A Night of Memories

Aadate bhi ajeeb hoti hai

saans lena bhi kaisi aadat hai

jiye jaana bhi kya rivayat hai

jiye jaate hai, jiye jaate hai

aadate bhi ajeeb hoti hai’

(Aadat/ Maya’s nazm – Gulzar)

A tale of memories, separation, and love that becomes difficult to separate from habit. A poet went behind the lens, translated his poetry to the visual medium. Released 34 years ago, Ijaazat was among Gulzar’s later films, a loose adaptation of Jatugriha, a Bengali short story by Subodh Ghosh. ‘Jatugriha’ – the house of the Pandavas in the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata, which was built such that it would go up in flames one day.

(Photo courtesy: Indian Express)

Sudha had once built a home with Mahender. Years later, when Mahender enters the waiting room of the station on a rainy night, her first impulse is to cover her face with the magazine held in her hand, to look for a different waiting room to spend the night. But there’s nowhere else to go, the only passengers in the room leave, for their train has arrived – leaving only the two of them to face each other’s past, memories left behind, memories they continue to carry within, and a long night of remembrance.

Sudha wears spectacles now. Mahender has kept a beard, takes less sugar in his tea. Does he live in the same place – their home? ‘Sab kuch wahi to nahi hai, par hai wahi.’ They can only speak of the little changes, too afraid to delve deeper. Sudha tries to look into Mahender’s wallet, to see if Maya’s photograph is still there. Why does she care, after all these years? She doesn’t know.

Maya. The one who made Sudha’s home feel like someone else’s. Mahender and Sudha had been pushed into an engagement by a father figure respected by both of them. In the several years between the engagement and the marriage, Mahender had fallen in love with Maya. What makes Ijaazat very different from the typical other woman story has a lot to do with Maya’s character. She doesn’t understand how the world works, but only knows how to love passionately. Maya doesn’t trust marriages, for she has only seen broken ones. It is difficult to not love Maya – an impulsive woman with the innocence of a child, who is always in a hurry, can disappear one day without a trace – perhaps only her nazms truly tell us who she is. Her things are scattered around Mahender’s house – things that make her presence constantly felt in Sudha and Mahender’s marriage. When her things are sent back to her, she asks for all that’s left behind – ek sau solah moonlit nights, rainy days of monsoon, and a lot, lot more:

‘Ek akeli chhatri mein jab

aadhe aadhe bheeg rahe the

Aadhe sookhe, aadhe geele

Sukha to mai le aayi thi

Geela mann shayad bistar ke paas pada ho

Wo bhijwa do, mera wo samaan lauta do’

Among the many things that make Ijaazat unforgettable, what stands out is its music. The Gulzar-Pancham duo is a celebrated one in itself, but to me, this film perhaps features their best work together. From the music of the opening track to Mera Kuch Samaan, each song is exquisitely written and composed, perfectly fitting the mood and leaving its mark beyond the film itself. Asha Bhosle talks about Katra Katra, another song from the film – ‘Pancham made me use the double voice effect – he made me sing Katra Katra twice, one over the other, to get an echo effect. This was much before editing and new forms of dubbing evolved.’

(Gulzar with Rekha during the shooting of the film)

Ijaazat is a mix of emotions, a film that speaks to us because we understand each individual. We understand why Sudha wants to run away from the waiting room first, but then involuntarily arranges Mahender’s things. It is this same habit – the impossibility of separating ourselves fully from the person we used to love, that once made Maya call Mahender even after they were supposed to forget one another, the ring of the telephone suddenly a threat to Sudha – breaking silences and moments of marital bliss. ‘Ghar bhi to waiting room tha,’ says Mahender to Sudha at the station – remembrance of a home that was built on uncertainty, a home where one must wait endlessly for the other to forget.

Despite a few things in the film that today’s world shall not agree with (the scene where Sudha touches Mahender’s feet makes me uncomfortable every time I watch it), it is interesting to note that Ijaazat has firmly stood the test of time. The story, its people, the music of Gulzar-Pancham, the cinematography of Ashok Mehta (who also did a quick cameo in the film wearing his iconic hat) – all of it has been loved over years and generations. Perhaps because each of us continue to carry a lot of the past within ourselves, and never really stop caring.

From the ind.igenous desk

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