Looking back isn’t always just about nostalgia alone though it does play a part on an emotional level.
For this writer, taking a journey to revisit timeless works of Indian art encompassing mediums of film and television is an act of cultural reclamation, of curating a museum of a quintessential Indian ethos which was hailed in all its permutations even a good decade back.
Today, that rootedness has completely been lost in the artifice of globalism. To forge ahead, we must remember to first take a bow towards our own definitive cultural markers, extricated from the heavy weight of history and placed in a mutating mold so that multiple generations can savour it wholeheartedly.
The following works being talked about here straddle multiple worlds, in anthology television series which every Indian perhaps had heard about. The 1980s and 1990s era was the peak of our national churning. Television hence acted as a worthwhile conduit for reflecting that journey through eras and its firm positioning in the present era. For a discerning soul, that is as relevant in the here and now. Just like it did for this cinephile.
So without further ado, here’s introducing the uninitiated and those in the know to some towering luminaries of the Indian artistic pantheon. Their easy availability on YouTube in good quality picture only enhances this archive for our times.
This anthology series was conceived, written and directed by the man with many accomplishments to his name, the great Gulzar Saab. In the seven out of the thirteen episodes I watched, he was adept in weaving simplicity and yet great social depth by narrating tales of common people, in under 30 minutes of runtime. Another thread is the presence of the iconic Om Puri, an actor so rooted in his land and its multiplicity, with a deep baritone to match various moods and settings, who lends it his usual gravitas, even excelling in his usual mould of portraying older characters.
My research into the works of great writers and artists, in general, always makes me hark to the visual bounty available to the present generation. An evidence that they are very much watched and lapped up. That is how I get lucky by discovering such gems.
So, I briefly touch upon those seven episode capsules here.
Starring Shabih Abbas and Jawed Khan, this is one heartbreaking tale of a group of villagefolk reminiscing about the good Samaritan of the story’s title.
His present status is a commentary on the vagaries of old age, memories and loss of a child blocking out the sting of reality with a painful sense of hope, for an elusive letter from him. What sustains it is the quota of kindness that never gets expended in the minds of the people who know him, especially the postal worker (Om Puri) who once delivered a painful missive to him years ago.
A man working abroad returns to his native place in the hill state of Kashmir and relays his attraction towards the beautiful ALAAN. They have been friends for a lifetime but alas! she has been employed for years as the household’s domestic help.
Mita Vashisht is excellent, conveying with her eyes and face the contours of this delicate class consciousness impeding true love and never overcoming it. Which makes it heartbreakingly realistic. With her banter and stinging words couched in high spirits, a smile that glows with self-reliance, her final confession to the man she looks up to is unforgettably realized. Om Puri is excellent, as usual, as the one in equal conflict with his emotional sojourn.
REHMAN KE JOOTE
Why do we build up walls of regret and dislike towards our own children?
That’s the crux of this moving dramatic presentation where a reunion with his estranged daughter after his grandchild’s birth remains an illusion for REHMAN. Sometimes reconciliation gets defeated by procrastination. SUREKHA SIKRI lends it the heart and hope it earns while Mr. Puri is cast in a final blow of tragedy from which he never recovers.
A domestic maid grapples with her own sufficient resolve by not honouring a marriage with an alcoholic husband while her rich employees make their daughter realize that renouncing a way of luxury for uncertain beginnings with a fledgling lover is a concept more suited to fantasy. Reality of these particular social situations is paramount to both. Also the fact that both the young ladies grew up with each other, under the same roof. An uneasy mingling of two worlds, realized with clarity in a short with no easy resolution.
Starring Rita Bhaduri, Mita Vashisht, Mr. Puri and the National Award winning Ananya Khare of DEVDAS and CHANDNI BAR fame.
SUNSET BOULEVARD PARTS 1&2
The great artist Nadira( whom I’ve loved in JULIE, BOMBAY TALKIE and PAKEEZAH) is a survivor, a tough cookie and an on-screen ice maiden who made art out of her dignified air of petulance besides that famous, imperious raise of the eyebrow.
This tribute to the great Gloria Swanson movie title of the same name is suitably poignant as a study of a great star’s later years in her seaside home. But it’s no more an utopia as finances and the emotional pull of waning years mix with scampering individuals who only yearn for her property. Fame is an illusory phase, this tale informs us, with the heartbreak of a million other impulses. Kamini Kaushal, Anant Narayan and Om Puri star with her.
MAN DHUAN DHUAN
A young man(Raj Zutshi) is implored not to marry the girl he loves(the always subtle SADIYA SIDDIQUI) owing to her family’s past.
But the real U-turn emerges when his sister in law(the always reliable Reema Lagoo) stands up for herself too by asking him to have a spine of his own and not betray either the girl he is willing to give up due to pressures of society or the one he will engage in an unhappy marriage if he decides to bow to diktats of his older brother (Om Puri)
It’s an unusual tribute to women empowerment, also boasting of a stellar turn by the legendary NEENA GUPTA as the sister torn between opposing strands of thought but nursing an eternal love for her kid brother and his choices.
KATHA SAGAR/SEA OF STORIES(1986)
Taking a leaf out of short stories by such greats as Katherine Mansfield, Leo Tolstoy, Guy de Maupassant and more, this anthology series adapted the universality of human emotions with a simple and effective storytelling arc.
The four episodes I watched are as follows:
Shyam Benegal, the ace renaissance figure of Indian cinema, delved into the poignancy of O. Henry’s THE LAST LEAF with his adaptation starring NEENA GUPTA and SUPRIYA PATHAK. The familiar tale of two artists, one’s tryst with ill-health and an older artist’s symbol of hope painted with his fading brushstrokes is, to me, an ultimate tribute to the vitality of art. It is wonderfully translated here.
Mr.Benegal’s second contribution here stars the eternally evergreen WAHEEDA REHMAN and the jaunty Satish Kaushik in an adaptation of Maupassant’s THE LITTLE CASK. It’s about a deceptive man’s efforts to sway an elderly lady regarding her property. The politics of life and death take a dramedy form, a dry sense of man’s cruel ways especially when old age makes us vulnerable to preying eyes.
On the other hand, LOVE AND BREAD by August Strindberg here becomes a cautionary tale about the price of dreams clashing with ground realities of limited finances and familial responsibilities. It’s effective for all young people not paying heed to the voice of reason when in throes of blind love and hollow idealism emanating from its first flushes of spring. This one stars ASHOK KUMAR, KITU GIDWANI and SHUBHA KHOTE. The ending powerfully relays the cyclical nature of nurturing impractical beginnings.
Last but not the least is THE LION’S SHARE by Arnold Bennett. The adaptation here stars a young Urmila Matondkar and Sulbha Arya. This one’s a great illustration of how flamboyance and outward flash get precedence over selfless love and devotion when two brothers vie for a place in the world. The tragic reality of the elder brother with a heart of gold who’s neglected till the very end is particularly applicable now. It breaks our hearts.
BHARAT EK KHOJ/ THE DISCOVERY OF INDIA(1988)
Shyam Benegal’s paean to our glorious nation, tracing its centuries’ worth of history from the ancient epoch to its independence from British rule, is based on premier Jawaharlal Nehru’s seminal book of the same name as the series. It’s both a primer to those seeking to find the depths of our culture and a sprawling creative feat featuring some of the finest names in front of and behind the camera. Cue cinematographers V.K Murthy and Govind Nihalani, music by Vanraj Bhatia, dialogues by Shama Zaidi and sound by Hitendra Ghosh, among others. These are all touchstones of the Indian artistic canon.
I have begun this sojourn with the two part episodes based on Mahabharata. The long drawn, didactic portions and the fluency of the verbalizations owe a profound debt to the cinematic form’s roots in theatre. Also, the great epic MAHABHARATA has some practical wisdom as has often been reiterated through history.
War, familial conflagrations, the complexity of decision-making, commeuppance all find an accessible representation here. I will write more about this series as I watch other installments. For now, I’m enthralled by its down to earth approach to the scope of an epic nation’s past and the lessons we take from dialogic interplay among stellar performers.
MILE SUR MERA TUMHARA/ LET OUR VOICES MERGE WITH EACH OTHER (1988)
This all-time classic dedicated to the cause of a resurgent national integrity is as much of a touchstone today as it was in its peak. I grew up with it.
Watch it to know what it means to take pride in a multicultural milieu as endemic as ours.