to why their relationship fell apart, as there aren’t any. They quietly make you realise that Amar and Mansi have started doing things that they used to despise as lovers. The best part is Bhattacharya doesn’t get carried away with the rants and sums up the situation in 108 minutes in such a way that you can’t stop yourself from exclaiming, Oh yes! It always ends like this. No, not on screen, in life! But Bhattacharya’s life proves otherwise. For a filmmaker who seemed to know so much about the tenuous nature of relationships, his personal life was not all that smooth. He started as an assistant to Bimal Roy and went on to marry Roy’s daughter Rinki against the wishes of his mentor. Rinki collaborated with him and in fact contributed as set designer in “Avishkaar”. However, years later Rinki, better known as a journalist and a documentary filmmaker, walked out of her marriage making charges of domestic abuse. She even wrote books on the subject including the much acknowledged “Behind Closed Doors: Domestic Violence in India”. Whether Bhattacharya’s life reflected in his cinema or his screenplays seeped into his personal sphere is a matter of conjecture but it does bring out the complexities of life in the film industry.
It was not that the film went unnoticed and that it was an experiment at a time when Raj Kapoor had just brought down the age of romance with “Bobby”, and the likes of “Yaadon Ki Baraat” or “Chor Machaye Shor” were ruling the box office. If you look closely it was also a time when Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s “Abhimaan”, Basu Chatterjee’s “Rajnigandha” and Anil Ganguly’s “Kora Kagaz”, which also traced man-woman relationships in the urban milieu, were being noticed.
It won Rajesh Khanna a well-deserved Filmfare Award for Best Actor (his third and last). Unfortunately, Bhattacharya lost out to Manoj Kumar (“Roti Kapda Aur Makaan”) in the Best Director category.
And perhaps Tagore proved just too real to be nominated!
Discover “Avishkaar”, and you are bound to see your face in the shards of glass that Amar and Mansi throw at each other.