14 March 2016

Mausam (1975)

Directed by: Gulzar
Music: Madan Mohan/Salil Choudhary
Lyrics: Gulzar
Starring: Sanjeev Kumar, Sharmila Tagore, 
Om Shivpuri, Dina Pathak, Agha
More than four decades ago, Gulzar wrote the story, screenplay and dialogues of a story adapted from The Judas Tree by AJ Cronin. With a fine eye for nuance, he scripted a tangled tale of a curmudgeonly bachelor and a foul-mouthed young prostitute, and fine-tuned it into a delicate film filled with myriad shades of emotions. Despite the occasional flashes of humour, there is an underlying melancholy as we watch the story of three characters unfold; Mausam is a film about lost opportunities, gentle regrets, and redemption.

Mausam begins with the gentle notes of Dil dhoondta hai phir wohi as a car winds its way up the hills of Darjeeling. In it is Dr Amarnath Gill (Sanjeev Kumar), a very successful and wealthy man, who has come to the hills for some rest and relaxation, and to get away from it all. His subordinates have booked him a bungalow, complete with a maharaj (cook). Gill had come here 25 years ago, he tells his companions, and he'd had an accident then - he'd fallen in love. The others laugh; that often happens when you're young. 

The next morning, Gill is up early. Stopping to have some tea at a local tea stall, he is surprised at how much the place has changed. When he was last here, he tells the owner, there weren't so many vehicles on the road. Nor were there many hotels; he himself had stayed as a paying guest. 
Gill points to a house nearby; when he last visited, it was a vaid's (physician) house. The owner smiles; the good doctor must be mistaken. That house has been lying vacant for years. Gill is insistent - he wouldn't make a mistake about that house. A man, who's been listening to the conversation interrupts; perhaps the gentleman is talking about Thapa? 
Gill is pleasantly surprised. Yes, indeed, the man's name was Thapa, Harihar Thapa. Well, he passed away many years ago, says his new acquaintance. Gill is perplexed - Thapa was not an old man, nor was he ill. His informer explains that Thapa died of worry; he had a young daughter who never married. She kept waiting for a doctor to come for her...

She had been slandered in the community, and her father had fallen ill. Before he died, he had got her married off to a cripple. When she returned for her father's funeral, she had a baby girl with her; her husband didn't visit. Some said he had died, some said he had abandoned her. 

Gill has much to mull over - as he walks into town, he remembers how it all began.  Twenty five years ago, he had come to Darjeeling to prepare for his final exams. Coming down some steps, he had slipped, and Chanda (Sharmila Tagore), passing by, had directed him to her house, where her father (Om Shivpuri), could treat the sprain. The vaid is an interesting man, given to quoting couplets while treating his patients, and he invites Gill to come and eat his meals at their house. 
Chanda is displeased - her father treats the villagers for free, because they are poor and cannot afford much. Now they have a patient who has come from Calcutta, and he doesn't charge him any fee because he is a poor student. But Chanda and her father have a loving, teasing relationship, and he laughs off all her complaints. 
Gill had left taking her father's walking stick with him, and when he doesn't show up for dinner, Chanda decides to look in on him. She finds Gill rather worse for the wear - he has fever and his feet are swollen. She gets him some hot milk and offers to get him some herbal medicine the next day. Gill smiles - it looks like she's half-physician herself. Chanda is not amused: living among herbs and medicinal plants, her goat is half-physician; why does he think she wouldn't know something of medicine  

The next day, she reluctantly brings him medicines and food. The interplay between them as she tries to get her father's walking stick back from him - which he doesn't seem to want to return - is amusing. (Especially when she steals it back and he finds it and takes it with him.) Their meetings - and stealing the walking stick from each other - continue, and quite soon, Chanda and Gill are head over heels in love with each other
Back in the present, Dr Gill is invited by his local colleagues to the opening of a new clinic in Nilighati. The name spurs him to visit a small weaving and dye-factory there the next day - Chanda used to work there. He learns there that Chanda's husband died a year after their marriage, and that a few years after his death, she had left for Dhaolpur with her daughter.

A man obsessed, Gill proceeds to Dhaolpur in search of Chanda. Once again, he draws a blank. Only, he's sure she's not dead, she can't be... 

A chance meeting with a vaid in Dhaolpur gives him some more information. Chanda had worked there for a short while, bringing him herbs and medicinal plants, and even helping with making the salves and medicines. But her brother-in-law was a vile man, living off her earnings, and threatening to take her daughter away if she resisted. Chanda had wanted to educate her daughter and make her a doctor, and she'd suffered a lot. From Dhaolpur, she'd left for Siliguri.
Gill makes his way to the address she's left behind, only to uncover more twists in the tale; the contractor whom Chanda had gone to work for had retired to Calcutta, but Gill learns that Chanda was mad, and her daughter... the women who speak to him will not say any more. 

From the gardener, Gill's worst fears are confirmed - Chanda passed away a few months earlier. What's worse, it's confirmed that she had continued to wait for him to return.
Her daughter, Kajli, had gone to the city, where she said she had a good job. Every month, Kajli had sent money for her mother's care even though she herself never came to visit. When the gardener had sent word of Chanda's death, she stopped sending money. He hasn't heard from her since. The gardener gives Gill all of Chanda's meagre belongings, including an 'ivory' necklace, which Chanda had safely kept aside for Kajli's dowry. 
Gill smiles at the sight of the necklace - Chanda and he had squabbled over that necklace just before he left for his exams. He had wanted to marry Chanda and take her with him then, but Chanda's father had demurred at such a hasty marriage - he had never considered Chanda a burden; Gill should return after his exams, and they would have a proper wedding. The last time he ever saw Chanda was at the station where she waved him goodbye. He had never come back to her.

On his way back from Siliguri, Gill stops to buy some aspirin. Unexpectedly, he runs into a face from his past. 
A shell-shocked Gill returns home, but is unable to sleep. He returns to the brothel, where the madam (Dina Pathak - 'mausi'  to the girls) sleepily opens the door. Gill is embarrassed but asks to meet Kajli.  

Kajli sleepily makes her way to the outer rooms. Gill is taken aback by her resemblance to her mother. But she has no time for his attempt at conversation - Ye beti kya hai yaar? Seedha dhandhe ki baat karo, na? (What's with 'daughter'? Let's talk business.) she tells him, as he tries to reconcile the foul-mouthed young woman in front of him with his image of her mother. Why does he want to know her name, she snaps at him. 'Ghar mein bithana hai mujhe? Khandaan dekhna hai? Maa pagal thi, baap langda.' (Do you want to take me home that you're enquiring about my family? My mother was mad, my father a cripple.) Irritated both by his questions and his expressed affection, she asks Mausi to take him away - 'Godh lene aaya hai mujhe!' (He wants to adopt me!)
Gill beats a hasty retreat. 

The next night, he's back, much to the Kajli's disgust. But this time, he's come prepared. When a regular customer appears looking for Kajli, Gill takes a quick decision. Does Kajli go out to meet with customers? Would she stay with him for the duration of his stay in Darjeeling? Kajli is agreeable - it will cost him, however. When Gill agrees instantly, Kajli is intrigued. Is he joking, or should she call mausi to fix the deal?  
Very soon, Gill is back at his residence with an inebriated Kajli, much to his servant's astonishment. 

The next morning, when Kajli wakes up, he tries to curtail her use of profanity. She laughs. And when he suggests buying her new clothes, she promptly refuses to have the expense cut from her fees. By the time he asks her to stop smoking, Kajli's had enough. 'Tumne paisa diya hai, theek hai. Lekin biwi ki tarah uthak baithak mat karaao.' (You've paid for my services, that's fine. But don't treat me like your wife!) They both know what he's paid for. 

Poor Gill - Kajli behaves just as she always does, and has no inclination to tone down her dress or manners, either in front of him, or his associates. Just as much as Kajli misunderstands his motivation for bringing her home, so do the others. 

People pay a heavy price for her body, so Kajli sees no reason why she should be ashamed of it. It amuses her that Gill is embarrassed to be in the same room with her while she changes. 
Kajli is amused by his  insistence that she clean up her act. Initially, her clients had forced her to drink; now she cannot live without it, and here he comes, wanting her to stop smoking, drinking and swearing. Why couldn't he have come earlier? But perhaps it was as well; she couldn't have entertained him then, but perhaps her mother could - she was very beautiful. What did her mother do? Nothing, except die - for twenty years. Waiting for a bastard who never came.  
Kajli's calm deserts her. Don't talk to her about her past, she pleads. She doesn't want to remember. But in the course of another conversation, Kajli confesses that she hates the doctor whom her mother had waited for (and whose absence had rendered her insane), more than she hates the man who raped her and turned her into a prostitute.  Gill can barely hear her story - her anguish is very real, and sears into his soul.  
Kajli is touched by his compassion. Unwittingly, she's also changing. But she's suddenly brought to the realisation that Gill won't be with her forever. What if he does, he asks her, and she is pragmatic enough to ask him not to promise 'forever'. She doesn't believe in it. After all, her mother had believed in that promise once.
But while Gill is remembering Chanda through Kajli, and attempting to buy Kajli's freedom, the latter is slowly becoming drawn to a man who is making her feel like a woman, and not an object of sexual satisfaction. She believes he's in love with her.

What will happen when Kajli learns the truth about Gill? How will Gill react when he knows that the girl he deems his daughter is in love with him? Will history repeat itself?      
Weaving back and forth between the past and the present, Mausam is like a complicated jigsaw puzzle, with each and every memory or flashback filling in another bare spot. The cuts between the two periods are intelligently made, with what occurs in the past recurring in the present, or triggering a memory of the past. With the aid of some superb cinematography (K Vaikunth), Gulzar paints a lyrical, moving tale of a man, his lost love, and his journey towards righting a long-ago wrong.

It is clear that initially at least, Gill has no clue what has happened to Chanda. His memory about that long ago, short-lived love affair is not that of a lover who has lost his beloved, but someone who has put that past to rest, and moved on, a long time ago. His enquiries about her are casual, like one would enquire about an acquaintance associated with a certain place.

Gill hadn't thought of Chanda in years, and if he had, he had assumed she had married someone else and moved on as well. When he realises that what had been (to him) a summer fling, had been the death - literally - of the girl he left behind, it pricks his conscience.   
While he begins to feel responsible for Kajli because of his guilt at the way he treated her mother, she is falling in love with him. Truth be told, when I first watched Mausam, I was under the impression that Kajli was Dr Gill's daughter by Chanda. I guess that would have been rather outrageous for a Hindi film. As it is, the incestuous undertones in Kajli's attraction to Dr Gill, must have shocked several people. 
The relationship between Dr Gill and Kajli is emotionally fraught - the latter doesn't know that the doctor she holds responsible for her mother's death is the same person who is offering her a chance of a better life. As Dr Gill, torn apart by guilt and seeking redemption by rescuing his erstwhile beloved's daughter from prostitution, Sanjeev Kumar was pitch perfect. Not for nothing was he considered one of Hindi cinema's finest actors. He infuses his character's older version with a maturity that is underlined by the weariness in his face, the slight slowness of his gait, his serenity marred by the occasional glimpses of his inner turmoil. His quest for his Chanda's daughter is not so much a responsibility, as it is a journey towards his own redemption. In trying to mould her, he is less Pygmalion than a man beset by his own demons - he cannot beg Chanda for her forgiveness, so he must rescue her daughter from the ignominy of the life in which she is trapped. It is more for his own sake than for hers, and the affection that springs towards her is at once detached and paternal. It is only in the end, when she accepts him for what he is, that his tenderness breaks through his objectivity.
Sharmila, having already made a mark for herself as a serious actress even while playing a glamorous bombshell in the run-of-the-mill fare, was brilliant in the twin roles of mother and daughter, winning a well-deserved National Award for Best Actress. (Ironically, she lost the Filmfare Award to Raakhee for Tapasya.) As Chanda, the innocent hill maiden who falls in love with a man from the city, and waits - and waits and waits - for him to return to keep his promise, she was simplicity personified. When she turns insane for love of him, her derangement is bookended by her sorrow and her broken hopes.
It is when she morphs into Kajli that the transformation makes the viewer sit up. Never until then, in the annals of Hindi cinema, had there been such a prostitute. Not for Kajli the coy, demure maiden, who is 'pure' despite her profession. Not for her the high flung Urdu of the courtesan, or the refined kathak of the kotha. She is a product of the brothel, a foul-tongued prostitute, pushed into the trade when she is raped by her uncle. She does not have the time to sit around singing ghazals about broken hearts and unspoken dreams. With no misconceptions about what a man wants when he pays for her services, Kajli  is remarkably unapologetic about her profession, and breathes fire and brimstone as she sends Dr Gill packing the first time. Later, when he asks her to 'keep his respect', she tells him, 'Izzatdaar aadmi ke saath apni badi beizzati hoti hai, saahib.' 

When she assumes that Dr Gill is the other sort of patron, the type who needs romance and poetry even in his interaction with a prostitute, she tries to seduce him with some very raunchy dance moves. Her metamorphosis into a 'good' woman leaves her strangely vulnerable. Her growing feelings for the man who has changed her terrifies her. The 'saheb' will leave, if not today, then tomorrow, and she... he has nothing to lose; she, however, will neither belong to him, nor will she be able to return to her profession.  
It is very interesting that the film's heroine was as unconventional in real life; at a time when a heroine's shelf life was restricted by her marital status, Sharmila proved naysayers wrong - some of her best work came after her marriage, and not only that, she also continued to be offered glamorous roles.

Madan Mohan's music for this film will rank amongst his best scores. Bhupinder, who was the composer's protégé, had one of his career-best songs - Dil dhoondhta hai phir wohi. And while that song became associated the most with that film, I find Ruke ruke se qadam equally beautiful. Unfortunately, Madan Mohan died while the film was being made, and Salil Choudhary stepped in to complete the background score. What is even more unfortunate is that Madan Mohan didn't win an award for this film either - he was pipped to the post by Khayyam's score for Kabhi Kabhie. 

My usual problem with Gulzar's films - and I honestly have liked many of them - is that while he did tell women's stories, I always got the feeling that they were narrated through the prism of a man's perspective. (Here, too, while the story is Chanda's and later, Kajli's, most of it is told from the perspective of Gill.) Gulzar's women, while sensitively picturised, were paradoxically very traditional in their attitudes. (Here, too, Kajli breaks down in the end - ' Main adhoori nahin rehna chaahti.') I suppose one could argue that there are women like that, but I've never been able to watch a Gulzar movie without mentally bracing myself for an attitude I cannot get behind. 

Despite that, I have always enjoyed Mausam -  all of it. Gulzar's stories are simple, his characters very real, more often than not, flawed, and drawn with an affectionate hand. 'Sensitive' is a word that's too often applied to them, but more than that, I think they are empathetic, and essentially good people. And while Cronin's The Judas Tree is darker, more tragic, Mausam ends on a note of hope.   
(From the fifties to the seventies. Yes, I know I've skipped the decade in between, but there's an excellent reason for that, my hearties; be patient, and All. Will. Be. Revealed. in due course.)

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