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'40 Years On, Saaransh Is Still Relevant'

May 29, 2024 15:24 IST

'It hasn't wrinkled because truth doesn't wrinkle. It's like fire; it burns every time you touch it.'

IMAGE: Anupam Kher, Rohini Hattangadi and Soni Razdan in Saaransh .

As Saaransh completes 40 years, its director Mahesh Bhatt recalls events associated with his masterpiece in this conversation with Subhash K Jha.

"Sanjeev Kumar is lying on the floor, curled up like a man in excruciating pain. A howl emanates from his mouth, 'Mahesh!' ....." Bhattsaab, as his many disciples in the film industry call him, remembers.

What Saaransh did was to touch the human experience that has been coursing through the human heart since the dawn of time.

All that man loves, he will one day part with.

The anguish of losing your loved ones suddenly, and how one copes with that irreparable loss with dignity and grace, without resorting to the tales that religion has crafted to cushion man from the finality of death, is what the film grapples with.

In the middle-class abode of Shivaji Park, the characters of Anupam Kher and Rohini Hattangadi, playing B V Pradhan and Parvati, arrive at that irrefutable truth.

B V Pradhan says, touching the flowers that have bloomed from the ashes of his son in the children's park where he used to play as a child and where the father scattered the ashes, 'Life is a stream which has no full stop.'

Saaransh deals squarely with the theme of loss and gives you only one recipe: Find a co-traveller with whom you can journey through life. At the end of it all, aren't we all just seeing each other home?


IMAGE: Anupam Kher in Saaransh.

I have the most amazing memories of the Rajshri doyen Tarachand Barjatya.

I had gone with Saaransh to the NFDC, set up to help meaningful cinema. But they literally shut the door on my face saying, 'Baad mein aaiye.' I was heartbroken.

I realised NFDC was no different from the other producers in the industry.

No matter who the producer, priority is given to stars and not to the script.

Dejected at being rejected, a miracle happened I was traveling back from the NFDC office by bus when I saw the Rajshri banner in Prabhadevi (south central Mumbai). I walked into their office.

Raj Babu (Tarachand Barjatya's son, Sooraj Barjatya's father) was there. I pitched him the story of Saraansh and he said yes.

Much later I asked him what made him say yes to me. He said, 'I saw a kind of unbridled passion in you. It was palpable in your every pore. We bought your hunger.'

For decades they've made films that challenge mass-consumption Bollywood products.

I've never seen a producer being more courageous than the Barjatyas. They agreed to produce Saraansh although it debunked the entire theory of reincarnation.

I cannot forget that Tarachandji's son Raj Barjatya took on his father only once in his life, and that was to convince the doyen to produce my film Saaransh.

You see, Saaransh attacked the theory of reincarnation. Sethji (Tarachand Barjatya) was closely associated with the Aurobindo Ashram. He strongly believed in reincarnation.

Saaransh dared to question afterlife. Sethji wanted the theory of reincarnation not to be questioned. I wasn't willing to make disastrous compromises.

It was Raj Babu who convinced Sethji. Raj Babu took a position opposite to his father. Considering I was a nobody then, I thought that was exceptional.

IMAGE: Anupam Kher and Rohini Hattangadi in Saaransh.

The most memorable moment from the Saaransh experience was the response from Sanjeev Kumar who was the first choice for Saaransh.

I vividly remember that evening forty years ago when Sanjeev Kumar saw Saaransh. ....

The screening of Saaransh comes to an end. Anupam Kher and I are standing outside the Rajshri preview theatre.

Sanjeev Kumar has just watched the film. As the music soars and the movie ends, after a pause, I hear an animal wail emanating from the auditorium.

Astounded by what could have happened, Anupam and I run into the preview hall, and what we see takes our breath away. Sanjeev is lying on the floor, curled up like a man in excruciating pain.

A howl emanates from his mouth, "Mahesh!" He reaches out to me, and I go up to him, kneeling down to hold his hand. Hugging me, he begins to sob.

Anupam, a newcomer who has made his debut film, is flabbergasted by Sanjeev Bhai's response.

We have been watching previews of Saaransh, which has received phenomenal pre-release responses from critics and professionals in the trade. But nothing matches this.

Sanjeev Kumar then drives us to his apartment opposite Khar Gymkhana (north west Mumbai), serves us VAT 69, and says something that Anupam and I will never forget: "I can list it among the top ten films I have seen in my life, including international films."

Then, looking at Anupam, he adds, "I couldn't have played this role the way this boy has played it. He was made to play this role. He was born to play this role."

The irony is that when I received the Filmfare award for Saaransh -- Best Story or something -- it was he who gave me the award.

And that was the last time I laid my eyes on Sanjeev Bhai.

IMAGE: Anupam Kher and Suhas Bhalekar in Saaransh.

Saaransh is an enduring classic. Forty years on, it has not lost its relevance. It hasn't wrinkled because truth doesn't wrinkle. It's like fire; it burns every time you touch it.

We made this film with great passion and with the most motivated team I have ever worked with.

Without Mr Rajkumar Barjatya and Rajshri Productions, who gave me the greatest support in my career, this film would not have been possible.