Mausam is laced with the most unusual elements of Hindi cinema.
The 1970s: Gulzar is at his creative pinnacle, fresh from the critical acclaim of Parichay,Koshish, Aandhi. Here is when he attempts an unconventional story which is quite a bold decision in those antiseptic, righteous and contemporary times. The zany masala and bombast of Hindi film in the 1970s, was accompanied by a subtler side as well, a delicate strain of films that explored the raw places where human emotions intersect. Setting the standard in this kind of sensitive cinema are films by the likes of Hrishikesh Mukherje, Basu, Bhattacharya, Basu chatterjee and the brilliant Gulzar, who did the screenplay/dialogues/lyrics for Mausam and adapted Bhushan Banmali’s story into a heart wrencing saga of redeemed guilt on a rollercoaster of quicksilver emotions.
Pontificating tales of rich men trying to transform prostitutes into socially acceptable women are usually blase and predictable. They are often sodden with obnoxious moralistic subtext: a sexually uninhibited woman needs a male savior to rescue her by teaching her to conform to societal norms. But Mausam is a little different. Here, sanjeev kumar ( playing Dr Amarnath Gil )seeks to gratify his own guilt and embarks on a mission more for his own redemption, than Kajli’s (Sharmila) – he is trying not so much to transform Kajli for her own good, but rather to reconstruct her mother, so that he may ask her forgiveness for the volte-face he did on her so many years ago. This lends a sadness and desperation to his efforts at rehabilitating Kajli, a very different approach to the Pygmalion-esque elements of the tale.
The film opens on a poignant note with whiffs of the lustrous signature tune ,Dil Dhoondta hai ( also the swan song of composer Madan Mohan) setting the pace for a series of flashbacks in which the story unfolds. Incidentally this is also Gulzar’s illustrative style to narrate the screenplay keeping the viewer engrossed (Ijaazat again perfectly embraces the film maker’s style) .Dr. Gill (Sanjeev Kumar), a successful doctor and marketer of an eponymous pain remedy, arrives in Darjeeling for an extended vacation – with a mission. His objective is to track down the love of his life and seek forgiveness for abandoning her nearly a quarter of a century before. In flashbacks we are shown the nascence of that old romance, between the young medical student Gill and the village ayurvedic healer’s daughter, Chanda (Sharmila Tagore). The two, though of diverse backgrounds (he an English-speaking student from the city, she a damsel from the village comfortable only in the local tongue) fall in love and having made promises to each other wave goodbye to each other as Gill departs to the city to finish his studies. For reasons best revealed when you watch the film, they never meet again and the love never consummates. Cut, to some 25 years later when the aged and yet unmarried Dr Gill arrives from Calcutta in search of his love. As the middle-aged Gil follows the trail of Chanda’s life since he left her, he discovers that she has died after a prolonged descent into madness brought about by his failure to keep his promises and Gill is horrified to learn, of her miserable pining over the false promises of her faithless lover. Forced into an abusive marriage, Chanda left behind a daughter, Kajli (also Sharmila), who Gill finds plying the world’s oldest trade in a coarse, ratty brothel. Gill – without revealing his connection to her mother – buys her time indefinitely, dresses her in good clothes, and attempts to mould her into the upstanding girl her mother had been when he knew her.
How Dill reconciles with his past and with the daughter is what the movie is about.
Mausam becomes a landmark also because Sanjeev Kumar is one of the finest actors in Indian films. His controlled touch ensures that the film remains sensitive even as Dr. Gill leans heavily toward the paternalistic. Gil is wounded and confused; he comes to Darjeeling hoping to ride off into the sunset with his beloved Chanda ,not to rescue from brothel the life a daughter he never knew Chanda had. Sanjeev Kumar’s nuanced performance preserves Gil’s pain and uncertainty as he navigates the unexpected twists in his own fantasy. Gill’s implicit sexual attraction to Kajli, who is after all the doppelganger of her mother as Gil last saw her is kind of skipped in later parts of the film, as it is likely to upset the delicate balance between affection and incestuous love. There is an everyman quality to Sanjeev Kumar that makes his portrayal of human pain that much more effective and real; this is as evident in Mausam as it was in Silsila, in which he stole the show from stars with much more conventional charisma. Sanjeev Kumar gives a masterfully understated performance — his surface serenity is disturbed by emotions that ripple on his face, fleetingly yet evocatively. Despite playing a flawed human being, a rare entity in Hindi films, the air of sympathy and understanding that Sanjeev exudes lends a halo to his character. The tenderness with which he gazes at Sharmila before driving off with her in the climax is a moment to treasure.
Sharmila Tagore tears into her role with gusto spewing fire and brimstone as the shrewish prostitute. At the same time, she suffuses her character with aching tenderness. When she blatantly describes her parents as, “Baap langda tha, maa pagal “(Father was a cripple, Mother was a nut), to shut up an inquisitive Sanjeev, you can feel the pent-up frustration and anger.
Sharmila Tagore’s performance stands up as well; after seeing her astonishing performance as a young teenager in Apur sansar, her deep sadness in Amar Prem, and her jaunty work in another double role in An Evening in Paris, I am starting to believe in her completely as an actress. Here, she ranges from coarse crassness to wonderment to confidence, doubt, tenderness, resentment. There is a palpable difference between Chanda’s flouncy innocence and Kajli’s world-weary demeanor, exhausted and broken, until she is refreshed by her bond with Gill. There is also an adorable song in which Kajli tries to entertain Gill with a jaunty mujra. Her dance is both sensuous and a little bit graceless; by Kajli’s own admission she is not a very good dancer, but she is clearly in her element performing for Gill, and it makes for a charming scene. Years later, Shabana azmi attempted the same in a strikingly similar situation in Doosri Dulhan, and the comparisons are evidently drawn to the two performances. A role that was utterly bold and unconventional in the clinically squeaky clean 70s, Sharmila excels all the avtaars she dons here : In the younger role she is endearingly naive , in the mother’s role: pithily poignant while capturing the forlorn cheerfulness of a mentally-imbalanced woman. And as a prostitute, she lets go with abandon : her heroine’s image be damned: and we get a performance seemingly unparalleled in Hindi cinema till date.
The result of all this fine work by both actors, together with Gulzar’s script and direction, is a heart wrenching yet warm film; at its climax It is a delicate story, about delicate characters, delicately told. Almost 4 decades ago, Gulzar dared to break the rules about man-woman relationships on the Hindi film screen with Mausam. With a sensitive, non-judgmental eye, he delved into a knottily tangled relationship between a crusty (at times) old bachelor and a young prostitute.
It’s a sensitively written script, just what one has come to expect from Gulzar everytime; with attention to details, characters. The overall quality is perhaps slightly hampered by low budgets but more than made up by the script, songs, music and strong actors. The adequate and sweeping photography does not try for anything fancy but amply brings out the beauty of the hills of Darjeeling. Each shot is framed with a poet’s sensitivity.
Mausam was the last film Madan Mohan composed for. Gulzar’s mesmering lyrics are embellished with his tunes to create nuggets such as Dil dhoondta hai, in two versions,Lata ji’s vocals are extra special in MM;s compositions and so we have a emotion encrusted ‘Rukey rukey se qadam’ and a spirited ‘charri re charri kaisee’.
At a time when Hindi film’s umpteen fallen angels had their mouths washed out with soap if they didn’t speak in a refined argot, this film spouted starkly realistic, rough and ready language. The narration drilled straight into the heart and grilled the thoughts on red hot skewers where no excuses were offered in cutting open the raw emotions: there are no comic relief scenes, sub plots or action sequences. Mausam just underscores the tantalizing ambiguity prevalent in many associations, after all, a bond involving two people is subject to their individual approach to the relationship
Just as the last dialogue sums it all up ;
‘Peechey mudd ke dekhney ke liye hamarey paas kuch bhi nahi hai ..!!’
-Compiled in association with our reader Mohnish Bajwa