Sparsh (1980)

January 20, 2017 12:33 am | Updated 12:33 am IST

THE TIMELESS TOUCH Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi in Sai Paranjpye’s “Sparsh”

THE TIMELESS TOUCH Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi in Sai Paranjpye’s “Sparsh”

As “Kaabil” brings visually impaired protagonists back in focus, it is time to revisit Sai Paranjpye’s timeless gem that continues to be a benchmark for films that address the normal/abnormal binary. Breaking the stereotypes created by cinema and society where blind people are often presented as objects of pity, Sai creates an inclusive space where the blind protagonist wears his self esteem on his sleeve and suffers from the same emotional upheavals as any sighted person is. Based on the real life story of Ajay Mittal, Sai demolishes the lachar-bechara image that Hindi cinema wove around blind characters and in Naseeruddin Shah she has a malleable actor to realise her vision.

The narrative holds a soothing love story of a sighted woman and a blind man. It seems implausible but as Sai sensitively unravels the layers one can figure that each one of us have handicaps. A young widow disabled by the society, Kavita is struggling with her emotional vacuum when she comes across Aniruddh Parmar, the principal of a school for the blind. A beautiful relationship evolves which is more tactile than visual and the fragrance permeates through the celluloid. Kavita buys saris that Aniruddh could feel. A self made man, Aniruddh allows Kavita in his dark universe. However, soon self doubt creeps into the relationship as Aniruddh fears dependence on Kavita. Aniruddh has been more than compensated by nature in other senses, including ego. Is Kavita trying to be a Gandhari? Is she trying to justify her second love as a duty? It leads to an intense curdling of emotions in the estuary between right and wrong.

There is a bigger picture as well which can be easily juxtaposed to the majority/minority question. In the outside word, blind people might be struggling to find feet but in the blind school it is the sighted who are yearning to find acceptance. Sai presents it through the strand of Pappu, the sighted boy among blind students. He longs for the attention of his teacher but her entire focus is on blind students. When Pappu fights with a blind student, he closes his eyes to make it a fair fight but still fails to get the attention. Similarly, Kavita does everything to be part of Aniruddh’s universe but he considers it as a ritual to get over her past or as Kavita’s friend (Sudha Chopra) says he remains blind to her love.

Naseer has often rated it as his most fulfilling performance. The shift in eyeballs, the arc that he creates with the stick, the way he holds the cup and the ungainly body posture, Naseer almost becomes the character. In his autobiography, “And Then One Day”, Naseer admits the thought of acting as a sightless person with children who were actually sightless took him as close to butterflies in the stomach as he had ever been. The key to play a blind character, he says, is that they directed their ears and not their eyes at the point they were addressing, and that caused their sometimes ungainly bodily posture, which, having absolutely no self consciousness, they were oblivious to. He imbibed it by following Mittal for ten days. His education in Aligarh Muslim University also helped as it had one of the best schools for the blind in the country. He had observed a couple of blind classmates during college days. He tried different things to get the movement of a blind character but ultimately went by his imagination. “I had always been able to shut out all aural stimuli whenever I felt like it, but shutting off all visual stimuli proved equally easy.”

Naseer and Om Puri often performed together like singing a duet. Different notes but always working for a harmonious whole. Here in a supporting role, Om manages to leave an impact, despite Naseer’s immersive performance, because he creates another blind character which is as real and distinct as Aniruddh. Add to it yet another impressive turn by Shabana Azmi and we have a film that continues to feel fresh. She has the amazing ability to make the mundane dramatic and the dramatic believable. Cinematographer Virendra Saini creates a contemplative atmosphere right from the opening shot when Aniruddh is following Kavita’s voice on a hazy Delhi morning.

Produced by Basu Bhattacharya, the film went on to win three National Awards including that of best actor for Naseer. Interestingly, Sanjeev Kumar was the original choice of Sai and it is only when could not do it that she approached Naseer. Thirty five years later one could not imagine any other actor in the shoes of Aniruddh Parmar. Few years later, Sanjeev Kumar did go on to play a blind protagonist in “Qatl” who was as “Kaabil” as Hrithik Roshan is trying to be this Republic Day. That’s for another day.


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