“Shaadi shuda aadmi to zyaadatar akela hi hota hai, hai na?” (“A married man is often lonely, isn’t it?”) Rita, one of Amar’s colleagues, says philosophically in response to Amar’s question as to how she knew he was left all alone in the office. She uses the word ‘akela’ (Hindi for ‘alone’ and ‘lonely’) in the sense of ‘lonely’ instead of ‘alone’, which is the sense in which Amar uses the same word in his casual question to her. This is the first scene and the very first exchange between any two characters of the film, and the central theme of the movie is thrust forward without prelude, uncontaminated by context, projecting it as an absolute problem arising naturally as an inevitable consequence of a married life. The film seeks to look into the nature of marital loneliness, so to speak, as a seemingly context-free aspect of all marriages.
Aavishkar, released in 1973, is chronologically the second in Basu Bhattacharya’s triad of films dealing with marital discords in urban settings with the other two being Anubhav (1971) and Griha Pravesh (1979). In Anubhav Basu Bhattacharya deals with the twin subjects of marital adjustments and the ‘other man’ from the wife’s past in an arranged marriage scenario against the backdrop of urban life. Aavishkar, on the other hand, grapples with a far more complex issue of the withering away of love in a rebellious love marriage. Surprisingly, Bhattacharya casts the superhit pair of the mainstream Hindi cinema — Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore — in the lead roles, which was a very courageous step because in making a film on a delicate subject with big stars in the lead roles, the greatest challenge is to defend the sensitive theme against the easy encroachments of stardom.
And in 1973, in terms of stardom, there was nobody bigger or mightier than the rage-of-the-nation superstar Rajesh Khanna.
In 1969 — a good four years prior to the release of Aavishkar — Rajesh Khanna shot to national fame overnight with Aaradhana opposite his Aavishkar co-star Sharmila Tagore, and was almost immediately hailed as the “first superstar of India” by the industry experts and film critics alike. Rajesh Khanna did not fail to deliver on the promise of his initial success and followed Aaradhana up with another superhit, Haathi Mere Saathi (1971), which went on to become the highest grosser of all times back then. In 1972, Rajesh Khanna starred in 11 films, including Bangaru Babu (Telugu), out of which 10 were successful including such superhits as Dushman, Amar Prem, Apna Desh, and Mere Jeevan Saathi, hits like Joru Ka Ghulam and Bawarchi, and semi-hits like Dil Daulat Duniya and Shehzada.
In 1972-73, when Aavishkar was shot and released, Rajesh Khanna was at the very peak of his unchallenged superstardom with the ‘Shehanshah of Bollywood’ yet to rise with Zanjeer (1973), Sholay (1975) and Deewar (1975). However, it’s worth a mention that Mr. Bachchan was Rajesh Khanna’s co-star in Anand (1971) and was also the off-screen narrator in the Rajesh Khanna starrer Bawarchi (1972).
It is not hard to imagine the challenges involved in casting Rajesh Khanna — the ‘first superstar’ of Hindi cinema and also the style icon with much admired and widely loved Khanna-typical mannerisms — in the lead in a film that required him to play a normal, realistic, everyday husband, and not the super charming romantic hero he was generally looked upon as. Both Basu Bhattacharya and Rajesh Khanna managed to face the challenge successfully. Barring a few places in the film, one does not really note the mainstream Rajesh Khanna in the Amar of Aavishkar. And it was no mean achievement for Rajesh Khanna back then. It is not very clear why Rajesh Khanna even agreed to do a film that can at best be described as a ‘non-mainstream’ movie or an art film or parallel cinema. Perhaps he wanted to prove his mettle as an actor too after having established himself as a star, nay, superstar of the mainstream Hindi cinema. However, Rajesh Khanna’s performance in Aavishkar does not quite establish him as a gifted actor, but it does indicate that he was not a complete non-actor either, which is a fact further reinforced by his performance in Red Rose (1980), another off-beat film.
On the other hand, it must have been quite a challenge for Basu Bhattacharya as well to make Rajesh Khanna drop his typical nods, head-shakes and those quirky shoulder-drops and casual shrugs that he often employed to popular adulation, which, in turn, fuelled the creation of his much loved romance-icon persona of the silver screen. He did not have to venture too far off in Aavishkar so far as the rebellious romance part goes. Amar of Aavishkar is much of a rebellious lover boy to start with, which suited Rajesh Khanna’s mainstream image. He and his beloved, Mansi (Sharmila Tagore), fight it out with the society and manage to get married despite the staunch opposition of Mansi’s father.
We meet the couple in the present day when their marriage is actually in tatters and the background love story is told in flashback snatches. So, the events of the present day life are laid out side by side with the bygone times highlighting the contrast, which makes it sadder on the one hand but, on the other, underscores the fact that the love affairs preceding love marriages do not clothe love marriages with any special armour against the regular post-marital issues that come to cloud all marriages almost invariably. In fact, after a few years all marriages — love or arranged — take on the same character, and, exceptions excluded, it’s usually hard to tell one kind from the other.
The very first scene of the movie posits that the most valuable thing in a human life is ‘dreams’. And dreams get replaced by ‘desires’ in the life of married people because after marriage people turn ‘practical’, and start living a life that is bereft of dreams and is lived from one socially-determined marital milestone to another. Consequently, married people tend to feel lonely and empty from having been compelled to let go of what mattered to them in the joint pursuit of the predetermined ends of a married life. The frustration is far more acute in case of love marriages because the dream of a fulfilling married life, which the lovers are confident of realizing on the force of ‘love’, is chipped away day after day as the concrete reality of life drills its way into the cotton cloud of romantic fantasies.
However, the romance of their love affair does pass into the married life of Amar and Mansi, and it does stay for a while before fading away for no particular reason. They have a child and there are no financial problems with Amar doing well professionally. So, their married life has every thing that makes life happy and fulfilling, and still their marriage is not quite as happy and smooth as they had thought it would be. Something is amiss. Mansi finds that Amar has a little something going on with one Rita, an office colleague of Amar, but that is not serious enough to be taken seriously. It’s more like a minor hitch in their married life capable of sparking off nothing more than a few heated exchanges.
There is nothing that this love marriage does not have going for it including the pre-marital struggle and initial parental resistance and disapproval, and no major post-marital tide hits the boat, so to speak, and still the marriage runs into rough weather. Why? What is the problem? What goes wrong? What is the struggle about? In fact, there is no particular reason one can put one’s finger on, nothing goes wrong and there is no struggle to speak of. What actually happens to the marriage is the marriage and the married life itself. Their fights are pointless and revolve around immaterial issues, which they tend to understand and also resolve most of the times, but the love they had felt for each other during their premarital courtship days and also during the initial days of their marriage remains beyond reach, which is perhaps the source of the frustrating discontent they seem to be struggling with.
They keep looking at the present through the looking glass of the past and bitterly resent the fact that the present is not the same as the past, if not better. They spiral down from a loving married couple to a quarrelling one soon after the birth of their child, but the film does not associate the degeneration of the marital relationship with the birth of the child but with the general boredom and frustration caused by the deadening monotony of the married life.
Finally, when things hit rock bottom, the two engage in a heart-to-heart on an early winter morning against the backdrop of a soft, warm rising sun indicating a fresh start, a new beginning. They realize that their marriage, like all marriages, demanded work, and that there were no permanently broken parts interfering with a smooth functioning of their marriage. They were looking for the problems in the wrong place, or perhaps were just looking for the problems where there were none. The solution, therefore, lay in accepting the change and working with it rather than resisting it. They get back home, and Mansi finds the flowers Amar had brought the night before and had left outside the house. She embraces the flowers affectionately and welcomingly like the two had decided to embrace their life and future together.
The climax of the film makes an easy and rather undramatic landing reflecting a well thought out directorial refrain, which is very much in keeping with the realistic shade and tone of the film. Most of the real life problems and their solutions are not quite as dramatic as they are generally portrayed in our movies. Aavishkar stays clear of the commonplace over-dramatization quite carefully, and lays out the bare truth without playing it up or down, which is possibly the greatest strength of the film.