That’s the title of the book my roommate gave me for my birthday. As it happens, my birthday was bang in the middle of a week full of lab exams and surprise tests; I gave the book back to Roomie and asked her to keep it at the back of her cupboard and not give it to me until the exams were all over. It’s more than a month now since then, and I neatly forgot to bring it back here.
I’m regretting that. It’s easily one of the best translations I’ve read [The original is in Hindi, Suraj Ka Saathvaan Ghoda by Dharamvir Bharti, and somehow I wish I’d read that], and the eponymous movie based on it is really good, for a change [by Shyam Benegal, starring Rajit Kapoor, Pallavi Joshi, Neena Gupta, Amrish Puri and a whole host of other ‘art’ film actors]. I’ve read the book only once, and concluded then that it wasn’t really relevant in our world now. More of an ’80s socially conscious book, I said.
Plotline: The novel [or should it be novella?] is in the form of a collection of six incidents narrated by Manik Mulla [the chief protagonist, Rajit Kapoor in the movie] to the gang that gathers at his house regularly to escape the afternoon heat. I won’t go into the detailed storyline here, for the story weaves into a tangled web where the different characters enter more than once, affecting each others’ lives at various times.
From one point of view, it’s about the protagonist’s involvement with three women, each from a different strata of society. The first story deals with the middle-class Jamuna [Rajeshwari Sachdev in the movie] whose lover Tanna can’t muster enough guts to defy his father [Amrish Puri] and come to her, and foists her pent-up affection on Manik, then a young lad. The next story deals with her being married off to a much older man and how she circumvents [as opposed to overcome] her middle class moralities in order to get herself a better life.
Next, we see a bit of Tanna’s life, his individuality being quashed by his overbearing father. He is married off [in exchange for a hefty dowry] to the well-educated Lily [Pallavi Joshi], who happens to be Manik’s lady love.
That’s that, you think, but there’s more. There’s the soapmaker, whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten [Neena Gupta], who holds all the men in raptures, and is enraptured by Manik. He, at this stage is in a stage of worry about his future plans, and confides in her. In time, he understands she isn’t his intellectual equal, and never will be. Tanna’s father now wants her, and so buys her off her uncle. She runs to Manik for help, but his middle-class mentality falls in the way of him rescuing her, and he delivers her to her uncle and Amrish Puri. He gives her up for dead, and resumes his life.
Flash forward to Manik narrating this last tale. The group reflect on how the lower-middle class aren’t able to break free of the pseudo values they believe in, which keep them shackled, inhibiting them from following their dreams and aspirations and bettering their lives. He likens the stories to the six horses of the sun’s chariot, saying that they have grown old and bent, and don’t pull the chariot as well as they used to. But there’s hope in the form of the seventh horse, [or that the seventh horse is the embodiment of hope] who is young, vibrant and enthusiastic, and will pull the sun towards a new day, which, hopefully will be better than yesterday.
<><>The climax comes after this, and… well, I won’t divulge it here, but it is one of those that leaves you feeling the same way when you spent a good five minutes polishing your shoes, and someone comes along and stamps them dirty. But then, it does leave you thinking about the stories for a long time…
<><>The book is a good work of socially conscious fiction, but the reader needs to keep in mind that this book was written in the ’80s, when he is thinking of how relevant the issues the author deals with are. The movie is, for a change, faithful to the book. The only place where it departs from the book is in the omission of the climactic ‘punch’, which, on hindsight, I feel, could not have been included in the movie.
The translation is a good piece of work, but it made me wish I’d read it in Hindi, for the phrases and idioms in Hindi obviously convey more than the English versions. The pace is easy, and the story flow is smooth, with each story blending into the other with ease.
Same can be said of the movie, which is an ‘art’ film, which means the actors can actually act. The characters are convincing. More so, since I was not aware of the ‘actor’ status of most of them, save Pallavi Joshi and Amrish Puri, when I watched the film. Editing is deft, and the scenes blend seamlessly into each other.
All in all, I’ll say it’s a good read, and a good watch. Unlike most other film adaptations, this is one film you can watch before you read the book, and not feel backstabbed when you read the book. You can even catch the flick after you read the book, and not feel like ranting about what a bad adaptation it is for two hours.
PS: Phew! My first book review and first proper film review are done. Hmm… I’d say not too bad a piece for when I’ve read the book two months back and don’t have it with me now, and when I’ve watched the film two years ago.