The relationship between husband and wife has inspired many filmmakers, but seldom has anyone been able to capture the nuances, complexities, and intimacy the way Basu Bhattacharya achieves in Avishkaar (1974). Rajesh Khanna, the ‘first superstar of Indian cinema’, who starred in 15 solo consecutive hits between 1969-1971 (a record unbroken till date), sheds his trademark mannerisms for this gem of a film and lets the actor in him to supersede the superstar.
A film based on urban marital discord, Avishkaar was entirely shot in the house of the director and his then wife, Rinki Bhattacharya. Sanjeev Kumar was the original choice for the film, but on Sharmila Tagore’s insistence, Rajesh Khanna was offered the role. At that time, Khanna was reckoned as a phenomenon and a role that required him to shed his superstar image was quite a risky affair. Even director Bhattacharya hadn’t imagined he’d cast a big star of his calibre for such a low-budget project. But Khanna surprised everyone with his passion for performing.
The film is about Amar (Khanna) and Mansi (Tagore). On their second wedding anniversary, Amar, an ad man, decides to watch a film with his colleague Rita. The colleague indulges in a debate on the sanctity and necessity of marriage, which eventually morphs into a movie theatre, where she holds his hands while watching the film. The intimacy irks Amar and he excuses himself. On reaching home, he finds his friend Sunil talking to his wife and the conversation compels him to throw away the flowers he’d brought for his wife and feign a headache.
What transpires next is a series of flashbacks over one night. These flashbacks chronicle the couple’s initial courtship days, Amar’s clash with Mansi’s father, their cab ride on their first wedding anniversary, their child and the memories that seemed to have cut short by ego clashes and differences in their temperaments. Despite assuring a happy ending, the film leaves you with umpteen questions to ponder.
The flashback scenes, especially of the forest and a sunrise scene, offer you insights into a married couple’s life and their musings on the changing dynamics of a relationship. The film heavily relies upon conversations. It ‘speaks’ more rather than ‘does’, which is quite a departure from an ideal screenplay, almost making it seem like a play.
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The original characters
In his book, Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna, author Gautam Chintamani shares: “Besides the house, a lot of things about Avishkaar were inspired from Basu’s own life. Rinki says: Sharmila wore my saris and the screenplay was largely Basu’s and my life. Like Amar and Mansi, Basu and Rinki were also going through a rough patch and, ironically while fictionalised events inspired by their life found a happy resolution, Basu and Rinki weren’t so lucky. Rinki remembers how her arguments with Basu, when the camera wasn’t rolling, would be turned into scenes for the film and it reached a stage where Basu simply ended up writing their real lives into the screenplay.
Watching Khanna and Sharmila together in Avishkaar is almost like watching a couple you know fall apart right in front of your eyes. The actors were not just extremely comfortable with each other but also shared a mutual fondness, one of the reasons why Sharmila recommended Khanna for the film. Khanna liked the role so much that he didn’t bother about his fee and gladly accepted whatever the production could spare. From the time he landed on the sets, Khanna delivered better than Basu’s expectations and felt so much at ease that he started considering Basu and Rinki his friends. Khanna’s performance in Avishkaar remains one of his most heartfelt and fetched him his third, and final, Filmfare best actor award and almost got him the best actor citation at the national film awards.”
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Holding up a mirror
The ideal way of savouring Avishkaar is on a lazy Sunday afternoon, over tea with your spouse. The scenes are shockingly real and there’s no way a couple cannot relate to the film. Chances are you just might end up mulling over ‘before marriage’ and ‘after marriage’ stages, wondering where the magic got lost. The furniture used in the film is laced with mirrors, perhaps a visual metaphor for introspection, making the entire experience of watching this film like looking within.