Looking at the plotline, there is nothing in Yaadein to suggest that a film based on it would be different from the rest of the films that the formula based mainstream Indian film industry churns out day in and out. An erroneous husband comes back to his senses; the ‘honourable’ institution of marriage is saved. The wife in question is an ideal, understanding ‘Bharathiya Naari’, who despite being ill-treated, loves her husband, takes care of her family and performs her household duties to perfection. This could well have been one of those ‘sentiment’ oriented ‘weepy kerchief films’ that the South Indian film industry is so adept at churning out.
For some reason or the other, one missed watching Yaadein – the Hindi film made on this plot line, for over twenty years – i.e. ever since one came to know that such a movie existed. It was only last week that one could watch it, thanks to a DVD copy of the film. One’s keenness to watch Yaadein stemmed primarily from one fact - it proclaims to being, quoting the credit titles, the ‘world’s first one actor movie.’
So how has the director and in this case also the actor managed this? It is relatively easy in theatre for a solo actor to communicate to an audience; the means adopted is soliloquies – instances where a person talks loudly to himself, not addressing anyone in particular. Sunil Dutt, the producer, director and the solo actor of Yaadein, does takes recourse to this device, quite often in the film. At times he is even seen talking to innate objects like a wall painting or a bronze statue. Another device used is phone conversations where you hear the other person’s voice so as to let the viewer know what is going on in the main character’s mind. Through them we come to know that Anil Mehra, the protagonist of the film, is having an affair with another woman, he is anxious due to his wife’s absence from the house and that his friends think that his wife is a role model for all other married women in the world.
Anil Mehra misses his wife. Normally a sure shot method of communicating this to an audience would be to ask the character to get hold of a friend and confess to him through a dialogue as to how lonely he is. But now since as a filmmaker if you have closed down that option and you have already overused the soliloquies and phone conversations, what next?
Next, we have Anil looking at a hair pin that his wife used, stare at it with longing eyes in different angles, feel it with his chin and emotionally hold it close to his lips. He repeats the same routine with her dress, her bed, her musical instrument, his children’s toys etc… We also see him dramatically hold his head, face and chin in various places of the house – on the table, near the stairs, in the balcony, near the bed etc…to various emotional background music pieces. To be honest your first reaction when you see any of these is ‘Oh god, not again!’ But just when we start thinking that the director is making life easy for himself by using such easy and obvious devices for his solo character to communicate with his audience, the cinematic language of the film begins to get bolder, stranger and more and more out of the box within the contrast filled black and white roving images of cinematographer Ramchandra!
Yaadein takes place within a span of a single dark, rainy night where Anil remembers the events of his life that has led to the situation that he is presently in. Obviously there are flashbacks where we hear conversations that he has had with his wife, in happier times. In the initial part of the film we hear only the dialogues - voices of himself, his wife and children. But gradually, the film starts going ‘visually’ into the past. We actually see what Anil is thinking – the difference being that we don’t see the rest of the characters. The camera itself takes the point of view of the wife or their children. So, we now have Anil speaking to and having dialogues with the camera, which now has become a character. The gaze of the camera is normally the gaze of the audience. So in effect, the audience becomes the characters, thus its involvement in the story / film is ensured.
When the hero and the heroine of the film first meet over a cup of coffee, Mario Miranda’s cartoons are used to establish the atmosphere in the coffee shop and the characters in it. Over cartoon drawings of various couples sitting in various tables, we hear their respective interactions through dialogues on the sound track. The only live character in the entire sequence is the one played by Sunil Dutt. Anil enters the coffee shop, sits in front of the heroine, gets bullied by her brother, and finally even woes her – all this without showing the face of the heroine or her brother. Did one hear somebody say that mixing still cartoons with live characters is the prerogative of only a few music channels?
Further, during certain other times, especially in romantic situations, the director extends this logic when we see Anil hugging a portrait of a lady drawn on a glass pane, the portrait representing his wife! We hear the wife’s dialogues as we see the portrait. Taken out of its context, if one had to tell someone that Yaadein had many such sequences, it is possible that it would sound bizarre and even probably funny. But seen within the context of the rest of the techniques used in the film, it seems perfectly logical. And the glass pane even moves a couple of inches back when Priya, the wife’s character is not in a mood for physical intimacy and moves forward when she is! And when this happens, we do let ourselves believe that Anil Mehra and Priya are having an intimate moment between themselves!
If you are not awed or amused or shaken by the above sequences, then what follows in the film would surely make you do so! As the film progresses, we see numerous examples of the stubborn refusal by the director to show any other character in the film apart from its hero, in flesh and blood - the immediate one coming to mind a sequence where Anil decides to throw a party in his house to celebrate the birth of his son. Believe it or not, in this sequence balloons are used in lieu of real people. These balloons have human faces painted on them and they talk with each other through dialogues that we hear in the sound track! Anil interacts with them as if he is interacting with live people. A lady balloon serves drinks, yet another balloon is pissed drunk on the sofa, and a few more flirt with each other. But the effect - we really feel that a messy party is on. Due to the conviction with which the filmmaker has carried this off, our suspension of disbelief is complete.
In a sense it is surreal – like the scene just before the climax where Anil is confronted by the suddenly menacing looking noisy toy sets. In earlier times he used to play with the same toys with his children, but now in a true expressionist sense, they have returned to haunt him – some of them even hang in front of him, threaten him, follow him and block his way, wherever he goes.
After having heard and felt the character Priya, one longs to see her in flesh and blood, at least in the end when it becomes obvious that she is going to return to her house to forgive her husband. Maybe one’s mind made unfair connections with another film of the yesteryears - Jagte Raho (1956), where the only time we see a heroine (Nargis), is in the song Jago Mohan Pyare Jago right at the end. The voice of Priya in Yaadein is done by Nargis, but the closest that one comes to see her ‘live’ is when her shadow is shown rescuing the hero from the jaws of death. The sequence is shot in silhouette, the action of which happens on the other side of a backlit white cloth. A thought does cross one’s mind at this point of time. What difference would it have made if instead of a live shadow, we had seen the real Nargis rescuing Sunil Dutt? Or for that matter, what difference would it have made to the film if instead of using all those techniques to hide the other actors, the director actually showed them? Sunil Dutt could as well have done so, but choose not to because it was a creative option that he and his team had exercised. In filmmaking, most of us are forced to find creative solutions to issues that arise from circumstances upon which we do not have a control. But one would think that Sunil Dutt had the means to make this film on a scale that is much larger than what it is now, but chose not to.
As a filmmaker, one may think twice before using a balloon or a drawing on a glass pane and parade them as real characters in any of my films, even as a spoof. One is also not in tangent with the high-intensity, emotional pitch of the film or the melodramatic externalized acting of its central character or the depiction of its stereotypical characters, especially that of Priya who has no identity of her own apart from being a dutiful wife and a loving mother. It seems extremely odd today that the very first thing she does when she comes back, is to plead her husband to forgive her for she thinks that she has made a big mistake by walking out of her house / marriage - never mind that it is the adulterous husband who is at fault and not her!
But what finally makes Yaadein well worth the view, what excites one is its director's consistent creative experimentation with various cinematic tools that he has under him and his willingness to take risks and tread the path of the unknown.