starring Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bhaduri, Asrani, Bindu, David, Durga Khote, A.K. Hangal
If there was one perfect film in the ’70s with an enduring appeal, it was Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s masterpiece, ‘Abhimaan’. The film came on the heels of the wedding of the lead pair amidst strong rumours that Jaya — a top actress, who along with Hema Malini, had withstood the phenomenon called Rajesh Khanna — was quitting films to raise a family.
Audiences at the time saw similarities in ‘Abhimaan’, the story of a chauvinistic singer-husband who is unable to accept his wife’s superior popular appeal as a singer, and the real life events in the lead pair’s life: Amitabh Bachchan was just starting his career while Jaya Bhaduri, with her impish ways and infectious laughter, had already caught the imagination of the nation with runaway hits like ‘Guddi’, ‘Uphaar’, ‘Koshish’ and ‘Piya Ka Ghar’. The other version is that the film, which was to be called Raag-Ragini , was drawn from the real life story of Kishore Kumar and his first actress-singer wife, Ruma Ghosh from whom the legendary singer separated.
Whatever it be, Abhimaan , directed and written (with few others) by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and tightly edited by Das Dhaimade, was a huge success. The screenplay was by Subhendu Ghosh and two others. It is believed that Jaya and Amitabh invested their own money in the film, which was co-produced by Jaya’s secretary Susheela Kamath. Songs are the mainstay of this musical, and Lata Mangeshkar, conducted by maestro Sachin Dev Burman, is at her very best.
To demonstrate the ups and downs in the success graph of the singer-hero Subir (Amitabh), SD used different male voices. So when Subir is at the peak of his popularity it is Kishore Kumar crooning ‘Meet na mila re man ka’ and when Subir pairs with his wife Uma (Jaya) for the first time, it is Mohammad Rafi with Lata (‘Teri bindiya re’) and as Uma starts overshadowing her husband in popularity, SD uses Bhupendra’s voice with Lata (‘Loote koi man ka nagar’) and finally when the estranged couple comes together it is again Kishore Kumar with Lata Mangeshkar in the ever-popular number, ‘Tere mere milan ki ye raina’. Only the creative mastery of SD and Hrishida could come up with such imagination, fetching for Burman-da a Filmfare Award for his compositions.
In the film, Subir Kumar is a much sought after pop singer with a massive fan following. Once while visiting his aunt (Durga Khote) in a village, he hears Uma, (Jaya) daughter of a classical singer (A.K. Hangal), singing (‘Nadiya kinare’) at a temple and falls for her. They get married and come to Bombay. At their wedding reception they render a duet which draws from Brijeshwar Rai (David), a music connoisseur, the uncanny observation that the wife was a far superior singer and this could cause trouble in their married life. As expected, Uma is flooded with offers from music composers. She is reluctant to join the race, but is persuaded by her still-in-love husband to sing — first duets with him and then solo numbers (‘Ab to hai tumse har khushi apni’ and ‘Piya bina’). As her popularity rises and she is offered a much higher fee than him, Subir starts losing interest in work, takes to drinking and spends more and more time with his friend Chitra (Bindu). Uma offers to give up singing which only enrages Subir more and after an argument between them, she returns to her father’s home. Unknown to both, Uma is pregnant then but hurt by her husband’s attitude she slips into deep depression and loses the unborn child. Subir is still unmoved.
Finally his friend and chatterbox secretary Chandru (Asrani), aunt and Brijeshwar Rai intervene to bring the estranged couple together with a public rendering of their love song: ‘Tere mere milan ki ye raina’. It is not so much the wife, but the artiste in Uma that relates to the artiste in her husband to find peace. And, as Brijeshwar Rai tells the on-screen audience, it was music that brought them together, music that does them apart and ultimately music that unites them.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee banks on his faithful ensemble of David, Durga Khote, A. K. Hangal and Asrani, who give stellar performances. Bindu gets a break in a positive role. The director keeps tight frames and relies heavily on close-ups to tell this story of subtle emotions, which nevertheless, makes no attempt to break away from stereotypes.
Jaya and Amitabh are well-matched but it is an out and out Jaya film. She won a Filmfare Best Actress’ award for her flawless performance: Whether it is in the rendering of the songs or while conveying an expression of helpless despair while watching her drunk husband being helped out of the car or the gentle but firm reminder to Chitra that Subir was hers, the deep sense of sorrow at losing her pregnancy or while crying out her pain through the last song, she is absolutely riveting. In this film Jaya shed her image of the girl-next-door and became a woman of substance.
It is not so much the wife, but
the artiste in Uma that relates
to the artiste in her husband
to find peace.