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Sunday, October 17, 2021

The forbidden Love

A psycho- emotional drama,Sadma traverses a path rarely trod upon. The film highlights the many facets of human relationships— tenuous and fragile

Written by Subhash K Jha |
June 15, 2012 3:55:04 pm

A psycho- emotional drama,Sadma traverses a path rarely trod upon. The film highlights the many facets of human relationships— tenuous and fragile

Indescribable in its sublimity,the relationship that Kamal Haasan’s character shares with Sridevi is reified in anecdotal nuggets captured by the director in motions of sheer poetry

Sridevi could emote a wide range of expressions for every scene. The director simply had to choose. In Sadma,the choice was far less spectral. Sridevi had to play the character as childlike without overdoing it

By Subhash K Jha

The skill with which Sridevi essayed the role of a 20 year old with a mind of a seven year old remains to this day a milestone in her illustrious career. This Kamal Haasan-Sridevi starrer,Sadma was the first of its kind that had ever been attempted in Hindi cinema. Earlier,director Balu Mahendra had directed Moondram Pirai in Tamil,which told the story of a 20-year old girl who regresses to a seven year old after a road accident and is looked after by a reticent school teacher,Somprakash,played by Kamal Haasan.

Sridevi spent months preparing for her part. Speaking about the versatility of the actress,Shekhar Kapur had commented during Mr India that Sridevi could emote a wide range of expressions for every scene. The director simply had to choose. In Sadma,the choice was far less spectral. Sridevi had to play the character as childlike without overdoing it. Since it was an adult woman playing a child,the risk of the role turning cute or worse,hammy hovered over the part.

A versatile actress

Balu Mahendra let Sridevi control the character’s regression in ways that made the transition look utterly convincing. But what holds the film’s delicate structure in place is Kamal Haasan’s masterful portrayal of Shomu,a man who finds himself drawn to the child-woman who has entered his life. The sexual undercurrents between the unlikely pair had to be kept completely out of the script’s reach. What had to shine through was Kamal’s nurturing instincts.

The girl’s stark vulnerability is highlighted in the sequence where Shomu lands up at a brothel with his friends to lose his virginity. He is shoved into a room with this equally lost Sridevi who is even more clueless about the brothel protocol than Shomu. The naïve conversation between the two in the brothel gave the ensuing relationship a kind of freewheeling definition that Hindi cinema seldom tries to tackle.

Gulzar’s lyrics in Asit Sen’s Khamoshi; Humne dekhi hai un aankhon ki mehekti khushboo/ haath se chooke ke isse rishto ka ilzaam na do/ sirf ehsaas hai yeh rooh se mehsoos karo/ pyar ko pyar hi rehne do koi naam na do,poignantly defines the Kamal-Sridevi camaraderie in Sadma.

Indescribable in its sublimity,the relationship that Haasan’s character shares with Sridevi is expressed in anecdotal nuggets captured by Balu Mahendra in motions of sheer poetry. That he did the camerawork himself gave the film a kind of luminous homogeneity.

It’s a happy coincidence for the film that the lyrics that tie Ilaiyaraja’s fabulous score are written by Gulzar. The Yesudas-rendered lullaby Surmayee ankhiyon mein nanha-munha ek sapna de ja re pervades the space between the father figure like lover and the child-woman with amour.

The untraversed path

Sadma,to this day,touches those recesses in the heart where our cinema normally does not venture. Years after Sadma,Sridevi had once again stepped into forbidden territory when her character fell for her surrogate-father Anil Kapoor in Yash Chopra’s Lamhe. That relationship was brought dragging and kicking to a happy conclusion.

The couple in Sadma was,however,not so lucky. The separation is poignantly brought out when Sridevi regains her memory. It becomes the film’s highest dramatic point and one of Indian cinema’s most emotionally-charged sequences. As Sridevi leaves on a train,Kamal’s character tries every trick to revive her memory of their months together.

She now looks with appalled curiosity at the stranger outside her train window performing like a crazy man. But these very antics once provided entertainment for the child-woman during her regression. What will he do now? Would he able to spend the rest of his life with the memories of those months that he spent with the child-woman?

Interestingly another Hindi film,L. V. Prasad’s Khilona based on Gulshan Nanda’s Hindi bestseller which came 12 years before Sadma,depicted the plight of a prostitute who is hired to ‘cure’ a mentally unhinged man (Sanjeev Kumar). She nurtures his sensitive emotions and is then forgotten by him once his memory returns.

The sexual tone in Sadma is represented by Silk Smitha who tries to seduce Kamal Haasan. The contrast between Sridevi’s child-woman character and Silk Smitha’s voluptuousness was played up to give audiences a libidinous leeway in the story.

Embedded in the reverberant philosophy of Sadma is the message that every man-woman relationship has a peculiar destiny. Cinema,in that sense,is uni-dimensional. A man and a woman can only be thrown together to share conventional dynamics. But what about those relationships which are only an ehsaas, untouched and unbound by any rishta beyond the one that the experience on screen puts forward?

Kamal Haasan speaks on Sadma

Does Sridevi actually say she has learnt a lot from observing me? If she says so,then I must say she’s a good student. The amount she invests in front of the camera is exemplary. There’s a dispute between Sridevi and me about how many films we’ve done together. She says it’s around 25 films. I say it’s a lot more. Moondram Pirai and its Hindi version Sadma are surely our best-known work together. Balu Mahendra and I shared a very close relationship. His debut film as a cameraman was with me. We used to sit and talk about films between shots. He would to listen to my scripts. In spite of being my senior,he’s like a friend. I acted in Balu’s directorial debut Kokila in which Shobha played the lead. It was again about a very unusual relationship.

In Sadma,both Balu and I made a conscious decision to keep sex out of the relationship between me and Sridevi. I think we had imbibed a certain maturity in our outlook which showed in our work together. However,my character in Sadma finds Sridevi in a brothel. It was like kichad mein Kamal Haasan (ha ha). That whole contrast between her innocence and the world at large was preserved in the way I cocoon,shelter and protect her from the outside world. My character was based on Balu Mahendra who at that time was in love with Shobha,much younger to him. I had known the girl from my childhood. So I asked him what he was doing keeping his cards so close to his chest. But he just kept quiet. And he was so senior. I couldn’t question him beyond a point. It was an artiste’s way of liberating himself from his anguished emotions. I just played my part instinctively.The railway-platform finale was partly my idea.

Balu wanted a restrained finale where she exits from my life quietly. He was very minimalistic in his approach. When Sridevi came on location,Balu gave her coconut to rub on her face. No makeup was allowed.The face was to be washed with soap only. And his unit was the smallest I’ve ever worked with. There were only 12 people on location in Ooty. I knew something far more dramatic was needed in the climax. My character had to show the desperation of a man who’s losing the love of his life. How would a man react if he feels he would have to spend the rest of his life without love? I had to act like a man gone crazy with desperation as he watches his life go away. Usually directors are cautious about actor’s suggestions. But Balu,who is very fixed in his ideas,loved the idea of my character going berserk on the railway platform. When I run and hit myself on the pole,it was not an accident. Everything in that sequence was planned. Nothing was improvised. I had to show the man with his leg broken. It looked on screen as though I had really broken my leg. Luckily I didn’t have to break anything to look authentic in this film.

As for my erotic dance with Silk Smitha (O babua yeh mahua) I didn’t really think it belonged in the film. It was a commercial concession and I had to go along with it. It was not part of the original script. We decided to put in an erotic dance,but in a way not done in any film before and without spending money. So we had just me and Silk. And she didn’t know how to dance…at all! The dance was choreographed by Prabhudheva’s father Sundaram Master. He just incorporated whatever she could do. Silk was a brilliant mimic and could imbibe what she learnt.

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