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Thursday, 5 August 2010

For all seasons (Mausam)

I've seen Gulzar's Mausam once. But, it left a lasting impression on me. The sensitive and poignant saga on the complexity of human relations is one tale that proves that Sharmila Tagore matured into one superlative performer in the 70s. It reinstates the already famous truth about Sanjeev Kumar's versatility. And, it also strengthens my belief in Gulzar's brand of cinema. Call it poetry in motion or a kaleidoscope of complex human feelings, Gulzar's creations are simply masterpieces, lyrical and emotional.
Tweaking a love story to depict how a failed promise can ruin lives, Mausam stings the heart. While its end builds up your hope in love and faith, the nuanced approach to achieve that chokes you to the hilt. No wonder Saif Ali Khan once said in an interview that Mausam affected him so much that he stayed away from his mother's films for a long, long time. Hearing him say so, I felt he was missing out on so many of his mother's awesome performances such as...well on that some other day. Now, it is the season for Mausam, Gulzar's touching 1975 drama loosely based on Weather, the story from the novel, The Judas Tree by A.J. Cronin.
Dr Amarnath Gill falls for the naive Chanda when he visits Darjeeling. Her attractive demeanour, her ebullient spirit and her innocent heart catches his fancy. Chanda is the daughter of the local healer (Om Shivpuri) and is equally smitten by the good-natured and educated city babu. Both want to marry and Chanda's father is happy. They are seen singing the playfully romantic Chhadi re chhadi (Lata Mangeshkar and Mohd Rafi) together and wait for the opportune moment to tie the knot. But in Hindi cinema, unions do not happen so smoothly. Gill has to return to the city for some work but he promises to Chanda that he will return to keep his words. But sadly that does not happen, courtesy an untoward accident.
Twenty five years later Gill, now a famous doctor, returns to Darjeeling with a heart full of memories. He inquires about Chanda and her father. The villagers inform him that the healer passed away long back and Chanda died an insane woman leaving a daughter to fend for herself. More probing reveals that Chanda was forced to marry an old, crippled man (though she always saw herself as Gill's wife). Chanda's daughter, Kajli, has become a prostitute. She was raped by a native uncle and found her unfortunate way in these dirty quarters. Gill is astonished by Chanda and Kajli's facial resemblance and tries his best to bring normalcy and decency back into her life. Merging Kajli into mainstream society by retrieving her from her questionable profession becomes Gill's responsibility. But, the old doctor does not know that the girl who he has accepted as a daughter is slowly falling in love with him. Watch out for what happens... Trust me, it is immensely engaging...
I have always believed in the power of Kumar as a performer. Here, he is just sublime. His guilt for ruining Chanda's life translates into sympathy for the unfortunate Kajli. That he could not keep his words eats into his soul, so much so that without regarding what the common folk will think when they see a respectable man like him frequent a brothel, he strives to better Kajli's life and position. Weathering slight and slander against his character, Gill tries to bring normalcy back into this young girl's life. He is trying to purge his soul by adopting this girl, subject to the cruelty of society. Affected every time when Kajli sees him as a prospective customer, he is patient yet stubborn in doing what he believes is right. What he could not do for his sweetheart, he will do for her daughter. Silently suffering the ruthlessness of nature and circumstances, Gill's only hope is in Kajli's happiness. Kumar is superlative as Gill, if I am allowed to make this understatement. A little awkward though as the young doctor, he just floors us with his mature act. His body language reveals the unease he feels when Kajli adddresses him in a lewd fashion, his eyes reflect his guilt and his tremulous voice depict the storm in his heart. The scene where Kajli comes back to him thinking that he too loves her is just awesome. Disgusted with the way she feels about him, he launches a tirade against Kajli, berating her and her trade. He is stunned and sad to discover that no matter how much he is trying to change Kajli, her occupation still is ruling her thought process. He makes it known to her that her despicable trade will always cloud her finer sensibilities and emotions, thus barring her from thinking on any other terms than lust, flesh and physical intimacy. Blunt and harsh to the core, Kumar just slices the scene, and Kajli, with his pointed words and expressions...
But, Mausam remains Sharmila's film. As Chanda she is sweet and innocent (and later very sad as the demented old woman hoping to see her daughter happily married) but as Kajli she is the scene stealer. Brusque, crass and awesome, I have never seen Sharmila play her part so darn truthfully. Perfectly clothing her persona with the garish and indecent colour of the flesh trade, she is the show stopper here. Though in 1971's Amar Prem she does play the role of a courtesan, it is the rawness of her character in Mausam that will hit you hard. Slang words at the tip of her tongue (along with a bidi ) and no propriety at all, she looks every bit a seasoned prostitute. You are startled by her risque attitude, you empathise with her for her sad state and at the same time you are enthralled by her acting prowess. I love the scene where she is teasing Gill, saying that she knows that he requires a high-society kept. Stooping to a new low with every word and action, her body language is just immaculately cheap. But, the magic starts with her metamorphosis.
Kajli is touched by Gill's sympathy and affection. Feelings she never enjoyed from her customers. Treated like a commodity, she sees herself in a new decent light when she is with Gill. But what is this predicament in her mind? Is she seeing his magnanimity as love? Gradually softening her behaviour and slowly becoming sensitive to human feelings, Kajli becomes a changed woman when loves knocks on her heart's door. She tries to understand her feelings but can make no sense of them. Lata Mangeshkar's Ruke ruke se kadam (Lovely music by Salil Chowdhury and Madan Mohan) bears testimony to the dilemma she is suffering from. Kajli is never able to return to her occupation because she is now a refined soul, courtesy the treatment she gets from Gill. Fighting a severe battle of contradicting thoughts, she returns to Gill with the belief that her love for him will be requited but she sure does not know what is in store for her...
Gulzar's execution is always special. Sample the song Dil dhoondta hain phir wohi. Sung in two different moods by Bhupinder Singh, it reflects two states of mind of the protagonists. The playful version is jaunty, romantic and sweet. The graver version spells the melancholy that Gill experiences on thinking about what could have been...
The scene where Chanda is shown as an old woman swinging to Chhadi re is very good. In her madness one can see her sorrow and her incomplete wishes. But the best scene is Kajli's rape scene. With no background music to support the cruel action, Kajli's state is only too evident when the birds call out. Their loud twitter almost sounds like a shriek, a shriek from the wronged girl who is ravaged and ruined. A shriek that tells the world that she did not join prostitution by choice. A shriek that reverberates through the walls of civilised society to depict the plight of so many poor young girls in this big, bad world...

18 comments:

  1. This is not a film on my re-watch list, simply because you never forget a thing about it! The beauty and sensitivity of the narrative that unfolds at an unhurried pace, the superb performances, the lovely songs - everything is perfect.

    Sharmila Tagore was quite self-deprecating when talking about this film in an interview. She said that Sanjeev Kumar would be invariably late, making her wait for hours. She'd be so angry when he turned up that she'd decide not to talk to him. But when she saw him do his shot, beautifully, in one take (she said it always took her a few takes to get it just right) she'd forget everything in sheer admiration!

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  2. This is one of those films that I've never got around to watching, even though I've heard nothing but good about it! (And I like Sanjeev Kumar and Sharmila Tagore very much, too) I should finally, FINALLY watch it. Sounds unmissable....

    BTW, do you remember a film starring Jeetendra as a rural doctor, who falls in love with a village woman (played by Hema Malini) and later reveals his past to her - he had once, during a drought, gone trekking through the countryside, and had ended up meeting and marrying (I think) a tribal woman - played by Sharmila? I saw part of this film years back and can't for the life of me recall its name.

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  3. Dustedoff, that sounds like Khushboo - another Gulzar film!

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  4. @Bollyviewer: You are right. Even if you have not seen the film more than once, it is okay. Because this is so memorable. Everything about this film is so perfectly beautiful and sublime. I just cannot get it out of my mind :)
    Thank you for the comment and this wonderful piece of trivia :)

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  5. @Dustedoff: Yes, you FINALLY have to watch this. It is so darn beautiful that will be lost in its magical labyrinths. Gulzar's films are so poetic that you want to be submerged in their lyricism. This one is perhaps Sharmila Tagore's best and Sanjeev Kumar is again, inexplicably powerful. Do watch it for sure :)

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  6. @Bollyviewer; Spot on. That is Khushboo, another gem by Gulzar :)

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  7. Thank you, people! I'll look out for Khushboo. And, of course, Mausam - finally!

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  8. @Dustedoff: Khushboo is on youtube. I found it. Now for Mausam :)

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  9. Not to mention, “Dil dhoondta hain” is my all time favorite…both versions. I kind of agree towards the older Sanjeev Kumar’s purpose but what keeps failing me is the gravity of the “untoward accident” that keeps him from meeting his sweet heart for such a long time :O..Performance wise there are no questions but this particular piece of the story line will haunt me :)
    Very well written….but I guess there is a typo here – “I have never scene Sharmila play her part so darn truthfully.” ;-)

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  10. @Jude: Maybe the untoward incident was really really grave! What do we lesser mortals know...ha ha.. Thank you so much for the comment.
    P.S: I think you have a way with words. See how you have spotted the typo (I have corrected it now). What are you doing wasting yourself in the software world. You are needed here, in the scribe fraternity. Come soon :)

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  11. I haven't watched this but looks like the performances would be far more intense than in Amar Prem. The treatment sounds quite bold for a 1971 film. Wonderfully passionate post!

    @Jude: You will make a A1 photojournalist :)

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  12. @Netdhaba: Amar Prem is also about relationships but the co-ordinates are different. Both the films are very strong though. Thank you for the comment :)

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  13. Such a beautiful film this is, love the overall theme of two people trying to reconcile their past, i love the scene where she confronts him on his sexist attitudes on what word a woman should say and not say

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  14. @Bollywooddeewana: Every frame of this film is sublime. Every dialogue is splendid. Every song is lovely. Sharmila and Sanjeev are superlative. A wonderful film for all seasons. :)

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  15. I haven't come around to watching this movie fully yet. I have only seen it in parts on tv and was totally floored! The storyline, the perfomances, the songs...everything is so beautiful. Gulzar had this way of bringing out his stories in such a beautiful way.
    You make me want to watch this movie fully, and that too very soon.

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  16. @Sunheriyaadein: Yes, Gulzar always does something special to every story. They become so poetic and awesome. I loved the everything about the film. A sensitive subject dealt so sensitively.

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  17. I have watched mausam a couple of times and it affected me the same way as before..i liked it so much that i also read the novel on which it is loosely based- the judas tree by a.j.cronin.
    The novel is much more tragic and poignant.i just couldn't stop feeling sad for the fate of its characters..

    A lot has been argued about the accident that stops sanjeev kumar's character to visit chanda again.In movie it is said that he as a doctor was responsible for some patient's accidental death and he went to prison for that..But i doubt that it was for a pretty long time- as there are laws to protect doctors on that ground.Also we can see that sanjeev kumar is an established personality in the field of medicine which certainly takes a lot of years to build upon.Why didn't he inquire about her all these year? Also some other person could have inquired about chanda on the behalf of sanjeev kumar's character. But nothing like that happened..I think that it was his character's selfishness and lack of morality that kept him from visiting chanda again.
    this only makes his character feel more guilty and in need of redemption.

    The truth of chanda going mad and her daughter becoming a prostitute is something very pitiable.

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  18. @Ashoka: I think I should read the novel. Thanks for enlightening :)

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