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01 September 2022

Andaz (1971)

Directed by: Ramesh Sippy
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri, Gulzar
Starring: Shammi Kapoor, Hema Malini,
Rajesh Khanna, Simi Garewal,
Ajit, Achala Sachdev,
Aruna Irani, Roopesh Kumar,
Raj Kishore, Randhawa,
Master Alankar, Baby Gauri

Firstly, a big thank you to my readers who read my old posts and commented on them. If it weren’t for you, this blog would have died. So, thank you!

I’ve been in India (more about that later) and jetlagged as I was, I reached out to my watchalong partner, Shalini, to see if she wanted to help me stay awake until a reasonable time. Sport that she is, she promptly agreed. But which actor, which film? A friend who adores Rajesh Khanna had once excoriated me for ignoring one of Hindi cinema’s most popular and successful actors. Mea culpa. So, making amends, even though Kaka only has a cameo here.

[*Disclaimer: This is a watchalong review. So, be warned, it’s a long post.]

Ravi (a very dapper Shammi Kapoor) lives on and manages a timber plantation owned by his mother (a very young Achala Sachdev). His family consists of his mother and his brat of a daughter, Munni (Baby Gauri). Munni, after having thrown a tantrum, is being cajoled by her doting father to get into his jeep.  

Shalini: If I were he, I would have let that brat walk home.
[I wholeheartedly agree.]
Me: Dotty daddy is more like it!
[But Shalini was busy marvelling at how natural Shammi acts during the song. We recollected our recent conversation about how ‘song acting’ is a real art and how not one of our current crop of actors have it.]

Ravi also has a sibling, Badal (Roopesh Kumar in dark glasses), away at college, whose constant demands for money are draining the family coffers. Ravi warns his mother not to turn a blind eye to Badal’s flaws but to no avail. But from Badal’s conversation with Satish (Raj Kishore), we learn that Ravi is adopted and that their relationship is strained, and not only because Ravi keeps a check on the finances.

Meanwhile, playing with Munni in the nearby park, Ravi runs into Sheetal (Hema Malini) who mistakes him for a blind person. When Ravi says that his daughter is with him, Sheetal goes on her way to the local church, where she meets the priest, Father John (Abhi Bhattacharya). It’s New Year’s Eve and the kindly Father encourages her to come to the community event that evening. Reluctantly, Sheetal agrees.

The fancy dress party is being compered by David (in a cameo) and among the many games is one where couples are encouraged to keep a ball in their possession without using their hands. [Shalini notes that this is directly lifted from Charade and that it was more fun watching Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn play it.

Much against her will, Sheetal becomes a participant, and her partner is Ravi. Sheetal and Ravi are discovering a nascent attraction to each other. Both of them are grieving; neither of them is looking for a relationship, yet there is a spark as Ravi charms and Sheetal flowers under his attention. It’s a sweet emotion.

Ravi is intrigued by Sheetal and offers to drop her home that evening. And when he discovers the next morning that his daughter is refusing to go to school because Sheetal had disciplined her, he volunteers to find out why. He’s rather taken aback when he arrives at her home to hear her singing to a little boy and discovers he’s her son.

S: I love how unabashed Sheetal is about claiming Deepu as her son in the face of Ravi’s absolute shock.

Me: I loved how she doesn’t shy away from saying she’s a widow and how Ravi, after his initial shock, goes back to being his usual friendly self. That was a lovely bit of acting from both of them.
S: Exactly; he doesn’t suddenly treat her as another species!

Ravi leaves Munni with her and goes to the mill but is soon surprised by a frantic Sheetal – the children are nowhere to be found. Did they come here? Ravi, though himself worried, reassures her.

[Shalini is sorry for Deepu who would be stuck with Munni as a half-sibling if their parents get together. I’m with her  - Munni is one of the most dreadful children to ever populate Hindi cinema, and that’s saying a lot!]

Ravi and Sheetal find the children asleep in a hut, and Sheetal is overcome with emotion. Deepu is the only legacy of her brief relationship. Encouraged by Ravi’s gentle empathy, she tells him her story.

Enter Rajesh Khanna (as Raj), riding high on his superstardom, in a cameo to end all cameos. [Shalini admits that much as she loves Shammi, Kaka is  spectacular in this brief role.]

S: What, what is Rajesh wearing? And why?!
Me [laughing at her shock]: He designed it himself. Don’t ask me why he thought it was a good idea.
Shalini laughs.

On screen, meanwhile, Zindagi ek safar hai suhana is a heady combination of Kaka’s charm, Hema’s gorgeousness, and KK's happy rendition.

S: He was really very economical as a romantic actor, wasn’t he? This one song is enough to establish the chemistry and romance between his and Hema’s characters.
Me: He’s a great song-actor and it’s a breath-taking entry!
Shalini agreed.

The ensuing scene between them is so sweet that we are both smiling.

Me: I love that they can talk to each other about serious topics.
S: Yes, I like that he immediately reassures her once he sees that she’s upset.

Caught in the rain, Raj persuades a reluctant Sheetal to check into a hotel. (He signs the hotel register as Dev Anand, and we both weep with laughter.) Soon, ensconced in the room, they wrap themselves in the bed clothes while waiting for their clothes to dry. What begins as a playful conversation soon gets serious.

S: I like the way this scene plays out – playful, yet you can see the sexual tension building.

Me: RK was rather good at turning on the charm, and the transition to desire is well done.
[We found ourselves echoing each other’s thoughts a lot while watching this film. Shalini says that we are either so in sync with our opinions, or we have watched far too many Hindi films.]

After the night, comes the reckoning. We love that there’s no rona-dhona though both Raj and Sheetal are feeling a little awkward. Yet Raj, understanding Sheetal’s anxiety, reaches out to reassure her, and her trust in him is truly sweet. Raj takes her to a nearby temple, and though there is no priest, they ‘marry’ each other.

S: He says the vows so sincerely, one can see why she considers herself well and truly married.

Me: He starts off rather frivolously, but you can see how he suddenly turns serious. [Jinx again!]

Raj drops Sheetal home promising to attend her birthday party that evening. Back at his own house, his father (Ajit!) is furious when Raj mentions Sheetal. Who is this girl? Which family does she belong to? How dare Raj think of marrying her?

Me: I like that he tries to persuade his father but does not buckle down to his commands.
S: Yes, it is truly clear that Sheetal is his priority.

Finally, Raj storms out of his father’s house saying “Sari duniya chhod sakta hoon, par use nahin.” [We shiver at the foretelling.] He’s observed by Satish, who is a relative of sorts.

Raj, already stressed out, rides his motorcycle to Sheetal’s house. Unfortunately, a moment’s distraction causes him to have a fatal accident.

Later, Sheetal had met Ravi’s father, but he refuses to accept her as Ravi’s wife. Then, pregnant and with no one to call her own, she had even tried to commit suicide, but was saved by a local priest who sent her to Father John. Now, she lives for Deepu.

Ravi can’t help but empathise. Slowly, he drives Sheetal and the children home. Their mutual attraction has deepened into a quiet friendship.

The next time they meet, it is Ravi’s turn to share his past. Ravi and his wife, Mona (Simi Garewal in a guest appearance) are madly in love with each other. 

When the doctor tells Mona her heart condition makes it imperative that she end her pregnancy, she finds it impossible to confide in her husband because he’s so obviously thrilled at the idea of having children. Sadly, she dies soon after childbirth, and Ravi is left to bring Munni up by himself. 

Sheetal is so empathetic, compassionate and understanding that Ravi is drawn to her. The fact that their children so openly and emphatically desire their union makes them feel a little awkward. 

So awkward, in fact, that Sheetal begins to avoid Ravi.

Will Ravi and Sheetal find happiness together? And what about Badal, who’s returning to the homestead with Satish to throw a spanner into his elder brother’s life?

Taking a leaf out of Dustedoff’s book, here’s what we liked and what we didn’t.

We liked: 

Mostly everything. Andaz was Ramesh Sippy’s debut directorial, and he shows notable talent for staging shots and keeping the narrative going. The script allows all its characters some agency in their own lives and gives us characters that we can root for (or hate). 
The lead characters: It was unusual, if not rare (in the 60s and later) to find a really mature romantic relationship between a man and woman. This was a love story between a widow and a widower. While that is refreshing in itself, it is also interesting to note that Hema’s Sheetal, while dressed in white printed saris, still dresses up and enjoys her life even as she misses her late husband. That she avoids Ravi is not because of social taboos against a widow loving another man but because of her memories of her dead love and out of concern for Ravi himself. She doesn’t shy away from answering tough questions and when she changes her mind, she acknowledges her love openly. As Ravi says to his mother later, Sheetal has the courage she lacked. Sheetal certainly has a quiet dignity and the courage to stand up for herself, a rare feat for mainstream Hindi film heroines of the time.
Similarly, Ravi is both truthful and compassionate. He doesn’t hesitate to mention Raj by name or acknowledge his love for his late wife but is also not willing to give up a second chance at love. A censorious society is not going to stop them from finding happiness together. You have to admire his integrity. Both he and Sheetal are so fleshed out as characters and their relationship is so nuanced that one is invested in their happiness.

It is interesting that the script gave us two men who, despite loving and respecting their parents, also have the courage to stand up for their beloveds. It is a natural and organic feminism, as if there’s no other way they could behave. No speeches about true love or equality but living their truth and believing in it so deeply that they convince the viewers as well.

And the parents too, flawed, yet human. Ravi’s mother loves her second son very much and has enabled him in spite of Ravi’s warnings,, but when the cards are down, she is unwilling to rescue him from the consequences of his actions or even to forgive him for them. She’s also apologetic about her behaviour to Sheetal. Indeed, she tells Ravi that self-respecting Sheetal may perhaps listen to her. Her apology too is done well – “I didn’t behave well to you, but don’t punish Ravi and yourself for my behaviour.”

Similarly, when Raj’s father wants to make amends but realizes that his daughter-in-law has a chance to live a full life, he leaves the decision to her, genuinely wanting her happiness instead of trying to impose his ‘kul ki maryada’ on her. It shows his true repentance and his humanity.

Father John, who instead of moralising, offers Sheetal shelter and sensible advice about not letting past memories become an obstacle to future happiness.
We also loved that the characters speak to each other, that in times of crisis, characters are not blaming each other. There is no ‘We must obey our parents at all costs’ to spoil everyone’s lives. The characters have (and are given) the agency to make their own decisions, and the script respects them as fully formed people, not paper cut-outs. No one is a caricature.
This was a brave choice for Hema to make (and we are realising just how many such choices she made both personally and professionally). She may never be counted as a great ‘actress’ but as Shalini points out, she was always fun on screen. She did well here, using her eyes to great effect in many of the confrontational scenes. There’s a quiet dignity about her character and her portrayal of the same that makes Sheetal a person to respect and care for. We couldn’t help contrasting Hema’s portrayal here with yet another ‘widow in love’ film that we watched, but more about that later.

Similarly, Shammi’s was a more restrained portrayal than his usual roles. As an older man, dealing with the grief of losing a beloved wife, he was sober not maudlin. When he finds love once again, he's unwilling to let it go by without making an attempt to regain his happiness. Yet, there is no coercion; the respect he affords Sheetal, his acquiescence in her decision all point to a man mature enough to take no for an answer. While he looked much older than Hema, his restraint and her maturity ensured that the pairing was not awkward at all.   

And finally, Rajesh Khanna. To do a role like this at the height of his superstardom, for a debutant director at that, argues amazing confidence. And my, what an entry, what charm, and how romantic could he be! [Despite our shared love for Shammi and Amitabh, and mine for Dev, we both admit that there was no one quite like RK to play romantic hero – he breathed sincerity into his romance.] RK was also a very generous actor, as we noticed, giving his co-stars the space to breathe and own the screen. 
 We didn’t like

The side plot, pertinent to the main narrative which, despite our love for Aruna Irani, hinged on rape as a plot contrivance.
The children, specifically Munni, whom I wanted to drown, and who Shalini wished desperately that her parents would push her off the mountain while on a picnic, or that Badal would push her off the roof. [Disclaimer: this is merely wishful thinking. No children were harmed in the writing of this review.]
The whole forest sequence involving said children, which was supposed to be cute (I think) but was merely tedious and cemented our belief that they should both have been drowned, though Master Alankar was actually very natural and didn’t warrant our violent daydreams.

On the whole, however, the pros outweigh the cons. Andaz is a lovely romantic film about second chances at love and wanting the other's happiness, complemented by fine acting and lovely songs.

But, our Shammi love aside, what better way to commemorate the actor whom I have come to like very much [and whom Shalini too has come to appreciate very much as a romantic hero] than to dedicate this month to Kaka?

So… watch this space.

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