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08 May 2017

Shaque (1976)

Directed by: Aruna-Vikas
Music: Vasant Desai
Starring: Vinod Khanna, Shabana Azmi, 
Utpal Dutt, Bindu, 
Farida Jalal, Arvind Deshpande
In my tribute to Vinod Khanna, I’d written about being introduced to his off-beat roles on Doordarshan. So when I wanted to write about a Vinod Khanna movie he deserves a review – I dithered between writing up Qurbani which I watched along with blog readers Shalini and Lalitha, or Mere Apne, which I’d seen and liked very much indeed. Finally, I decided to write up Shaque, because it is one of Vinod Khanna’s lesser known films.   

The film opens with a montage over the credits – an office safe is burgled, a man is murdered, a man (Vinod Khanna) stumbles over his colleague’s (one assumes) body, one is shown his agitation as he (Vinod) makes two telephone calls – to the police and the ambulanceboth reach the spot soon after. A visibly shaken Vinod Joshi (VK) is interrogated by the police, and strenuously denies any part in the crime, the body is taken away to the morgue…

Cut to the present day – it is ten years later. Vinod, his wife, Meena (Shabana Azmi), and their son, Mithu (Master Atul) live an idyllic upper middle-class existence. It is clear that Vinod dotes on his wife and son.
One day, when Vinod is away on official business, Meena receives a letter. It is from a man named Man Singh, who claims to have been an eye-witness to a murder that took place years ago. Meena remembers that day very well – it was the day Vinod had come home, bloodied and disturbed.

In the letter, Man Singh claims that the man arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for the crime, a certain Subramaniam, was innocent. He, Man Singh, was the only eyewitness to the murder; he had never said anything to the police at the time. Now, he is dying, and he wants to clear his conscience.

Meena is troubled by the letter, but secure in Vinod’s arms, takes a certain satisfaction in her knowledge of Vinod – this is her husband. 
But a whisper of doubt persists – what does a murderer look like? 

As days pass, Vinod, attuned to her every mood, knows something is wrong, but assumes she’s sickening for something. Until, looking in their dresser drawers, he comes across the letter. He’s shocked at its contents, as well as the fact that Meena hadn’t told him about it. The ensuing discussion leaves Vinod angry that his wife believes he’s capable of murder, and Meena not knowing what to believe.
As days pass, the strain on the relationship deepens.

One day when Vinod is away, Meena decides to investigate, visiting newspaper archives to find out the details of the case. Then, she makes an impulsive decision to meet Subramaniam’s wife. If Man Singh’s letter had shocked her, meeting Subramaniam’s family disturbs her. Mrs Subramaniam (Farida Jalal) is almost out of her head with the stress and despair. She demands Meena look around for the one lakh rupees that Subramaniam was said to have stolen. Her anger and despair are palpable. Meena almost runs out of the house, and Mrs Subramaniam slams the door behind her.
Distressed by their plight, Meena returns home and sends her some money to tide them over.

The next day, she goes to Man Singh’s house, where she’s met by a tired looking woman (Bindu) named Rosie. She beckons Meena into the house. Man Singh (Utpal Dutt) is a quiet, non-descript, self-effacing man. He apologises for having written to Meena, but he’s ill, and Vinod had stopped meeting him. 
He reiterates what he'd written in his letter. Vinod was the real murderer. He had implicated Subramaniam in order to save himself. If further evidence was needed, he, Man Singh, will admit to his own culpability – he too had needed money. They had burgled the safe together, and when Kale returned unexpectedly, Vinod had murdered him.

Her Vinod is not a murderer, expostulates Meena. But even as she says that, she recollects they became rich soon after the case was completed. Vinod and she – she was pregnant with Mithu at the time – left their humble home to buy their own luxurious flat. Now their son studies in a boarding school in Dehra Dun, and they own a holiday home in Alibaug. She remembers how Vinod was adamant that his unborn child would have everything he didn’t.

Horrified, Meena begs Man Singh not to go to the police. Man Singh reluctantly agrees, but requests Meena for some money – he needs to go to a doctor. Meena acquiesces. She then stops to meet Vinod’s stockbroker, Mr Bannerjee. He informs her that ten years ago, Vinod had come to him, dropped Rs50,000 in front of him and asked Bannerjee to make him rich. Where did Vinod get the money? The initial Rs50,000? That, Bannerjee doesn’t know; he hadn’t asked, Vinod hadn’t said. Is there a problem?

Meena is silent. Every word she'd heard that day is another nail in the coffin of her husband’s innocence. Yet…
That night, everything spills over. Bannerjee had called Vinod to let him know of Meena’s visit. Vinod is furious. How dare she bring a third person into what’s a private matter? What’s wrong with her? After so many years! Meena is unrepentant. She has to know where that Rs50,000 came from. Vinod is too furious to answer.

The next evening, Vinod has to take a superior out to dinner; Meena is forced to go along. At the restaurant, they meet Rosie – now Rosita, the cabaret dancer. After the dance, Vinod is taken aback when Rosita sends a message asking to see Meena.
When they return, he’s even more shocked to hear from Mithu that Man Singh had come to the house that morning. Furious, he forces a showdown with Meena. What the hell does she thinks she’s playing at? First it was the stockbroker; then it was Mrs Subramaniam who had returned the money that Meena had sent her – she had sent it to Vinod’s office. Now, Man Singh. Meena is equally angry. How could he have done such a thing?

Vinod is shocked – he had hoped that she would understand him better. Now that she thinks him a murderer, their marriage is a sham.
Then... Vinod is accused of another murder. Did Vinod really commit the murder? And the first one? Or is Man Singh a blackmailer, as Vinod has it? Where is the money that was stolen ten years ago? If Vinod was innocent, where did he get that Rs50,000 to play the share market? How will their marriage survive a lack of faith? Is Meena making a terrible mistake? 
Shaque showed a marriage wilting under the strain of doubt and suspicion. In focusing mainly on the relationship between Vinod and Meena, from their initial scenes of loving comfort to the rise in tension between the couple, Shaque scores in making the point without much melodrama. Vinod and Shabana are comfortable with each other and themselves, and their romantic scenes have a sweetness while there’s the required edginess in the confrontation scenes. Their relationship is lightly drawn, just private moments in a family setting, and the tenderness and passion is evident without heavy underlining.
Vinod Khanna plays his Vinod Joshi well – his focus on becoming rich so his child will suffer no want; his  deep love for his wife and child – it’s clear that he will do anything to secure their happiness; his anger at Man Singh’s duplicity which forces him to threaten Man Singh leading to further tragedy; his deep shock at what he sees as Meena’s betrayal; his grief at her lack of faith in him – Vinod Khanna brought out the complexities of his character in a controlled performance that really made me wish I’d taken a closer look at the actor’s performances much earlier. The character of Vinod Joshi is also a stubborn one. At one point, when he’s asked to identify the source of his initial investment, he baulks. Not because he doesn’t have an answer, but because he feels that, after all these years, his word should be enough.
Shabana had an equally complex role. Her Meena is shown to be a person who regards the truth highly, and who teaches her son that one should own up to one’s actions and make amends where possible. Her belief in her husband shaken, she cannot rest until she uncovers the truth. The way she goes about it, her love for her husband overriding her usual good sense, the consequences of her actions leading her to the brink of wrecking the very thing she’s trying to save – her marriage. Yet, she cannot pull back. It leads her to take an action so drastic that Vinod, realising what he might have lost, is shaken to the core.

Utpal Dutt plays Man Singh with his usual confidence – it's a small role, but an important one, and Dutt hides bluster behind quietness, a barely-suppressed manic energy veiled by a genteel voice and timid self-deprecation. In fact, that’s what is so appealing about Shaque – the quietness of the characterisation. Could it have been better? Yes, in some ways. But on the whole, Shaque is a well-crafted, well-acted film and well worth viewing.

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