Bollywood has a long and uninterrupted trail of films based on a genre inspired by religion. While some films are outright ‘religious’, like the super hit “Jai Santoshi Ma”, there is an alternative genre, in which serious issues are dealt with in the garb of light comedy. These depict interface between man and God, like the Rajendra Kumar starrer “Jukh Gaya Aasmaan”, Jeetendra’s “Lok-Parlok” to the more recent “Oh My God!” Somehow, such films have always managed to strike a chord with the masses, not entirely surprising, considering that we are a deeply spiritual society. This, in turn, ensures respectable collections at the box office, albeit sometimes they may give rise to controversy, which may vary from a small whiff to violent protests.
Such films work on one of the two paradigms. First, stories that attack superstitions and blind faith (and prominence of burgeoning fake god men who have invaded the social conscience by prying on fears and insecurities of common people, as shown in “PK”). Then, there are films that exhibit and reinforce presence of a higher divine power that determines the fate of mortals, usually agnostics and atheists, who blame God for the ills plaguing their life.
“Yehi Hai Zindagi” falls in the second category.
The story, by Vaali, moves through a series of interesting and engrossing dialogues between Anand Narayan (Sanjeev Kumar) and Lord Krishna (Vikram Gokhale), who appears before Anand, a man of humble means, who works tirelessly to make ends meet for his family. Through the dint of sheer hard work and grit, Anand begins his journey to the pinnacle of success and wealth. As his material stock rises, from managing a small eatery, he progresses to owning a restaurant and finally a plush five star hotel, Anand and his family move into an extravagant house. However, on the way, an egoistic Anand begins to stake credit of his phenomenal success to his own determination and acumen, with no role of God in it.
At some stage, Anand’s interactions with Lord Krishna commence, who, in his own subtle way, and with a beatific smile, starts conveying the basic tenets of the Gita to him, particularly the preponderance of karma in the cycle of life. In the beginning, a flabbergasted Anand mocks at the Lord, vilifying Him as the work of a prankster. However, slowly, he comes around and starts depending on Him for guidance.
Even as he notches success in the world of business, his personal life takes a downward spiral, as he realizes that Nekiram (Utpal Dutt), father-in-law of his son Madhu, whom he trusted as a business partner, has been cheating on him. After a showdown, Nekiram leaves the house, taking his daughter and Madhu along. The matters are further complicated when his second son, Govind, falls prey to debauchery, squandering his time and money on women and partaking alcohol. However, the camel’s back is broken when Anand’s daughter Kamala becomes pregnant out of wedlock, after a torrid affair with a jockey who has been hired to teach her horse riding.
Suffering from the onslaught of misfortune, an embittered and disheartened Anand starts suffering from ill health. At this juncture, Lord Krishna bids him a final adieu, saying that his account of karma has been settled and he is no need of his guidance thereon, and will have to traverse the journey of life without him. How Anand copes with life without the Lord is revealed in the denouement.
The film, produced by B. Nagi Reddy and directed by K.S. Sethumadhavan, rests squarely on the shoulders of the redoubtable Sanjeev Kumar, who, as Anand Narayan is superlative. His performance is nuanced and well calibrated; Kumar infuses it with gravitas and method. It can be conjectured that a lesser actor could have easily gone overboard in portraying the role and disturbed the delicate balance which Kumar is able to infuse. Not surprisingly, Sanjeev Kumar was nominated for the Best Actor in the Filmfare awards for “Yehi Hai Zindagi” although Amitabh Bachchan got it for “Amar Akbar Anthony”.
Equally riveting is the performance of Vikram Gokhale who delivered his dialogues with extreme poise and optimum voice modulation. The witty interactions between Anand Narayan and Lord Krishna, penned by Inder Raj Anand and Raj Baldev Raj, are a major highlight of the film, as is the fine editing and cinematography by MS Mani and Marcus Bartley respectively.
The support cast of Utpal Dutt, Seema Deo, Romesh Sharma and David amongst others delivers good performances. The songs, lyrics by Anand Bakshi, set to music by Rajesh Roshan, are average, with none of the numbers becoming chartbuster.