Starring Amol Palekar, Vidya Sinha, Dinesh Thakur, Ranjita Thakur

That decade! That was an exhilarating one. It had so many layers that one could as well be peeling onions! The filmmakers had their fantasies, some of them had searing exposé, others little poignant tales… all combined to offer so many shades that the 1970s viewers were spoiled for choice. The early years were all about a dreamboat called Rajesh Khanna. Soon enough Prakash Mehra chiselled Amitabh Bachchan’s Angry Young Man persona with “Zanjeer”. Before one could so much as nod in affirmation, G.P. Sippy-Ramesh Sippy had given us the biggest blockbuster of them all, “Sholay”. If Bachchan’s larger-than-life persona won over the vast multitudes, the more discerning had their plate full with arthouse fare like “Ankur”, “Manthan”, “Nishant” and, of course, “Garm Hava”. The middle class, meanwhile, got vocal criticising Bachchan’s brand of escapist fare — and quietly most of the films. Then it was fashionable to say all the right things about the Mrinal Sen-Shyam Benegal kind of cinema. Never mind, people who made all the right noises in social circles usually waited for free passes at film festivals to catch up with such films.

Amidst polar ends was middle-of-the-road middle class cinema, made fashionable by the likes of Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Asit Sen and Gulzar, all of whom had honed their craft under the watchful eye of Bimal Roy. There was Basu Chatterjee too. They all came up with films for the urban middle class viewers, films that had no drama, identifiable actors and a storyline that clicked with the viewers simply because of the treatment meted out by the director. In a long line of films like “Mili”, “Guddi”, “Chhoti si Baat”, “Gharonda” and the rest was “Rajnigandha”, director Basu Chatterjee’s film that moved so effortlessly that you almost did not notice you had progressed to the climax. No stars, no melodrama, just a beautiful little film that unfurls almost like a rose in the garden.

The film talks of the days when life offered the joys of being young. And songs fell naturally from many a hopeful lip. Some girls, innocent, untouched, sang wistfully “Rajnigandha phool tumhare”. And many men imagined Vidya Sinha, she of the cherubic looks and dainty little smile. Some guys, just about managing to keep the limits of interaction to permissible levels, hummed, “Kai baar yun bhi dekha hai”. That was the time when growing a beard did not come with a social stigma attached, to wear a sari was not to be classified as ‘behenji’ in peer circles. That was the age of Basu Chatterjee, the days when people read and appreciated Hindi literature, and films could tackle literary subjects without being classified as literary essays! That was indeed the time of “Rajnigandha” — it won the Filmfare Award for the best film of the year.

Based on a story “Yehi Sach Hai” by noted Hindi writer Manu Bhandari, it is actually a simple love triangle that sails through due to apt casting. In its way it was a daring topic for middle class India of the time, where triangles could be seen to disrupt a marriage, but a single girl wavering between a past and a current boyfriend? Well, well! Vidya Sinha plays Deepa, a post-graduate girl looking for a teaching job. Amol Palekar as Sanjay plays her fiancé. Nobody’s idea of a dream man, he, however, is identifiable with all human follies: he is usually late, often disorganised, forgetful and clumsy. That does not prevent him from bringing his girl all the flowers she needs — rajnigandha. You see, in ordinariness lie so many virtues!

The third angle in this well nuanced love story is provided by Dinesh Thakur, an under-appreciated actor-writer, who passed away recently. If his pen made Manik Chatterjee’s “Ghar” a household name, his brooding intensity lifts “Rajnigandha” over the level of just a breezy romance. He plays Naveen, the first man in Deepa’s life. With his quiet ways and minimal dialogue, he provides a fine alter ego to Sanjay, leaving Deepa to wonder, what has she got by moving on to a new man in her life, what has she lost! It is not the kind of dilemma you would spend a night thinking over. But it makes for engaging fare on the screen.

And like many films of the genre, “Rajnigandha” says it all through half gestures. When Deepa receives flowers, she doesn’t jump on her bed in glee. Rather, she merely caresses the flowers. Instead of the stems of tuberose, she could as well be holding her beau’s hand! Similarly, when Deepa finds herself in a taxi with her ex-love, they sit glued to their respective doors. You could as well seat another person in between — Chatterjee actually does that through a little dream sequence. Yet, Naveen wants to make the next move; so he extends his hand, keeping it tantalizingly close to the girl’s apparel. Will she so much as touch his finger? His eyes plead, his heart pounds. In the background, we have Yogesh’s aptly worded song, “Kai baar yun bhi dekha hai, ye jo man ki seema rekha hai, man todne lagta hai, anjaani pyaas ke peechhe, anjaani aas ke peechhe, man daudne lagta hai”. Salil Chaudhury’s music does nothing to detract attention from the actors and Mukesh’s vocal chords provide fine support.

“Rajnigandha” is that postcard of urban India which is neither grim nor vainglorious. It is like life; some blemishes, some foibles, but very comforting in the end. Minimalist props, no clichés, no hyperbole, just a nice scent of life in the heady spring of youth.

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