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04 March 2016

Andaz (1949)

Directed by: Mehboob Khan
Music: Naushad
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Starring: Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Dilip Kumar, 
Cuckoo, Murad
Continuing with film reviews to celebrate 'Women's Month' here at Conversations over Chai, let me turn the spotlight on one of the most acclaimed films of the next decade - the 40s. Producer-Director Mehboob Khan had already made a name for himself as a pioneering film-maker with several hits to his credit. In 1949, he reunited with the heroine he had picked and trained and presented in her debut film, Taqdeer - Nargis. Alongside her, he cast two promising, upcoming actors - Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar, signed on music director Naushad, and gave us a flawed, yet modern classic that raised a very important question - no, not whether a woman has a right to have an opposite-sex friend if she is married, or otherwise engaged, but whether platonic relationships can exist between two people of the opposite sex. 

In an era where the 'Indian model' of womanhood was a certain stereotype (have things changed all that much in the intervening years?), Nargis' Nina was completely unconventional. She is conflicted herself, and is the root of the interpersonal conflict between the two men who both share a very important part of her life. So, from the fiery forties comes this tragic tale of a woman, who's caught between a suspicious husband and a male friend who wants more than just her friendship. What about her? What does she want?
When we first see Nina (Nargis), the only daughter of indulgent multi-millionaire (Murad), it is at their summer home in Shimla. Nina has all that money can buy, and servants to cater to her every need - to dress her, to serve her tea in bed; her father dotes on her, even though he struggles with her wilfulness. Educated abroad, her life now revolves around horse riding, tea parties and tennis games.

One morning, out riding on her own (her father balks at riding every day), she loses control of her horse. A young man saves her from plunging over a cliff along with her horse; he then takes Nina to hospital. 

Fortunately, she is not hurt much. When her father reaches the hospital, he's taken aback to see his daughter on extremely friendly terms with a strange young man, whom Nina has nicknamed 'Mr Ghoda'. He's even more disapproving when she invites him home. 
The next morning, Dilip puts in an appearance. Nina is more than pleased to see him, and soon, Dilip is singing of his attraction for her. While Nina is engrossed in his song, Dilip is thrilled that she seems to be returning his interest.  
Soon, Dilip is a frequent visitor to Nina's house, and they, along with Nina's best friend, Sheela (Cuckoo), spend their time very pleasantly indeed. It is becoming very clear that Sheela is beginning to be attracted to the handsome young man, while Dilip is falling more and more in love with Nina. This time, it's Nina's turn to sing (in tandem with Sheela), and her song makes Dilip's heart miss a beat. It appears to him that she's singing solely for him. 
Her father thinks it is time to intervene - he cautions his daughter that society plays by certain rules, rules that are not taught in college. And if she goes against them, then society will not allow her to survive. Nina is nothing if not headstrong - is her father still bound by the rules of a century and a half ago? she pouts. Despite his evident disapproval, her father cannot bear Nina's sadness, and he permits her to invite Dilip to her birthday party. 

Her proximity to Dilip doesn't go unnoticed, and her father's misgivings continue to grow. Nina is oblivious to the undercurrents, though Sheela, losing her heart to Dilip seems to guess - quite accurately - that Dilip's interest lies elsewhere.
The next morning sees Nina and her father at odds again - the latter tries to explain to his daughter that her meeting Dilip so openly, her unaffected behaviour towards him can give both him, and society, the wrong impression. Nina is upset - does her father not trust her? And why does he care for what others think, anyway? Hadn't he always claimed that he didn't care for others' opinion? Her father is brutally frank - now that talk affects those closest to him, he's especially vulnerable.  He begs her not to misunderstand him, and Nina, her heart melting at his love and trust, promises that she will never bring dishonour to his name.
Not soon afterwards, Nina and Dilip are at Sheela's birthday party; Dilip tries to confess his love for Nina, but Sheela's presence prevents him from saying anything. Later, dancing with Sheela, she tells him frankly that he has no place in Nina's heart, but lovestruck Dilip doesn't believe her. The events of the night only cement that feeling - Nina's father has had a heart attack, and Dilip escorts Nina home. 
Her father's unexpected death leaves Nina bereft. Dilip is a godsend at this vulnerable time, and he takes care of her with such tenderness that when Nina finally breaks down in tears, it is to him that she turns for solace. 

Not only that, she takes Dilip to Bombay with her, making him both her company's manager and her co-partner in her father's business. Dilip is taken aback but once again, hears Nina's words as proof that she loves him as much as he loves her. He throws himself into running the business, and following Nina's wishes to the last word. Days pass, and one day, he overhears her singing; he can barely hide his happiness. However, his happiness is destined to be short-lived.
Dilip is now an unwilling third to Rajan (Raj Kapoor) and Nina's love story. Rajan is very welcoming of his presence, and Nina is more than happy to see her beloved and her best friend together. But Dilip is beginning to feel the pangs, and he excuses himself as much as possible. He is conflicted, the more so when Nina confesses that she'd loved Rajan for years. She'd never so much as mentioned him before, but Nina reminds him of all the times she'd referred - obliquely - to her affections already being engaged.
Besides, Dilip was not a girlfriend with whom she could share her love story. But now, he's such a close friend that she doesn't see why he shouldn't know how she and Rajan had met. She doesn't realise that her words are twisting the knife deeper into Dilip's heart. It is clear to him that Nina has been in love with Rajan all this time; it was he who had been mistaken. 

Worse is to come - Dilip has to stand by and watch Nina marry Rajan. He keeps his silence until that night, when his anguished heart breaks all bounds. When Nina stops him from leaving, he is forced to confess he loves her, and that he was mistaken in thinking she loved him as well.
Nina is not so much shocked as afraid, guilty and ashamed, all at once. Her emotions make her hit out at Dilip, who's leaving so as to not cause her dishonour. However, he refuses to take back his words, and Nina is forced to remember her father's admonishments. She tries to tell Rajan what had occurred, but her new husband assumes she's talking about him. Meanwhile, struck by Nina's anguished anger, and fearing that his departure will hasten what he's striving to avoid - her ill repute Dilip returns

Nina, scared that her husband will discover the truth, guilty that she had inadvertently encouraged Dilip's attentions, ashamed of the attraction that she feels towards him, doesn't know what to do. Dilip's words echo in her heart, until she feels she's being driven insane. In a bid to outrun her demons, she runs away to Shimla, where her husband's deep, unconditional love offers some solace. 
Despite Rajan's pleas, she refuses to return to Bombay, causing Rajan to wonder why she was so reluctant. He's also wondering why Dilip doesn't marry Sheela. Perhaps he doesn't love her, snaps Nina. Oh? Then who does he love? Nina is hurt that he can doubt her love, and she gets defensive. The first crack has appeared, though the night brings an unexpected reconciliation. 
Seasons pass, and while the newly weds stay back in Shimla, Dilip continues to work in his capacity as Nina's manager. He would like to leave, but remains because he's afraid of what his sudden departure would do to Nina's reputation. Meanwhile, Nina has given birth to a daughter, and for a while, she is blissfully happy. Months pass, and their daughter is almost a year old. Nina is now troubled by Rajan's indulgence towards their daughter - he fulfils her every whim - but she cannot bring herself to explain why she is terrified. What can she say, after all? And now, Rajan has decided that their daughter's first birthday will be celebrated back in Bombay. He's had enough of living in Shimla for two years. Reluctantly, Nina agrees. 

Back in Bombay, Dilip is waiting eagerly for Nina and Rajan to return. He intends to leave her employ as soon as he meets them, and writes a letter to Nina apologising for mistaking her feelings. He also returns the 50% share of the company that Nina had given him earlier - and conceals the letter in the stuffed toy he's bought as a present for Nina's daughter's birthday. His arrival shocks Nina and gives Rajan pause - it takes Sheela's nudge to bring Nina back to her surroundings. 

Suddenly, the lights go out and Nina, using the darkness as a cover, passionately pleads with Dilip to let her live in peace. Only, she's made a grievous mistake.
Seeing that her tears do not make a dent in Rajan's anger, Nina impulsively sets out to meet Dilip to beg him to leave. But it's late at night, and saner counsel prevails - she decides to telephone him instead, and finally decides to write to him. Dilip is packing to leave, but her letter causes him to visit them the next morning. The crack in Rajan's and Nina's relationship has widened into a chasm, and while Rajan hides his hurt and his jealousy under a cheerful exterior and seemingly innocuous (yet cutting) remarks, Nina is at her wits' end. Dilip's visit sets the embers blazing, and Rajan is in no mood to listen to his explanations either.
His cruel sarcasm prompts Dilip to be even more forthright, going as far as to tell Rajan that he doesn't understand his wife, nor her love for him. Goaded beyond endurance, Rajan aims a blow at Dilip with his tennis racquet, grievously injuring him. Nina is petrified; on his continued existence depends her life and happiness. Living, he's the proof of her innocence; dead, he becomes the mark of her everlasting shame.

Even as she's dealing with this trauma, there's more to come - Rajan has taken their daughter and left the house. Worse, rejected and humilated by both Rajan and his mother, Nina is cup of woe is overflowing. Her only hope now is that Dilip will help her prove her innocence. Unfortunately, the repercussions of the concussion cause Dilip to become temporarily insane - he attacks Nina who, driven beyond any semblance of control, commits a final act of desperation. Now, she's facing private grief and public ruin. And her husband's damning indictment seals her fate.
What is Nina's future? Will Rajan ever learn the truth? Or, will Nina pay for the sin of loving and being loved? 

Andaz was probably one of the first 'love-triangles' in Hindi cinema. It is certainly one of the finest in that genre. Even with all its flaws (and I hated its characterisation of 'Western' = 'modern' = 'bad', especially when it came to the woman) Andaz was still far ahead of its time, raising questions that are still pertinent. Cinematographer Fardeen Irani's photography gave the film a gloss and technical polish that helped it age well. Tautly edited, with a strong directorial hand at the helm, its mood and lighting was very modern in its approach. 
The camaraderie between the four main characters (Cuckoo having almost a second-lead role in the film) is very natural, and it is evident in the comfort they share. Andaz was a film where relationships - between her father and Nina, between Nina and Cuckoo, between Nina and Dilip, between Rajan and Dilip, Rajan and Nina - were believable. Moving away from the stylised, often-theatrical set up of earlier films, it gave us characters that we could root for. In his autobiography, Dilip Kumar mentions how he and Raj Kapoor had been friends since their days in Khalsa College, when the latter would come out to cheer him on the field.
With a brilliant score by Naushad - then at the top of his game - ably assisted by Ghulam Mohammed, Andaz reversed the voices of Mukesh and Mohammed Rafi - all the male solos, sung by Mukesh, were picturised on Dilip Kumar (who, when he heard Lata sing Uthaye jaa unke sitam, is said to have complained that his songs were all very simple tunes), while Mohammed Rafi gave playback for Raj Kapoor in the one duet - Yun toh aapas mein bigadte hain - that is picturised on him and Nargis. Lata Mangeshkar came in for four solos, and two duets, one of them with Shamshad Begum.  
While Raj Kapoor and Nargis lit up the screen with the freshness of their youthful romance, Dilip Kumar, in his only role opposite friend and peer, Raj Kapoor, played his Dilip with a seething intensity that made him at once tragic and frightening. He had the author-backed role, that of the lover doomed to suffer unrequited love, and when you watch Nina's easy camaraderie with him, you realise how easy it is for Dilip to convince himself that she is in love with him. While it is [mostly] clear to us that Nina is talking about Rajan, it is easy enough for Dilip to misinterpret her statements as referring to him. Dilip played his role with characteristic restraint, providing the perfect foil to Raj's more flamboyant character as they clash in love for the same woman.
It is very easy to play a sympathetic character and walk away with audience sympathy. It's difficult to play an unlikeable one and make the audience understand (if not empathise) with that character's motivations in the context of the story. On the face of it, Raj Kapoor's Rajan is such an irritating character that I wanted Nina to ditch him for the gallant Dilip. Rajan's insecurities, petty jealousies, and lack of trust make him easy to hate. Coming into the film a full third of the way in, Raj Kapoor plays Rajan with a deep sincerity that made him very plausible - he is what he is, his emotions easy to read, from the lightheartedness in the earlier scenes to the gradual unravelling of his trust in his wife as he begins to realise that all is not as above board as it seems.  
He is initially friendly, welcoming Dilip as Nina's friend, but the darkness that underlies his earlier flamboyance comes to the fore as his personal demons take ascendance. Does he ever suspect that Nina is not as innocent as she claims? That she does, in fact, have a soft corner for Dilip? It is that suspicion that is Rajan's undoing; then, he turns both cruel and sarcastic, unwilling - indeed, unable, because of his self-absorption - to listen to either Nina or Dilip as they try to set the record straight. As his suspicions about his wife's fidelity crystallise into belief, his love for Nina turns into hate. So much so, he is willing to let her face the most stringent of punishments. His remorse when he realises he is mistaken, is palpable, but it is too late.
An elegantly poised Nargis played her Nina with a vulnerability that makes one ache for her downfall. Would that she had listened to her father! But how could she? She had nothing to hide, nothing to blame herself for. A few pleasant evenings with an attractive man, a few friendly smiles, does not give him the right to claim her love. Madly in love with Rajan, to whom she is engaged, it does not occur to her that Dilip could be in love with her. She is thoughtless, not malicious. It does not cross Nina's mind that someone would misconstrue her open friendliness to be anything more. Even when her father warns her, she brushes it off - she's of this generation; her generation would not think it love. She had, in her naïveté, thought that her conscience was clear, she hadn't cared what society may think of her, but she's finding out that she's mistaken. 
As Nina begins to unravel, her inner turmoil causing her to blame herself for the situation she finds herself in, one glimpses Nargis's control over her craft - her eyes depict her anguish, and the young vibrant woman who laughs so easily at the beginning of the film changes chameleon-like into a troubled young wife who cannot confide in her husband because he does not trust her. That lack of trust on one hand, and the pressure to admit to something she does not feel, on the other, is enough to send her over the edge, with tragic consequences for all concerned.
Was she attracted to Dilip as Rajan and even Dilip himself, think? Perhaps. The film hints at it enough to suggest that she has deeper feelings for him than even she suspects. In one pivotal scene, Dilip appears in Nina's mirror reflecting what her sub-conscious is trying to tell her.
For the sake of argument, if she were attracted to him, despite being affianced to Rajan, would that be such a mistake that she is punished so? She's made him no promises; she is a faithful wife to Rajan, whom she adores. Yet, when she is forced to face that question over and over again, she begins to blame herself just as much as Dilip and her husband and society blame her. 

And that part strikes me as true - even today. Is Nina really to blame? How many of us have flirted, quite innocently, when young, without thinking too much about the consequences of such conduct? How many of us have bloomed under a mutual attraction, felt a pleasant thrill at being with someone we find attractive, even if we were to never do anything about it? Does being engaged or married preclude you from feeling that attraction? Isn't it what you do with those feelings that make the difference?  

Poor Nina actively distances herself from Dilip, after warning him to stay away from her.  She, equally firmly, tells him quite frankly that she has never been in love with him. One would think a man would know how to take 'no' for an answer? One man's spiralling obsession, and another's increasing suspicion take its eventual toll on a woman who's already conflicted about her role in the whole imbroglio. It is this that causes her to pin all her troubles on what she thinks is the reason for her troubles - her modernity.  Her initial innocence, her open nature, her clear conscience and the will to live her life on her own terms regardless of society soon disintegrate as she becomes both helpless against an accusation she cannot counter, and resigned to her fate - once she realises her husband will not listen to her truth, she decides to remain silent. That downward spiral into a resigned fatalism is still a form of strength. Barely twenty when she acted in this film (Raj Kapoor was 25, Dilip Kumar 27), the role established Nargis as one of the finest actresses of the age. Barsaat, that same year, would consolidate her status. 
Andaz  is at its best when it deals with the moral ambiguity - who is wrong here? Nina, for her easy friendliness which could be misconstrued as a flirtation? Dilip, for misconstruing Nina's friendliness for love? Or for thinking he could persuade her to see that she actually loved him, and not Rajan? Rajan, for being an absolute cad, who cannot trust his wife, and whose jealous suspicion turns into implacable hatred? All of them? Any of them? 

Mehboob Khan kept his heroine relatively sympathetic, even though he chickened out towards the end. His heroes are shown to have absolutely no sympathies towards the woman they both profess to love - there is one scene where Dilip goes to meet Rajan, and almost unconsciously (yet symbolically), they pass a flower casually between them.  It appears that the woman has no choice. 
Andaz also raised other questions: Is it possible for a woman to have a platonic relationship with a man, without the undertones of attraction and feelings of lust/love being dredged up? Why is it that a woman is always (and solely) to blame, both then, and now, for what happens to her? Isn't it false equivalency that western = modern = bad? Can't one be 'modern' without being 'western'? Or vice versa? Why is either bad, with Indian 'traditional' values being held out as the epitome of virtue?  

Andaz did a fine job of provoking these discussions. Where the film faltered - in my opinion - was in punishing Nina at the end - and oh, such a punishment! It is as if someone got hold of the script and decided that what we needed was a celebration of 'Indian' values. It was such a turnaround that the last twenty minutes negated all the characterisation that had gone before. But if you look at it, not as a indictment of a friendship between a man and woman whether before marriage, or outside the bonds of marriage, but as just that character's realisation that what happened to her happened because her westernised upbringing had not prepared her for the clash with tradition, and therefore, she didn't want history repeating itself with her daughter, it is easier to accept. Because, don't we want that our children not make our mistakes? (Yeah, that scene still made me cringe; I can understand, but I cannot accept such fatalism.)

It is unfortunate, therefore, that the legacy that Andaz left behind to the next decade as a cautionary tale was that of a heroine who, like Caesar's wife, has to be above all blame. 'Freedom' takes away from a woman's chastity, and therefore, her family's honour. That emotion is cringe-worthy.

Yet, it is to the leads' credit that they rise above the script so their characters can achieve a level of complexity that makes us look deeper into our own prejudices and insecurities. Driven by their fantastic performances, the achingly complex Andaz is relevant even today, as we battle not only rigid notions of what a 'good' woman must be, but also our relationships with the opposite sex, and how they perceive us, and our behaviour. 

The core of the film is at the heart of issues that woman face even today - 'Why did you go out so late?' 'Why were you wearing [whatever you were wearing]?' 'She was asking for it.' 'Good girls don't go out with strange men.' 'This is against Indian culture.' 'Men and women can't be just friends.' 

Many other Ninas have since found out, to their dismay, that things haven't really changed in the intervening six-plus decades. 

*With many thanks to Tom Daniel for a lovingly restored, sub-titled copy of the film.

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