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Gulzar’s Masoom spoke to an entire generation

Written by Harneet Singh | New Delhi |
May 1, 2011 11:16:37 pm

Gulzar’s Masoom spoke to an entire generation

How do you know you are an ’80s child? If you know the words of Lakdi ki kathi by heart,tagbak tagbak included. Every kid of that generation grew up on this lovable Gulzar ditty. Masoom was a film that our parents took us to watch. Even though the film deals with such serious issues as infidelity and its repercussions,Masoom had everything for everyone. It’s a film that grows old with you — those who sang Lakdi ki kathi now sing Tujhse naaraz nahin zindagi.

In the beginning of the film,a photo frame of a picture perfect family topples over when a puppy knocks it down. The symbolism is clear: a stranger can sometimes shatter a family. In Masoom,it’s DK (Naseeruddin Shah) and Indu (Shabana Azmi)’s family that gets affected when DK realises he has a lovechild from a brief affair in the past. The child,Rahul (Jugal Hansraj),comes to stay with them and bonds with the couple’s daughters,Pinky (Urmila Matondkar) and Mini (Aradhana). The crux of the film deals with Indu’s acceptance of Rahul.

Film-maker Shekhar Kapur made his directorial debut with Masoom but as every scene and every little line of the film reveals,in many ways,Masoom remains a writer’s film. This is evident in the little touches. When,after learning of Rahul’s existence,a frazzled-looking DK returns home,Indu asks if he’ll have tea,he refuses and then,a second later,says,“Cheeni kam daalna”. The Gulzar stamp is unmissable; one even wonders if he himself directed the film. Ask him,and the wordsmith smiles. “No. Shekhar directed it but I wrote it,you know. I write in such detail that the paragraphs of my script can be divided into shots,” he says.

Kapur himself revealed in a television interview that he didn’t have any film-making knowledge when he made Masoom. He hadn’t assisted anyone or even been inside an edit room before.

“Masoom taught me that in storytelling,emotion is far more important than any technical aspects,” he said. Kapur wanted to make a film on Erich Segal’s novel,Man,Woman and Child. His then girlfriend Shabana Azmi sent him to Gulzar. “He asked me to read the novel but I asked him to let me work out a storyline and I’d then read the novel,” says Gulzar. The entire screenplay was written at Bangalore’s West End Hotel,where Gulzar was spending his summer holidays with his daughter Meghna. “While I used to sit and write in the hotel,every evening Shekhar used to take Bosky (Meghna) for swimming,” he says.

As he got down to write,a line popped up in his head which became the emotional roadmap of Masoom.

“The lines,Tujhse naraz nahin zindagi came to my mind and after that I just followed the characters and let the words navigate them for me,” he says. When Kapur heard Gulzar’s version of the story,he told him,“Gulzarsaab,mera khayal hai ab aap novel mat padhiyega,”Gulzar says.

As a film,Masoom demands a lot from its actors. The emotional graph of the characters needed to be shown rather than told. Shah and Azmi dig into their roles with obvious pleasure. As DK,Shah is restrained and natural. In a cricket match scene when Rahul bowls Saeed Jaffrey’s son,DK jumps with joy as a proud father,only to remember that he can’t own up to his son. His expression when he stops himself from calling him “mera beta” speaks a thousand words.

Azmi knocks every scene out of the park — her breakdown scene when she learns of her husband’s transgression,when she can’t bring herself to serve Rahul at the dinning table,and when she snaps at the boy with an injured finger,“Main tumhari Mummy nahin hoon.” As Indu,Azmi is glorious in her pain,proud in her anger,and dignified in her acceptance.

And then there are the children. Jugal Hansraj is adorable,Urmila as the conscientious elder sister is assured,but it’s little Aradhana as Mini (now a music teacher and a mother of two) who is the light of Masoom. She sings Om Shanti Om and calls Rishi Kapoor Chintu mama. When she senses a coldness between her parents,she suddenly starts singing Tayab ali pyar ka dushman. “This Mini belonged to Kanpur. She used to sing ghazals by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. She was very spontaneous. I took her to meet Shekhar for the film but on the condition that after the film’s shoot,she’ll go back to her studies in Kanpur,” says Gulzar.

No conversation about Masoom is complete without its music. RD Burman’s tunes are timeless and perfectly complemented by Gulzar’s words. During Lakdi ki kathi,a creative discussion with Kapur became so heated that Gulzar left the song midway. “Shekhar was adamant on adding a line,‘Bibi ji tea pee ke aayi’.” I didn’t agree and left the song.

Shabana fired him and told him bachchon ke gaanon pe kabhi Gulzar se panga mat lena,” he says. While recording the song at Film Centre,Gulzar realised he needed a sound in between the words. “I had heard a Bengali song which had the words tagbak tagbak so I asked Pancham to use it. Pancham’s assistant freaked out. How can you use a Bengali word in a Hindi song? Pancham told him,tagbak tagbak ghode ka sound hota hai so we can put it.’ That was Pancham,my anchor,” Gulzar says. Just like Masoom was an anchor for its generation.

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