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Sharmila Tagore in Mausam

Dinesh Raheja

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Twenty-seven years ago, Gulzar dared to break the rules about man-woman relationships on the Hindi film screen with Mausam. With a sensitive, non-judgemental eye, he delved into a knottily tangled relationship between a crusty (at times) old bachelor and a young prostitute.

At a time when Hindi film's umpteen fallen angels had their mouths washed out with soap if they didn't speak in a refined argot, this prostitute spouted starkly realistic, rough and ready language.

Mausam also underscores the tantalising ambiguity prevalent in many associations --- after all, a bond involving two people is subject to their individual approach to the relationship.
Producer Director Music Director Stars
 P Mallikarjuna Rao  Gulzar  Madan Mohan  Sharmila Tagore, Sanjeev Kumar,
 Dina Pathak

In the opening frame, the film's nostalgia-evoking signature song, Dil dhoondhta hai phir wohi fursat ke raat din plays in the background as a white Mercedes weaves its way up the Darjeeling hills. The lyrics suggest that a Gulzar-like flashback is raring to make an appearance. Sure enough, after establishing the fact that Amarnath (Sanjeev Kumar) is a reputed surgeon on a holiday, the film plunges into a series of flashbacks.

Amarnath, we learn, had been to this bucolic haven eons ago. He had a shortlived affair with the daughter (Sharmila Tagore) of a vaid (Om Shivpuri). Amarnath had promised marriage on his return from the city but circumstances led to his failure to live upto it.

A contrite Amarnath now turns sleuth and tries to reconstruct the aftermath of his desertion. He finds out that by a ironic quirk of fate, Chanda has died just a few months ago. In a series of flashbacks, he further learns that Chanda had, for long, desperately clung on to his stethoscope, the fake ivory necklace he had gifted her, and the memories he had left behind with a vain hope.

Married off to a lame man, Chanda had lost her husband and her sanity in quick succession. And her daughter Kajli (Sharmila Tagore again), after being molested by Chanda's brother-in-law, ended up at a brothel.

Desperate to make amends, Amarnath tracks Kajli down to her brothel. When he anonymously but paternally expresses his affection, a bitter Kajli sends him scurrying off after hurling a series of expletives at him.

Amarnath decides to pose as a customer and pays the madam (Dina Pathak) for keeping Kajli at home with him. Kajli is initially resentful when Amarnath assumes the mantle of a self-appointed Pygmalion. When he asks her to wear demure saris instead of the brazen blouses and petticoats, she snappily retorts that she won't let him deduct the clothes' cost from her professional fees.
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Amarnath's attempts to reunite Kajli with her one-time boyfriend, while failing to fructify, go a long way in helping to thaw her attitude towards him. She reveals to Amarnath that she hates the doctor responsible for destroying her mother. Kajli now stops smoking, makes truce with the cook (Agha) and veers towards God and a better life.

Living with Kajli fuels Amarnath's memories of her dead mother when she unconsciously imitates some of her mother's traits and echoes her native advice: "Kaan mat khujao, zeharbaad ho jaata hai (Don't scratch your ears, or else it will get infected)."

But Amarnath views Kajli as a daughter while she unwittingly starts to perceive him as the aashiq mizaz man who could make her feel like a complete and respectable woman. Desperate to win his affection, Kajli even tries to seduce him with a raunchy song but is spurned by a disgusted Amarnath.

Finally, Amarnath, confronts Kajli with the truth. Kajli is devastated.

Will Kajli find it within herself to forgive the man whom she holds responsible for her fall from grace as well as her redemption?

The film's central relationship is strewn with emotional landmines. Gulzar handles the theme with care without either character losing your sympathy. Gulzar's penchant for flashbacks lends an aura of intrigue and discovery.

His dialogues are charged with a strong streak of cauterising candour.

Spiffy humour abounds too, especially in the breezy romance between the young Sanjeev and Sharmila where a walking stick that belongs to Sharmila's father assumes the stature of a cameo player. Sanjeev is reluctant to return the chhadi, while Sharmila tries everything in the book to claim it back.
Famous songs from Mausam
  Song  Singers
  Dil dhoondhta hai  Bhupinder
  Chhadi re chhadi  Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi
  Dil dhoondhta hai  Lata Mangeshkar
  Mere ishq mein  Asha Bhosle
  Ruke ruke se kadam  Lata Mangeshkar

Sharmila Tagore tears into her role with gusto spewing fire and brimstone as the shrewish prostitute. At the same time, she suffuses her character with aching tenderness. When she baldly describes her parents as, "Baap langda tha, maa pagal (Father was a cripple, Mother was a nut)," to shut up an inquisitive Sanjeev, you can feel the pent-up frustration and anger.

In the role of the mother, she is endearingly naive in the young portions and pithily poignant while capturing the forlorn cheerfulness of a mentally-imbalanced woman.

Sanjeev Kumar gives a masterfully understated performance -- his surface serenity is disturbed by emotions that ripple on his face, fleetingly yet evocatively. Despite playing a flawed human being, a rare entity in Hindi films, the air of sympathy and understanding that Sanjeev exudes lends a halo to his character.

The tenderness with which he gazes at Sharmila before driving off with her in the climax is a moment to treasure.

Famous Dialogue:
* Dina Pathak : "Yeh bhed-bakriyon ki mandi nahee, yahan meri betiyan rehti hain. Tum log bech sakte ho apni betiyan, main nahee."

* Sanjeev Kumar: "Peeche mudke dekhne ke liye hum dono ke paas kuch bhi nahi hai."

*It was Sharmila's last hurrah as a leading actress. She won the National Award for her performance but ironically lost the Filmfare Award to Raakhee Gulzar for her performance in Tapasya that year.

*Gulzar won Filmfare's Best Director Award while producer P Mallikaarjuna Rao took home the Best Film Award.

*Sanjeev Kumar was the hero with whom Gulzar did the maximum films -- Koshish, Parichay, Mausam, Aandhi, Angoor and Namkeen.

*I have a friend who says that she once believed she could be perennially happy if she got to hear Dil dhoondta hai once every day.

* The Madan Mohan-Lata combination once again proved to be aural ambrosia. However, Madan Mohan passed away in 1975 and didn't live to benefit from the film. After Madan Mohan's death, Salil Chowdhury was roped in to provide the background music.

* Bhupinder's rich and throaty voice makes you bemoan the inability of the industry to capably harness highly individualistic talents.

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