By some strange oversight, despite the fact that Waqt is one of my favourite masala films, I’ve never reviewed it on this blog. And I’m wishing I didn’t have to end up writing about it on such a sad occasion—because Achla Sachdev, the actress who played the self-sacrificing, long-suffering mother and wife in this film, passed away on April 30, 2012.
For me, Achla Sachdev—not Leela Chitnis or Nirupa Roy (or other contemporaries, such as Durga Khote, Mumtaz Begum, Sulochana Latkar, Pratima Devi, etc)—is the quintessential Ma. Leela Chitnis was invariably only one shade of mum: meek and mild and weepy. Nirupa Roy, though usually acclaimed as the mum, did actually act as heroine in a number of films, such as Razia Sultana and Lal Qila.
But Achla Sachdev? Her I always associate with only the mother. She may be the blindly superstitious and/or emotionally-blackmailing mother of Shagoon or Mere Sanam. She may be the rather unmaternal mother of Anhonee, who abandons her baby to the suspect tender mercies of its father. She may even be a foster mother of sorts—as in Adalat or Humraaz. Or, more often than not, she may be the doting mother.
That’s what she is in Waqt: Achla Sachdev in one of her most memorable roles (and with a serenade sung to her too!). This is for you, Ms Sachdev. Rest in peace.
Waqt (‘time’) is all about how time holds the reins of all our lives. Lala Kedarnath (Balraj Sahni) has, by dint of hard work, managed to turn his life around from being a labourer to a wealthy trader, dealing in carpets and dry fruit. On this day—a particularly auspicious one, since it marks the birthdays of each one of this three sons—Lala Kedarnath is inaugurating a new shop for himself.
For the celebrations, Kedarnath’s friend Hardayal Rai (Hari Shivdasani) arrives, bringing with him an acclaimed astrologer. He cajoles and bullies a reluctant Kedarnath into showing his palm to the astrologer. When the astrologer tries to gently tell Kedarnath that destiny rules everything, Kedarnath scoffs at him. He has made his own destiny, he says. All that Kedarnath is today, is because of Kedarnath’s own efforts; destiny played no part in it.
The celebrations are held—Kedarnath sings a delightful song in praise of his wife Lachhmi (Achla Sachdev). When all the guests have gone home and the two elder sons are asleep in their beds, Lachhmi brings the youngest, a baby, to their room, and Kedarnath starts telling her all the grand plans he has for their future…
… and all hell breaks loose. There’s a horrific earthquake, with buildings falling like cardboard [possibly because they are cardboard?] and fires breaking out all over the place. In all the debris, the dust, the flames and the confusion, Kedarnath’s entire family gets separated from each other—except for Lachhmi and the baby, whom she somehow manages to rescue. The next day, tottering about the rescue camps and asking for her husband, Lachhmi is told that someone saw a beam fall on Kedarnath. He’s dead.
Meanwhile, the eldest son, Raju, has washed up at an orphanage. This place is run by an evil manager (Jeevan, who else?), who ill-treats the boys under his ‘care’, thrashing them, depriving them of food (while he stuffs himself silly), and generally being a pest.
Raju, who rebels against this tyranny, runs away one day. And soon after, Kedarnath—having finally got a clue to where his son has been taken—turns up at the orphanage. Here, he discovers from the other children how Raju has been treated. Kedarnath sees red, and chokes the life out of the manager…
Also in the meantime, the middle son, little Babloo, has been found wandering around by the wealthy Mr Khanna (Surendra) and his wife. They are immediately besotted by the child and decide to bring him up as their own son.
Flash-forward to the present. Raju (who’d run away from the orphanage, remember?) has continued his running—only now, it’s away from the law. He’s a suave [or, as suave as Raj Kumar can be] gentleman burglar, and his latest haul is a fabulous diamond necklace. A policeman (Jagdish Raj) comes by asking Raju (who now calls himself Raja) whether he happened to see the burglar, who had been seen running in the direction of Raja’s house.
In the course of the conversation, Raja is told that the necklace belongs to a Judge, Mr Mittal, who had bought it as a birthday present for his daughter Meena—it’s her birthday tomorrow.
Raja is sufficiently intrigued to gate crash the party. Fortunately, he knows Mr Mittal (Manmohan Krishna), who introduces Raja to Meena (a gorgeous Sadhana). Raja hands over the necklace, with a tale about it having been dropped in his (Raja’s) yard by the thief when he was making his getaway.
Meena is sweetly grateful and gracious, and Raja is completely smitten. So smitten, in fact, that when he drops in unannounced a couple of days later and hears her singing a love song, he imagines she’s singing it for him. [No chance, bro. Wait till you see the competition!]
What Raja doesn’t know is that Meena’s happiness owes itself to some good news: that Ravinder Kumar Khanna ‘Ravi’ (Sunil Dutt) has just got his law degree and is coming from Delhi to Bombay to practise.
Poor blind Raja is so thoroughly oblivious that when he comes visiting—again unannounced—and discovers that she’s gone to the airport, he follows her there, to give her a bouquet.
The bouquet ends up in the hands of the exuberant Ravi, who flirtatiously presents one flower to Meena and hands the bouquet to his new acquaintance (Meena’s introduced him to Raja). Raja is a little uncomfortable at Meena and Ravi’s very cheery friendliness, but hasn’t yet cottoned on to the fact that they’re more than just good chums.
Raja is also getting it in the neck on the professional front. He goes to meet his boss, Chinoy Seth (Rehman), who hauls Raja over the coals for returning Meena’s necklace. Raja is insolent and manages to fend off Chinoy Seth, who boasts that he was the one who picked Raja—then a teenager, surviving by picking pockets—off the streets and made him what he is today.
Also hovering in the background [and flashing a Rampuri chaaku—thus giving Raja an opportunity to shoot off a kickass dialogue at him] is Chinoy Seth’s slimy henchman, Balbir [Madan Puri. This film has its full complement of villainous characters].
Meanwhile, away in Delhi, we finally meet up again with Lachhmi. All those years of sewing clothes have finally wreaked havoc on her health, and she’s in a bad way. Fortunately, the baby has grown up into Vijay (Shashi Kapoor, looking knee-knockingly cute). Vijay studies in a college in Delhi, and is being rather diligently pursued by a classmate named Renu (Sharmila Tagore, as cute as he is).
Vijay is keen on her too, but realises that the gap between them—socially and economically—is so huge, they have little chance of ever getting to a happily ever after. Anyway, Renu’s cuteness eventually triumphs, and she and Vijay do spend a little bit of time driving through Delhi, sitting in gardens, and going on the usual ‘cultural tours’ so popular in 60s’ filmi colleges.
But when he finally gets his degree, Vijay also gets a nasty shock. Ma is very ill. The doctor tells Vijay that the only hope for her is to be taken to Bombay, where there are good hospitals. Vijay, who will do anything for his mother, agrees. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do about the money; but he bravely takes his Ma off to Bombay.
…having first said goodbye to Renu. Renu argues that this isn’t the end of their romance. She too will be coming to Bombay soon, since her elder brother has shifted there, and her parents have decided the entire family will be better off staying in Bombay.
Which brings us to who Renu’s parents are. The Khannas. The same long-ago Khannas who had picked up and adopted Kedarnath and Lachhmi’s second son and brought him up. Ravi is actually Babloo, though he doesn’t know it.
Also, in the meantime, Kedarnath, having spent so many years in jail for murder, has completed his sentence. As soon as he’s free, he goes out looking for his family. His search proves fruitless, and he finally goes in desperation to the house of his old friend, Hardayal Rai. Hardayal Rai tells Kedarnath that he’d heard a rumour that Lachhmi was in Delhi—he even manages to dredge up, from the depths of his memory, the name of the street where she was said to be living.
…and now we have the entire family finally congregated in Bombay. Kedarnath, who knows that even if he should come across his sons, he won’t be able to recognise them, since they’ll be all grown men by now. [Which, by the way, happens with a startling regularity].
And Vijay, in love with Ravi’s foster sister, but well aware that his love is doomed. (Also, since he hasn’t been able to get a ‘good’ job till now, Vijay has ended up working as a chauffeur for Chinoy Seth).
How will this frightfully tangled story get straightened out? How will they all come together [and they will; there’s no two ways about it in Hindi cinema]? It’ll be a long [just over three hours] journey to the happy end. Along the way there’ll be plenty of those agonising moments [for the viewers, who know the truth] when the separated family meet, or almost meet, but don’t know each other.
There’ll be plenty of great songs. More romance. And a murder and much courtroom drama [that’s why there are such nasty goons in the story, and that’s why Ravi is a lawyer. And that’s why Jagdish Raj is in the film].
There had been lost-and-found siblings/offspring/etc stories before Waqt (Kismet, Afsana, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, and Dil Deke Dekho, among others). There were dozens more to come—especially, in the 70s, the blockbusters Yaadon ki Baaraat and Amar Akbar Anthony. But Waqt remains my favourite. Never had a lost-and-found story been attempted on such a massive scale (three children and their parents! Whew). Waqt brought together a fabulous star cast, with some of the biggest names of the mid-60s (and great supporting actors too, including stalwarts such as Motilal):
What I liked about this film:
The cast—some of my favourite people here, including Sadhana, Sunil Dutt, Shashi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore, Balraj Sahni, and Rehman. And, of course, the inimitable mum, Achla Sachdev.
The songs. Waqt brought together two of Hindi cinema’s greats when it came to the creation of songs: Ravi and Sahir Ludhianvi. Between them, they created a clutch of superb songs, including the fabulous Aage bhi jaane na tu, the teasing and sweet O meri zohrajabeen, and some lovely romantic songs—Hum jab simatke aapki baahon mein aa gaye, Kaun aaya ke nigaahon mein chamak, Chehre pe khushi chhaa jaati hai, and Din hain bahaar ke among them.
My favourite is Aage bhi jaane na tu—Sahir’s lyrics are philosophical without being sunk in depression; Ravi’s music is out of this world; Asha Bhonsle sings it beautifully—and Erica Lal is (as my mother says) “every inch the 60s’ crooner”. And, unusually for a song in a Hindi film, the action doesn’t come to a standstill while the song goes on. Quite the opposite; a lot happens while the song is in progress.
And, connected to the fact that Aage bhi jaane na tu helps (rather than hinders) the narrative: Yash Chopra’s superb direction, combined with a great screenplay and taut editing. Three hours sounds massive. It is massive. But I’ve never baulked at watching (and rewatching) Waqt—simply because it’s so fast-paced and well-scripted. The scenes are all fairly short, and there’s almost no detail that is unnecessary. Even Raja’s sarcastic treatment of Balbir, or the car race that takes place between Ravi and Raja, eventually turn out to be not superfluous to the plot.
What I didn’t like:
Well, not really ‘didn’t like’; more along the lines of ‘What I thought could’ve been better’. The courtroom scene at the end. Does such high drama actually take place in trials like this? I don’t know; they seem to be pretty common in Hindi cinema, but I didn’t think this worthy of Waqt.
But: whatever. This is a fantastic movie, and a great example of 60s’ masala. It doesn’t get better than this.