What would be the worst part of living a nomad’s life? The lack of a settled dwelling? Or the felling of constant disengagement with the society?
Human beings are not meant to live alone. People, who try to fool themselves into believing that they need no one else in their lives, are usually the ones who get the worst out of this unforgiving world. One can never stop having attachments in the world around us, and one cannot really leave everything behind and move to another location taking everything away with him. This is because while moving from one place to the other, some small part of one’s heart always does get left behind. One cannot really escape this, however hard one tries. And that’s the reason people find it so hard to say goodbye.
Gulzar’s ‘Namkeen’ is a simple film about simple people who have to work very hard to make a decent living. It is a story of a nomadic truck driver Gerulal (Sanjeev Kumar in one of the last significant roles of his illustrious career) who picks up contractual work that requires him to travel to various towns, and that does not allow him to settle down at one place for long. For his latest assignment, he has to live in a small hilly village for a few days, and he picks up residence as a paying guest with a family of four ladies- one mother (Waheeda Rehman) and her three young daughters (Sharmila Tagore, Shabana Azmi, and Kiran Vairale). Soon, he gets sucked into their world- their problems, their hopes, and their day to day living. But before he can truly make them a part of his life (although at one level that happens just days into his stay with them), he has to leave the village and move on.
This is one movie where the drama is understated, and a lot of time is given to the building up of the relationship between the three girls and Gerulal. How he becomes so important to them and how manages to win the trust of them all, including their mother, is shown with the help of a series of bitter-sweet exchanges between them, most of which leave a smile of the face of the viewer. There are subtle references to the hardships that a household, composed entirely of women, has to face in a rural setting. The bonding between the three sisters, their respect for their senile mother, and their warm acceptance of a complete stranger in their lives- all of this reflects the rootedness and simplicity of the people of our villages. On the other hand Gerulal, the foul mouthed-large hearted truck driver, is equally respectful and warm towards his hosts and he demonstrates this warmth through his genuine concern for the ladies and his efforts to alleviate the challenges they face.
Gulzar mounts the story (written by Samresh Basu who had collaborated with Gulzar previously for Kitaab) on a very realistic canvas. The proceedings gradually transport you to the quaint little world of a small hill-station, and therein lay the magical Gulzar touch that makes make-believe believable. The dialogues are crisp and witty- another of the man’s hallmark. The performances are quite good, which is somewhat needless to say for Gulzar could have made even logs act, and this movie boasted of few of the most celebrated performers of that time. Sanjeev Kumar is Sanjeev Kumar- restrained, believable, and completely natural. Sharmila Tagore pitches in with a much more polished act than her previous attempt in a Gulzar movie- Mausam. Shabana Azmi is saddled with one of her rare supporting roles.
The scene stealer however is the youngest sister, played by Kiran Vairale. Hers is a fiery character with a streak of rebellion, and she manages to hold her own in front of the best actors of those times. Waheeda Rehman, the veteran, in the role of the mother is effective, but hers does seem to be a labored performance.
The music by RD Burman doesn’t boast of a truly memorable song, but all songs are melodious and go with the texture of the narrative. The best one is ‘Raah pe Rahte hain’, a song in the same philosophical mode as ‘Musafir Hoon Yaaron’ from Parichay.
Parting Note: Namkeen is another good movie from Gulzar’s stable; I guess there isn’t really any below the mark movie made by the maestro (just a few left for me to catch up on). I guess a thoughtful and articulate man as Gulzar who was primarily a writer (and a superb one at that) would have found it hard to make a movie which was not at least above average.