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Semeen Ali
Gulzar’s Aandhi
Semeen Ali

Gulzar’s Aandhi | Film fiction | Saba Mahmood Bashir |
Harper Collins. 2019 | ISBN: 978-93-5302-508-3 | Pp 128 | 299

A love story of two contrasting personalities

Aandhi ki tarah ud kar, ek raah guzarti hai…

The book is a commentary on one of the finest films of its time and this review will try to do justice to the book that has brought together different themes and elements which make this film a unique one. The two dominant strands that stand out are – one narrates a story of two individuals with strong personalities while the other strand takes a look at the politics that ruled the country.

The film was based on a story written by Hindi writer, Kamleshwar. While the film has had its share of controversies as well as was briefly banned for the protagonist’s resemblance to the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi; the chronicler of this book- Bashir, informs her readers that the film was not a political one. There remains a constant struggle between patriarchal and individualistic values in the film helmed by the two protagonists of the story.  

The book takes us back to the time between 26 June 1975 to 21 March 1977 when Emergency was declared and the chaos that followed. With such a political backdrop, the film Aandhi was released. Quoting an extract from William Mazzarella’s book – Censorium: Cinema and the Open Edge of Mass Publicity, talks about the censorship in cinema.

“ …And what happens to political authority when it can no longer reside in the physical body of a singular sovereign and has to find its feet in the intimately anonymous space of mass publicity?”

If one looks back at 1970s, the era was associated with the image of an angry young man. Every era has a face attached to it- an identity that is taken from the pulse of the society and serves as a representative to a certain extent of what people feel and imagine. If there was socialism in the 1950s and romance in the 1960s, the 70s were distinctly marked by growing disillusionment of the public with those in power. The book gives, keeping this backdrop in mind, a textual analysis of the film; explaining with the help of key dialogues that are scattered within the film of the essence of various social, political changes that marked that decade. Also interesting to note is the reach of the cinema and its impact on lower and middle classes during the 1970s and the 1980s. As the book points out through examples from the film- the conflict of ideologies is apparent in every frame of the film. As Partha Chatterjee in his essay, Indian Cinema: Then and Now observes that cinema is a fair indicator of a nation’s psyche. What stands out in Aandhi is a beautiful balance between these two dominant themes- of politics and of love- neither of them overrides the other and Gulzar, the filmmaker balances both these elements in the film with ease. The fragile political situation of the country turns into a backdrop for the central plot, a love story. Bashir briefly touches upon the repository of Gulzar’s work bringing to one’s attention Gulzar’s oeuvre in film making. With having directed seventeen films, he has written the stories and many a time adapted stories from Indian literature. The book gives a detailed description of the films that were made by Gulzar and for a lover or a student of Indian cinema, this insight is a much needed and a helpful one. The motive that runs predominantly in Gulzar’s films is to bring to light the changes that have come about in the socio-political fabric of the country.

Aandhi is a love story of two contrasting personalities. With the help of flashbacks, Gulzar brings forth the differences in opinions of these two people with regards to the various issues that are experienced by the married couple and as the story unfolds, it shows the slow maturation of the two from the head strong personalities that they once were.

One of my favourite chapters in this book is on the relevance of music and poetry in Indian cinema with a focus on poetry of Gulzar that is translated into songs of this film. The chapter looks at each song in the film, giving the backdrop against which a song gains relevance as well as the beautiful compositions that bind the film together and provided the emotional intensity that the film asked for. What is interesting to note is that the male protagonist of the film is a poet as well who pens a poem during his courtship time –

‘Aao tumko utha loon kandhon par
Tum uchchak kar shareer hothon se
Choom lena ye chaand ka maatha
Aaj ki raat dekha na tumne
Kaise chup chup ke kohniyon ke bal
Chaand itna kareeb aaya hai.’

The dialogues in this film have a lyrical tilt to them and make this film an endearing one. As Bashir describes the film – “…Aandhi can be considered to be a perfect example of intellectually stimulating cinema marrying mass appeal through poetry.” The book dedicates a chapter to the characters in the film and talks about the real/reel characters that came together to become a part of this film. Another chapter is dedicated to the language that has been used in the film and brings forth the equation that cinema shares with the language of the common man and the depth to which that language has seeped into cinema. How the changing nature of language is reflected in the films that stand as representatives of those times. Towards the end of the book, the author has included an interview with Gulzar discussing his film making; how Aandhi came into existence – the struggles, the trials that as a director he had to go through as well as the language used for dialogues and the songs. The chapters that create this book are all brought together in this interview with Gulzar. The interview gives an insight to the mind of a poet who believes in contradictions be it in his poetry or be it when he becomes a film maker – “A man needs to be given a contradiction so that he can prove a point. The truth only makes sense when you have proven wrong something that you believe is wrong. That is the only way to prove the truth.”

Even when it comes to expressing one’s emotions, a line be it in a book or on the screen will mean nothing if it does not carry that emotion. Words are defined by the emotion they carry else they are meaningless. The book pays attention to this and brings out the emotions that are tied up with every scene and every dialogue and every line in the songs of this film. Aandhi will remain one of those films that effortlessly unravelled the layers of a complex relationship and still remain a relevant film for the times that we breathe in.

Iss mod se jaate hain
Kuchh sust qadam raste, kuchh tez qadam raahe…


Issue 85 (May-Jun 2019)

Book Reviews
  • Atreya Sarma U: ‘Thrills & Chills
  • Basudhara Roy: ‘Making of the Indian Muse – Context and Perspectives in Indian Poetry in English
  • Debasish Mishra: ‘Mehr – A Love Story
  • Jindagi Kumari: ‘the Origins of Dislike
  • Lakshmi Kannan: ‘A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There
  • Priyadarshi Patnaik: ‘Monsoon Feelings – A History of Emotions in the Rain
  • Robert Maddox-Harle: ‘Intersections – Visual, Verbal
  • Semeen Ali: ‘Gulzar’s Aandhi