The haunting notes of Abhimaan

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Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya 
Bhaduri in Abhimaan

Dinesh Raheja

Abhimaan begins with the camera pulling back from a House Full board displayed outside a theatre.

Producer Director Music Director Stars
 Pawan Kumar  Hrishikesh Mukherjee  S D Burman  Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bhaduri

Commercial success might have been playing on director Hrishikesh Mukherjee's mind (and indeed Abhimaan was reasonably well received). But the film's enduring appeal lies primarily in the fact that it is a deceptively gentle yet intensely probing exploration of a troubled marriage caused by fragile egos and fractured psyches.

Released within months of its lead players Jaya and Amitabh's marriage June 3, 1973, Abhimaan deals with newlyweds. The screen couple encounter discord due to their differing levels of professional success.

Subir (Amitabh) is a star singer, known for his repertoire of crowd-pleasing songs, a fact established by the Kishore Kumar number, Meet na mila re man ka. As the breezily-sung song subliminally suggests, Subir feels acutely alone, despite being besieged by midnight telephone calls from frantic female fans and despite having an amiable friend in Chitra (Bindu), a rich socialite who fawns over him.

Subir's visit to his doting aunt, Durga Mausi (Durga Khote), who lives in a distant village, fructifies in a meeting with Uma (Jaya Bhaduri), daughter of a classical singer. Subir is drawn to Uma's rendition of the Shiv vandana and eventually to Uma herself.

Interestingly, director Mukherjee subtly suggest the differing points of view underlying the obvious attraction that the couple feel for each other.

When Subir asks Uma if she enjoys his songs, she admits to liking some, but describes his songs as "haa hu, cheekna chillana." When Subir explains that he is only catering to the gallery, she queries, "Aap logon ko khush karne ke liye gaate hain (Do you sing to please others)?"

At Subir and Uma's wedding reception, Subir insists Uma join him in a duet. Raisaab (David), a renowned classical singer, recognises the fact that Uma is a better singer and confides to a friend that he fears a troubled future for the couple.

When the friend assures Raisaab that the problem won't arise as Uma would soon be chained in the bonds of domesticity and motherhood, Raisaab laments, "Woh toh aur bhi bura hogaa" (that will be even worse).

Pithy lines like these, penned by novelist Rajinder Singh Bedi, lend depth to seemingly ordinary scenes.

The film evocatively captures the blissful early days of the marriage --- the scenes have a ring of truth. Subir, before drinking his morning cuppa, cups Jaya's face in his hands and plants a kiss. In a hilarious subsequent scene, when Subir presses his finger on his lips --- his code for 'I want a kiss' --- the washerwoman unwittingly emulates his gesture. Uma breaks into an uncontrollable fit of giggles.

Reality invades this paradise. Exhorted by Subir, Uma sings a duet with him and finds herself flooded with solo song offers. Over the next few reels, Mukherjee feelingly etches the chasm between the couple. He is fortunate to have the advantage of the insight that only an entertainment industry insider can possess.

For instance: on sighting Uma, Subir's fans snatch their autograph books and make a beeline for her. Photographers ask Subir to stand aside while they click Uma's solo pictures. The final straw proves to be a producer offering Uma Rs 5,000 per song, which is more than Subir's price.

Deeply hurt, Subir bottles his emotions and uncorks the whiskey bottle.

In a scene that places a finger on the film's pulse, Subir (who has taken to spending time in Chitra's house), laments in a self-pitying tone, "Pehle akela tha, ab bhi akela hoon (I was, and am, alone)." Chitra observes that loneliness is a self-inflicted pain caused by chhote chhote abhimaan aur aham (petty ego).

Uma volunteers to stop singing, but ends up wounding Subir's scarred self-image further. In a moment of pique, he tells Uma that he doesn't need her.

Uma returns to her village, only to realise that she is carrying Subir's baby. When the news is conveyed to Subir, he is secretly delighted but his ego still needles him.

The cataclysm is reached when Uma loses her baby. A contrite Subir brings her home, but an emotionally-petrified Uma has stopped responding to pain or happiness, even music. In a bid to shatter the wall of silence surrounding Uma, Subir does a stage show where he sings their song: Tere mere milan ki yeh raina.

This evidence of her husband's love finally implodes the barriers within Uma and she breaks down and weeps copiously. In a kerchief-wringing scene, Subir gently holds Uma and urges her to sing once again.

Superb performances by Amitabh and Jaya are the life force of the film. While watching Abhimaan, one is tempted to wonder if Jaya's subsequent opting out of the limelight was partially influenced by this film. Amitabh plays a star singer with flamboyant élan, looks genuinely in love and later wears the sullen look as if it were second skin.

Jaya is appropriately expressive in the first half and appears effectively numbed in the climax.

Bindu succeeds in becoming the onscreen representation of the audience. Asrani is terrific as the secreatry who constantly familiarises Subir with his fragile-as-China male ego. In the scene after Asrani has angrily resigned as Amitabh's secretary and is walking out, the phone rings. Asrani automatically moves towards the phone to attend the call, stops himself and leaves. A fine directorial touch.

Finally, the film's celebrated music score is enhanced by the creativity in its utilization. Each song in Abhimaan fits snugly into its situation.


* Only months before Abhimaan was released, Amitabh Bachchan had finally broken through to major league stardom with Zanjeer. 1973 was a good time for AB as he delivered one more hit Namak Haram (also directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee) in the same year.

* Jaya shared Filmfare's Best Actress Award for Abhimaan with Dimple Kapadia, who won for Bobby.

Famous songs from Abhimaan:
  Song  Singers
  Meet na mila re manka  Kishore Kumar
  Nadiya kinare  Lata Mangeshkar
  Loote koi man ka nagar  Lata Mangeshkar, Manhar Udhas
  Teri bindiya re  Lata Mangeshkar,Mohammed Rafi
  Ab toh hai tumse  Lata Mangeshkar
  Peeya bina  Lata Mangeshkar
  Tere mere milan ki yeh raina  Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar

The Music:
* The truly memorable, award-winning score of Abhimaan marked yet another efflorescence of S D Burman's already legendary talent. In the same year, 1973, his compositions for Anuraag and Jugnu also created waves --- and all this when S D was already 67!

* Anuradha Paudwal (who sang a shloka) and Manhar Udhas stepped into the limelight with the film.

* The SD-Majrooh Sultanpuri team of Paying Guest, Kaala Paani and Sujata hit the bull's eye once again with Abhimaan.

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