Those amazing eyes! Those large, luminous eyes of Rekha revealing a lot, concealing a little more. That wonderful smile of Vinod Mehra dissolving into eternity. That unparalleled chemistry between the two. They made ordinary moments appear extraordinary. And did even better with the special ones. Add to that some remarkably soothing tunes of R.D. Burman, an under-celebrated master then. And very, very Gulzar-like lyrics from the peerless Gulzar and you have a film that breathes, no lives, through its lead pair and its songs. Some words engage you, others encourage you to be imaginative, all adding up to make director Manik Chatterjee’s film one you would watch once, then consign to your memory bank, only to come back and draw of its energy, its love, its joy whenever life overtakes you. It is that kind of film. You live in the moment, it stays with you. And long after the moment has lapsed, it makes you smile all by yourself, arms crossed, eyes dancing, and that long look into the distance. “Ghar” simply lives up to its name: familiar, comforting, a lifelong affair.

Yet the film is no walk in the park; never mind if it frequently resembles that, at least in the initial few reels. That is when the director builds up the story gradually, quietly, with hardly a telltale sign of what’s to come. That is also the period when Rekha and Vinod Mehra as lovebirds (Aarti and Vikas) frequently disappear into the wilds with a song on their lips, a spring in their step. From the wilds they go to the hills, on to the beaches and so on. Every song is a beauty, every movement of the lead pair in perfect harmony, their steps match, their eyes dance. This is also the time when you wish these scenes of mutual admiration would go on and on. And life would continue to be as beautiful for them — Rekha with barely an emotion other than love on her carefully sculpted face scarcely deserves less; Vinod Mehra with unabashed ardour and seeking eyes too would settle for little else.

It is good as long as it lasts. Which is to say a good hour or a little more. That is when the film takes a more serious turn. As the lovebirds begin to experience the joys of matrimony after initial hiccups — read typical Bollywood-style parental opposition — tragedy comes calling. One day on their way back from a movie, the woman is assaulted, the man wounded. The four assailants disappear. Life changes for ever. Their privacy is gone. As is their joy. The man feels hounded and guilty. The woman traumatised and defiled. A personal tragedy brings up national headlines as the two are not even allowed to lick their wounds in private; the prying eye of the media, the wagging tongues of social butterflies making it certain that a tragedy may not have an easy solution, but it attracts plenty of unsolicited advice. Does it remind you of the deplorable assaults on women in Badaun? Or even Delhi or Khandwa in recent weeks?

It is also the time when the strong-willed director in Manik comes to the fore; never allowing the proceedings to degenerate to a melodrama. The director keeps a strong grip on the proceedings in this psychological drama: there is admirable focus on the couple trying to make things work, even pretending that the nightmare never took place. There is a period of denial, there is a period of deep anguish, then, as the film develops its momentum, there is no stopping midway. Not a chance for the pause button to be pressed. “Ghar” is at its best when it is most tragic. All the early songs, including the hugely popular “Aaj kal paun zameen par nahin padte mere”, “Aapki aankhon mein kuchch” and “Tere bina jiya jaye na” seem ages removed. At its core, “Ghar” is about the plight of a rape victim and her spouse, the vicissitudes of their life, their very personal agony played out in public.

In many ways, the film is Rekha’s arrival card. Until then she was used for a couple of songs and dances as the hero’s sweetheart. Manik was the first to give her a role that gave her ample opportunity to prove her acting credentials. She does not let go of the opportunity. The common man might easily recall “Umrao Jaan” and “Muqaddar ka Sikandar” among Rekha’s early notable ventures. But truly it was “Ghar” that laid the foundation. Of course, Vinod Mehra is suitably charming as a lover boy and pretty mature as the helpless husband. Not to forget Dinesh Thakur and Prema Narayan with their moments of vim and shine.

Some day, when you decide to go down memory lane, visit “Ghar”. Or another day, when news items about rapes of women in Badaun, Ahmedabad, Khandwa and even Delhi, overwhelm you, remember there was a director in the late 1970s who saw it all.

Genre: Social drama

Director: Manik Chatterjee

Cast: Vinod Mehra, Rekha, Prema Narayan, Asit Sen, Dinesh Thakur, Asrani, Madan Puri

Story, screenplay and dialogue: Dinesh Thakur

Music director: R.D. Burman

Lyricist: Gulzar

Box office status: Successful

Trivia: Won Filmfare Award for Best Story. Rekha nominated for Best Actress category