‘Aandhi’ review: An Emotional Maelstrom From the Past

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Tracing the arc of a politician’s career even as the trajectory burns an emotional memory into your senses is an accomplishment you wouldn’t imagine a run-of-the-mill Hindi movie to achieve. But then Aandhi (Storm) isn’t ordinary cinema. 

Based on a story by Kamleshwar and written and directed by Gulzar (Bhushan Banmali shares the writing credits with him), Aandhi opens with what we’ve come to expect the director to do — tantalize us with the present. Here, Aarti Devi (Suchitra Sen), a powerful, middle-aged politico is in town for electioneering and she’s booked into a hotel where J.K. (Sanjeev Kumar) is the manager. Quietly cutting between scenes featuring J.K. and his Man Friday Binda Kaka (A.K. Hangal), and Aarti Devi and her workers, Gulzar gets right down to it, threading the connections of the past to a tenuous but unmistakable bond in the present. And he uses the kheer (rice pudding) and composer Rahul Dev Burman‘s violins—the opening of his wistfully sweet Is Mod Se Jaate Hain number — as motifs to cut to the first flashback.

Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen: after all these years…

From here on, as the couple meets — after years, as you realize — the director creates understated drama with an underlay of wit as you slowly understand what brought them together, and then, what slowly but surely shred through their relationship — perforated at first, then tearing them apart. This happens even as in the present, the electioneering efforts for Aarti Devi ratchet up and after a stone-throwing incident, J.K.’s concerns up the antenna of her campaign manager, Lallu Lal (Om Prakash, absolutely superb in his turn as a conniving alcohol-gulper, passing of said poison as meds for his liver.)

There’s also the opposition party candidate, Chandrasen (Om Shivpuri, very, very good) who’s up to his shenanigans to win the election at any cost, including instigating striking workers and keeping industrialists on a tight leash. Amidst all this, the relationship between J.K. and Aarti—kept under wraps by both of them, she for her political career’s sake, and he because he simply hates politics, politicians, and untoward publicity—bubbles out into the open. In a telling scene, as he notices the unmistakable warmth between the couple, Lallu comments on the change in weather to a driver and the driver asks him if it’ll rain anytime soon. Lallu repartees, “There’s going to be a storm.”

Suchitra Sen and Sanjeev Kumar: drive ok, please.

Aandhi is a beautiful tapestry of the man-woman relationship that also doesn’t hesitate to tear apart the wooing beauty and expose the underlying tensions and stress that any marriage must go through. In that sense, two people thrown together by love but separated by ideologies have a tougher job to keep things going. Gulzar doesn’t judge his characters and magically, neither do you. It’s just the way normal human beings behave and react, caught in a maelstrom of circumstances that neither fully knows how to deal with, and would much rather be in their comfort zones than risk stepping out, even if it means saving what means the most to them. It’s also a mature look at how, as we grow older, there’s a certain grace — hopefully for all of us — that comes in. A grace that only acceptance can bring in and then, the very same decisions that we took in our youth now feels righter, because this time, it’s done for the right reasons. 

A wall of nostalgic emotions.

Aiding this causal study and giving it its emotional heft is the cast. Suchitra Sen, whose character carries a whiff of the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is absolutely superb, especially in the older shades of her character, though at some places she does seem a little stiff—politics never did make for any smooth joints (not the smoking ones) ever. A.K.Hangal is downright down-to-earth with his emotions and torn between his love for the girl he brought up and the man he serves with equal affection. 

Om Prakash’s act is not lily-livered either.

But Aandhi‘s highlights are two men. Onscreen, Sanjeev Kumar is simply terrific. His ease of immersing into his character is matched only by his charm and twinkling eyes. Every scene he’s in, his is a presence that hypnotizes and you realize that playing someone who’s as suffocated by and yet yearns for his companion, falling prey to his male ego and yet not giving in, is an act, not many actors could lend such effortless power to. 

Sanjeev Kumar and A.K. Hangal: the sheer business of kheer.

The other highlighter is behind the screen. Composer Rahul Dev Burman cuts a winner all the way in Aandhi. He brings such depth and character to each song—steeping them in sweet melody and yet making them hummable—you’re moved as much by the onscreen happenings as the songs that create the unforgettable mise en scène. Apart from the aforementioned Is Mod Se number, he rolls out the lighter yet naturally restrained Tum Aa Gaye Ho. There’s a satirical qawwali number amidst all this—the only time Gulzar allows his characters and his composer some boisterousness—but that too is catchy, laced with his dripping irony of satirical lyrics. And then there’s the haunting, achingly melodic Tere Bina Zindagi Se that tugs somewhere deep inside of you, taking you back to a love that you cherished and lost and yet never stopped hoping for. Rahul Dev Burman also scores splendidly with his background music. His title music is fast-paced, a medley of his numbers for the movie, and yet there’s an interlude on the sitar and saxophone that then becomes the leitmotif for the estranged couple. It is to the composer’s credit that he uses the same tune across the movie and yet makes it so powerful every time that it adds to the uplifting sadness of nostalgia and of things gone by and things to come—note the scene when the present-day J.K. and Aarti Devi meet for the first time. The tablas pound like an anxious, emotive heartbeat, while the theme plays lightly like a dream long forgotten, and you realize that, minus his score, none of the scenes would have been as effective. Ditto for the climactic theme by which time Rahul Dev ensures that he has you fighting back tears with his music. It’s best to let go and let his music take over—this is one storm that’s worth getting lost into. 

Rahul Dev Burman: creating musical magic.
Aandhi (1975) on IMDb Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

Aandhi is rated U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition); why would you ever prevent any demographic from viewing such divine music?
Aandhi
Director Gulzar Time 2h 13min
Writers Gulzar, Bhushan Banmali
Stars Sanjeev Kumar, Suchitra Sen, Om Prakash, A.K. Hangal, Om Shivpuri
Genres Drama, Romance

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