Blast from the past Friday Review

Atithee (1978)

A poster of the film   | Photo Credit: 27dfr atithee1

Shabana Azmi’s versatility is well documented. From art films to commercial cinema, her works have been glowingly recognised by legion of fans over a period of time. An accomplished actor, she has delivered some sterling performances, working with stalwarts like Shyam Benegal, Gulzar, Goutam Ghose and Dev Anand in the early part of her career.

“Arth” and “Swami” brought her as much acclaim as “Sparsh” and “Masoom”, films that marked her repertoire. Shabana was born to act, to light up the screen with realistic portrayals of subjects she came to embrace with the finesse of a genius. She may have figured in some forgettable ventures too but they were rare. Not known to have set the commercial world afire, Shabana was comfortable with the vocation she pursued. She found time to indulge in social activism, warding off misplaced criticism regarding her motives. At heart, she was an honest worker, on and off screen, never flinching from responsibilities and challenges that came with her rising stature in the society.

To watch a Shabana movie meant accepting a medium so different, so diverse, whether she played Lakshmi, the poor Dalit aspiring for a child in “Ankur”, or Sushila, the quietly-suffering wife of a schoolmaster. She was, perhaps, at her best in “Arth”, standing up to be counted as a strong individual. She was equally at ease when accepting “Swami”, “Paar”, “Sparsh” – all award-winning films, all evoking commanding performances, apart from the path-breaking “Fire”, a bold theme dealing with same sex love.

One wonders the compelling factor behind Shabana accepting the offer to associate with an out-and-out commercial project like “Atithee”, which had an impressive star cast, but not the story or music to push the film’s fortunes. Yet the movie shone at the box office for reasons bordering on intrigue. There was hardly a gripping moment in “Atithee”. That it still appealed to a widespread audience must have surprised even its makers. Ranging from veterans Utpal Dutt, Bharat Bhushan, Deven Verma, Shashi Kapoor, and contemporary stars like Shatrughan Sinha, Vidya Sinha, the movie had the potential to keep the audience engrossed. It could not, yet it managed to make an impact to be classified as a hit.

Shashi Kapoor and Shabana came together in “Fakira”, an average success at the box office. “Junoon” was critically acclaimed even as Shashi Kapoor came to terms with sharing space with the younger generation. But he held on to his position among the top actors of the day without compromising on the quality as some of his contemporaries who gave in to desperation and signed up B grade films. In “Atithee”, there are some insipid frames where Shashi Kapoor and Shatrughan Sinha appear helpless in the wake of absurd situations but soon the narrative recovers to continue its journey, slow-paced and quite predictable.

Shatrughan is Navendu, the eldest in a family, committed to his old parents (Bharat Bhushan and Urmila Bhatt), sisters Leela (Shabana) and Rajni (Gayatri) and brother Kundan (Jr. Mehmood). The economically struggling family looks up to Navendu for support even as the scheming Avinash Gupta (Utpal Dutt) keeps an evil eye on the family. Navendu comes in contact with Anand, played by Shashi Kapoor.

Anand arrives with the aim to deliver disturbing news to Navendu’s family but is gradually drafted into a different role. He must salvage the stage for the family, which has now fallen on hard times. Navendu’s sisters await their affectionate bhaiya even as Meena (Vidya Sinha) longs for her life partner to return and make public their secret wedding at a temple. Anand wastes little time to bring joy to his friend’s family. He fructifies Meena’s marriage to the boy she is in love with, helps Kundan mend his ways and falls for Leela. The wicked Gupta meets a ghastly end and the movie hurtles towards a hasty climax, too many things happening too fast.

Shabana is the saving grace in a film where Shashi Kapoor clearly appears past his prime and Shatrughan is unable to make any impression. The rest of the cast essentially makes up the numbers. Even Utpal Dutt is disappointing. One song “Gaa Ke Jiyo Toh Geet Hai Yeh Zindagi” is all that the Anjaan-Kalyanji-Anandji combine can offer in an otherwise forgettable list of offerings.

Genre: Romantic drama

Director: Arabind Sen

Cast: Shashi Kapoor, Shabaza Azmi, Shatrughan Sinha, Vidya Sinha, Utpal Dutt, Deven Verma, Bharat Bhushan, Urmila Bhatt, Viju Khote, Mehmood Jr

Story and screenplay: Prafulla Roy

Dialogue: Pandit Mukhram Sharma

Lyrics: Varma Malik and Anjaan

Script: Suhrid Kar

Music: Kalyanji-Anandji

Box office status: Hit


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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 10:52:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/atithee-1978/article7919780.ece

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