It was a train journey from Vadodara to Mumbai. I watched a couple staring at a mobile screen and making strange gestures at it. There was a guy on the screen reciprocating with similar sign language. This middle-aged speech-and-hearing-impaired couple were elated at communicating with this guy and the glow on their faces indicated that they marveled at the technology of connecting with one’s loved ones. Or perhaps I felt so.
Even after this Skype chat, the couple went on ‘talking’ to each other, while the other ‘normal’ co-passengers sat idly wearing a bored expression, despite being with their loved ones. This dichotomy between ‘special’ and ‘normal’ people reminded me of the film, Koshish, a most underrated gem of a film written and directed by Gulzar.
Koshish is a film that encapsulates the trials and travails of a speech-and-hearing-impaired couple in bringing up their child. For me, Koshish will always be the film with the scene of a child crying in the middle of the night while the parents can’t hear him. Despite delving into a ‘serious’ subject, Koshish has its share of light moments, especially the prank scene that involves Dilip Kumar in a cameo role, taking a dig at his low-toned dialogue delivery.
Saibal Chatterjee, in his book, Echoes & Eloquences: The Life and Cinema of Gulzar reveals: “Gulzar had seen the [original Japanese] film during the first-ever International Film Festival of India in Mumbai way back in 1952. He had just arrived in the city and had no plans yet of joining the film industry. But the Japanese film stayed in his mind because of an objection that he had as a progressive writer to its basic premise that the physically challenged were better off living in segregated shells. Says Gulzar: ‘I thought the film was extremely reactionary. Why should people with disabilities stay isolated from the rest of the society?’”
The idea was obviously to show that physically challenged people could lead a normal life despite all the obvious odds that they face.
The couple, despite their disabilities and the pressures of an insensitive society, spares no effort to give their son as normal a childhood as possible.
Many industry seniors felt that the film would be too much of a risk. Men like lyricist Kaifi Azmi, music composer Madan Mohan and director Chetan Anand made no bones about their misgivings. “Silent film banaane ka kya matlab hai?”
After about a month of waiting, Gulzar asked NC Sippy whether he could make the film for another producer if he had doubts about its viability. Gulzar said: “I have actors, music and sets. If I still can’t convey a scene to the audience, what kind of filmmaker am I?”
Impressed with Gulzar’s unrelenting spirit and confidence, Sippy asked him to go ahead. The script was ready, and Gulzar now needed the actors to make his idea work on screen. Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri were already on his mind. A Delhi stage actor Om Shivpuri, who had been brought in specifically for Gulzar’s next film, Achanak, was cast in the role of the blind man in Koshish. Ironically, it was the initially skeptical Madan Mohan who composed the music for Koshish.
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The film worked primarily because of the outstanding performances by Sanjeev and Jaya. “They improved upon my scenes,” says Gulzar. That is saying a lot because Gulzar is a filmmaker who is very particular about his scenes, the pauses, the spaces. “But I could bank upon Sanjeev and Jaya to add a new dimension to each of my scenes,” he says. “Jaya was such a natural. She would effortlessly internalise any character that she was called upon to play.”
Beginning on a note that unambiguously underscored the difference between the disabled and normal people, Koshish had a happy ending. By the end of the film, it is the normal people who come across as crippled.
Well, this was quite akin to the scenario I had noticed in the train, where the ‘abnormal’ couple conversed with each other while the ‘normal’ people were silent.
It celebrates a relationship which transcends beyond words and is believable to the core, something which recent films like Kaabil fail to do, with a perfect-looking lead pair with not a single hair strand out of place.
Gulzar’s Koshish reminds me of the Nietzsche quote:
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”