I've got a bit of a history with this one… some months ago, I almost bought the DVD, but then changed my mind when I couldn't recall how favourable the film's review on Filmi Geek had been. Then I found out that Filmi Geek (and her readers) loved it, and so I finally went back to the bookstore to pick it up a couple of weeks ago. I'm so very glad that I did…
We each have our 'hot-button' issues – those human phenomena, those occurrences in our world, that somehow just elicit a very strong reaction from us – those things that just get to us, that move us, that upset us like other issues don't. Sometimes it's because we've lived through those things and can relate to how painful they are, other times it's more difficult to explain why these issues hurt us so much. Filmi Geek's recent review of 'Bombay', for example, reveals that sectarian violence is one of her hot-button issues.
One of mine is this: I really hate it when children are made to suffer the consequences of adult actions – and sadly, this happens everyday in our world, to millions of children. I always feel – if you've been hurt by another adult, take it out on the offender, do what you need to do (within legal limits, of course) to be able to move on, but please leave that innocent child who is in no way responsible for your hurt out of it. Why should a child have to suffer for adult actions?
I think this is partly why Shekhar Kapur's 'Masoom' (1983) evoked such a strong reaction in me when I watched it, and why it's stayed on my mind till then. As the name would suggest, 'Masoom' is a film about innocence – about the innocence of a child who comes into the world as a result of a grave mistake. The question is: should he have to pay for that grave mistake? Gulzar is one of my favourite scriptwriters, and his screenplay for 'Masoom' is masterful, rich with metaphor and compelling – yet gentle, simple and subtle – it kept me engaged and engrossed right up to the end (I had planned to watch the film in two sittings, but I was absolutely glued to my screen). The film is filled with lovely, sometimes enchanting, sometimes haunting images, as well as beautiful songs (the music is composed by RD Burman) that fit in perfectly with the mood and themes of the film.
DK and Indu (played by Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi) are a happy, loving couple with two adorable daughters and a comfortable home. Although DK would like a son, he's very pleased with his little family, and so is Indu. As with 'Kabhi Kabhie' (although 'Masoom' is a very different type of film), 'Masoom' is the story of how a ghost from the past comes to haunt this hitherto peaceful home, in the form of a child named Rahul (played excellently by Jugal Hansraj). Rahul is the result of a one-night stand DK had early in his marriage to Indu (at the time, Indu was pregnant with their first daughter), while he was away at a college reunion – unbeknownst to DK, the other party got pregnant as a result of their tryst.
The movie's tagline sounds like one for a horror movie – it's 'Can this boy destroy your family?', and although 'Masoom' is not a scary movie (at least, not in the sense of the horror genre), it's somehow quite apt – not just for the storyline of the film, but also for what you see in Rahul's huge blue eyes. Shekhar Kapur manages to elicit from Jugal Hansraj sadness but deep hope; hesitancy mixed with faith; re-awakening and eagerness layered over numbness; love mixed with pain. It's a vulnerable, haunting combination that just hurts you to look at it – and helps you grasp the difficulty of what Indu is feeling.
The film is sad from the start – we first see Rahul lose the mother who meant the world to him. The kind, elderly schoolmaster who looks after Rahul following his mother's death senses that he is reaching the end of his own life, and realises that he cannot cope with the care of the child, that the child needs more than he can give. He is left with no option but to deliver a bombshell to DK – to tell him he has a son, and moreover, that the son is being sent to live with him in Delhi. DK in turn has no option but to receive Rahul – but first he must break the difficult news to a horrified Indu, who is left to not only struggle with the crushing pain of DK's uncovered betrayal, but to be daily confronted with it in the form of Rahul.
Rahul is a loveable child – he's sweet, sensitive and shy. Although the pain of losing his mother is raw, he holds tight to the hope of one day meeting his father, whom his late mother (who was herself a haunted, traumatised young lady with a premonition of her own premature death) had always said would one day find him. Although his mother is the only family Rahul has ever known, his disposition is such that he quickly forges a bond with his half-sisters, and with DK (for me, their scenes together are the most beautiful in the film – watching their relationship deepen was very moving). However, Rahul has no idea who DK and family really are – he thinks they are distant relations and calls DK and Indu 'Uncle' and 'Aunty'.
With DK's marriage under tremendous strain (Indu almost leaves, and although she eventually stays, their relationship takes a huge nosedive – with Indu barely speaking to him), DK decides to lose the child in order to save his home. The decision is difficult for him, because he has come to love his son and probably realises that sending Rahul away is not the best choice for such a sensitive and vulnerable child – but he loves his wife more, and is determined to rescue his marriage and family by packing Rahul off to boarding school.
Indu, for her own part, is deeply troubled – so much so that she cannot sleep. Everytime she sees Rahul she thinks of DK's unfaithfulness – and 'the other woman'. The drama she has only watched from afar in the lives of others is suddenly a part of her life, her marriage, her family – the things she holds most dear. The dream has suddenly become a nightmare. And because she's not a very voluble type of person (and also, I guess, so as to protect the children from the tension that has seeped into the home), a lot of the pain, anger and sadness is ‘controlled’ and internalised. Every now and then the volcano erupts though, with the innocent Rahul suffering the pain of rejection more than once. Being the sensitive child he is; he feels the difference; the repudiation and discomfort in her attitude towards him very keenly. On the other hand, though, Indu's motherly heart is drawn to Rahul – she sometimes finds herself feeling protective and compassionate towards him, loving him despite herself, until she remembers who he is and what he 'stands for' in her world.
Meanwhile, poor little Rahul is about to be on the receiving end of a bombshell himself – and the story gets even sadder at this point… I will stop myself here so as not to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen the movie. I will just say that the characters each have to work through their issues themselves – and I like that Gulzar makes a point of showing that it really is about them coming to their own decisions, not just acting upon the advice of well-meaning friends, because, as the film shows, well-meaning friends have their own lives to live and have been known to change their tune when circumstances change. Our main characters must each do what is right for them. I love that there is something very empowering about the film's ending in this respect, especially for the character of Indu (who, with the arrival of Rahul, seemed to have come close to losing her power in her own home). Indu effectively is able to disarm the past (along with everyone else – even I was disarmed).
Anyway, this is one absolutely lovely and very moving film. The songs, as I mentioned before, are beautiful, and are simply and sweetly picturised on the adorable children. The performances are uniformly wonderful – I've already praised Jugal Hansraj, but Aradhana and Urmila Matondkar (yes, 'Milli' from 'Rangeela', most recently seen doing an item number in RGV’s flop ‘Ram Gopal Verma ki Aag’) are lovely in their child roles too. Shabana Azmi conveys the conflict within Indu excellently; just in the way he holds her body, the way she moves her hands, the tone of her voice, the tilt of her head. Fantastic. She is just so compelling to watch (hence all the caps of her in this post - and I've got loads more on my computer). And I just adored Naseeruddin Shah as DK – I loved how he communicated so much varied and raw emotion seemingly effortlessly. He was DK – I completely believed him and immediately got him. Brilliant.
(If you haven't seen the movie and you don't want to know what happens at the end, please don't scroll down beyond this line.)
And I absolutely loved this – it was a nice little treat, a boon for the viewer: those haunting shadows of uncertainty in Rahul's eyes are so gone…
In other unrelated news, my friend Uzo and I have finally taken the huge step of buying the flight tickets for our first trip to India, and I just got my visa today..... We’ll be spending a whirlwind ten days in Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Mumbai in the middle of next month. I will definitely not be blogging while I’m there, but I will come back with loads of pictures and stories to share here. It will definitely be an exhausting and challenging ten days, but we also hope to make it a hugely memorable trip… and any suggestions, tips etc are most welcome from anyone who reads this blog and has experienced these cities…