Basu Bhattacharya's Anubhav was the first in his trilogy of films (followed by Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore's Aavishkaar and Sanjeev Kumar and Tagore's Grihapravesh), where the conflicted male protonist was always called Amar and explored the debilitating sense of stasis that afflicts many long-term urban marriages.
The high-minded Bhattacharya crams Anubhav with aural clues and codifications, ponderings and pontifications, symbolisms and two sound motifs. Yes, it is an arty film but let that not scare you off. Thankfully, it is involving and pleasantly unpredictable.
| Basu Bhattacharya
|| Basu Bhattacharya
|| Kanu Roy
|| Sanjeev Kumar, Tanuja
Perhaps it is because it was made in the heady days of the 1970s when middle-of-the-road cinema was finding its own groove, and therefore there is a very accessible, deep-rooted romantic mood to the film. Of course, it is laced with realism. Here the lead pair sing a beautiful love song in the rains (Mukhe jaa na kaho meri jaan), but what do you know, the hero falls sick the next morning.
The harried married couple in the story are Amar (Sanjeev Kumar) and Meeta (Tanuja). We are introduced to them at a high-decibel party in their plush skyscraper flat where the focus shifts to a small boy looking lost in the sea of tall legs around him. He starts bawling amidst the din and bustle and while Amar is busy with a business call, Meeta picks him up and pats him to sleep in her bedroom.
Later, even as the clock keeps up a ticking in the background, Meeta gets a call asking for the return of the child, whom we had come to assume was her own. The director has plunged us straight into the film with a warning: things are not always what they seem.
On the surface, Amar and Meeta may lead a dream life but in reality, Amar is a workaholic newspaper editor whose needs at home are fulfilled by a battery of domestics led by Hari (the ever avuncular A K Hangal). Meeta is a trophy wife of six years with time hanging heavy on her hands and a tenuous place in her husband's well-ordered life.
The omnipresent radio broadcasting jingles and songs in the backdrop stand in for the city that intrudes constantly into the spatial confines of a marriage. In the characters' urban modern life, they wake up and go to sleep, numbed by its constant noise, and need to battle it to communicate with each other.
Till one day Meeta decides to fire all the domestics except Hari and rekindle the flame of her marriage. What follows is a series of delightfully amorous tableaux as Hari accepts the marginalising of his role with well-captured mixed feelings as Meeta cooks and cleans and spoils Amar and asserts her desire to be needed.
Their shy lovemaking and the pleasurable anticipations of a still alive relationship are sensitively portrayed and feel real. A little act like the joy with which Meeta uses a comb to put sindoor in her hair speaks volumes.
What would have been the resolution in many a story is just the setup here. Suddenly, Meeta is paid a visit by Shashi (Dinesh Thakur), also bespectacled like her husband, but a presence from her past. Snatches of the song Koi chhupke se aake sapne sajake playing in the background suggest an old flame; but Meeta is just short of rude to him.
Shashi gets a job in Amar's newspaper; and Amar gradually makes him his protegee and friend. When her husband falls sick, Meeta lovingly nurses him to health, but this necessitates several meetings at home between Amar and Shashi, where Meeta keeps resolutely to the sidelines.
Eventually, Amar gets an inkling of their old tie and Meeta finally reveals her onetime constrained-by-society but heightened-by-her-teenage infatuation with Shashi.
The situation is familiar but the responses are not ordinary. How Amar and Meeta exorcise their demons is delightfully different.
Anubhav portrays not just the delicacy of the marital bond but also its strength. The characters' journey towards emotional truths and maturity is also heartbreakingly endearing. When Meeta has told Amar something hurtful and he throws it back at her, she says: "Bas yehi yaad raha?", instantly reducing it to a minute fraction of a multi-hued relationship.
Tantalisingly the director doesn't spell everything out in black and white. And this adds to the film's appeal. The re-emergence and eventual dissolution of Shashi in Meeta's life can also be read as a manifestation of her own ambivalence and the resolution of the final hurdle that stood in the way of her accepting her husband with all her heart.
The constant, almost oppressive, ticking of the clock in the backdrop is used as a leitmotif and aptly suggests the deadlines-filled world of an editor. It could also stand in for Meeta's biological clock. The film ends with the promise of a baby after six years. I think it was Tenessee Williams who said the monosyllable of the clock is "loss, loss, loss."
|Famous songs from Anubhav|
| Mera dil jo mera hota
|| Geeta Dutt
| Koi chhupke se aake
|| Geeta Dutt
| Mujhe ja na kaho meri jaan
|| Geeta Dutt
| Phir kahin koi phool khila
|| Manna Dey
Some of the film does strike one as being rather self-consciously different and verbose but there's much to appreciate --- even stray images of the city eloquently tell their own tale.
Dinesh Thakur manages the difficult task of judiciously mixing confidence and obsequiousness.
There's no doubt Tanuja is a fine actress who deserved better. The way she darts a quick glance or the manner in which her body goes rigid with tension in Dinesh Tahakur's presence and her quicksilver change of expressions are very watchable.
It is a delight to see Sanjeev Kumar so young and, well, almost matinee idol good-looking. It makes you wonder how his career would have turned out if he had maintained himself. Histrionically, he is less mannered than in later films and utterly natural. It is a must-watch performance.
Dinesh Thakur: "Zindagi ke har sambandh mein tarakki hoti hai. Bas ek pati patni ke sambandh hai jinhe 'taken for granted' samjh liya jaata hai. Unhein na toh badhane ke liye koshish hoti hai na toh tarakki ke liye."
Sanjeev Kumar: "Beeta hua kal aaj hamare beech tabhi aata hai jab hum aaj ko poori tarah jee nahin paate."
* Basu Bhattacharya was an assistant to Bimal Roy and married his daughter Rinky. The credits mention 'Grateful to Bimal Roy Productions' in honour of the legend who had passed away by then.
* Much of the film was shot in Tanuja's flat. She and Sanjeev have done eight films together, but this is the most memorable.
* Singer Geeta Dutt passed away in 1972 and Anubhav was a fitting swansong for the singer who imbued her three songs with characteristic emotion.
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