Aka Garam Coat, though The Clerk and the Coat is the title as it appears in the credits of this film, and is also the title for which the Censor Certificate was issued.
This film had been among my bookmarks for a long time, but I’d been putting off watching it because I had a suspicion it would turn out to be very depressing. And I’ve not been in a state of mind conducive to being able to watch depressing cinema. But after having watched several rather ho-hum films (Kismat ka Khel, Passport) I figured I should take the plunge and watch something good, even if not exactly frothy and cheery. Garam Coat, after all, was written by Rajinder Singh Bedi, for whom I have a great deal of respect.
The story is set in an unspecified North Indian town, where Girdhari (Balraj Sahni) lives with his wife Geeta (Nirupa Roy) and their three children: two girls and a pampered toddler named Chanda. Girdhari is a clerk at the post office, where he handles money orders. His two best friends are his colleagues Munilal ‘Muni’ (Rashid Khan) and Sher Khan (Jayant). Girdhari’s salary is so meagre that he and Geeta have to carefully monitor every paisa. This for the rent, this for the milkman, this for the kiraane ki dukaan from where they buy their groceries. This much for the insurance premium, for the electricity bill, for the girls’ school fees.
In Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Dastak, there is a scene well into the film which offers a glimpse of both what this film is about and what its tone is like, how it conveys its messages.
Hamid Ahmed (Sanjeev Kumar) is about to leave home for office. His wife Salma (Rehana Sultan) brings him a cup of tea. In a large cage that sits in their room is a mynah which has been mimicking Salma’s voice so perfectly that Hamid has mistaken something it’s said for his wife’s words. Salma, smiling mischievously, points out his error and tells Hamid about a so-called brother of hers from her village.
Salma: ‘… woh kaha karte thhe, “Pinjre mein panchhi ko band karne se bada paap lagta hai”.’ (He used to say, ‘It is a great sin to imprison a bird in a cage.’)
Hamid (smiling): ‘Chhod dene se bhi toh lagta hai.’ (‘Releasing it too can be a sin.’)
Salma: ‘Woh kaise?’ (‘How is that?’)
Hamid: ‘Baahar sainkaron baaz, shikre… koi bhi khaa jaaye.’ (‘There are so many birds of prey outside. Any of them might eat this one up.’)
It is sad that among the people responsible for making cinema what it is, the spotlight is invariably only on the ones whom the audience sees and hears. Actors, singers. Composers and directors, by dint of their work being most visible (or audible). We know these, we are familiar with them. We watch films for them. But how often do we stop to think who wrote the story for a film? Who wrote this dialogue that we have exulted over, who wrote this screenplay that fits so perfectly?
Rajinder Singh Bedi, the man who wrote the dialogues for so many of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films—from Mem-Didi to the hilarious Biwi aur Makaan, from the sensitive Anupama to Satyakam, is perhaps one of the exceptions. Not because people pay attention to who wrote the dialogues for a film (or even the story), but because his name is known as that of a literary stalwart. The man who wrote Ek Chaadar Maili Si; a winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Ghalib Award, and the Padmashri. The director (and writer) of Dastak. The man on whose death Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq offered condolences, saying that it was a loss not just for India, but for Pakistan as well.
Some days back, Nischint ‘Nishi’, who is Mr Bedi’s niece (his younger brother’s daughter) left a comment on my blog about her illustrious uncle. Me, being what I am (always eager to know more about the cinema of yesteryears) asked if she would be kind enough to write a guest post for this blog. She agreed. Click this link: Rajinder Singh Bedi – Biography to read a brief biography that she provided for her uncle, and read on for a heart-warming little insight into the man Rajinder Singh Bedi was.