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Sunday, 8 August 2010

Politically charged (Aandhi)

I'm not comfortable with political mumbo-jumbo. The intricacies of Chandersen and Arti's strategies do not excite me. Neither does the implications of Agarwal's nexus with Lallulal. Hence, I'll steer clear of the political games depicted in Gulzar's Aandhi. 
But, Aandhi is not just a political treatise, though it is said to loosely based on the lives of Indira Gandhi and Tarkeshwari Sinha. It is a significant film, considering that Indian government banned its release in 1975 since Mrs G thought the director had no right making a film that would reveal snatches from her life. It was only in 1977 that the film was set free to be aired on national television, garnering huge critical acclaim and commercial success.
So, Aandhi must be having more meat that just some political storms and battles. With Gulzar's magic wand, you can rest assured it does. With hardcore politics as its backdrop, Aandhi is the touching tale of a man and woman who are distanced from each other due to misunderstandings. A loving relation is sacrificed at the altar of ambition. But does true love really die so easily? No matter how estranged a couple is, when they meet after a long, long time, feelings resurface. Then comes the question of whether the sacrifices were really worth it? Gulzar's films are always complex. But the complexity is dealt with so much subtlety that the drama is always beautiful and poignant. Aandhi is another example of such fine filmmaking...
Arti Devi (Suchitra Sen), a successful potician, fly to Ashiana Hotel for an election campaign. Daggers are drawn between her and Chandersen (Om Shivpuri), the leader of the opposition, who will leave no stone unturned to defeat her. At the hotel, Arti Devi has to confront her past. The manager of the hotel is her husband. Memories flood her professional mind as she snatches some privacy with her husband. But as her enemies are always prowling around to gather substance that will pull her down in public, they publish photographs of her with JK in the newspaper. A harmless meeting embroils into heavy scandal and Arti Devi's honour is sullied. Now, she has to pull the stop to tell the world about JK's true identity. In a fix, Arti Devi does what her heart tells her to do and wins over the crowd again. Winning the elections with a clear majority of votes, Arti Devi is now in a bigger dilemma. Whether to fulfill her public responsibilities, or to go back to the satisfying domestic life with her husband. The baton now is in her hand...
Hopelessly in love, Arti and JK had married each other battling stiff opposition from Arti's father (Rehman). Sensing that his daughter is all set to jeopardise her political career for the love of a hotel manager, he keeps instigating her to leave all and plunge into politics. But, Arti listens to he heart and marries JK, who makes his aversion towards the line quite known. The couple is very happy and even has a child. But, Arti can never rest in reflected glory, or the lack of it. She gives up politics for her domestic chores, but can never tear herself away from the power podium. This becomes a bone of contention between her and her husband, who sadly for her, has a mind of his own. The film depicts how the constant drilling of a parent can ruin the personal happiness of his child. Rehman's continuous lecture that Arti is wasting her talent for mere marriage takes a toll on her conjugal life. He says, "What a waste of talent!" and Arti's mind starts overworking. (Note the picture frame with Nehru and Indira's photo on the wall, it is significant). She soon starts questioning her social status as JK's wife and is sucked into the political vortex even before she can realise how grave the implications will be on her family and child. She walks away to serve society. Instigated by her father and thirsty for power and success, Arti bids adieu to her loved ones. But, will she really be happy in the spotlight?
Doesn't look like. For, at the first chance meeting with JK, Arti starts craving for what could have been. Her mind flooded with sweet memories, she almost starts blaming herself for deserting her family for pursuing a career in politics, a world that has given her success as well as worries, but hardly any love. It is also the sensitive behaviour of her husband that strikes her. He never blames her for anything. Maybe because, he realises that Arti was always made for greater glories. He is an immensely self-respecting man who does not believe in tying down his wife if she is not happy in the relationship. But, you cannot help if the heart is crying out, right?
The crass world of politics can be difficult and unforgiving. Why else would Arti chose to spend her nights only with her husband. For, the daytime lights would be too harsh to understand the purity of their relationship. And moreover, her opponents would be too eager for a mudslinging match. Also, JK has too much integrity to tolerate any kind of scandal and lewd remarks against his and his wife's untainted character. And his conscience is clear. Why else would he agree to take her out to a nearby tourist site at night. He wants to spend some time with his wife, bring back the memories and tug at those strings that were attached almost nine years back. A brilliant personality this man has...
Sanjeev Kumar won a Filmfare Best Actor Award for this him. Understandably. He is so understated yet so supremely fine. Playing a smart man who knows how to handle cheap scandal (the scene where he first meets Arti), he shows how much he loves his wife. But his love is not selfish. He sets Arti free. And that increases the respect we have for him. It hurts to see your loved one go, but it is harder to see her hating your company. Kumar is so apt for the role. Here is a man who will not brook the dirty ambience of politics permeate the blissful setting of his home and is immensely protective of this belief. But, he is never overbearing. Yes, his heart pains when Arti walks away but he is too respectable a man to bog her down with his wishes.
Subtle and mature, he is also a man who does not believe in making a scene. So, when Arti comes into his life once again after many years, he silently welcomes her. He makes her feel special with his personal touches to decorate her room and at the same time strolls down the memory lane with her. But when things come down to scandal, he is brave enough to safeguard his case as well as his wife's. I love the scene where he roughs up the cheap Agarwal and follows it up with confronting Arti regarding the scandal... So very Kumaresque and so very superlative...
Aandhi would be incomplete without RD Burman's Tere bina zindagi, Is mor se jaatey hain and Tum agaye ho. Sublime poetry bolstering the hauntingly beautiful music, these melodies are undeniably gilded classics. While the latter two are ethereal romantic ditties (Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar), the one that stays on is Tere bina. Both the protagonists realise that life is almost alright without each other, but this life is not life at all. Penned to perfection, what better way to say that life is incomplete without a lover...
Now coming to Suchitra Sen, the woman who makes Arti look oh-so-smart. Clothed in khadi ikkats and muslins, Sen looks darn dapper (if dapper can be used for women) as the talented politician. Dabbling in politics for mainly her father, she slowly realises how it takes a toll on her family life and happiness. Her expressions are spot on as both the young Arti, as well as her old avatar. Straddling between her own wishes and the aspirations of her headstrong father, it does not take much time for Arti to acknowledge the devastating of politics on her personal life. How scandal can shake the ground beneath her? But, she is also a sensible woman and her facing the public in the last sequence reflects her integrity and truth...
The only disturbing element in this poignant drama is Sen's accent. It is excruciatingly irksome. Her Hindi is haywire, the pronunciation is erroneous. There is almost a time when I question Gulzar's choice (perhaps Waheeda Rehman or Sharmila Tagore would've been better as Arti). But then in the last scene when Arti Devi's eyes fight back tears on leaving JK, she inquires about Manu, her daughter. Her liquid peepers belie the pain she is feeling within despite her calculated strong exterior. It is then my faith in Gulzar's decision in reinstated. I understood why he chose the darling of Bengali golden oldies to portray this diplomatic diva...


  1. Hmm... I find this one very sexist. The not-so-subtle subtext is that a woman's ambition ruins family life! Of course, here she is a "good" woman and actually likes a domesticated life - it's all her evil father's fault for actually wanting his daughter to have a career of her own! JK as you say, is mature, selfless and understanding, but not mature enough or selfless enough to support his wife's career ambitions. He has a career and family-life, but his wife may only have one of them because he dislikes her chosen career. More than Indira Gandhi (from what I've read, the Feroze-Indira differences were not due to Nehru's interference!), this film's family-life reminds me of Gulzar-Rakhee's story. She apparently promised to give up films when she married him, but found that she missed it so much that she made herself miserable, even taking to drinks. JK is probably how Gulzar sees himself! (OK, I normally like Gulzar but I've recently watched his Achanak and it will be a LOOONG time before I forgive him for that film!) That said, naturally Gulzar's poetic film-making gets to me every time, and for all it's sexism, it is a pretty beautiful film (though nowhere near as satisfying as Mausam).

  2. I actually don't remember watching all of this film, but from your description, I know I've seen bits of it - I recall that conversation about Manu, for instance. But this will probably come further down the queue than Mausam - I have to see that first!

  3. @Bollyviewer: The sexism bit is right especially in the scene where JK tells Arti to shun the idea of politics and concentrate in her family. That bit is really bothersome. But, then I feel he is really mature to let her go.
    I too thought the film takes some time to grow on you. The second half is much better than the first half. Not as great as Mausam though, Aandhi is still a well-made film. Thank you for the comment and keep reading :)

  4. @Dustedoff: Yes, you have to see mausam first, and then Khushboo remember. What about Ijaazat, did you see it? But after Ijaazat, this one will appear tepid, I assure you.
    I see your list is getting longer and longer :) Enjoy the films :)

  5. You have analysed and explained the film's nuances so's one of my favourites...and after ur blog i am tempted to watch it all over again!

  6. @Aditi: Thank you so much Aditi. This is a lovely film by Gulzar and watch out for the next post...on another of Gulzar's touching tales :)

  7. What a beautiful film this is, i had seen it ages ago but couldn't write it up as i felt maore viewings were required, at first Tere bina was my favourite song but the Is se mod se jaate hai just overtook it with time, its one of my all time Lata faves

  8. @Bollywooddeewana: Yes it is a very beautiful film. And Sanjeev Kumar is just spectacular. I love all the three songs and just cannot have enough of them. Sublime and superlative!

  9. This perhaps is only one film which did justice to the ageing Suchitra Sen. She didn't act her age in other films she chose to do after undergoing blood transfusion that robbed her of her looks.
    Nice post, though :)

  10. @Netdhaba: Yes she looks very smart in the film. Wonder why Gulzar did not work on he diction? It was really irksome :(

  11. Another film that I haven't seen fully. But I love the songs and the little bit of the film that I have seen. Sajeev Kumar was an amazing actor, and he was at his best in Gulzar's films.
    In addition to what bollyviewer has mentioned in your earlier post about Sharmila losing her patience waiting for Sanjeev Kumar...In one of her interviews I had heard on radio couple of years ago she narrated that Gulzar was very particular about punctuality and the rest of the crew members were so scared of Gulzar that everybody would come on time. He used to scold if anybody got late for a shot. But he never used to say anything to Sanjeev. And they all used to feel just because Gulzar and Sanjeev were good friends he was partial towards him. But one take and Sajeev used to give such a perfect shot, they would just look at him in awe and completely forget that they ever had any complains against him.
    She also mentioned that Sanjeev was extremely fond of bengali cuisine,esp fish. Being a Gujarati, he came from a very strict vegetarian family but he loved non-veg himself. He used to frequent her home and often used to give tips on cooking as well :-)He was a fantastic cook himself. And sometimes used to cook and get food for everybody. But he enjoyed robbing her tiffin-box.
    BTW, have you seen Namkeen starring Sanjeev Kumar, Sharmila Tagore, Waheeda Rehman, Kiran Vairale? It's another typical Gulzar-Sanjeev Kumar film. And how about Kitaab , it's quite an unusual film. But Gulzar was a mastreo when it came to depicting human relationships and their complexities. He knew how to handle them - he treated them with so much subtlety and tenderness.
    Gulzar, Sanjeev Kumar, Kishore Kumar and R.D Burman - they have given some of the best films and songs!

  12. @Sunheriyaadein: Yes, I have seen Namkeen. But that was a long time back so don't remember much of it. Sanjeev Kumar is such a pleasure to watch. I have to watch these films again. He is simply awesome everywhere.
    Thank you so much for this interesting trivia :)

  13. i can say only one thing about this movie....thank god it was made and we were lucky enough to watch sanjeev kumar and suchitra sen in one frame.

  14. @Cancerian: Yes, indeed we were lucky. Sanjeev Kumar was awesome in every way and Suchitra Sen was splendid with her expressions if not her diction!

  15. Hi! Aandhi has entered my All-time fav movies list. Its such a complete film - with every aspect well worked upon. And what makes it worth are - Sanjeev Kumar, Suchitra Sen, RD Burman's music and those beautiful flashbacks!

  16. @Punya: Yes, it most definitely is one of the best from Gulzar. Though I personally love Mausam and Ijaazat the most!

  17. Well written. I was in awe of Suchitra Sen after watching this movie. She hits a chord deep down. And i wrote this for her and Aandhi :

    Do leave your comments :)

  18. I love Gulzar's filmmaking; Ijaazat and Koshish are some of my favourites. But they're right about the sexist part- for me the strongly patriarchal tone of Aandhi defeats Gulzar's poetical touch too. "Tumhari ichcha pati ke ichcha mein honi chahiye" and "Mera shohar banane ki koshish na karo. Biwi ho biwi ki jagah mein raho" had me wincing :/

  19. A request - please write a post on Maachis!
    I find it an incomparable movie in terms of a political commentary on real events in modern India.