Taqdeer—a remake of the Konkani film Nirmonn (1966, directed by A Salaam, who also directed Taqdeer)—wouldn’t have been a film I’d have watched had it not been for one particular song that I like a lot: Jab-jab bahaar aayi aur phool muskuraaye. I noticed the film was up on Youtube (incidentally, this is a surprisingly good print, and with seemingly no arbitrary snipping off of sections). So I settled down one night to watch. For the song. And discovered that the film wasn’t bad—and was somewhat different from the usual.
This story is set in Goa (and, interestingly—possibly because it was a remake of a Konkani film?—a Goa that has very few of the tropes most Hindi films associate with that state). We are introduced to Gopal (Bharat Bhushan), who teaches music to local children and makes very little money out of it. Gopal is painfully aware of just how hand-to-mouth existence is for him, his wife Sharda (Shalini Mardolkar, reprising her role from Nirmonn) and their three children, Mala, Sushil, and Geeta. He is in debt, for instance, to a local seth, and has had to mortgage his ramshackle home in order to pay off the seth.
Also part of the story is Vijay (Kamal Kapoor), a very wealthy man who has been childhood friends with Gopal. Gopal trusts and likes Vijay—is even open to, when Vijay insists, borrowing a small sum of money from the man—but Sharda hates him. This, it emerges, is because Vijay had once wanted to marry her; when she turned him down in preference for Gopal, he was so bitter and resentful that he started telling nasty tales about Sharda’s morals—or lack of them. Even now, though he’s friendly with Gopal and asks after Sharda and the children, Vijay has far from forgiven Sharda for having spurned him.
Things have been so bad for Gopal and family that Gopal has been searching for a job more lucrative than simply teaching music. He finally gets employment aboard a ship. He will be gone for perhaps a year, he tells Sharda; but at least he’ll earn well, and once he’s back, they will all be together again. Now, as a sort of send-off for him, the little family gets together and Gopal sings their favourite song: Jab-jab bahaar aayi aur phool muskuraaye. The children join in too, Gopal helping their little fingers find the correct keys on the piano.
Things are difficult, too, for Sharda as she tries to keep her home afloat, but she persists. Until one night, when—in a terrible storm—a gust of wind shakes Gopal’s photo (hanging in its frame on the wall) and sends it crashing to the floor, shattering the glass. [Yes, we all know what that means].
When a worried Sharda hurries to the shipping company’s office to ask if her husband is safe, a grim-faced employee gives her the list of survivors, with the sad news that Gopal’s name is not on that list. He has drowned in the shipwreck.
Sharda is shattered, of course, but she barely has time to grieve, because there are her children to be looked after. The little money that she had is soon gone, and a desperate Sharda is reduced to looking for any work she can find. A labourer digging a hole scoffs at her when she asks for work: she should look for women’s work, he says. And when Sharda asks a man for work—she will cook, clean, wash, anything—he asks suggestively if she really means anything.
Vijay comes by, and seeing Sharda’s plight, suggests she marry him. After all, he has wanted her all these years. And now, without Gopal there, and with the children to be brought up, how will she manage? He is very wealthy; if she marries him, she and her children will never want for anything. Sharda refuses outright. She will not marry Vijay, no matter what.
To her surprise, the only other true friend the family has—Uncle Lobo, a poor and derelict drunk—also advises Sharda that she might be better off getting married. It’s the only way out of this disaster. Sharda insists that she will manage, somehow. She has begun doing odd jobs—laundry for one woman, for example—and surely it is just a matter of time before money starts coming in.
But payments are slow to come, and there’s not a grain left in the house. The children are so weak and desperate with hunger that little Sushil, while his mother is away trying to get payment due for the laundry, steals a pao from a vendor. He doesn’t get caught, but when Sharda comes home and finds her three children sharing that one piece of bread –and looking guilty, trying to hide it away when they see her—she realizes that this has gone far enough.
With a few frames of the children dressed up and looking glum, and an equally somber Sharda getting married to Vijay, we skip forward a few years…
…to East Africa. Here, we see a bunch of children throwing stones at a bedraggled, bearded man (whom, if you look beyond the shrubbery, you can recognize as Gopal). The man is quickly rescued by someone from the local Indian community. It turns out that Gopal—not that anyone knows what his name is, since he’s lost his memory—was found washed up on the shore years ago, and nobody knows who he is, though the man who’s now rescued him from the belligerent children was the one who’d taken him in years ago and has sort-of-sheltered him ever since.
There is, sometime after this episode, a party of the local Indian community, at the nearby club. Gopal isn’t invited, but happens to be in the vicinity, and therefore overhears a song that’s being sung by a visiting Indian girl. It is Jab-jab bahaar aayi aur phool muskuraaye, and—as you’d have guessed, if you’ve seen a sufficient number of Hindi films—it jogs Gopal’s memory. Especially when he bursts into the room and questions the surprised singer and her father. They tell him where she learnt the song (she was one of Gopal’s young students years earlier in Goa).
Gopal’s memories come rushing back, and all he can think of is how he must go back to Sharda and the children as soon as he possibly can. The singer’s father is magnanimous enough to offer to pay for Gopal’s fare back to Goa, so Gopal is soon on the ship…
…little aware that life has changed a lot for Sharda, Mala, Sushil and Geeta. They’re all now, thanks to Sharda’s having married Vijay, very well off. Geeta (a very pretty Farida Jalal, in what seems to have been her first role as an adult) is still, however, the same generous and kind-hearted person she had been as a little girl; Mala (Kajal) and Sushil (Sushil Kumar, of Dosti and Dhool ka Phool fame) still remember—as does Geeta—with fondness the song their father had taught them.
But Gopal, even when he realizes how much his family still loves him, finds it hard to reveal himself to them. He knows how torn Sharda will be—and what of these bright young people, these near-strangers whom he loves so much? Will they be able to accept this poverty-stricken old man?
Taqdeer came as a pleasant surprise to me. This is an unusual film, unusual in that it steers clear of the typical romantic-youthful-love trope. There is love here, and lots of it, but it’s the mature love, the understanding and mutual respect and trust between Gopal and Sharda; and it’s the love of a father for his children, and vice-versa. The only hint of romantic love between young people is a very brief scene—a couple of short dialogues each—between Geeta and her boyfriend Suresh (Jalal Agha). That’s it. No wooing, no courtship, no will-she-won’t-she.
Also, Taqdeer is unusual in that while it’s set in Goa, everybody speaks perfectly normal Hindi, and there are only two Christian characters who play brief roles in the film: Uncle Lobo, and a comic named Johnny Fernandes. That’s it (and, by the way, both Uncle Lobo and Johnny also speak correct Hindi). This could, actually, have been a story set anywhere—and the universality of it is what speaks loud and clear.
What I liked about this film:
The simplicity of it, the somewhat unusual plot (as I’ve mentioned in the two paragraphs just preceding this), and the fairly good script. This is a touching little story, fairly well-told, with not many complications. It’s more a story of emotion than of action, so if you’re looking for a gripping plot, this isn’t for you. It is also less melodramatic than most other ‘family dramas’ I’ve seen (I’m thinking AVM Productions, here).
Two songs. Laxmikant-Pyarelal composed the music for Taqdeer, and though none of the songs are outright bad, the one which really stands out is the beautiful Jab-jab bahaar aayi. It’s lovely in all its three renditions: the one by Mohammad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar’s version, and the one by Usha Mangeshkar and Mahendra Kapoor. Another relatively little-known song, but a sweet one nevertheless, is Aaiye bahaar ko hum baant lein.
And, Farida Jalal. She is very pretty and I found her chemistry with Bharat Bhushan endearing.
The cinematography, too, is good—and there are some interesting little symbols here and there (not just that rather obvious one of Gopal’s shattered photo). For instance, there’s the broken cart, one wheel askew, which appears in the frame when a bereft Sharda—who thinks she’s widowed—goes off to try and get some money to keep body and soul together.
The brief comic side plot about Johnny, a useless good for nothing whose only connection to the main characters is that he’s constantly conning Suresh and Kishore (Mala’s fiancé) of small amounts. This is a pretty pointless addition to the story and could easily have been done away with.
Also, after Sharda marries Vijay, we get to see close to nothing of what sort of relationship these two have. It’s obvious, from later scenes, that Vijay has been a good father to her children—they even call him Papa—but how do the two of them get on?
This isn’t one of those earth-shatteringly poignant films. It’s not, by any means, a typical masala entertainer. But it’s a fairly decent little film about family ties.