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27 May 2016

Annadata (1972)

Directed by: Asit Sen
Music: Salil Choudhary
Lyrics: Yogesh
Starring: Om Prakash, Jaya Bhaduri, 
Anil Dhawan, 
Krishnakant, Dulari, 
Tarun Bose, Parveen Paul
My usual comfort food in Hindi cinema is to watch the films of Hrishikesh Mukherjee. In fact, I'd watched one in bits and pieces over the last week, but will leave that for a later post. Driving my son to one of his classes this past week, I was listening to Raaton ke saaye ghane... That brought to mind the film itself, which had some fantastic songs by Salilda, and so I decided it merited a re-watch. Director Asit Sen's movies are usually watchable, he being of the Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee ilk, combining Bengali literature with a soupçon of realism, giving you characters who you are familiar with, and who behave rather more normally than most film characters tend to do.
When the movie begins, newspapers have just reported a plane crash - there are no survivors. One of the passengers on the ill-fated plane is millionaire Seth Amba Prasad (Om Prakash). No sooner than they get this news than his friends and relatives crawl out of the woodwork, all claiming to be his heirs. Amongst the claimants are the biological parents (Tarun Bose and Parveen Paul) of a young girl, Ratna, whom Amba Prasad had quasi-adopted, brought up and educated; wanting to strike while the iron's hot, they concoct an insidious plan to lay claim to his wealth. Poor Ratna, genuinely fond of her benefactor, does not want to have anything to do with this, but is coerced into agreeing. Poor Pestonjee Vasiyatwala (Krishnakant) is taken aback when he hears the news, but seeing the young girl's condition, he assures her that he will take care of the matter. 
The next day, he gets another (more pleasant) shock. Amba Prasad calls to inform him that he had missed his flight, and therefore escaped the fate of its passengers. Pestonjee is extremely happy to hear that his friend survived; not so the others, who see their dreams of instant riches disappear in smoke. 

When Amba Prasad returns home, he's pleasantly surprised to see all his relatives and friends gathered there. Pestonjee disabuses him of the notion that they are there to mourn his death. Amba Prasad is devastated. More so when he learns of the tale that Ratna's parents have concocted - that Ratna is pregnant with Amba Prasad's child. 
He cannot believe his ears. That Ratna, whom he had looked upon as a daughter, would stoop to giving credence to such a lie so she could claim his wealth, is unbearable. Between grief that his good intentions have spawned such deceit, and shock at his relatives' naked avarice, Amba Prasad decides to go away, leaving Pestonjee to make the explanations. Moti, his faithful dog, is his only companion. With no set destination in mind, Amba Prasad sets off on a journey that takes him far away from his home. Finally, exhausted from both the journey and all that has befallen him, master and dog sit down to rest. 

Amba Prasad is woken up by Moti's bark; when he opens his eyes, he finds a young man painting his portrait. Upon enquiring who he is, the young man remarks that he is 'peshe se chitrakar, shauk se gavayya aur haalat se ek gareeb aadmi hoon' ('an artist by profession, a singer by inclination and he is a poor man). Amba Prasad is amused - if he is an artist by profession and a singer by inclination, it is to be expected that he would be poor! (It's an opinion shared by the painter's mother (Dulari).)  However, he's very indignant that the young man's painting a portrait of him until the latter points out that he's willing to pay Amba Prasad Rs5 for posing for him. 
Intrigued that a self-confessed 'poor man' is willing to pay him, Amba Prasad agrees. With the money that the painter gives him, Amba Prasad buys Moti some food, while he quenches his thirst with some water. Almost immediately after, the exhaustion causes Amba Prasad to faint, and Moti runs to a house nearby to get help.

It's fortunate indeed that the house once belonged to the village doctor. Now, his daughter, Aarti (Jaya Bhaduri) and son, Kundan (Bobby) live there. Aarti, urged on by her brother who guesses that Moti has come to get help for someone, follows the dog to where Amba Prasad is lying unconscious. She has the villagers bring the man home. 
Soon, Amba Prasad recovers consciousness. When he tries to leave, Aarti stops him. He's not well enough to travel. She firmly insists that he stay. Amba Prasad gives in reluctantly. He is pleasantly surprised when he overhears her conversation with a neighbour, who has come to collect her clothes (Aarti sews clothes to earn a living), and to pay Aarti for the medicines. When Aarti refuses to take money for medicines (her late father was the same way), Amba Prasad is delighted. When she had earlier told him that 'money wasn't everything', she was not just mouthing a platitude; this was the way she lived her life. 

He decides to stay there as long as he can; meanwhile, he also writes to Pestonjee to inform him that he's well, explaining why he decided to leave, and why he's now heartened by learning that humanity and generosity have not been completely abandoned. Pestonjee, though not entirely believing that someone could be so good, is happy that his old friend is well. 

Meanwhile, the painter, Arun (Anil Dhawan), turns up at Aarti's house to show her his new painting. 
Already suspicious when he sees Moti (who promptly barks at him), Arun is upset when he learns that the old man and the dog are both staying there. Where is Aarti going to feed them when she herself is barely making two ends meet? Does she even know who this old man is? Aarti is unrepentant; you don't ask a patient's personal history before treating him. Besides, her father treated people for free; she's not going to charge them for medicines. 

Amba Prasad is discovering how kind and loving Aarti is, while in Amba Prasad, Aarti is seeing her late father. Amba Prasad is touched when he realises how principled and self-respecting Aarti is. (She refuses to take money from him.) She is also extremely cheerful, making light of her condition. Bowing to her pleas, he decides to stay a bit longer.
When he discovers that Kundan is polio-afflicted, he takes it upon himself to massage the boy's leg with the medicated oil that Aarti had made, and is pleasantly taken aback when Kundan too refuses to take money from him to get his leg treated. 

Arun's mother wants him to marry Aarti, but Arun feels that his financial condition is too precarious for him to marry. Yet he feels a responsibility towards Aarti (he's in love with her), and tries to coax her into marrying a wealthy friend of his. Aarti plays along for a bit, but cannot hide her feelings for too long (she's in love with him as well). 
She tells Arun off, claiming that she has responsibilities that she needs to fulfil before she can think of marriage. 

Arun is still hung up on Amba Prasad abusing Aarti's generosity, and when he runs into the latter one day, gives him an earful about sponging off her. He asks Amba Prasad why he doesn't leave, and if he does plan to stay around, why he can't get a job to help ease Aarti's burden.   

Taking Arun's words to heart, Amba Prasad decides to leave, but he hadn't reckoned with Aarti's affection. When she learns that Amba Prasad does not have anyone to call his own, she refuses to let him go. His plea that doesn't want to be a burden on her already frail shoulders only elicits a rather sweet response - if he's old and frail, he cannot be that heavy a burden. 
Amba Prasad is charmed by her genuine affection for him and her willingness to shoulder her responsibilities without complaint. Yet, that night, when uncharacteristically for her, Aarti gives voice to her despondency, trying to bolster her own courage to deal with the cards that life deals her, Amba Prasad cannot but help be touched. 

The next morning, Amba Prasad pretends to be at work polishing shoes (he polishes the tree that he's sitting under instead), and returns at night with money he ostensibly earned working. Aarti is reluctant to take it from him, but Amba Prasad persists. He continues to keep Pestonjee updated about his whereabouts and his steadily rising opinion about Aarti and Arun. (Which drives poor Pestonjee to bemoan his old friend's foolishness.)

Amba Prasad continues to polish the tree, while Arun continues to bring papers for Aarti to type for him. 
While he's there, the moneylender from whom Aarti's father had borrowed money against his house as collateral, comes to collect his interest. Upon learning that Aarti cannot pay it this month, he insults her and her father, much to Aarti's distress. Arun is furious. Aarti must already have paid him more than the amount she owes him, as interest. His anger on her behalf melts Aarti's anger, but her good humour does not appease Arun. Amba Prasad, returning from his usual chore of polishing the tree, overhears everything, including the fact that Arun will not countenance their marriage because he dreams of a better future for her. 

Arun is determined to find a wealthy groom for Aarti. He even goes to a marriage broker to find one.When he steps out, he runs into Amba Prasad, who is surprised at the news; he had assumed that Arun loved Aarti. 
Arun admits he does loves her; that's why he wants her to have a life that is free of care and worry. He cannot give her that. Amba Prasad wonders whether Arun would marry Aarti if someone gave him Rs5 lakh. Arun scoffs; why would someone give him such a large sum of money? And if they did, why would he take it? He doesn't need anyone's charity. Amba Prasad has much to think about; he's realising that not everyone is interested in the pursuit of wealth for wealth's sake.  

The next day, Arun has a stroke of luck. A man (Brahm Bhardwaj) he meets turns out to be an art gallery owner, who is more than interested in buying his paintings of Amba Prasad and Aarti. Happy at having his art appreciated, Arun nevertheless refuses to sell Aarti's portrait. 
Having earned the princely sum of Rs500, Arun buys an artificial leg for Kundan, and happily sets off to meet Aarti, to give her the means to pay off the moneylender's interest. She's amused when he suggests that she accept it as a loan. 

The amusement is short-lived when Arun informs her that while he loves her, and knows that she loves him, they cannot ever be happy together. And so, he's sacrificing their love to ensure she has a good life ahead with a man who can take care of her and her brother. 
Aarti is furious. (Along with feeling heart-sore.) How dare he? Who is he to fix her marriage? Wounded, she strikes back: she'd heard of people who killed others, and themselves, for the sake of love; this is the first she's seen a man hand his beloved over to another man. How dare he? When had she asked him to take on the responsibility of her brother? He can be as martyred to his poverty as he wants; how dare he mock her poverty? 

Soon after, Amba Prasad leaves Aarti's home, without a word.

How is all this going to end? Will Aarti ever find out the truth about Arun? Will they put aside their pride and understand that love means acceptance? What about Amba Prasad? Will he ever let Aarti and Arun know who he really is? Is his estimation of Aarti's and Arun's essential goodness correct? Can he help them? More importantly, will they let him?  
Annadata  is a lovely little film, with some wonderful performances, especially from Om Prakash in the titular role, while Jaya Bhaduri shows us once again what a natural performer she was. This was one of the few films (Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Buddha Mil Gaya was another) where Om Prakash had a chance to portray something other than the usual stereotype, and he does so with élan. As a wealthy man in search of the affection of folk who see him as more than just a bank account, Om Prakash does a great job. 
He's ably complemented by Jaya Bhaduri and Anil Dhawan, who had earlier starred together in Piya ka Ghar. Barely three years in the industry then, Jaya had already notched up a huge body of work, including Guddi (her debut in Hindi cinema), Piya ka Ghar, Bawarchi, Parichay, Shor, Jawani Diwani, Koshish, Uphaar, etc. Her Aarti is a strong woman, who has the gumption to live her life on her terms, and is not looking for handouts. She not only has the courage to tell the man that she loves him, she also has the guts to tell him off for making her decisions for her. Aarti was an intriguing heroine for those times.
Anil Dhawan, having made his debut the same year as his heroine, hadn't quite scaled the peaks of stardom. Yet he was effective as the jhola-carrying Arun, and played his part competently. For a change, it is the hero who is the self-sacrificing martyr, and I quite liked that the heroine had little use for such dramatics. Alongside were other characters, Dulari as Arun's mother, Tarun Bose and Parveen Paul, Kanhaiyyalal, Krishnakant, Shammi, Leela Mishra, etc., to provide the ballast to a simple tale that was simply told. 

Annadata portrays a belief in the goodness of people, and while the ending may seem rather naïve, I was glad that they didn't go the 'poor good, rich bad' route that a lot of Hindi (and other language) cinema regularly did. Neither Amba Prasad's avaricious relatives nor Ratna's folks are wealthy; avarice crosses boundaries of wealth and class. While Aarti and Arun may be poor and good, the film doesn't glorify poverty as something to be aspired to; when Arun gets a chance (via Amba Prasad) to show his art abroad, Aarti pushes him to further his career and achieve his dreams. 

All the little sacrifices are made for the other's sake: Arun, giving up his love for Aarti's future; Aarti, saving the money Amba Prasad gives her, and using it to buy him some much-needed clothes; Arun's mother, giving up her food to feed him... I like that both Aarti and Arun's mother call him out for his pusillanimity; Aarti, because Arun decides her life for her, his mother, because Arun doesn't stand up for their neighbour who is being abused by her husband. I like that when the sacrifices get too onerous for her, Aarti sets Arun right, and to his credit, he too realises that he cannot really do without her. There's only so much martyrdom that I can take. 

As for the music, which is what brought me to a reviewing of this movie, what can I say? Apart from Raaton ke saaye ghane, which remains one of my favourite songs of all time, and Guzar jaaye din din din, both of which I've linked in the post, there's the beautiful Nis din nis din, the playful Champavati aaja (which was picturised on the legendary Gopi Krishna and Madhumati), the poignant Nayan hamare and Yahan ab kya rehna, the title song, which is repeated during the end credits. Salilda's music was set to words by Yogesh. If you haven't watched Annadata already, please do.

Trivia: While Wikipedia credits him as being Bimal Roy's assistant, it is the other Asit Sen, the comedian, who worked with Bimal Roy, and directed two films, Parivar and Apradhi Kaun? (Both, produced by Bimal Roy, and in fact, credited to this Asit Sen.) Comedian Asit Sen is seen in one scene in this film.

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