Ek akela is sheher mein
raat mein aur dopahar mein
aabodaana dhoondhta hai
aashiana dhoondhta hai
Last week I was driving home, with some friends. The familiar landscape around NH 24 seemed a little greener and there were very few vehicles on the road. The absence of street hawkers and local dhabas had changed the entire dynamics of the area. The very pulse of driving on the highway was missing. This emptiness was making me bit uncomfortable. The green landscape soon transformed into a harsh concrete jungle as our car approached NCR.
Just a week ago, while surfing through news channels, I remembered seeing a report on how Covid19 has had a devastating impact on the housing industry and the way many ancillary units around it have come to a standstill. Seeing these abandoned housing projects, I thought of the many families I knew who already had invested their humble savings in buying their dream home and at this juncture how clueless they were about its future. A friend who was with us in the car had also invested in such a project.
I noticed he was looking out of the car window towards those vacant flats. I enquired softly, “How far has your housing project moved?’
“I’m paying the loan instalments, but I’m not sure if we will ever get possession in this lifetime,” he replied. I could hear deep pain in his voice.
The movie Gharonda came to my mind at once, as if someone really close had had this experience in the past too. Along with the movie, many other memories came flooding back. They reminded me of a Bengali radio play titled Ektuku Basha I had heard years ago. Those were beautiful days when one did not see anyone yet fell in love with those faceless voices… whether it was a news reader or a favorite radio announcer. I first heard about Gharonda and N. Vishwanathan through this radio play. He had played the role of the aged husband, Lily Chakravarty acted as Chhaya and Saumitra Chatterjee lent his voice for Sudip. Many years later I watched the movie Gharonda directed by Bhimsain Khurana on Doordarshan.
Bhimsain’s Gharonda was an unconventional film in many ways. The storyline wasn’t a typical run of the mill one. Most of the characters were real and part of our very familiar middleclass society. It was a well-crafted movie with an overtone of sadness and loss. It portrayed the challenges of survival in a big city and its complex issues. The story begins with Chhaya (Zarina Wahab) and Sudip (Amol Palekar) working together in the same office. They soon fall in love and start weaving a dream to settle down together. Sudip stays in a stuffy chawl along with three other men. Chhaya and her younger brother stay in a one- room flat, with their elder brother and sister- in- law, in a not so happy condition.
Both of them plan to buy a flat and move in together. After lot of house-hunting they decide on an under-construction flat in Andheri East. The song ‘Do Diwane Shahar Me’ reflects their situation. But soon they realize that the builder has duped them and run away with all the money. One of Sudip’s roommates (Sadhu Mehar) commits suicide, as he had invested all his life’s savings in a flat and couldn’t handle the consequences.
Another important character of this film is Mr. Modi (played by Dr. Shreeram Lagoo), the middle-aged boss, who likes Chhaya because she has a striking resemblance to his late wife. Mr. Modi is an elderly person and quite openly shows his feelings for Chhaya, but she never responds to any of his overtures. She senses his intentions and repulses him a few times.
After the loss of the house and the suicide of the friend, both Chhaya and Sudip lose all hope. But Sudip, who is portrayed as an ambitious, calculative person, and takes his last chance to save himself by asking Chhaya to marry her boss Mr. Modi, a millionaire and a heart patient. He takes the calculated risk that Mr. Modi would not live more than a couple of years and after his death they would inherit all his properties and live happily. This decision of Sudip is a very important part of the film, as it helps us to understand the complexities of both the characters.
Chhaya, spirited as she always was is aghast at his proposal and breaks all ties with Sudip. She takes some time to contemplate her situation, as she was living with her younger brother. She decides to marry her boss Mr. Modi, who is willing to help her brother with a scholarship to study abroad. Chhaya, like many middle-class girls, was conditioned to sacrifice. She marries Mr. Modi and tries to be a good housewife.
Sudip, on other hand is completely devastated by what he sees as Chhaya‘s betrayal, and becomes a recluse, resigned to his fate. He decides to leave the city. Mr. Modi, as it happens, is aware of the whole situation, and asks Sudip to take Chhaya along with him. But at the end Sudip decides to stay and fight back. He decides to move on in life without Chhaya.
Both Amol Palekar and Zarina Wahab delivered commendable performances, though one might think Amol Palekar is better in a seriocomic genre. Dr. Shreeram Lagoo was said to have been persuaded by Amol Palekar to be in this film and, what a composed performance he gave. He never went overboard even when he tried to seduce Chhaya in his office. In fact the pleasurable side of his character, the twinkle in his eyes, made it easy for us to be convinced of Chhaya‘s growing affection towards him. Their marriage doesn’t end up as a compromise or a bargain. The fact that Chhaya gradually becomes more attached to her husband and enjoys his undivided attention was quite evident. This odd couple’s warmth somehow touched the viewers too.
It would be impossible to talk about Gharonda and not discuss its music. Actually the music lingers long, after the movie is over. Jaidev can do this to you. In this movie the Jaidev- Gulzar duo was at their very best. Do Diwane by Runa Laila and Bhupinder with became a huge hit after this movie. Bhupinder’s Ek Akela is Shahar mein, almost the opposite of Do Diwane Shahar me, summarizes Sudip‘s mental status after the break-up. Alone, walking down the same footbridge where he and Chhaya had once dreamt of a home together. This bridge works as a perfect metaphor for their plight. Naqsh Lyallpuri wrote a single for this movie, Tumhe ho na ho, and almost stole the show. The feverish excitement of Runa Laila’s voice captures the essence of a new love.
The story of Gharonda is still relevant and a contemporary issue. Only different people play out the roles of Sudip and Chhaya!
Photo credit featured image: Abhinav Saxena
Photo credit: stephaniemonot (pixabay.com)