40 years of Aandhi (1975) and talent factors of director Gulzar

MUMBAI,ZIYA US SALAM: Gulzar’s film arrived amidst controversy. There were some whispers, some not-so-hushed allegations that the film was based on the life of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. A poster in South India declared, “See your Prime Minister on screen”. An advertisement in a Delhi daily called the film “the story of a great woman political leader in post-Independence India”.

A poster of the film.

The Prime Minister herself did not watch the film but felt compelled to ask two of her staff members to watch it before deciding whether it was fit for continued public screening or not. The staff members gave the film a clean chit and I.K. Gujral, who was the Information and Broadcasting minister when the film was shot, too liked what he saw. Gulzar himself insisted that there was no similarity between the lead character and the life of the PM.

Yet the rumour mills went into overdrive. Of course, the fact that the leading lady’s appearance was remarkably similar to that of the PM fuelled many a controversy. Suchitra Sen as the leading lady, Aarti, wore saris in the manner which reminded people of the PM. Her hair had a streak of silver, just like the PM. Aarti was quiet, graceful walked briskly, and in many ways, came across as an indomitable woman. The similarities were uncanny.

The decision to ban the film, however, came after it had had a run of around 20 weeks! It was caused at least partly by actions of the Opposition leaders in Gujarat who showed scenes of Aarti Devi smoking and occasionally drinking during their Assembly election campaign. The lines between fiction and fact got blurred. The film was banned. Gulzar was ordered to reshoot the heroine’s drinking and smoking scenes and emphasise that the film had no biographical elements. The filmmaker solved the problem by inserting a scene of the heroine standing in front of the photograph of Indira Gandhi and calling Indira her ideal!

However, before the ban there were problems concerning the release. Most distributors and exhibitors did not know how to project the film. Whether it was to be sold as a niche product for thinking audiences or a film for women, considering it was a heroine-oriented subjected? Or to just release it at any hall as yet another potboiler with super hit music by R.D. Burman? In the end, the film managed a decent run, its collections no doubt helped by the controversy surrounding the subject. Of course, songs like “Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa nahi” and “Iss modh se jaate hain” hit the popularity charts. Incidentally, it was during the shooting of the songs that Gulzar came across as a painter on the big screen. No dance moves, no need for a choreographer. Just a splendid interplay of light and shadow to capture the stillness of the moment, the profundity of the unsaid word.

Suchitra working with Gulzar was no less than a minor triumph for the filmmaker. A few years before J. Om Prakash prevailed upon him to speak to Suchitra for the role of Aarti in “Aandhi”, Gulzar had met her with the screenplay and story of a film to be directed by Sohanlal Kanwar. When the leading lady saw the screenplay she suggested changes which did not go down well with Gulzar. The film never got made. So Gulzar approached her with some trepidation for “Aandhi”. Suchitra though agreed to do the film without any changes to the script. It was to prove to be a masterstroke, as the film revolved around her. In the film, Aarti is shown as a political leader of great calibre; one, however, who is used by her father. Fighting all demons, she manages to carve out her own niche in a male-dominated world on her own terms, even leaving her husband and little daughter for larger political challenges. In between Gulzar, with his skilful handling, throws in poignant scenes of a woman torn between an ambitious father and a husband who has no lust or time for politics or its perks.

The film, however, was no smooth ride for anybody. The initial story, penned by Sachin Bhowmick, did not appeal to Gulzar. In came noted Hindi writer Kamleshwar. The film was based on his story. Kamleshwar penned a novel, “Kali Aandhi”, around the film. The novel marked quite a departure from the film though.

Now a little under 40 years after “Aandhi” was made, not many people miss “Kali Aandhi”. The big screen “Aandhi” though, continues to have repeat visitors on the small screen. The film is Suchitra Sen’s passport to acquaintance with the larger audience, a brilliant showcase of R.D. Burman’s versatile talents, a fine pointer to Sanjeev Kumar’s understated ways, a far cry from the days of “Sholay”. Above all, “Aandhi” is a director’s film. Gulzar is in sparkling form, at consummate ease handling a subject with obvious political overtones. Now, a summer breeze, now a gust of wind heralding the monsoon, now fresh and vulnerable like the early morning dew, “Aandhi” was better than its name.

One Response to 40 years of Aandhi (1975) and talent factors of director Gulzar

  1. 40 years of emergency: 4 Indian movies that suffered during the period
    40 years ago on this very day, the then prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi imposed emergency after honourable Supreme Court did not allow her to take part in parliament proceedings despite being an MP.

    Mrs. Gandhi took the drastic step, her government passed an ordinance stating the state is in danger, by a single stroke of the president’s pen, she took control of the entire country. India was turned into a dictatorial state from world’s largest democracy. It was unarguably the darkest chapter in modern Indian History.

    Apart from suspension of fundamental rights, extreme press censorship, the forcible sterilisation programme that was done under the garb of family planning, mass detainment of political agitators, the Indira Gandhi regime also wielded control on film industry, the government unnecessarily meddled in the affairs of censor board.

    Here is the list of four films that faced the wrath of emergency:

    Films on emergency

    1) Sholay: Even India’s magnum opus Sholay suffered due to emergency. The film’s release coincided with its declaration. In the last scene of the movie we see, Thakur BaLdev Singh is about to kill Gabbar, the police arrive and reminds him as a former police officer he should respect law should not kill Gabbar. After a moment’s hesitation, Thakur hands over Gabber. But this was not what director Ramesh Sippy had wanted. In the original print he showed the protagonist Thakur killing antagonist Gabbar as a poetic justice for latter’s crime. But to his dismay the censor board demanded a change in the climax in the interests of the rule of law as it was worried that depicting a former police officer as a vigilante would be dangerous at the time of the Emergency.


    2) Aandhi: This Sanjeev Kumar- Suchitra Sen starrer was banned during national emergency after it was alleged that the film was based on Indira Gandhi’s life and her relationship with her estranged husband. The ban further boosted the popularity of the film. However after humiliating defeat of Congress in 1977, Janata party Government cleared it and had it premiered on the state-run television channel.

    Kissa Kursi ka banned during emergency

    3) Kissa Kursi Ka: A political satire that was banned by the Congress government for lampooning the Emergency. The film made a mockery of Sanjay Gandhi auto-manufacturing plans (later established as Maruti Udyog in 1981), the existing stooge culture in the party with Indira Gandhi’s private secretary R.K. Dhawan, and Rukhsana Sultana heavily influencing her decision . The film was submitted to the Censor Board for certification on in April 1975. The master prints and all copies was lifted from the Censor Board office and burned by Sanjay Gandhi supporters. The movie was later remade with a different cast.

    Nasbandi banned during emergency

    4) Nasbandi: This 1978 film is a political spoof that portrayed the excesses of emergency esp. the compulsory sterilization programme, each of the characters is shown trying to find sterilization cases . The film directed by I. S. Johar starred duplicates of all popular heroes of the time. The film was banned after its release for showing the Indira Gandhi government in bad light. Later, however, the film achieved cult popularity via home video and satellite broadcast (the ban was lifted after the change of regime).

    If all this was not enough, the government also banned the songs of Kishore Kumar from All India Radio and Doordarshan because the singing legend had refused to perform at an Indian National Congress rally in Mumbai.