Welcome to Bombay; a city of opportunities and heartbreaks and contradictions at every step; a city where you just cannot escape the vicious cycle of existence. “Gaman” is about the city, its varied inhabitants and a message that leaves the viewer disturbed. Is there a trace of humanity in a metropolis that has held promise for every dreamer but not always fulfilled it?

Ghulam Hasan (Farooq Sheikh) is one such dreamer, who aspires to give his little family of mother and wife a life of comfort, not luxury. For this, he must endure the hardships of living away from home. At times he is appalled by the insensitivity of Bombay. In seeking greener pastures, the young man appears to have lost the joy of living, as he watches people around him engage in a race to survive.

The ‘comfort’ of his village, growing with a doting mother and a caring wife Khairun (Smita Patil), is a forgotten luxury when Ghulam travels to Bombay from his moorings in Uttar Pradesh. His land usurped by an unscrupulous village elder, the protagonist of this melancholic tale has little choice but to accept the proposal of his friend Lallulal Tewari (Jalal Agha) to relocate to Bombay. There is a lot to achieve and earn, Ghulam is promised, and he is attracted to the city.

Ghulam encounters a rough welcome as everyone is in a rush. A life is lost under a train and there is little sympathy for the dead as the passengers curse him for causing a hold up. Young lovers strive to find a lonely corner. Bombay has changed since. But Ghulam plunges into this chaotic life and learns the tricks of the trade fast, from cleaning taxis to driving one.

Muzaffar Ali directs with impeccable details. He explores the underbelly of a city through the eyes of Ghulam, a compassionate soul who is disturbed by the death of even the unknowns. Ramprasad hails from his city and guides Ghulam by initiating him into driving a taxi. The simple village youth looks at his future with hope even as he observes the struggle of Lallulal and his lady love Yashodhra (Gita Siddharth).

The harsh reality of life in Bombay is best captured by a casual “Colaba mein 4143 ka accident ho gaya aaj.” The dead driver is identified by the car’s registration number. For Ghulam it is shattering because the accident takes away Ramprasad, his mentor. In a symbolic gesture the camera pans on an aircraft that takes off and disappears into the horizon even as Hariharan breaks into a poignant “Ajeeb Saneha Mujh Par Guzar Gaya Yaro…..”

Muzaffar Ali delves on different facets of life in Bombay to illustrate the diversity, the rich and the poor sharing their pain and ecstasy, through the medium of a taxi. A rich businessman looking for carnal pleasures, the skyscrapers mocking at the neighbouring shanties, a Parsi passenger giving a comic but and telling discourse on the degeneration of values, the backseat conversations, mostly pompous and sometimes self-deprecating, educating Ghulam on the challenges of life in a city, are some of the rich vignettes in this compelling narration. Ghulam’s predicament is so movingly highlighted by Suresh Wadkar’s soulful “Seene Mein Jalan Aankhon Mein Toofan So Kyon Hai”. The lyrics capture the essence of a city life so beautifully, not to forget the “three rupees and fifteen paise” fare that he demands from a petite Protima Bedi. A taxi ride in three rupees and fifteen paise!

The anguish of a dreamer is best captured in the strain that Lallulal and Yashodhra experience in keeping alive their relationship. She yearns for a home, he confesses his failure. The pressure grows as she resist attempts by her scheming brother (Nana Patekar) and an agent to pack off to Dubai. Unable to force her, the brother and the agent conspire to bump off the young couple. It makes little impact on the teeming populace where each minds his own business.

Ghulam stays in touch with his ailing mother and a pining wife through letters. Even as he shares the dark side of the city with them, the two ladies of his life wish he return to the tranquil surroundings of their village. Khairun’s grief of being away from her husband is driven home by Chhaya Ganguly’s “Raat Bhar Aap Ki Yaad Aati Rahi”. Shattered by the murders of Lallulal and Yashodhra, a grief-stricken Ghulam decides to return to his family. But his dilemma is captured conclusively by the train that he watches roll past before returning to his taxi. There is not one flawed performance in this classic gift to meaningful cinema by Muzaffar Ali, Farooq Sheikh and Smita Patil.

Genre: Drama

Director: Muzaffar Ali

Cast: Farooq Shaikh, Smita Patil, Gita Siddharth, Sulabha Deshpande, Jalal Agha, Protima Bedi, Nana Patekar, Satish Shah

Music: Jaidev

Trivia: Jaidev and Chhaya Ganguly won the National Awards 1978 for Best Music Direction and Best Female Playback Singer respectively. The film also received the Special Jury Award