Saturday, August 16, 2008

Yaadein

When an adulterous husband finds out that his wife and kids have left him for good, he undergoes pangs of guilt, gets depressed and in a mentally unstable condition attempts to kill himself, only to be saved just in time by the return of the dutiful wife. Needless to say, there is a family reunion.

There is nothing in this plot line to suggest that a film based on it would be different from the rest of the films that the formula based mainstream Indian film industry churns out day in and out. An erroneous husband is tamed; the institution of marriage is eventually upheld. The lady in question is a typical understanding ‘Bharathiya Naari’, who despite being ill-treated, loves her husband, takes care of her family and performs her household duties to perfection. This could well have been one of those ‘sentiment’ oriented ‘weepy kerchief films’ that the South Indian Film Industry is so adept with!

For some reason or the other, I missed watching ‘Yaadein’ – the Hindi film made on this plot line, for over twenty years – i.e. ever since I came to know that such a movie existed. It was only last week that I could watch it, thanks to a DVD copy of the film that I chanced upon. My keenness to watch Yaadein stemmed from only one fact - it boasts itself of being the ‘world’s first one actor movie’, as it is put in the titles.

How could the director have managed this? It is relatively easy in theater for a solo actor to communicate to an audience; the means adopted is soliloquies – instances where a person talks loudly to himself, not addressing anyone in particular. Sunil Dutt, the producer, director and the solo actor of ‘Yaadein’, does takes recourse to this device, quite often in the film. At times he is even seen talking to innate objects like a wall painting or a bronze statue.

Phone conversations where you hear the other person’s voice is another way of letting the audience know what is in the character’s mind. We do come to know that Anil Mehra, the main character of the film, has an affair with another woman, that he is anxious of his wife’s absence in the house and that his friends think that his wife is a model for all the other married women in the world – all through sequences that have phone conversations.

Anil Mehra misses his wife. A sure shot method of communicating this to an audience is to ask the character to get hold of a friend and confess to him through a dialogue as to how lonely he is. But as a filmmaker if you have closed down that option and you have already over used the soliloquies, the next obvious thing to do is to give the character some actions that may suggest that he is missing his wife.

Thus we have Anil Mehra looking at a hair pin that his wife used, stare at it with longing eyes in different angles, feel it with his chin and emotionally hold it close to his lips. Apart from hairpin, he repeats the same routine with her dress, her bed, her musical instrument, his children’s toys etc… We also see him dramatically hold his head, face and chin in various places of the house – on the table, near the stairs, in the balcony, near the bed etc…to various emotional background music pieces.

To be honest your first reaction when you see any of these is ‘Oh god, not again!’ But just when we start thinking that the director is making life easy for himself by using such easy and obvious devices for his solo character to communicate with his audience, within the contrast filled black and white roving images of Ramchandra, the language begins to get bolder, stranger and out of the box!

‘Yaadein’ happens within a span of one rainy dark night where Anil Mehra remembers the events of his life that has led to the situation that he is presently in. Obviously there are flashbacks where we hear conversations that he has had with his wife, in happier times. In the initial part of the film we hear only the dialogues - voices of himself, his wife and children.

But gradually, the film starts going visually into the past. We actually see what Anil Mehra is thinking – the only difference being that we don’t see the rest of the characters. The camera itself takes the point of view of the wife or the kids. So, half the film we have the character played by Sunil Dutt speaking to and having dialogues with the camera, which now has become a character. The gaze of the camera is normally the gaze of the audience. So in effect, the audience becomes the characters, thus its involvement in the story / film is ensured.

When the hero and the heroine of the film first meet over a cup of coffee, Mario Miranda’s cartoons are used to establish the atmosphere in the coffee shop and the characters in it. Over cartoon drawings of various couples sitting in various tables, we hear their respective interactions through dialogues on the sound track.

The only live character in the entire sequence is the one played by Sunil Dutt. Anil Mehra enters the coffee shop, sits in front of the heroine, gets bullied by her brother, and finally even woes her – all this without the face of the heroine or her brother be seen. And did I hear somebody say that mixing still cartoons with live characters was the prerogative of a few music channels?

Further, during certain other times, especially in romantic situations, the director extends this logic when we see Anil Mehra hugging a portrait of a lady drawn on a glass pane. The portrait is supposed to represent his wife! We hear the wife’s dialogues as we see the portrait. Taken out of its context, if I had to tell someone that ‘Yaadein’ had many such sequences, it is possible that it would sound bizarre and even probably funny.

But seen within the context of the rest of the techniques used in the film, it seems perfectly logical that the hero hugs a glass pane that has a lady’s drawing on it! And the glass pane even moves a couple of inches back when Priya, the wife’s character is not in a mood for any physical intimacy and moves forward when she is! And we do believe that Anil Mehra and Priya are having an intimate moment between themselves!

If you are not awed or amused or shaken by the above sequences, then what follows in the film surely make you so! As the film progresses, we see numerous examples of the stubborn refusal by the director to show any other character in the film apart from its hero, in flesh and blood - the immediate one being a sequence where Anil Mehra decides to throw a party in his house to celebrate the birth of his son.

Believe it or not, in this sequence balloons are used in lieu of real people. These balloons have human faces painted on them and they talk with each other through dialogues that we hear in the sound track! Anil Mehra interacts with them as if he is interacting with live people. A lady balloon serves drinks, yet another is pissed drunk on the sofa, and a few more flirt with each other. But the effect - we really feel that a messy party is on. The conviction in which the filmmaker has carried this off, the suspension of disbelief is complete.

In a sense it is surreal – like the scene just before the climax where Anil Mehra is confronted by the suddenly menacing looking noisy toy sets. In earlier times he used to play with the same toys with his children, but now in the true expressionist sense, they have returned to haunt him – some of them even hang in front of him, threaten him, follow him and block his way, wherever he goes.

After having heard and felt the character Priya, I was longing to see her in flesh and blood, at least in the end when it became obvious that she is going to return to her house to forgive her husband. Maybe my mind made unfair connections with another film of the yesteryears - ‘Jagthe Raho’, where the only time we see a heroine (Nargis), is in the song sequence in the climax.

The dubbing of Priya in ‘Yaadein’ was indeed done by Nargis, but the closest that one came to see her live was when her shadow is shown rescuing the hero from the jaws of death. The sequence is shot in silhouette, the action of which happens on the other side of a backlit white cloth.

A thought did cross my mind at this point of time. What difference would it have made if instead of a live shadow, we had seen the real Nargis rescuing Sunil Dutt? Or for that matter, what difference would it have made to the film if instead of using all those techniques to hide the other actors, the director actually showed them?

Sunil Dutt could as well have done so, but choose not to because it was a creative option that he and his team had exercised. In filmmaking, most of us are forced to find creative solutions to issues that arise from circumstances upon which we do not have a control. But I would guess that Sunil Dutt had the means to make this film into a scale that is much larger than what it is now, but choose not to.

I may think twice before using a balloon or a drawing on a glass pane and parade them as real characters in any of my films, even as a spoof. I am also not in tangent with the high intensity emotional pitch of the film, the melodramatic externalized acting of its only actor, the stereotype characters portrayed in it – especially that of Priya who has no identity of her own apart from being a dutiful wife and a loving mother.

It seems odd to me that the very first thing she does when she comes back is to plead her husband to forgive her, for she thinks that she has made a big mistake by walking out of her house / marriage - never mind that it is the husband who has broken his promises and not her! This regressive world view puts one off.

But ‘Yaadein’ is worth the view - what excites me is its director’s consistent creative experimentation with the cinematic tools that he has under him and his willingness to tread the path of the unknown.

It is often said that the Film Industry, unlike other industries, lacks a Research & Development (R&D) section to it – a section that can look ahead, develop new techniques and products. But I would like to believe that if there was any such attempt in the Indian Film industry in the past or present, this is it.

This article is published on the site Upperstall