A scene near the beginning of Oonche Log is an interesting revelation of some of the themes that govern the film, and eventually have a bearing on its climax.
Major Chandrakant (Ashok Kumar) is a blind, widowed ex-officer of the Indian National Army. He now lives in Ooty. One evening, he receives at his home a friend, the school teacher Dhuni Chand (Kanhaiyyalal). There are more dissimilarities than similarities between the two men: Dhuni Chand is poor, barely managing to make ends meet on his salary and what he makes from the odd tuition, while the major is comfortably off, spending his time writing his memoirs.
A couple of months ago, I got a call from Seventymm (the video rental service I’d subscribed to), letting me know that they were shutting down rentals and becoming retail-only. Since I’d paid up in advance for a year’s subscription, I had Rs 800 worth of unused vouchers—which, they said, I could use to pick products from the store. I ordered seven DVDs. They (or, rather, the five Seventymm were able to deliver—the rest went out of stock) arrived last week. Reporter Raju was one of them.
Also, last week, I finished a writing assignment for which the research involved watching a diverse set of films. A lot of them, though, had one thing in common: a newspaper office and/or a reporter as an important character. This one was on the to-watch list, but didn’t arrive in time for me to see it before submitting my article. Just as well, actually, because despite the name, it doesn’t exactly show the reporter doing much any newspaper work. Unless beating up goons is part of the job description.
I’m always on the lookout for old, offbeat Hindi films. Something without the hackneyed romances, the clashes between rich/poor, urban/rural, good/evil, the sudden breaking into song and the neat tying up of all loose ends once the regulation three hours are up. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against masala films—some of my favourite old films are masala to the spice-sodden core. But somehow a film like Kanoon, Ittefaq, Anokhi Raat, Kabuliwalaor Dekh Kabira Roya, each unusual in its own way, has a certain je ne sais quoi. So does this, Nargis’s last film. There’s something a little hat ke about a film in which the romance is really quite minimal, and the strange light-and-shadow personality of a schizophrenic woman is the main focus of the plot.