“Senaani Karo Prayaan Abhay, Bhaavi Itihaas Tumhaara Hai..
Yeh Nakhat Amaa Ke Bujhne Do, Saara Akaash Tumhaara Hai”
There are too many reasons why I decided to write about “Sara Akash” – the novel, as well as the movie. So I must begin in right earnest. The initial thought came from reading one of the posts by a friend and erstwhile fellow blogger, on the literature in Hindi cinema, and whether we have seen good adaptations on screen. The post was good, and I remembered Sara Akash, and commented about it as well.
Once I thought about it, so many things started coming to mind, one after the other, and nostalgia crept in. I must have been not more than 12-13, when I found my eldest brother reading the novel, and being blown by it. Understandable, since he had just recently been married and it was very topical for him. Though not at the right age to fully comprehend the concept of the novel; or the implication thereof, I still took it up out of curiosity. The trials and tribulations of the newly married couple, especially the girl, and the internal conflicts that the main protagonist goes through, left an indelible mark on my conscience. I have read the book so many more times since then, and now appreciate the book for more reasons than one, but in the beginning, the idea of the newly married couple not talking to each other for almost a year had such an overwhelmingly emotional impact on my conscience, I immediately took a pity / liking towards the girl, and fell in love with her ‘neither- here-nor-there’ situation. I wanted so badly to reach up to her, comfort her, and do / speak all those things to her that her husband had not done to her in the novel.
Incidentally, the author Rajendra Yadav has himself said in the foreword to the novel that the novel is based on a true story of a couple he knew, and that in reality, the couple did not talk to each other for almost eight years. However, the author felt that the readers would not be able to digest the concept of a married couple not talking to each other for such a long period of time, despite continuing with their daily household activities without any hindrance as such. He, therefore, shortened that period to just one year. But those who have read the novel will realise that in the novel, that one year also appears to be so traumatic and unjust for the two main protagonists.
The premise of the novel is very simple. The male protagonist Samar, studying in college, and having strong left-wing political views, stays in an extended family with his parents, elder brother and his pregnant wife, and a sister separated from her unfaithful husband. The household needs some money, and since the elder brother’s wife is the family way; a helping hand in the kitchen and for other household activities is required. Considering that Samar’s marriage will solve all these problems, the father finds a suitable ‘bahu’ in Prabha, an educated and free-spirited girl with modern thoughts but slightly conservative approach. Samar’s days are filled with dreaming about his ‘would-be’ wife and making plans of how he will make his marriage work perfectly, and not fall into the usual trap of domestic compulsions ruining the relationship between the husband and wife. He doesn’t have to go too far to understand the necessity of complete trust in the relationship, and how important it is to make it work, because of his elder brother’s mundane marital life, his sister’s failed marriage and his father’s complete domination on his mother (and in effect, on the whole family) in the decision-making matters.
At the same time, he is also given to the intellectual and politically stimulating discourse with his friends, where he hangs out most of the time after his college, and at times even bunking it. Among them, he is most influenced by a character named Shirish, who Samar considers almost like an elder brother, and calls him Shirish ‘bhai’. Shirish is the sane voice in the muddled up and confused state of mind of Samar.
All this planning of a better life after marriage is shattered, when due to certain silly and avoidable misunderstanding and false ego, the newly married couple cannot even start a conversation on their first night, let alone consummate it. The rest of the story is about how the couple keep on living under the same house without talking to each other for almost a year, how Prabha has to bear the brunt of the entire family for being ‘too-adamant-to-even-seek-forgiveness-from-her-husband’, and how the couple finally reconcile.
The moment of their reconciliation is so poignant; readers are bound to have a lump in their throat. The readers are so well connected to the proceedings, one feels like reaching out to both the characters, congratulate them for finally realising their mistakes, as well as to reprimand them for having been so stupid and naïve and childish and egotistical.
Basu Chatterjee made a movie of the same name in 1969, where Rakesh Pandey played Samar, Madhuchhanda Chakravarty played Prabha, AK Hangal and Dina Pathak played parents, Mani Kaul and Tarla Mehta played the bhaiya – bhabhi and Nandita Thakur played the separated-from-her-husband sister. Jalal Agha played Diwakar (role play of Shirish bhai in the novel), but his role was curtailed to a great extent from its scope in the novel. The movie was quite faithful to the novel, and most of the actors did a decent job of the character-sketch provided to them.
Basu Chatterjee consciously filmed only up to the half part of the novel, concentrating more on the time when the couple are not on talking terms. The later part of the novel, where the couple can’t stay away from each other even for a minute, which doesn’t go down too well with other members of the family, and the couple have to endure the sarcastic backlash of others, was left out of the film. Maybe it was because either the movie would have been too long, or maybe the director wanted to concentrate only on the underlying emotional instability of the protagonists.
Ever since having read the novel, and discovering that a movie was based on the same, all of us in the family were on the lookout to watch it. In those days, the DVD culture was not yet in, Moser Baer had not made it affordable like a ‘use-and-throw‘ ownership, and video cassettes of these ‘art’ movies were difficult to even locate. Most of the time, the video store owner would not even acknowledge that such a movie existed. One day, scouting the TV program-listing in the newspaper in early 90’s, my mother informed us all that early morning at 2:30, Zee Cinema is going to telecast a movie by the name of Sara Akash. Not knowing whether it was the same or some other typical 90’s skin-flick of the same name was going to be telecast (considering the extremely odd timing), and hoping against hopes for our prayer to be answered, we all religiously got up well in time to catch the movie, which, as luck would have it, turned out to be the same one we were so desperately searching for. We were not disappointed, so to say, but felt a bit short-changed for only half the story being told on screen.
For those who have read the novel as well as the book, the movie is a bit of a let-down, considering the limited time that the director had at his disposal to showcase the entire gamut of emotions and to develop the characters in right earnest, due to which the story remains half-told. But if watched in isolation, without having any prior baggage of the novel, the movie will move one and all for the honest depiction of the matrimonial discord that can creep in a relationship due to some self-inflicted ego-trip.
The movie, incidentally, received the Filmfare Award for Best Screenplay, which goes on to show how truthful the movie must have been to the novel, despite having taken the necessary cinematic liberties that the director had to take. Now, of course, I have managed to lay my hands on a VCD of the film, which I had to virtually coax my wife to watch the first time. But I knew the film would be able to impress her with its simplicity and heart in its right place, and impress it surely did her!
As a matter of trivia, the film was shot virtually on location, in those dilapidated lanes and houses of old Agra, and the main house used for filming was the actual ancestral house of the author, Rajendra Yadav, which was offered by him to the then-unknown director Basu Chatterjee. The entire background of how the shooting took place and the related anecdotes has been captured in quite a poignant and occasionally hilarious manner in the foreword to the novel that was re-published on the occasion of 25th anniversary of the film. One of the stand-out memories is how the neighbours had initially got quite excited and worked up to know of the proposed film-shooting in their locality, and how later on upon realising that there are no ‘stars’, nor do the cast & crew party at all, their excitement gave way to dejection and later on even apathy!
The film, upon its release, obviously did not meet with the box-office success, but it gave the world of Indian Cinema a very talented and famous director – Basu Chatterjee. Today, the film is considered to be a classic, but alas, is not known much beyond the exclusive group of the aficionados of the B&W Classics. Do catch it guys, if you get the opportunity… you will not regret it…