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Saturday, 6 August 2011

Battling the odds (Dastak)

Why is it that whenever I discover an obscure film, it turns out to be a tidy little gem? This time, too, after many such experiences previously, I hit upon a rare film that has blissfully passed into oblivion despite its different storyline and cast. Dastak, written and directed by Rajinder Singh Bedi, is a film that should be lauded for its innovative treatment, strong storyline and brilliant acting. It is a film that showcases the way human mind works in tandem with the circumstances in daily life and how desolation, frustration and desperation can drive people to the most extreme of reactions. This film has two superb songs composed by Madanmohan and pits the brilliant Sanjeev Kumar against a battery of actors representing the cruel and caustic world.

This 1970 film is a scathing commentary on the nauseous habit of society of pummeling a man with atrocities when he already facing tough challenges in his life. A host of hypocritical individuals feast on his misfortune and never really allow him to rest. They control his life to such an extent that he loses his own sense of judgement and errs on the face of adversities. Hamid (Sanjeev Kumar) is one such man. Newly married to Salma (Rehana Sultan), he moves into his new home, hoping to at last find some peace and enjoy marital bliss. But little does he know that the paanwala (Anwar Husain) has notified him about this place because he wants to earn out of this. This house used to be the abode of the notorious courtesan Shamshad Begum, and even after she has left the house, her signature continues to stain the property. The couple is hounded by the courtesan's past. Her customers, who are not aware of her shifting, keeps knocking on their door, bringing to Hamid outrageous offers regarding his wife. They of course do not know that Salma is his lawfully wedded wife and even after Hamid clarifies, they scoff at his claims. The entire locality is laughing at them thinking they are trying to put up a show of decency when actually Salma is the prostitute and Hamid her patron.
Matters turn nasty when Salma becomes a prey to the prying eyes of the neighbouring lads who try to catch glimpses if her changing her clothes. Salma pleads to Hamid to take her elsewhere, but her husband brushes her pleas aside because it is absolutely difficult to get a room in Bombay for a reasonable amount. However, when Hamid sees his pretty wife wilting under depression, he starts looking for a house, but it's not that easy. Hamid, a honest lad initially, starts losing his integrity in the process and reveals his dark sides. He prohibits his wife from singing just because the neighbours would then believe that she is actually a courtesan. Salma, who sings beautifully, longs to play the tanpura and break into cheerful ballads cannot help but stifle her desire. She prays for a life free of tension, intrusion and misunderstandings, but will her prayers be answered? In a world that salivates at the sight of a helpless and vulnerable woman, it is a difficult proposition...
There is a temporary solution that Hamid and Salma come up with. Since every night, they are disturbed by Shamshad Begum's previous patrons, thus resulting in distasteful brawls, Hamid tells Salma that they will spend their nights roaming on the streets of Bombay. But is that a solution to their troubles? The couple who could never enjoy physical proximity after moving into their new home, enjoy some moments of togetherness. But their happiness is short-lived. As they discover when Hamid is interrogated by the law for walking around with a woman on the empty streets of the city every night. Goons try to kidnap Salma and molest her. Hamid is beaten up. Roughed up by the law as well as some mischief makers, Hamid and Salma stick to their prison now. But for how long?
The story is full of these little events that make the journey of Hamid and Salma so interesting. Though painful and full of struggles, the film ends on a positive note with the hopeful news of Salma expecting a baby. This is a ray of light that enlightens the dreary existence of the couple. As they say, there is light at the end of the tunnel...
While the two songs, Baiyaa na dharo and Mayri mein kasey kahun are sheer masterpieces in terms of lyrics and rendition (Lata Mangeshkar), it is the second song that is stunning in terms of picturisation. The first song is great too. Salma hears a courtesan singing this thumri and instantly tells Hamid that she knows the song and sings it. Isn't it strange that the same song, sung in two different circumstances and climates can sound so different. The second song is of course the masterpiece. It depicts the loneliness that is eating into Salma's heart. She sheds her clothes, as if she is shorning herself of the shackles that society and her husband has clamped her with. She robes herself in a towel and lies on the floor. In her mind she sings this song and cries over her fate. She was supposed to be this happy girl, in love with her husband and enjoying her new life with him. Instead she is caged in this house, she cannot go out (lest people strike her with their lewd offers and inappropriate comments), she cannot sing (lest her neighbours think that she is trying to attract customers thus proving them right about her status in society) and she cannot do anything that her heart wishes for. Through her song she dreams of breaking free and running into the horizon where a new and happy life awaits her. It;s a constant search for peace, satisfaction and freedom for Salma now.
Rehana Sultan is superb. There is a latent sexuality in this woman that heats up the screen. She is sensual without even trying to be so. She is very natural in all her scenes and hardly shows that this is her debut. However, the scene-stealer is Sanjeev Kumar as Hamid, the man who is a stunning study in contrast. He loves his wife but forbids her to do as her heart desires. He is not ready to conform to the standards of society but is quite conscious of what his neighbours will say if Salma dresses up in a certain manner or sings out loudly. He initially refuses to be bribed, but under stress, he relents and agrees to pass a tender in return of some quick cash. He is the common man who tries to live a decent life but has to very often crumble under pressure. In the last scene, when Salma actually sings for an outsider, he is livid but he stands there doing nothing. His eyes are moist with rage, yet he lets the show go on. You know that the outburst will happen and you wait for it with bated breath. Ah!! Sanjeev Kumar makes Hamid look so much more fascinating at every single step...

12 comments:

  1. I've heard of Dastak (even read a two-line review of it, though that gave no more than the synopsis), but never realised it was such a good movie. Sounds really nice - and Sanjeev Kumar is one of my favourite actors.

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  2. @Dustedoff: Yes it turned out to be so interesting. I was completely hooked. Sanjeev Kumar is brilliant and so is Rehana. Please do watch it. The treatment is so unique, nothing like the popular films of those days.

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  3. Dear Sharmi
    How are you? Another great writing from you. I recall , this movie was released when I was in 4th year of engineering and had a profound effect on me. After reading this, I want to see the movie again from a older person's prospective.
    Have a nice week

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  4. @Ushnish: Yes this film was really a startling revelation for its form and content. I think you must watch it again.

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  5. Ah. I think for the first time I have a different opinion. I did like the film, but only in parts...Salma's claustrophobic existence was superbly done, and she was great. Sanjeev's character was very insensitive.
    The ending was dubious. How will they manage now?
    I also felt there was a lot of exaggeration of the situation they were in.

    pacifist

    pacifist

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  6. I love Mayri mein kasey kahun. Never knew what the movie was about. It sounds like a must-watch.

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  7. @Pacifist: Ya exactly he was insensitive!! thats what... he had conflicting sides to his personality. Actually even your thought are worth pondering on. But then I have to say that the film was not bad at all. :)

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  8. @Sunheriyaadein: Hey Archana!! Long time!!! Ya yo must watch this, it's quite different...

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  9. Sharmi, Rehana Sultan was a BR Ishaara discovery - she debuted in his 'Chetna'. Dastak was her second movie, I think. The script was Rajinder Singh Bedi's - his stories were always very women-centric and denunciated the double-standards of social mores. This was really a gem of a film.

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  10. @Anu: Yes Anu it is. I was a bit apprehensive when I started watching this one, but just got sucks into its engrossing storyline.

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  11. Thanks for the vivid review of the film. Last night I was listening to the song Baiyan na dharo and was mesmerized by the Lata's voice, Madanmohan's music and lyrics of Majrooh sultanpuri, so thought of checking about the movie an dstumbled into this review. Must watch!

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