Year of release – 1975
*ing – Suchitra Sen, Sanjeev Kumar, Om Shivpuri, Om Prakash, A.K. Hangal, Rehman
Producer – J. Om Prakash
Director – Gulzar
Music – R.D. Burman
Suchitra Sen has never been my favourite, or rather one of my favourites. Prior to ‘Aandhi’, I have only seen her in Bimal Roy’s ‘Devdas’ and another time, prancing alongside Dev Anand to the tunes of “Deewana mastana hua dil...” in ‘Bombai Ka Babu’. And on both the occasions, something in her presence repelled me. She was stiff in her serious role of Paro and her Bangla accent distracted me throughout.
But, God knows what Gulzar did with her in this poignant tale of love and success, that even her accent awed me so much! And here I am, much in love with Suchitra Sen’s Aarti. I could hear her helplessness throughout her quiet demeanour in “Tere bina zindagi se koi shiqwa nahin...” Something tugged at heart in the very first time I saw that song. What Lata Mangeshkar’s rendition couldn’t do, Sen’s “I-want-to-break-free-but-I-can’t” expressions did so effortlessly!
Her Indira Gandhi-sque gait (one hand on her saree pleats and another sporting a non-fuss watch), white strands and simple cotton sarees with those oversized shades gave her a complementing look, to go with her convincing and effective portrayal of Aarti. Everything in her role play was immaculate, every dialogue spot on and every glance explanatory.
Aarti (Sen) is a politician, visiting her constituency for the assembly elections. She has a strong opposition in Chander Sen (Om Shivpuri), who is at a comfortable position with large vote banks in his kitty. Though a highly principled individual, Aarti is surrounded by a group of real players who take the election as a war and try everything to make her win. One of them is Lallulaal (Om Prakash -convincing but nothing extraordinary from him, apart from his affable “Bhaiyye”!) The staff arranges her stay in a hotel which, as fate would have it, is managed by her estranged husband, JK (Sanjeev Kumar in one of his best performances). There begins a journey to their past and what all they have lost together in their haste to gain success individually. They revive happy memories together, get stung and shaken up by the bitter ones but none of the two have the strength enough to acknowledge the fact that not all is lost. Something is still there, hanging between them, listening to their silence, waiting for them to hold out their hands and start afresh. Meanwhile, Chander Sen gets hold of their photographs together and loses no time in defaming Aarti. JK is miffed and frustrated to be dragged amidst this mud-slinging. Though he is fiercely protective of his wife’s reputation, he has never liked this unnecessary public attention, even when they were together and nor could he accept it now. He confronts her and makes it very clear to her that he is tired of all the aspersions cast on their relationship and can’t take it anymore. (What a role reversal! Till this time, it’s the lady in question who is answerable to all and sundry in a maligned relationship.)
What makes this movie a class apart is the way Gulzar has deftly handled his flashbacks – one of the most significant methods in film making. Every flashback takes the story forward. The most effective is the one when Aarti visits JK for the first time. Such sweet instances are so Gulzar-ish that your face reflects what your eyes are watching! Watch out for the scene where Aarti holds a press conference. He is a master when it comes to weaving human emotions with an emotion defying background like politics.
In the acting department, Sanjeev Kumar shines in this one. This is probably one of his best performances. He is a clear winner playing the carefree, charming and handsome (yes, here he surely is!) assistant manager as well as lonely and serious managing director. He is much in love with Aarti in “Tum aa gaye ho nor aa gaya hai...” And, very hesitant in “Tere bina zindagi se shiqwa nahin...” He wants her to be with him, he seeks one-to-one correspondence, he wants to care for her the way he used to. But, there is something which is binding him, stopping him going the whole way. Sanjeev Kumar has given his JK everything he could and that is what makes him so different from others. He is the best in everything he does.
Apart from him and Suchitra Sen, none of the characters had enough screen space barring Om Shivpuri. Om Prakash was okay in his part. A. K. Hangal had nothing much to do as the house help Binda Kaka. Rehman, in a special appearance as Aarti’s father, albeit had some edgy dialogues and did full justice to them.
RD Burman’s music in Gulzar’s movies is nothing beyond excellent. Here also, he came up with a great album. Special mention should be made of “Is mod se jaate hain...” and the way it was used in the film. It was almost a leitmotif in the movie. There is also a qawwaali-type number by Mohd. Rafi, Bhupinder and Amit Kumar - "Salaam kijiye..." mocking the election rallies and the politicos. Though everything in this film is beyond good, with a tight script, well-written screenplay, a deft hand at direction, excellent music and very dependable shoulders of Sanjeev Kumar, the film clearly belongs to Suchitra Sen. She is simply flawless here (barring that diction, but who’s complaining?)
Trivia – There is a scene in the film where Aarti tells her father that Indira Gandhi is her idol and she wants to serve the country, following her steps. The said scene was added to the film in its 23rd week, after the government banned it during the emergency. This was done to imply that the protagonist is not Indira Gandhi and the film does not depict her life.