I have been wanting to watch this film since 1985.
That was the year, while watching Chitrahaar on Doordarshan, that I first heard (and saw) Chaand bhi koi deewaana hai. My sister and I, who loved old Hindi film songs even back then, used to keep a blank VHS permanently cued to record every time Chitrahaar came on, so we recorded this song—and over the years, I watched it so often that I memorized the entire song without ever having heard it anywhere else. When the Internet became easily accessible, I spent ages looking for the song (and finally found it, audio only, a few years back). Since then, I’ve been looking for the film. VCD, DVD, even a grainy version on Youtube would do.
And finally, after countless tries, I got to see the film. When I sat down to watch Apna Ghar Apni Kahaani, I kept reminding myself: most of the films that I’ve watched just because of one good song (or more) have turned out to be duds. I shouldn’t expect much.
Surprise, surprise. Not only did Apna Ghar Apni Kahaani have some good music and a lovely Mumtaz, it was also quite a good film.
The story centres round Amar (Shekhar), the owner of a saw mill. When the story opens, Amar’s wife Meera (Bina Rai) has just returned after a stint away from home—it’s not explained where she’s been. Theirs is a loving reunion, but little does Meera know what has happened while she’s been away… Amar has fallen into bad company. He’s become friends with a man called Khanna (Keshav Rana), who’s introduced Amar to drink.
As a result, Amar’s dependence on alcohol has gradually increased to the extent that now he’s a confirmed alcoholic. He keeps a bottle at the saw mill, and if, when the clock strikes 10.30, he hasn’t had his tipple, he goes berserk. This has led to Amar neglecting work, which has had a ripple effect: production has dropped, he’s not getting more contracts because his reputation is suffering, he’s deep in debt, and he doesn’t even have the money to pay his workers.
Amar is hoping to be able to hide his alcoholism from Meera—he’s not sunk so deep that he doesn’t realize that it’s not a good thing—but when he hurries home, it’s to find that Meera has already discovered his stash at home. Amar apologizes, tells Meera that he won’t drink again, and so on. Meera is angry, but since he’s so obviously repentant, she probably realizes that nothing will come of berating him endlessly. So, even though she gives him the cold shoulder, she also hears him out.
Amar hopes that his worries will get sorted out soon; he’s bid for a contract which he’s certain of getting. That will solve all his financial problems, and he’ll be able to get back on track.
Alas, no. When the contract is awarded, it goes to the crook, Khanna. Amar’s munim, a loyal old man who’s been working at the saw mill since Amar’s father’s time, discovers that Khanna, having got Amar drunk one time, had managed to get out of Amar the quote for the contract—and had sneakily bid on it too. Amar is, in one stroke, betrayed, broke, and with no hope left. His fury and despair is fueled by a local drunk named Murli (Keshto Mukherjee), who encourages Amar to join him in a drink. Amar, his promises to Meera forgotten, drowns his sorrows in drink and then goes home to steal his wife’s jewellery.
Meera, dozing in a chair, comes awake when she hears Amar stumble and fall, the jewellery spilling out of his hands as he goes off to sleep right there on the floor. The next morning, she greets a now-sober Amar with the jewellery: take it, she says, in a cold voice. What you were going to steal last night, I am giving to you.
Amar is ashamed, but he’s really got no option. If he has to keep the saw mill running, he has to pay the workers. What’s more, he’s run up a huge bill at the local theka, where he goes for his liquor. The owner of the theka is getting shirty and demanding money too.
But selling off Meera’s jewellery is not the end. Things are so bad that even that isn’t enough. Sick of her husband’s irresponsible behaviour, and wanting to settle his debts, Meera hands over the papers for their house to Amar: he can mortgage the house and use the money to get the saw mill back on track.
This time, it finally seems to work. Aided (and wisely advised) by the munim, Amar puts his nose to the grindstone, leaves his liquor behind, and starts to get the saw mill back on track. There’s further cause for happiness: Meera is pregnant. Both expectant parents are delighted—and relieved, now that things are looking up again.
The baby, a little girl, is born. Amar is doing well, Meera is happy, and all is bliss. Amar suggests, one day, that it would be good to go on a holiday. To Kashmir, where he and Meera first met. Meera gets busy packing and preparing to leave; and Amar, finishing work at the saw mill late that night, is forced by rain to take shelter in a shed. There, whom does he find also sheltering, but Murli? Murli, and a bottle. A bottle which makes Amar suddenly lapse—a lapse that is further exacerbated by Murli’s urging Amar to have just a little bit.
Murli and Amar wind up back in Amar’s saw mill, where they drink and smoke. Amidst all that revelry, Amar flings a still-smouldering cigarette butt aside, and it lands amongst the piles of wood all around. The two men are too tipsy to realize the danger of this little fire, which soon becomes a blazing inferno and reduces the saw mill to ashes.
Poof. Just like that, everything is back to square one. Not even that; now they don’t have the saw mill, and even the house, which had been mortgaged, is taken away. Amar, Meera and their baby are reduced to living in a small one-room hut in a seedy neighbourhood where fights break out at the sole water tap and Meera has to do everything on her own, from fetching water to looking after the baby.
One day, the baby falls ill. She’s running a high fever, and Amar (who seems to have plenty of free time while Meera does the housework) decides he’ll go fetch the doctor. But they don’t even have the money to pay the doctor’s fees. Meera fetches her last trinket: her suhaag teeka, the bit of jewellery that Amar gifted her on their wedding, which is a sign of her being a married woman. Amar demurs, but Meera insists: her child is more important than this. So Amar takes the suhaag teeka, goes to a goldsmith, sells it off, and heads for the doctor.
The doctor, unfortunately, is out making a house call and gets delayed. Amar keeps sitting, wonders whether he should go to another doctor, and is assured by the compounder that the doctor should be back soon—and finally ends up leaving, exasperated. As luck would have it, he encounters his old drinking partner Murli. Soon, Amar has forgotten all about his sick child, the doctor, the wife waiting for him, everything. The money he had received by selling the suhaag teeka is spent all on drink, and he totters home completely sozzled.
Meera is furious when she sees her husband, and berates him. Amar hits back at her, both verbally and physically. He raves and rants and finally throws Meera and the baby out of the house. Meera tries to come back in but Amar is so maddened with rage by now that she realizes it’s futile—and, by now very angry herself, Meera takes her baby and goes out with her into the rain.
The next we see, a train chugs away into the distance, and when morning comes, Amar wakes up to find his wife and baby gone. And, remembering his own part in their disappearance, breaks down.
But is Amar’s contrition any use? Because Meera and her baby are, soon, far away, taken under the wing of a poor old widower (David Abraham), who gives them shelter and thinks of them as the daughter and grand-daughter he never had.
Interestingly enough, in the same year that Apna Ghar Apni Kahaani was released, another film with the same theme—of alcoholism ruining a family—was also released: Vaasna, starring Raj Kumar as the husband who falls prey to liquor, and Padmini as his longsuffering wife. The two films took two different routes, but both also shared another element in common: a romance between a couple other than the two leads. In Vaasna, Kumud Chugani played the younger sister of the alcoholic; her lover was played by Biswajeet. In Apna Ghar Apni Kahaani, Mumtaz plays the role of the grown-up daughter of Meera and Amar, and Sudhir plays the role of the childhood friend she falls in love with as an adult.
What I liked about the film:
The nuanced characterization of Meera, and her portrayal by Bina Rai. In far too many Hindi films (including the aforementioned Vaasna), the wife of the alcoholic is shown as a woman who weeps over her husband’s vice, implores him to stop drinking, and is generally martyrish. Meera is a refreshing change from the norm: she gets angry at Amar for letting liquor get the better of him. Angry, too, not in the way of throwing things, but angry in a silently furious way, expressing herself only in bitter and sarcastic sentences that seemed very real to me.
She does burst out crying once, but it, too, is very real: Amar has just gone out, again vowing not to drink as he takes the jewellery to be sold, and she sits down, all by herself, at the table. Puts her head in her hands, and weeps. No tearful eyes raised to the camera, no screaming, just silent, private anguish.
The second element of the film that I liked a lot was the romance between Sudha (Mumtaz) and Manohar (Sudhir). This was a very short romance—it forms part of the plot only in the last 45 minutes of the film—but it was immensely endearing. Not only do the two of them look good together, their relationship is convincing and sweet. These two have been best friends since childhood (note: not childhood sweethearts; just good friends, who climb mango trees together, bicker, rejoice in little victories, and so on) before Manohar has to leave to go to a big city.
By the time he returns, they’ve both grown up, but their friendship remains the same—they tease, they go racing through the mango orchards, gnawing on sugarcane, they call each other ‘Tu’. It’s only when they get caught in a sudden rainstorm and get drenched do they realize that they aren’t children any more (no, the inevitable consequence of a filmi rainstorm does not happen) and that the other person is actually very attractive. I loved the well-scripted, well-acted way in which these two take the step from friendship to romantic love, and the subtle way their interactions change: still teasing, still playful, but with a deep affection and a chemistry that I enjoyed so much, I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d gladly watch Apna Ghar Apni Kahaani all over again just for them.
And, lastly: the music. Composed by N Dutta to lyrics by Qamar Jalalabadi (who also wrote the story and dialogues; the director was Phani Majumdar). My two favourite songs from this soundtrack are the sublime Chaand bhi koi deewaana hai and Jigar mein dard kaisa.
What I didn’t like:
Not much, really. Yes, the first half is depressing, what with Amar’s inability to resist alcohol, and the resultant havoc. But the second half makes up for this. Besides, the way the first half is written, it builds up a logical reason for Meera to be so embittered and furious with her husband.
But yes, I could have done with more—much, much more—of Mumtaz and Sudhir as Sudha and Manohar. What an adorable couple.