Monday, December 15, 2008

Ijaazat (1987) – to like or not to like?

Ijaazat- DVD cover Gulzar wrote and directed this tale of a man (Naseeruddin Shah) torn between his feelings for two women (Rekha and Anuradha Patel). Every review I’ve read and every acquaintance of mine who’s seen it, has lavished praises on it. Still I resisted watching it, because I am prejudiced against love triangles where women come out the losers. Then I saw an interview of Naseer’s where he talked about how happy he was with his performance in this movie. So I decided to give it a try. And I am glad I did. Its a lovely movie inspite of some rather grave flaws! But thats Gulzar’s fault – he can turn the most unappealing stories into lovely and curiously touching movies (Basera is a good example)!


Sudha (Rekha) and Mahendra (Naseeruddin Shah) are unexpectedly stranded together in a railway station’s waiting room one stormy evening. As the night approaches and the torrential rains cut them off from any other human contact, the two revisit their past – through halting, and then increasingly more intimate conversation, deftly interwoven with flashbacks into their mutual past.
We learn that Mahendra and Sudha’s match was arranged by his revered grandpa (Shammi Kapoor), but for five years he avoided matrimony. His bachelor days finally ran out when grandpa announced his (Mahendra’s) impending nuptials within a week. A frantic Mahendra goes to meet Sudha and enlist her aid in stopping the wedding. His reason – he is in love with Maya (Anuradha Patel) but doesnt have the courage to tell grandpa. (I wonder why – grandpa looks adorably cuddly and very, very, approachable!) Sudha isnt unsympathetic but tells him to take action (I silently applaud).
Mahendra goes home to fetch his girlfriend - exhibit A in evidence for love. Maya unfortunately takes this moment, of all times, to disappear! She does leave Mahendra with some beautiful poetry but the latter judges that it cannot replace exhibit A and proceeds to marry Sudha! Bad, BAD decision. No good can come of this, I am sure.
“Maya” means illusion or worldly pleasure in Hindi.
My misgivings are justified by their subsquent marital bliss, or lack of it. They have some lovely moments together – sharing news over morning tea, a stolen weekend in the mountains, and (my favorite moment, this) Mahendra sheepishly explaining his boyhood dream of becoming an actor which makes Sudha laugh at its sheer absurdity! However, their growing companionship is always crowded by the palpable presence of an unwanted third - Maya. Mahendra finds it hard to put away his feelings for Maya while Sudha finds that everything she touches at home seems like it belongs to someone else (Gulzar’s dialogues are so evocative!).
The troubled relationship gets a jolt it is unprepared for, when Maya re-appears in their life. Mahendra and Sudha struggle to adjust with her less-than-ghostly presence. Tensions escalate and one day Sudha walks out of the marriage and out of Mahendra-Maya’s lives.
*****************SPOILER ALERT!!!*********************
In the present, the two reach out awkwardly to each other and a dialogue begins. The awkward pauses and halting sentences soon give way to shared laughter and friendly conversation. As the night proceeds and Sudha dons the mantle of the still-caring wife with ease, you can see Mahendra’s dawning hope for reconciliation. A hope that is dashed next morning by the appearance of her new husband (Shashi Kapoor) who’s rushed to her side after hearing that she was stranded in the (nameless) station. Sudha’s regretful backward glances at Mahendra, as she accompanies her hubby, do not bode well for her marriage. You realise that its the beginning of another cycle of three-is-company, with Mahendra being the unwanted third now.
********************END SPOILER************************
The movie is beautifully written and executed. For a saga of missed opportunities and broken relationships, its surprisingly not depressing! The story unfolds at a leisurely pace with the character’s actions and expressions rather than their dialogues, telling us their tale. Needless to say, the performances are superb. Naseeruddin Shah and Rekha are so good that I was almost convinced that their characters’ marriage was a good idea and their break-up was much to be regretted! Anuradha Patel was gorgeous but somewhat less convincing. I think her character was meant to be a free-spirited, modern girl but shows up as rather pathetic, emotionally disturbed and distressingly dependent. The rest of the cast was very good, especially Shammi Kapoor who looked roly-poly and cute and Rita Rani Kaul (she plays Mona - Maya’s friend) who looked lovely.
For all its virtues, I still cant get round the fact that two mature, independent people walked into a relationship that they both knew one of them didnt want! The movie doesnt use conventional ideas about respecting their elders’ wishes as an excuse, so WHY? And WHY do Gulzar’s heroines have this penchant for touching their ex’s feet (remember Aandhi which also ends with Suchitra Sen touching Sanjeev Kumar’s feet?) – surely the practice was a bit dated in 1987?
As you can see, readers, I am rather conflicted about the movie – I liked it but I liked it not! Guess I’m like the confused characters in the movie – still trying to make up my mind. How 'bout all of you watching it and helping me out here?


22 comments:

  1. Great review, BV! This movie was one of my first holy grails, back when I was a die-hard Naseer fan (pre-Shashi, pre-SRK, pre-Anil). I still haven't seen it (except for the end on YouTube... sigh, don't ask, I couldn't help myself - SHASHEEEE!) but your review has made me even more curious. While I can't appreciate Gulzar's dialogues (unless they get some awesome subtitler), I do recognize his talents. And I quite liked Baseraa, despite the ridiculous gender politics.

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  2. Ooh, and forgot to say: Naseer looks GORGEOUS in the "You still love my curls" cap. Goodness, I didn't know he had it in him!

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  3. I am completely in love with this movie- PPCC's calling it a "holy grail" is v apt. I've always found Shashi's cameo absolutely irresisteble here; had forgotten Ila Arun had a cameo too- she looks v cute in the screen cap there!

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  4. Agree with ppcc---Naseer looks hot! Almost Shashi-like with those curls :) Maybe that's why Sudha married Shashi. Hmmm.

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  5. PPCC, Gulzar does have a way with him. I re-watched Basera recently and inspite of its absurd story, liked it! You definitely should see this one - its way better than Basera inspite of a distinct lack of Shashi! And Naseer totally had it in him to look good - chin or no chin (though I liked his looks better in Masoom)!

    Shweta, Shashi's cameo made me think - here he goes with yet another reluctant wife! The guy has a positive talent for picking them up!!! lol And shouldnt Naseer be the most unfaithful onscreen husband?

    That screencap is Rita Rani Kaul, not Ila Arun. You might remember her (Rita) from Umrao Jaan, 80s parallel cinema and some TV serials. Havent seen her since.

    Memsaab, NAHIIIIIN!!! Naseer is nowhere near Shashi-like though he has his own appeal.

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  6. I want to see this movie! Wow. You know, I've never seen a movie with a young Naseer. Now, I really have to. Thanks for the hilarious captions!

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  7. SO that's who it is! I swear she looks like Arun :) She was gorgeous in Umrao Jaan I remember now.

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  8. Maya? I've never heard of that world. Don't you mean "maiya" which means "loving"?

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  9. This is one of those movies everybody talked about, and all of my friends wondered why I hadn't seen it... and I still haven't, but your review is tempting me to go ahead: maybe I will, someday soon! And I do like one of the songs very much: Katra katra.

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  10. Nicki, he was playing hero in your favorite decade! And he has so many nice films - you should try some.

    Shweta, Rita does look like Ila Arun in that screen cap - but she doesnt have Ila's husky voice, so its easy to distinguish in a film!

    Anonymous, you've clearly not watched enough Bollywood (at least not the vintage variety) or you'd have heard moh maya (moh = desire, maya=dream and moh+maya=worldy pleasures) often enough! And maiya as far as I know, is the word for mother - as in Maiya mori main nahin maakhan khaayo.

    dustedoff, I think all the advance publicity tends to put one off (I've never seen Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Khamoshi because a friend wouldnt stop extolling its praises!), but this one is pretty watchable. I am surprised though that this movie appealed to teenagers - I remember all my school friends telling me how good it was!

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  11. I share your distaste for sad love-triangles, especially those involving marriage, but my goodness you've capped some lovely visuals there. That one of the two of them with the newspaper is gorgeous.

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  12. The movie had stunning cinematography and I loved how the camera seemed to take its time savoring each moment and each expression. Its a rather sad story, but so beautifully wrapped... Sigh!

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  13. Hmmm.... I agree that Rekha and Naseer's performances were strong, but otherwise I all but regret seeing this movie. I HATED the characters (except Sudha after she decides to leave) and could not understand why on earth anyone would want to tell this story, even if they told it well. I'm glad you call the writers out for having these people going ahead with their marriage - very aggravating. And I'll take your word on the dialogues - the subtitles on mine were pretty good, now that you mention it.

    Oooh and PS I interpreted the ending differently - maybe I am too blinded by Shashi-pyaar?

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  14. Beth, Shashi-pyaar is really very blinding! lol The whole movie tells of how much Sudha loves Mahendra and that she left him only when she was convinced that he wouldnt love her back. Somewhere in the movie she tells him that she fell for him when he first told her about how much he loves Maya (dunno how a man so in love with another woman is so attractive to her!). In the present, the way she cleans up after him and waits upon him in the waiting room is indicative of her undimmed affection and only her husband's arrival recalls her to reality. Her regret when she learns of why Mahendra didnt come for her when she left him, and her tears at the end - everything signals that poor Shashi has another onscreen wife who doesnt realise she's been upgraded!

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  15. Your review captures the nuances well, which were well done, but the characters' flaws just ruined it for me. I told Beth at one point: only a MAN could have written this! and I too did not get the same feeling about the ending, although it could be that I was also blinded by Shashi pyaar (and also relief that my suffering was over!) :-) Was Sudha really dumb enough to want to return to Naseer? Oy. Probably. Ugh.

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  16. Poor you! You need to watch a nice Shammi movie to get over the suffering.

    Gulzar's heroines maybe strong characters (as in, the opposite of bimbos more usually seen in normal movies) but they always tend to be on the very traditional side. So they always love their first love unwaveringly no matter how unfaithful he is (remember Hema-Jeetendra's Khushboo?) because a Bhartiya naari loves only her hubby for seven lives! Given that, I was surprised that Rekha's character is allowed a second marriage (albeit with a much older man) but she makes up for it by regretting not sticking with her first one! ;-)

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  17. Given that, I was surprised that Rekha's character is allowed a second marriage..Does the surprise reveal your own pre-conceived notion or bias? :)

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  18. Damn formatting - blogger needs to fix that.

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  19. Taking into account the considerable Hindi movie-watching experience thats gone into the statement, I'd say it reveals surprise at the unusual! ;-)

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  20. I am coming very, very late to this post but aiyyam laiking it berry much!

    Just a note to add to your review - Rekha touches Naseer's feet not because she is still attracted to him - she says she left him the first time without informing him; and now, she wants his permission to leave. There is certainly regret for what happened (or did not happen) but I think it is more that she is tying up some unfinished business - sort of.

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  21. Yes, Anuradha I got it! What annoyed me was why she needed his permission. She wasn't a child needing a guardian's permission! Besides, my idea of marriage is a union between equals - a partnership - and you do NOT touch your partner's feet. So tying up loose ends is all very well, but here it is done in a way that rouses all my modern feminist ire. Which is why I am so ambivalent toward this film - it is beautifully made but espouses such traditional values!

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  22. The more I read your reviews, the more I am enjoying them, discovered them years too late :(... I totally agree with you, I just did not get this 'ijaazat' business. Loved the music and the performances, just hated the story and its characters. I saw the movie only because of the songs and was disappointed that the lovely 'mera kuch samaan' belonged to the annoying Maya.

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