In this weekly column, we revisit gems from the golden years of Hindi cinema. This week, we revisit the 1964 release Yaadein.
It is a general belief that Bollywood does not believe in experimenting much and we often like to call it out for packaging the same wine in different bottles. But cinephiles, who have devoured Hindi films beyond the mainstream space, will tell you that there is more to Hindi cinema than just its formulaic stereotypes. One such unique film is Sunil Dutt directed 1964 film Yaadein, which stars only one actor, Dutt himself.
Yaadein is a unique attempt to tell the story of a disintegrating marriage through the eyes of the man. Through the course of the two-hour film, we see Anil (played by Dutt) collapse as he regrets his past indiscretions. The story here is quite simple and straightforward. A man returns from work and finds that his wife and children have left him. This triggers the insecurities that force him to examine his misdeeds.
While Dutt is the only actor you see on screen, Nargis (playing his wife Priya) plays an important role in the film as the voice of the wife. When he is trying to woo her, or the time when they are in a raging passionate relationship, or when they have bitter fights – Nargis’ voice adds personality to the woman who has sacrificed her life for her husband and two children.
Yaadein attempts to examine the paranoia of loneliness, which hits a strange chord in today’s times. The protagonist goes down a path of introspection when he comes to believe he is all alone. What starts as anger towards his wife, turns to pity for his own self and eventually leads him to contemplate suicide.
With only one actor in the frame at all times, Yaadein is a challenging film to execute but cinematographer S Ramachandra makes it a haunting experience. In the scenes where Dutt is wandering around his empty apartment after the party for the birth of his child, you feel his loneliness through the compelling top-angle shots. In the scene where he slips and falls in a flooded kitchen, you see how the world around him (in this case the kitchen utensils) are collapsing in on him. The camerawork is clever when you go from the present timeline to the past as there is a clear distinction between the tone of the film.
Since there is only one character that we see in the film, the use of sketches gives an illusion of a crowd where Anil is all alone. In flashbacks, when Anil is surrounded by people, the camera does not turn towards other characters even though we can hear them, but it turns when Anil is talking to his mistress Shyama. What we see here in his drunken stupor is a doll, and not a person. Anil’s eagerness to make Shayma stay in his life is reflected in the first phone call that he receives from her. Within a span of a few seconds, he goes from breaking up with her to convincing her that she should only call at his workplace.
Sunil Dutt, who is also the director here, makes you feel the paranoia of the character. You feel for the man who is struggling with mental health issues but does not live in a society where it is acceptable to have a conversation about the same. His character is shown as a thoroughly sexist man who believes that having an affair is “mardon vali baat” but his worst fears come alive when his wife leaves him. He is a man-child who wants to be pampered and coddled, throws a tantrum when his demands aren’t met – sexually or otherwise, and does not really care about his wife’s feelings.
As the film reaches its conclusion, you know the web that the protagonist has created for himself and how it is almost impossible for him to escape the trap. It is at this moment that Yaadein takes a sharp left turn and concludes with a typical ‘happy ending’, which feels disappointing as there is nothing ‘typical’ about the film until this point.
Watching it in 2021, it takes a while to accept that for a one-man film, it is quite verbose but as the story moves on, the protagonist’s delusion and his confused sense of reality bring you on-board.
Yaadein is still remembered as a unique achievement in Hindi cinema as it was the first film of its kind in India. It even found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records in the category of Fewest actors in a narrative film.
Yaadein is a melancholic story that works effectively because of its short run time and is certainly a kind of experiment that feels ahead of its time even in 2021.
Yaadein is streaming on YouTube.