The Film Corner is a new series on InPEC by Yayaati Joshi. Yayaati is a blogger and a short story writer whose work can be found here and in his book, ‘The Recluse and the Rag Picker’. He specialises on cinema of all kinds including commercial, arthouse and foreign films. This collection of film essays looks at the nature of film in society and the purposes that it serves. In the first of these Yayaati analyses Gulzar’s 1971 movie, Mere Apne.
By Yayaati Joshi, 22nd June, 2012.
Long before Omkara introduced us to the manipulative, jealousy infested and gun waving antics of student politics, Gulzar, back in 1971, had made a film on a similar subject. This film, called, Mere Apne, a rather ill-assorted title for a film that deals with student politics, had the two macho men of that age Vinod Khanna, and Shatrughan Sinha, pitted against each other as (student) political rivals. The film was released at a time when the appetite of the audience had not been whetted for the out and out action films, where the likes of Amitabh Bachhan or Dharmendra would bash up goons, either out of animosity, or pure rage against a goonda upstart. This was the time of the long locked “heroes”, proposing to the “heroines”, crooning romantic verses to woo the women. But, at the same time, a film in Bengali cinema was garnering appreciation for being daring enough to tread the less chosen path. The film, called Apanjan, was remade as Mere Apne.
Filmmakers, now or back in the 70s, have a persistent, and somewhat sub conscious desire of overloading the character with quirks and foibles-character trademarks, so to say. The result of this is the creation of extremes-either the character is pious, principled and morally upright, or he is flawed, maladjusted and angst-effected. But in Mere Apne, Gulzar created characters that looked real-like the innately flawed human beings one would come across every now and then. It is the assortment of qualities and shortcomings that makes a man-and the characters in the film, exhibit, to a reasonable degree, both. Vinod Khanna’s character, brutish in appearance has a soft touch to his side too-he allows an old lady, played by Meena Kumari, to stay with him-after he has verbally roughened up her relatives who take her for granted and treat her as a maid.
The film has several themes to it, and at the time when it was released, the interpretations could have been variegated. The most obvious, and the palpable thematic inference that one could draw would be that of the eventual fate misguided and misled youth, who take shelter in the metaphorical havens that are created by politicians. (Interestingly, politicians always have been synonymous with criminals/wrongdoers). Vinod Khanna’s character, Shyam, after being jilted, starts a gang and uses his muscle power to do what he couldn’t have done otherwise-gain respect. Chaino, played by Shatughan Sinha, is a cruder version of Shyam-he has all the shortcomings of Shyam, but none of the qualities. Chaino, in a way is the “villain” of the film, which has many morally compromised stances in its plot. The film warns, in a way, the consequences of “wrongdoing”. This wrongdoing, seemingly justified from the youth’s perspective-is shunned by the film-in a subtle way.
The other theme, the one that gets overshadowed by the rivalry and the gung-ho of the gangs is that of motherly pacifism, as depicted by Anandi, Meena Kumari’s character. A widow, who has seen more facets of life than the rebellious kids who shelter her, knows better than to be instigated by circumstances. Fondly called “naani-maa” (maternal grandmother) by the gang member, she understands the men more than they understand themselves. Her wisdom-the result of aging and life’s experience, is ignored by the careless youths, when she urges them not to get entangled in the murky world of politics. Her role is that of the careworn mother, who is unhappy to see the sibling rivalry take ugly proportions.
The film ends, as discussed, without any direct in-your-face ‘moral of the story’ tactics. The youth’s only respite was their “naani-maa”. She dies as the trigger of a gun is accidentally pulled in a fight. With that, the mélange of regret, poignancy and anger is exhibited by the characters. One would have expected the film to carry on after this-showing how the characters have now reformed, and once in a while they still meet to reminisce the adages of their motherly figure, for this sort of an ending, befits the emotion engorged Bollywood film. But the film ends at this point, making us wonder what happens to characters after this. Do they still continue with their lust for power? What becomes of them eventually? But this, apparently, is the hallmark of a moral story-it is left to the listener to decide what happens to the characters. They may reform, or they may sink further into the abyss.
As a viewer, though, one can only get delighted to see the film-despite its sombre conclusion. That is perhaps the single most important purpose of cinema.