I first watched Khamoshi when I was a child (and too immature to really understand it). I last watched it as a teenager, more able to appreciate the film—which left a handful of clear, sharp images burnt into my memory: Dharmendra, looking out over a balcony and singing Tum pukaar lo; Dharmendra flinging a glass of water at Waheeda Rehman and then watching, half-bemused, half-shy, as she laughingly wipes her face against the front of his shirt. Waheeda Rehman, clinging to Rajesh Khanna but thinking of Dharmendra.
So, considering that this last week saw Dharmendra’s 74th birthday (on December 8th), and having read some very enjoyable posts by fellow bloggers: I decided it was time to re-view and review Khamoshi. It came as a bit of a surprise to realise that Dharmendra actually appears onscreen for just over 5 minutes (and that includes a song). The male lead is Rajesh Khanna. And the film belongs to Waheeda Rehman.
It’s a simple, uncluttered story. Radha (Waheeda Rehman) is a nurse at a mental hospital that’s presided over by the dictatorial Colonel-Doctor (Nasir Hussain), an ex-army doctor. Also on the staff are another doctor (Iftekhar) and the matron (Lalita Pawar).
We enter the story when an ex-patient, the former occupant of Room #24, is being discharged. We don’t see the man; there’s just a long shot from a balcony high above the ground, of the car as it begins to move away. From the balcony, Radha looks down sadly, and her thoughts appear in a voiceover: that Dev is gone; and that she, though her heart was breaking, put on a brave front and saw him off smiling.
A hint of what lies in Radha’s recent past is revealed indirectly at a meeting in the hospital. The Colonel-Doctor is busy preening himself at the success of the experiment he did on Dev. This is a breakthrough, he says: if this research proves right, medical science pertaining to mental health may be able to dispense with medication and electric shock therapy to cure insanity. Dev suffered from acute mania, a condition that was cured because of Radha’s diligence and care of him.
Room #24 should be reserved for this research, says the Colonel-Doctor, and the next patient to be admitted in that room should also be someone suffering from acute mania.
This, it emerges, is a young writer called Arun Choudhary (Rajesh Khanna). Arun’s wealthy parents are long dead and his siblings have dissociated themselves because they don’t approve of him writing (yeah, we writers are a despicable lot!). Now, Arun’s girlfriend Sulekha (Snehlata) has also ditched him, leaving him a trembling misogynistic wreck who sees Sulekha in every other girl—or imagines that every other girl is a friend of Sulekha’s, come to torment him.
Arun’s friend and roommate Bihari Lal Gupta (Anwar Hussain), who’s almost father, brother and uncle to Arun, is anxious about his friend’s condition and has applied for Arun to be admitted to the mental hospital.
…which is a piece of good news for the Colonel-Doctor, who immediately decides to have Arun as the next subject of his research. He calls for Radha and tells her that she will now have to give Arun the same treatment she gave to Dev. If they’re able to cure Arun too, the research will be considered successful.
Much to her boss’s surprise and displeasure, Radha refuses. She’s obviously very distressed about it, but other than being huffy about her refusal, the Colonel-Doctor makes little effort to get to the bottom of things. He tries to get her to agree by bullying her and using emotional blackmail (you are committed to cure patients, you cannot shirk your duty, blah blah), but it doesn’t work.
The Colonel-Doctor next turns to Beena (Naina, very helpfully identified by bollyviewer), a colleague of Radha’s. Beena observed a good bit of Radha’s ‘treatment’ of Dev, so the Colonel-Doctor thinks she’d be able to try the same treatment on Arun.
In the doctor’s conversation with Beena, the logic (or whatever) behind this particular form of treatment emerges. He explains the basics of psychological behaviour in children and adults, tells her about the Oedipus and Electra complexes, and ends by saying that in cases of acute mania brought on by a ruined love affair—for example Dev or Arun—a cure may be possible if the patient is able to see a mother figure and a lover in someone with whom he can strike a rapport. This is what Radha had done in Dev’s case. This is what the doctor wants Beena to do for Arun.
Beena agrees, but despite her best efforts, she can’t succeed. Arun is wary of her, mistrusts her every attempt to form a rapport with him, and eventually attacks her, just as a passing Radha rushes to Beena’s rescue. Arun inadvertently hits Radha, and her matter-of-fact reaction (not the hysterical screeching of Beena) immediately helps calm him and warm to Radha.
So Radha, still somewhat reluctantly, decides to take up Arun’s case. The Colonel-Doctor and the matron, both of whom have been passing snide remarks all this while, are glad that she has finally woken to her duty. But Radha knows this is going to be a difficult task. Her boss firmly believes that all Radha is doing is acting out a part: pretending to be the love interest of a deranged man, giving him affection and warmth to bring him out of the madness into which he’s withdrawn. How difficult is it to act a part?
What nobody knows is that for Radha, Dev had become not a clinical subject but the man she loved. This emerges in brief snapshots, nearly all of them triggered by something Radha sees or thinks or hears. Arun’s back, as she tries to put him to sleep one evening, becomes Dev’s back as she leans fondly against it. Water splashing on her face from a boat on which she and Arun go sailing becomes water that Dev had thrown in her face. And the rocking chair on the balcony of Room #24 reminds her of Dev sitting in it, singing Tum pukaar lo even as Radha stood at the door, devastated after hearing that Dev’s ex-girlfriend had come back and they were getting married.
Slowly, sadly, Radha sinks into a morass of depression, haunted by her memories of Dev. There is one consolation, though: Radha’s companionship is working a cure on Arun. But… he’s falling in love with Radha, and thinks it’s reciprocated.
This is an offbeat, intense film, typical of the director, Asit Sen (who also directed the excellent Anokhi Raat, Mamta and Safar, among others). There are no dramatic twists in the plot, and just a thread of comic relief—mainly in the interactions between the visiting Bihari and the patients of the mental hospital, especially a young man played by Deven Verma. Most of the 2 hours of the film are devoted to the gradual disintegration of Radha. She’s never a completely happy woman (except in the very occasional flashbacks of when she’s with Dev), but even the confidence of the professional nurse begins to crumble away before the agony of a woman unable to reconcile to the growing realisation that the man who now loves her is not the man she loves—and that the man she loves will never be hers; will never even know she loves him.
What I liked about this film:
The acting, most of all Waheeda Rehman’s. In one traumatic scene, she says, “Main acting nahin kar sakti!” (“I can’t act!”). Never, never. She is superb in this, as the repressed and inexpressibly unhappy woman forced into pretending a love she doesn’t feel.
Rajesh Khanna is good too, though sometimes a little over the top as the ‘mad man’. Watch him in the lovely Woh sham kuchh ajeeb thhi, however: he’s very believable as a man so blindly in love with a woman that he’s convinced himself she loves him too. His utter gorgeousness doesn’t hurt, either!
And that brings me to another song, my favourite from Khamoshi, although I like all the songs. Tum pukaar lo, sung in Hemant Kumar’s glorious voice (he composed the music for the film too). This is a masterpiece: the words, the music, the voice and the picturisation all create a hauntingly beautiful image of a deep, aching yearning that is impossible to fathom: expressed in Dev’s voice as he walks restlessly about the balcony, and mirrored in Radha’s face as she realises that Dev doesn’t love her—has never loved her, in fact. Brilliant.
The symbolism. Radha’s khamoshi—her silence, her self-imposed suppression of what Dev’s cure has done to her emotions—is her undoing, and that khamoshi is carried forward throughout the film. It begins and ends in silence, not with the music that usually accompanies the credits or The End. Some of the most poignant moments of the story are played out in utter silence. Even the songs are unusually few for a Hindi film: just four, including the lovely Humne dekhi hai un aankhon ki mehekti khushboo.
While on the subject of symbolism, was I the only one who thought the names significant? Other than Radha, Beena, Dev and Arun, none of the other staff members or patients of the hospital are ever named, and even the names of the main characters seem to me symbolic. Dev (‘deity’) is really almost a deity for Radha, the unattainable, almost-perfect object of her affection, to whom nobody can ever match up. And Radha (the name of the principle devotee of the god Krishna) is, obviously, the principle devotee of her Dev… so blinded by her love for him that she is unable to let go long enough to see the dawn (arun means dawn, by the way). I haven’t figured out Sulekha (‘she who writes well’) yet, but it just may be irony—Sulekha stole one of Arun’s poems and recorded it in her voice, using it to boost her own career as a singer. She isn’t a writer (except of later-regretted love letters to Arun), but she has no qualms about stealing other people’s writing.
And Dharmendra, though he’s hardly there in the film (even the credits list him not as part of the cast, but as a recipient of ‘sincere thanks’), is actually a vital presence in the film. Dev appears in only a couple of scenes—and even in those, it’s mostly his back that we see; only one frame shows his profile, for perhaps 2 seconds—but he’s always there, the thought of him overshadowing Radha’s life, her relationships, her very sanity. No wonder I recalled Dharmendra most vividly from Khamoshi.
What I didn’t like:
The Colonel-Doctor. My God, how this man got on my nerves. He was the most utterly insensitive creature imaginable, completely oblivious to Radha’s emotional turmoil, blind to the fact that she had fallen in love with Dev—and trying to heedlessly bulldoze her into repeating it all over again. If this had simply been a case of very good acting by Nasir Hussain, I’d probably not have been so irate; what riled me was that the dialogue (“only a woman’s love and caring can heal a tortured mind”) and the screenplay seemed to suggest that it was right for a woman to be bullied into putting her emotions on hold simply to participate in an experiment. I hope this was supposed to be a sarcastic look at how insensitive some people can be.
Which, by the way, brings me to a related point: the science of it all (or the lack of it thereof). This sounded uh-huh to me. Pretending a romantic love to cure a patient? Really?
And the supposed loonies wandering around the hospital were too stereotyped. There have been too many of the laughing-singing-screeching-long haired lunatics in films like Khilona, Pagla Kahin Ka, Anhonee, etc, to make Khamoshi very different. Deven Verma’s character is a little more restrained, but not enough to make it refreshingly so.
Not a happy film by any stretch of imagination. But a film worth watching, and one you’ll almost certainly not forget.
Lastly, on request from harvey, here’s a screen cap of Lalita Pawar, in one of the scenes where she’s being sarcastically nasty to Radha for having refused to ‘treat’ Arun.