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Moving On… an introspection through Gulzar’s Ijaazat

My friend is going through a difficult phase in her five-year relationship. The lady and her lover have decided to call it quits. Thanks to her egotistic father, and of course the man, who couldn’t muster up enough courage to walk away with his sweetheart, my dear friend is in the doldrums. We’ve been counselling her to move on, simply because she deserves a lot better. But, moving on, she says, is easier said than done…

Mahendra in Gulzar’s Ijaazat is tormented by a similar predicament. Straddling between his past love and his current responsibility, Mahendra is torn between right and wrong, and is a bit selfish sometimes. In the process, he is neither just to Sudha, his wife, nor is he able to shun his marriage and return to Maya, his sweetheart. On the face, this triangle seem very concrete, but the edges are deceivingly blurred. Such is the complexity of this 1987 drama. Based on Subodh Ghosh’s Jotugriha, this is a contorted take on human relationships that Gulzar presents with a poetic flair…

Shouldered by an eclectic cast of Naseeruddin Shah, Rekha and Anuradha Patel, this film needs pondering. Shah is an established photographer who is unable to tell his grandfather that he will not be able to marry the girl he is engaged to. Sudha, that girl, is a conventional woman. She helps Mahendra (Shah) with sensible solutions because she knows that marrying out of compulsion would be sheer injustice. Love and faith, the basic ingredients of a blissful marriage, is important to her…

Mahendra goes to fetch Maya to meet his grandfather (Shammi Kapoor in a tight cameo) but his sweetheart has left uninformed. Unable to convince his guardian, Mahendra caves in and marries Sudha. Three lives get forcibly intertwined…

Sudha is the prototype of the Indian wife, taking care of her house and her husband. She learns how to love him, getting snug under the sheets of domesticity and marital bliss. She is amply supported by Mahendra, who is trying hard to make peace with his altered life and affections now. He loved Maya before but he convinces Sudha that he is gradually going to vanquish her thoughts and rememberances from his mind. Sudha is possessive. She feels unnerved because every nook in Mahendra’s home bears Maya’s touch. But, instead of raving and ranting for her rights, she patiently waits for Mahendra to get used to her and her love…

While Sudha is a conformist, Maya is a freespirit. Her actions are impulsive and juvenile sometimes. Like a dry leaf that drifts from place to place, Maya is unwilling to get tied down by domesticity. But, that does not mean she does not love Mahendra. It’s just that her reactions, her projection of passion is twisted. A heady concoction of childlike sentimentality and obstinacy, Maya is an outright feminist. She listens to her heart and cares two hoots for societal norms. Why else would she crave for Mahendra’s affection even after he is happily married? In fact, she is also ready to share him with Sudha. For, she shares a happy togetherness with Sudha, who she fondly refers to as Didi, because they both love the same man. She asks Mahendra to marry her, hardly realising that it is ludicrous. It’s 1987, and polygamy is not an option for civilised educated urbanites. And, obviously, no self-respecting woman would be ready to share her man… Sudha is no different.

Love should be transparent. Sudha tells Mahendra that like any normal wife, she is possessive and expects her husband to tell her everything about Maya. Even though she returns all of Maya’s belongings thus hurting the latter terribly, she is least expecting Mahendra to supress the fact that he has been visiting Maya regularly. Maya is unable to move on in her life. She tries to end her life because she cannot forget Mahendra. Impulsive and irrational. Earlier we see flashes of such behaviour when she forces Mahendra to buy a bike, brings home a baby from a slum and writes a beautiful letter to Mahendra on getting back her belongings from Sudha (Asha Bhonsle’s voice and Gulzar’s lyrics in Mera kuch samaan are understandably award-winning). Though the poetry she pens is beautiful, it reveals moments of proximity that she shared with Mahendra that Sudha might find a bit unnnerving!! But Maya is not bothered, she has to voice her pain. She calls her ex-boyfriend at home and in office, not bothering that he might be busy with his better-half or work. Maya is not ready to relinquish her rights over Mahendra, something that aught to be put to bed on the termination of a relationship…

Yes, I guess it’s easy to get rid of a habit. But, it is just not easy to give up your right over somebody. So, when Mahendra impulsively shouts at Sudha (when she hurts her knee at the station where they meet after five years of separation) we know that Mahendra has not been able to move over Sudha. Sudha knows this and says, “Aadat to phir bhi chali jati hain, par adhikar kabhi nahin jata…” In the same way as he clung to Maya and held himself responsible for her actions! In a discussion with a friend, I’ve persisted on the point that it’s imperative to severe all ties with your past lover. Unless that’s done, complications are bound to make your present life and relationship turbid. My friend argued that sometimes an obligation towards your past love might force you to go back. Perhaps, it was the same thing that egged Mahendra to see Maya when she’s hospitalised. But then, he should have kept his ground clear before Sudha. Also, he should have drawn a line somewhere regarding his closeness with Maya. Even when he is unwell, Maya stays with him in his house. Isn’t that a manifestation of unfaithfulness???

But yes, Maya is a rare kind. It’s love she lives for and it’s love that ends her. In fact, her restless soul is set free from patriarchal norms of the society (the remarkable imagery of the stole getting entangled in the spokes of the bike wheel) when she meets with an accident. Patel is perfect as Maya. Her eyes, though bright, belie a tremendous loneliness, her body-language is exuberant and her voice has an infectious pitch. Gulzar’s Maya leaves you dazed long after she is no more… Wonder how things would span if she was less impetuous and more reasonable?

Shah is a revelation as Mahendra. While his spinelessness is exasperating (he cannot give up Maya completely, and at the same time he is supremely stunned when Sudha deserts him), you’ll feel sympathetic towards his helpnessness. Shah is an actor par-excellence, handling such subtly complex roles with elan. It’s in the station sequences that you realise how vulnerable his condition is. Unable to get a grip over his life and relationships, and completely alone, Mahendra introspects over what went wrong. And, ultimately makes peace with the decision that Sudha deserved better…

Rekha, in a role tailormade for her, shines as Sudha. Resplendant in her rich silks, with her long tresses tied into loose plaits, Sudha is the picture-perfect dusky Indian beauty. And, when she sings Katra katra and Khali haath shaam aayi hain, she plays havoc with your senses! Poignantly charming music by RD Burman.

In the search for the better, Sudha does what she says is “theek aur sahi”. She moves on. Proving that when you’re really eager to find a suitable life-partner, it is indeed possible to flip over those old painful chapters. Is my friend listening???

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