Friday, January 13, 2012

Sargam: Bang a Drum for Rishi Kapoor!

The melodrama is a style of filmmaking that has really fallen out of favor these days in Bollywood (see also: the ridiculously overblown backlash against Mausam) but it’s one I find very soothing. I love getting to know a set of characters and feel all the emotions of joy and sadness as they travel through their story. Whether the ending is happy or sad, a good melodrama will leave you feeling emotionally sated but it takes time and patience to reach that ending. You can’t just pop in a melodrama while you eat dinner on a Wednesday night or stream it in 10 minute chunks via youtube while simultaneously checking e-mail and playing Farmville, which is how a lot of us end up watching films these days.

Lest you think I’m putting myself on a high horse, I’ve had the Rishi Kapoor-Jaya Prada starrer Sargam* sitting on top of a pile of DVDs to be watched for going on three years now. It’s not that I didn’t want to watch it but there always seemed to be something else more pressing to view - newer releases to review; borrowed discs to return; flops to pick apart for Box Office Poison. I never seemed to find the time for a slow-moving and melodramatic Rishi Kapoor film. It’s a lot harder to hit that melodrama zone on the couch with all the distractions of home versus in the theater but thanks to an attack of both illness and some major ennui this week, it finally seemed the right time to tune into Sargam and I’m very glad I did because it turned out to be a very pleasant experience!

[Hema and her immaculately penciled eyebrows.]

Sargam is the story of village belle Hema (Jaya Prada), who lives a mostly quiet life with her with her father aka Masterji (Shriram Lagoo), step-mother Savitri (Shashikala), half-sister Champa (Rajni Sharma), step-aunt (Leela Mishra), and step-cousin (Dheeraj Kumar) but she has two major problems: the first is that she cannot talk and the second is that her step-mother favors her own daughter Champa over Hema in every way. Masterji used to be a classical dancer but had to give it up when he became paralyzed in some sort of accident that is only darkly hinted at (in the subtitles at least) and he now leads a misty life teaching school, leaving all matters of the household to his wife. Savitri, for her part, is concerned only with dreams of stardom... for her daughter. Hema tries to provide what little love she can to her father and to her her friends in the village, including hunky wandering minstrel Raju (Rishi Kapoor). She may not be able to talk but she communicates with her heart and her dance and via Tusshar Kapoor in Golmaal style gestures.

Things take a nasty turn for Hema when Savitri’s harassment escalates from household chores to forbidding dance lessons (because Hema outshines Champa). Add to this is Masterji’s increasingly poor health and Savitri’s determination to scramble together enough cash to get herself and Champa to Bombay and Hema’s life is about to come crashing into pieces.

[Aruna Irani being bad-ass, as always.]

[Shakti Kapoor being his rapey self, as always.]

I’ll leave the details of how all this unfolds for your viewing pleasure but I should add that there are two more characters of importance - Kusum (Aruna Irani), a divorced woman that Raju meets when his wanderings take him to the big city and her rapey ex-husband Prakash (Shakti Kapoor).

There were a number of things I found pleasantly surprising and extremely charming about Sargam. The music, of course, was wonderful and it comes as no surprise that Laxmikant-Pyarelal won the Filmfare Award for Best Music Directors for this film. And it was quite a treat to see Jaya Prada dancing and Rishi Kapoor emoting to Mohammed Rafi. One of the things I miss most in contemporary Bollywood are those really emotional laments - do people not feel anything today or do we just not care?

[Champa loves her films...!]

[Shashikala! HELLO!]

For a film from 1979 that featured Shakti Kapoor, Sargam was also surprisingly feminist. Hema may be a pure and sweet heroine but she also is the protagonist. And she stands up for what she wants. And she ends up rescuing the hero. Kusum may be married to Shakti Kapoor but she defends her own honor and wields a pretty nasty weapon. AND Savitri may be a big jerk at the beginning of the film but in the finest tradition of classic Bollywood, she isn’t tossed away like garbage but reintegrated into the family unit. Besides, Hema’s father is such a mopey old wet blanket that you can kind of understand how Savitri got this way. Feelings of jealousy over Hema or insecurity of her place in his affections calcified into bitterness and meanness. Shashikala plays it well. In fact, the only woman who doesn’t really have any agency of her own is dopey Champa but she does manage to get in a line or two and she is never shown as cruel towards Hema - just clueless.

As Raju, Rishi Kapoor is a complete sweetheart. He is your prototypical beta male and perfectly content like that. It’s kind of odd how the romance progresses because - spoiler alert Hema and Raju do fall in love - it’s not your typical filmi romance. Raju is content as a wandering singer and it never occurs to him that he can fall in love and (I suspect) he’s totally uninterested in settling down and getting a job and owning a house and having responsibilities. Raju is happy being Raju.

[And we all know this guy!]

And that’s basically it for Sargam. Director K. Viswanath adds some additional zazzle to the Rishi Kapoor-ness with some very clever editing techniques, using a still frame montage style and (occasionally) going into kaleidoscope vision.

All in all, a very enjoyable film - even if it is a lengthy, slow-paced melodrama.

*Apparently, Sargam is a remake of a Telugu film titled Siri Siri Muvva but I’m not sure how closely it follows the original. Judging by the summary on wikipedia it seems much less progressive than Sargam.


Moimeme said...

I haven't seen Sargam, but from your review it sounds like a pretty exact remake of Siri Siri Muvva, which was also directed by K.Viswanath.

And, if you're not already familiar with K.Viswanath's series of music and dance based films that were all made around this time, here are the rest of them, which you might also enjoy (since you're into South Indian movies, anyway):

Sankarabharanam, Sapta Padi, Saagara Sangamam, Siri Siri Muvva, Swarnakamalam, Swati Mutyam, Swati Kiranam, Sruthi Layalu, Sirivennela.

Sirivennela and Swati Mutyam (remade into Hindi as Eeswar with Anil Kapoor) also feature disabled characters as leads.

Ava Suri said...

I saw Sargam when it came out. I liked the ambience of the film. At the time I did not know how to react to it. I agree these kind of melodramas needed a patient watch. In retrospect, I think it was a sweet sort of a film.

Raju and Hema are uncomplicated characters trying to live on their own terms in this harsh world, like two innocents, as the priest of the temple rightly understands.

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I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

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