A sculpture in a hospital shows my mood while watching this stereotype-indulging, slow movie about clueless, unthinking people. Bored and in pain, though at least Memsaab kept me company.
Only the too-brief apperance of Shashi - who magically burst through a door just as I was saying "Where iiiiiiiiiiiis he?!?" -
and two scenes of Shammi provided any relief. And I include in that R. D. Burman/Gulzar/Asha Bhosle's award-winning music, which hit my ear as overly synthesized and cheesy.
The bulk of Gulzar's Ijaazat, based on a story by Subodh Ghosh, is a flashback of the story of Sudha (Rekha) and Mahinder (Naseeruddin Shah), who meet unexpectedly in a train station waiting room one rainy night.
This long-suffering, bad-decision-making doormat and self-centered, wishy-washy, spoiled brat were married years ago, set up by her family friend/his grandfather, played by a kindly, prayer-spouting Shammi Kapoor sporting a truly excellent beard.
They liked each other well enough, but Mahinder was actually in love with the appropriately-named Maya (Anuradha Patel), a manic (-depressive) pixie dream girl the likes of which I have not yet seen in Indian cinema.
See how free-spirited she is? So unconventional! So intimate! So darling! Vomit!
Mahinder loves his grandfather too much to upset him, though, so even when asked point-blank if he loves someone other than Sudha, Mahinder denies it, then frantically searches for Maya, who, showing her true colors from the get-go, is nowhere to be found, leaving notes and poems in her wake. Maya continues to reappear throughout the early days of Sudha and Mahinder's marriage, causing pain to everyone. Sudha is distraught that her husband so clearly loves somebody else but tries to put on a brave face and behaves far more charitably towards Maya's physical and emotional baggage than anyone should ever be expected to do. Mahinder can't make up his mind whether he is through with Maya or not and masochistically refuses to extricate himself from her clutches, answering her calls and rushing to her side when she pulls attention-getting trauma-drama. Maya pouts and giggles like a thirteen-year-old, even writing her romance on her t-shirt.
It says "I love Mahinder" in pink script. RUN AWAY!
She might as well just write "I'm a fractured little doll, and I know you'll fall over yourself to protect me from my demons." Why Mahinder is attracted to this, I do not know, but then again, I'm also baffled in real life when people value unpredictability and brokenness over smarts, humor, and stability. The film overstates Sudha's perfection, but she's clearly a good, affectionate person who uses her brain and her heart.
I'm none too pleased about what this movie seems to say about women: they're shown to be mostly doormats (Sudha), unthinking flakes (Maya), or despondent criers (Sudha's mother Parvati, played by Sulabha Deshpande). Though they are not catty or cruel to each other, as women are too often portrayed, they are either self-damagingly (is that a word?) forgiving (Sudha) or inappropriately familiar (Maya, who refers to Sudha as "didi," as though she's a member of the family). Even the title - "leave; permission to depart; sanction," according to my Oxford Hindi-English dictionary - is maddening. Mahinder has made it all too clear that he does not really value Sudha or their marriage, certainly not in the way she wants/needs, so why on earth should she be concerned about what he thinks of her decisions? Like Suhaag, this movie takes long-suffering idealized wifeliness to a new level. Unlike Suhaag (and probaly many others), here a woman finally does make the decision to leave, and she does with a refreshing lack of drama or fanfare. "I'm done here," her actions seem to say. And thankfully she remains done, even after the train station confessional in which Mahinder spills out all that happened with Maya after Sudha had left.* She is not unfeeling toward him, but she does not re-engage with him for more than a few seconds. I like that she is still warm and thoughtful but sure of her own path, rather than just shutting him down and walling herself off (even though that's such a tempting option when someone has treated you like crap).
On the plus side for the movie, it is the women who cause most of the movement - it might be giving Maya too much credit to say she really has much volition and actually makes deicisions, but her...behavior, let's call it, and the things she says send Mahinder reeling and jigging to her tune; he mostly reacts throughout life, even ignoring opportunities to simplify or disengage from dangerous or complicated situations. I don't agree with most of Sudha's decisions (or the unspoken rationale she appears to be operating by), but she does seem to make them. Just look at Sudha and Mahinder's belongings in the train station: she is controlled and neat and out of the way (like a good little wife, the movie might be saying); his stuff is in a jumble, right in the center of things. In fact, Mahinder couldn't find his suitcase key and had to borrow one from Sudha, whose bag was by the same manufacturer. He's such a mess that he still needs her reliability, years after their separation.
In short, I don't know why anyone would want to make a story about these three people - or watch it, since people did actually bother to make it. Like Bombay Talkie, there's little but misery here, and I couldn't even feel sorry for the characters, since Sudha and Mahinder both had the ability to stop the flow of drama and suffering they felt, and Maya was just too irritating and foolish to feel anything towards whatsoever. The performances are good - quite strong in moments, especially in the few bursts of humor - but you can see good performances from these people elsewhere. A note on production: I almost forgot to mention how horrible the sound is - footsteps in particular are way too loud.
Gratuitous handsome almost-fifty Shashi picture!
Upgrade! That's a gentlemanly "in yo' face" to all the man-children out there. I love how the presence of Shashi immediately demonstrates how living well is the best revenge. If this movie had been half as long, it might have been worth sitting through just for Shashi; as is, that's a tough call, even with such an effective little role.
More favorable takes on Ijaazat can be found at Old Is Gold, A Walk in the Clouds, Bobby Talks Cinema, and Sen's Spot (by the author of the Alternate Movies blog). I have to state for the record that I completely disagree with the latter's statement that "This is a must see for all the women folks"; I guess the last few minutes serve as hope that people can learn from their mistakes and move on to better things, but surely that's a lesson for both genders. Plus the ending scene seems a little too close to "knight in shining armor" for my liking, and as we all know, heartbroken and sad as you may be, Shashi Kapoor is not going to burst through your front door and whisk you off to your new, improved life.
This is the first of my new stash of twenty movies from Si, who has been doing archival research in India and graciously sends me treats. My collection is now chock-full of Dharmendra! Woohoo!
Also, I think someone with the skills (ahem) should make a video of Rekha dancing to "Single Ladies."
* Other bloggers have interpreted the final scene differently.
** Kidding! Man-(even-Shashi!)-saves-woman is an "avoid, yaar!" for sure 'round these parts.