STARRING: Uttam Kumar, Vidya Sinha, Shreeram Lagoo, Dina Pathak, Master Raju, Keshto Mukherjee

Past is a shadow that accompanies you unannounced. And childhood, a wonderful memory for most, is, for many, a sad reminder of what was, what could have been. “Kitaab” is a gentle foray to the days when life was young though not always easy. Almost like turning the pages of a novel you read and left behind many summers ago, “Kitaab” has that identifiable feel that strikes a chord with you. At times disturbing, at times uplifting, “Kitaab”, in the end is like a book where your patience is amply rewarded.

Personal touch

A personal favourite of Gulzar, “Kitaab” has more than just a dash of the personal about it. On the surface, it is the story of Bablu – Master Raju, that wonderful child actor whose best came before the weight of youth became too much too carry – but it could as well be the story of any child living away from his parents. It has clear touches of the autobiographical — Gulzar often stayed away from parents, and learnt informally on the streets and the godowns — but the specifics do not overwhelm the universal appeal. Much like Mulk Raj Anand’s “Coolie”, the principal character in Samaresh Basu’s story discovers life on the streets, at a railway station, with strangers.

Bablu lives with his sister — Vidya Sinha – and her husband — Uttam Kumar in a finely etched role of a caring brother-in-law. It is not often that Bablu gets considerate adults at home. Often accused of the worst, the 12-year-old runs away from home, complaining nobody understands him in the world, neither at home nor in school! It soon turns into a journey of learning as the boy meets interesting characters like a blind beggar — Lagoo in a sensitive piece. It is during such moments that the film leaves a lump in your throat. At others, it settles down to be a nice, little heart warming tale. No puns, no expletives, no violence. Just a nice look at the world from the eyes of a kid.

It is notable for the choice of singers: in the era of Lata-Asha, Rafi-Kishore, Gulzar got a solo out of composer Sapan Chakraborty and another from the hugely under-utilised Raj Kumari. Add to that a nice children’s song by Padmini and Shivangi Kolhapure. Not to forget R.D. Burman’s “Dhanno ki ankhon mein raat ka surma”, and you have a music score that works despite the absence of any big names. Each of the songs went on to carve out its own niche with RD’s going on to become a favourite of the remix generation.

In a delectable reminder that the film comes from much more innocent days, we have the lyrics of the song, “Aa ee masterji ki aa gayi chithhi”. Gulzar freely uses expressions like “agarbatti kachhwa chhaap….VIP underwear banian”! Yet nobody can accuse him of selling his soul for paltry gains from the brands. It is hilarious, nice and naughty.

The film, however, was a box office debacle, setting Gulzar thinking if there was any space left for his kind of cinema after an avalanche of Angry Young Man cinema! The Bachchan saga was an octane-driven high noon affair; Gulzar’s was more of gentle sunshine, mellow shadows. As subsequent years proved, there was space for both.

During the era of violence, “Kitaab” was regarded to be a poet’s film. Few appreciated it then, many do so now.