Sara Akash – A must watch for every married couple
1969 was truly a landmark year for Indian cinema by all counts. This was the year when new wave cinema hit the screens to enthrall connoisseurs. It is hard to believe that this classic was the directorial debut of Basu Chatterjee who later went on to make successful middle of the road cinema like “Rajnigandha” & “Chotti Si Baat”. His talent and eye for detail is reflected right in his debut movie! His movies were critically acclaimed but also appreciated by the masses.
Sara Akash features Rakesh Pandey (born in 1946) who could not hit paydirt in Bollywood. But Pandey achieved a modicum of success in Bhojpuri films and today he is seen in the occasional television serial in a patriarchal role.
Madhuchanda Chakraborthy plays the female lead and this is a role that has ample scope for an actress to display her histrionic talent and Madhuchanda does not disappoint the viewers.
What is striking about the movie is its experimental shot-taking. The movie was adapted from the first part of a novel called “Saara Akash” written by noted Hindi writer Rajendra Yadav.
Yadav had mentioned that the story was inspired by a real-life couple who did not speak to each other for 9 years after marriage. When he wrote the story, Yadav reduced the time period to 1 year.
The movie is set in a traditional middle class Hindu joint family in the historical city of Agra. A young man who is still in college is forced to get married to pander to his father’s order. The father says that they had to pay dowry to get the daughter (Nandita Thakur, endearing as always) married and now was time to recover the dowry by marrying off the son. The daughter has separated from her husband and has returned to her maternal home. This has the father fuming within.
Much against his wishes, the college student gets married to this beautiful, demure girl who is educated till SSLC. This also becomes her nemesis as women in the household tend to project her as an arrogant bride.
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. Prabha is a “bahu” who is an educated and free-spirited girl with modern thoughts but with a slightly conservative approach.
Both youngsters enter into a matrimonial relationship characterized by uncertainty, apprehension and pent-up frustration. Both of them ignore each other on their first night together (perhaps victims of “who will make the first move” trap). But as the days roll by, their problems only get compounded as the reservations that they have about each other get fuelled by political machinations of other family members.
Notable among them is the young man’s sister-in-law (Tarla). The sister-in-law is adept at constantly poisoning the young man’s ears against his new bride. The sister-in-law is illiterate and she suffers from a complex. The only way to get around and satiate her ego is to pull down the new bride.
The young man is way too idealistic as he believes that marriage is an impediment in achieving one’s goals in life. Though he covertly longs for her companionship, he maintains a façade of being upset with her to the extent of slapping the bride for a mistake that she had never committed! He often ignores her presence wanting to hurt her deliberately.
Whenever he is upset he rushes to the home of his college mate and friend (Jalal Agha) who is also married but is happy. Though his friend is not happy with the way his wife treats his mother, he somehow manages to stay together with her.
The second half of the film is more about the bride – how she is harangued by her husband’s deafening silence and the constant barbs from her in-laws and sister-in-law. To her relief, her husband‘s younger sister who has separated from her husband is like a soothing balm on her frayed nerves. She comforts her like a friend and a soul-sister. She has a good word about her “bhabhi” to her brother. Ironically the only physical contact the bride has with her husband is when he slaps her.
As time passes, the young woman’s solitude becomes unbearable more so after her husband’s sister is forced to go back to her husband. After he slaps his wife, the young man is apologetic about his act and tries to stay away from home as much as possible. This only increases the distance between the couple.
Throughout its short duration of 90 minutes, the film unequivocally portrays the plight of the hapless bride who is caught in a no-win situation in a patriarchal, male dominated set up.
In an alien environment the young woman’s afflictions mount as she becomes distraught on realising that her husband who should be her pillar of support is more of a spineless figure.
Unable to take any decision by himself and unable to express himself, the young man is caught between the devil and the deep sea. A tryant of a father against whom he is unable to revolt coupled with regressive notions of how a woman should behave adds to his frustration and despondency.
Towards the climax, the woman is pained to the core by the acerbic tongue of her mother-in-law who accuses her of gazing at passers-by like a whore when she looks out of the window. She completely breaks down knowing that she has nowhere to go. She can’t go back to her maternal home and be a burden for her brothers.
As she lies in the terrace in a disheveled state, the moment of reckoning dawns on Samar! He lets his wife experience catharsis as he lends her a patient ear. The moment of their reconciliation is poignant and heart rending as the viewer empathises with the plight of the young woman. Yes, there is a lump in our throat as the woman pours out her woes to her husband who now has eyes only for her! When “ego” comes between a husband and a wife, life can become a hell!
Both the lead actors do complete justice to their complex characters. Rakesh Pandey and Madhu live the roles of Samar and Prabha. The supporting cast is brilliant though Mani Kaul as the elder brother has little to do.
Real life sisters Dina Patak and Tarla enact their roles well bringing the vily characters to life. It is said that women are women’s biggest enemies and the women in the family prove that this is indeed the gospel truth. The background score by Salil Chaudhury is soothing.
Despite the fact that this movie was made 46 years ago, this experimental film is still relevant to the times that we are living in. Today women are more empowered and have a voice of their own but male chauvinism still dominates in Indian society.
Trivia about Saara Akash
· The title of the movie was inspired by a poem by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar.
· The award winning effort became a lodestar for the fledgling new cinema movement in 1970s.
· The movie was shot on location in Rajendra Yadav’s ancestral home in Agra’s Raja Ki Mandi.
· When the news about the impending visit of the film crew reached the ears of the neighbours they were all excited. But when they saw that the actors were not stars or super stars of the era, their behavior changed into one of indifference. (Must say that the ancestral haveli is beautiful especially the gucchi or terrace).
· 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.
I strongly recommend that married couples watch this movie together!
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