STARRING Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore, Farida Jalal

The film’s gripping story is backed by fine editing and a focussed narration.

It is a film that’s part of one of the earliest memories of my life, and some very precious moments. The mind’s eye goes back to early 1970s and those days of black and white television sets with a shutter. I was young and lay there resting my head on my mother’s knee. She gently stroked my hair, trying to put me to sleep, all along humming, “Chanda hai tu suraj hai tu…” Well, I did not grow up to be luminous like the moon or bright as the sun but the lullaby still plays in my mind, so much so when I became a father, I played it to my daughter, unflustered by the fact that the song is a beautiful expression of a woman’s love for her child.

Such are the memories of “Aradhana”, a film so beautiful that one can go back to it again and again, and never feel too jaded. Much like going back to one’s wife after many a summer together. Every time you watch it, the film takes you in, yet keeps something away. For the next time. Much like D.H. Lawrence’s women. Director Shakti Samanta’s “Aradhana” is actually a wonderful, most wonderful, showcase of beautiful songs, picturised so delightfully that the frames refuse to fade. The film’s opening sequence is as good as it has ever got in Hindi cinema. Remember Rajesh Khanna in a roofless jeep, his vehicle running almost parallel to Sharmila Tagore’s visage in a moving train. Her chiselled features, that wonderfully astray lock, those kohl-lined eyes…and Kishore Kumar’s timeless romantic anthem, “Mere Sapnon Ki Rani Kab Aayegi Tu” playing alongside! That was the stuff of many fantasies, wet and wild, for years young and impressionable. And provided inspiration to countless films, partly replicated most recently in “Parineeta” where Sharmila’s son Saif Ali Khan wooed his lady in the film in a similar fashion!

Then there is the simmering sensuality of “Roop Tera Mastana”, again Sharmila and Rajesh together, this time expressing more passionate demands of the body. Lust, does one call it? More likely love ahead of its times as the two, not quite married yet, give a frank manifestation of human desire. They teased the society, they fiddled with faith. They were both beautiful. And bold but did not have to bare it all in a song where going overboard would have been perfectly understandable. But wasn’t Kishore Kumar’s voice even better!

The Burman song

Then the innocent joys of Rafi-Lata number, “Baaghon Mein Bahar Hai”, the nicely dimpled Farida Jalal holding her own in front of Rajesh Khanna in a film where she was supposed to have only a walk-on role! But the highlight, fittingly comes at the end with the evergreen S.D. Burman giving it all to “Kahe Ko Roye”, a song so poignant, that many must have shed a tear as they became a non-participant observer to the travails of the widowed Sharmila. Burman, apparently, had to be nudged by Shakti da to sing the song. Shakti da would have scarcely done a better nudging job all his life! Interestingly, the film’s music was composed in three weeks only.

But hey, “Aradhana” is not all about songs. It is a film that was way ahead of its times with an expression of premarital love and motherhood. At a time when child out of wedlock was as rare as a dhool ka phool, it was a film that packed it in without needing a sermon on morality.

Fine, but there is something more to “Aradhana”. It is a film that talks of aspiration, a lonely woman’s ambition, a mother finding fulfilment in her son’s dreams, a woman overcoming her own fears even as she maintains poise and calm in public. The film’s gripping story is backed by fine editing and a focussed narration. And scarcely a word is spoken in anger!

When it released people loved it for music. When you see it today, you like the music but love the performance of Sharmila in the role of a life time. And wink at Rajesh, then at the beginning of a fine career. What you take home is a director’s movie, a man who could claim to be a feminist without needing any placards. His work was his aradhana. And his “Aradhana” was a gem!